DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Something is amok in Detroit Lakes in the new horror-comedy movie by director Josh Stifter, “Greywood’s Plot.”

Filmed primarily in a remote patch of woods just outside Detroit Lakes, the full-length feature will make its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Festival Friday, Oct. 18.

“‘Greywood’s Plot’ is a black-and-white throwback to the late-night horror movies I would watch on cable when I was a kid,” Stifter said. “It’s a weird — and I say weird in the best sense of the word — and fun blend of comedy and horror. … It’s cheesy.”

The movie is about two lifelong friends who receive a strange VHS tape containing some “really terrible footage” of what appears to be a vampire-type animal, “so they venture into the woods to make a documentary about it … and it turns out to be a much more terrifying adventure than they expected.”

The full-length horror-comedy film was made entirely by director/writer Josh Stifter, standing, and his three friends, from left: Daniel Degnan (co-writer/producer), Nathan Strauss (assistant director/executive producer/special effects artist) and Keith Radichel (actor). (Submitted photