No Place For The Living: The Mad Story of Carl Von Cosel
A feature-length documentary exploring a fascinating true story of delusion, necrophilia, celebrity and mad science.
A FEATURE FILM FROM DIRECTOR RONNI THOMAS AND THE MORBID ANATOMY MUSEUM!
"Ours was no place for the living, here, on this blackest of all nights..." -- Count Carl Von Cosel
This is not the film you think it will be... Carl Von Cosel, for all his faults, will remain a hero to me. Though I'll never understand truly why he did what he did, I will always have a deep reverence for his motives. I believe Cosel had a haunted mind... a mind worth looking into. No Place for the Living will tell the strange, once-famous but now forgotten story of Count Carl von Cosel - a German immigrant in 1930s Key West, Florida, who believed he could use scientific and supernatural methods to bring the woman he loved back from the dead. As filmmaker in residence at Brooklyn’s acclaimed Morbid Anatomy Museum, I have become obsessed with this unusual story. Now I'm asking for your help to bring it to life, as part documentary and part gothic horror.
You will hear the story in Von Cosel’s own words, as recorded in his actual journal, and brought to life using innovative techniques. The recreations will be done with puppets created by award-winning artist/puppeteer/filmmaker Robin Frohardt. The use of puppets is, beyond being a fun way to express the plot, a fitting symbol for a story about a man who was in himself a puppet master.
In his published journals, Von Cosel spared no detail describing years spent cleaning and repairing the body of a woman in a state of decay. Shane Morton and his Silver Scream FX lab will help us bring those gruesome visuals to life, with music from Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld) setting the mood. Visionary filmmaker Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) will narrate the tale.
The idea is not only to tell this bizarre story, but to understand it as well. For explanation and insight, we'll seek out the views of historians, writers, experts on death and dying, cultural anthropologists, psychiatrists and others. Some notable interviewees include:
-- True crime author Harold Schechter
-- Occult author and historian Mitch Horowitz
-- Oddities star Evan Michaelson
-- Author and after-life expert Ptolemy Tompkins
-- Bath Center for Death and Society director John Troyer
-- Morbid Anatomy founder Joanna Ebenstein
When complete, we intend to have a film that merges genres and takes the viewer on a surrealistic journey through the mind of Carl von Cosel: mystic, mad scientist, romantic … and notorious necrophile.
In 1930s, in Key West, Florida, German immigrant Karl Tanzler – who would call himself “Count Carl Von Cosel” – fell madly in love with a young cuban immigrant named Elena Hoyos, a love that would evolve into an all-consuming obsession.
Hoyos suffered from tuberculosis, incurable at the time. She came to Von Cosel, an X-ray technician, seeking treatment. Despite his many attempts to cure her (and to win her heart), she died of the disease in 1931.
Even after her death, Von Cosel continued to be obsessed. Believing he was receiving instructions from her still-living spirit, he conspired to have her body taken from the graveyard and brought to a house where they could live together as husband and wife.
For years, Von Cosel used what he considered to be groundbreaking scientific methods, mixed with ancient alchemy and mysticism, in an attempt to resurrect the body of the woman he loved, while relying on simpler methods to preserve her rapidly decaying body.
This lasted seven years until the Hoyos family and the world learned the truth and their macabre “relationship” became a media sensation. The public reception of the case and its unexpected support for Von Cosel is just one of many very strange details which we will reveal in the film.
This chapter of Von Cosel’s life seems ripped out of a gothic novel, including psychic communications from beyond, ghostly apparitions in an old German castle, a creepy old cemetery, a Frankenstein-like obsession with using science to conquer death, a homemade airship, and even a massive explosion!
After 70 years, the Von Cosel story has become a mostly forgotten historical oddity. We hope to change that…
Director - Ronni Thomas
Thomas is the filmmaker in residence at The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, where he frequently lectures on the topics covered in his films. He is the creator of the critically acclaimed docu-series "The Midnight Archive" and "Morbid Anatomy Presents.” His most recent film, Walter Potter : The Man Who Married Kittens, made its debut at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Documentary Short, as well as Raindance UK, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in Arkansas and at Morbido Fest in Mexico. His work has been published on Discovery digital, Time.com, Huffington Post, Forbes online, BoingBoing.com, io9.com, laughingsquid.com and countless other digital platforms. In 2012, he contributed a chapter to the Morbid Anatomy Anthology on his collection of Diableries, 19th century stereoscopic photographs depicting scenes of hell. He has a true and undying love for the surreal, the uncanny, the anomalous and a dedicated commitment to telling stories in a fair and unbiased way. With over 2 dozen short films behind him, No Place for the Living will be his first feature film.
Narrator - Richard Stanley
Richard Stanley is a celebrated independent filmmaker who has transcended genres and challenged audiences for over 20 years. His films Dust Devil and Hardware are some of the most iconic cult films of the 1990s. Stanley will be reading passages from the Cosel Journal throughout the film, channeling the mad doctor using his own words.
Puppeteer - Robin Frohardt
Known for her rich aesthetic and highly detailed constructions, Robin Frohardt is an award-winning puppet artist, director and film maker living in Brooklyn, NY. Frohardt utilizes her wicked imagination, unique sense of humor and stunning technical craft to create work that defies the conventions of traditional puppetry to explore the depths of human expression. Her original play The PIGEONING, hailed by the New York Times as “a fantastical symphony of the imagination”, debuted in New York in 2013 and continues to tour at home and abroad. Her work has taken her around the globe, performing anywhere from theaters in Istanbul, to the streets of Bangkok, the Telluride Film Festival, to Radio City Music Hall where for the last 2 years she has been a puppeteer in the annual Spring Spectacular. She is presently teaching puppetry at the University of Maryland and developing a site-specific theater piece set to open in 2017. See more of her amazing work at Robinfrohardt.com
Visual Effects - Shane Morton
At the age of 3 Shane Morton saw King Kong (’33) and he has been a monster maker ever since. In over 2 decades as a professional in the horror business he has worked with such greats as Stan Winston studios and Rob Zombie. He has designed and built horror attractions and haunted houses all over the country, the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, being his biggest and best. You can see his recent film work in the indie, grindhouse hit, Frankenstein Created Bikers, in Sam and Mattie Make a Zombie Movie, and on television with Adult Swim’s smash hit, Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, where he was the Art Director of Hell and supplied special effects and make-ups. He continues to make music videos with Mastodon, his latest being Asleep in the Deep. He is the producer, writer, director, and lead actor of The Silver Scream Spook Show, which has been running for over 6 years now with 50 episodes and over 100 performances.
Composer - Stephen Coates
Stephen Coates has been with film makers since 2001 whilst performing and recording as The Real Tuesday Weld. Stephen's music has been used extensively in film, television, commercials, radio and arts projects. He is based in London but works regularly in the US and Europe. Most recently he has written the original scores for French feature Encore Heureux, US indies Meet Me in Montenegro and The Suspect, the original songs for Rockstar Game's L.A. Noire, and Apple's iPad and Chevrolet's 'Rainy Day’ commercials. He has been working with Ronni Thomas for several years on commercial spots, The Midnight Archive series and the documentary ‘The Man Who Married Kittens'.
Cinematographer - Robert Carnevale
Robert Carnevale, originally from Providence, RI received his BFA in cinematography from School of Visual Arts in New York in 2007. His feature film credits include Sleepwalk with me 2012 (Camera Operator); The Unidentified 2007 (Cinematographer); White Light 2007 (Cinematographer); PaperGirl 2007 (Cinematographer); 99 2005 (Cinematographer). His documentary DP credits include the award winning Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens 2013 – Showing at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival; Face the Wind (2016); House of Cards: The Rise and Fall of the American Home 2008; BNB Music Festival 2008; Hostage 2007; Caps 2005. Over the past decade, Robert has shot commercials for the likes of Citibank, DKNY, Adidas, Condé Nast, Tresemmé, Chase Bank and the Discovery Channel. Carnevale also has worked doing lighting as a Union member of Local 52 in New York City for 12 years with multiple feature films, television shows, music videos and commercial credits including: Bridge of Spies, 30 Rock, Birdman, The Amazing Spider Man, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Inside Llewyn Davis, Burn After Reading and Michael Clayton to name a few. Robert Carnevale made his directorial debut in 2015 with Sam & Mattie Make a Zombie Film, a feature documentary. RobertCarnevale.com
Risks and challenges
My collaborators and I are aiming high with “No Place for the Living.” The basic facts of the story are shocking enough that it would be simple to tell it in a sensationalized way. But by blending traditional documentary techniques with puppetry and effects, we aim to get to the heart of Von Cosel and Elena’s story. It may be tricky for us to find the right balance of puppets and people, of non-fiction and fantasy, but we are confident we can pull it off.
Accessing the experts has not been too difficult and we've already reached out to quite a few organizations willing to help, including the Key West Arts Library and historical society. But another challenge is time: some of the key figures we plan to talk with are old or in ill health. The sooner we can commence shooting, the better.
The Von Cosel story deals with some challenging and taboo themes. Your support and positive word of mouth will help convince future distributors, festival programmers and moviegoers that there is a large, passionate audience hungry for this kind of film. I've set a modest budget that’s enough to make the film, but the more we can raise, the bolder we can be with our artistic and creative choices.
- (29 days)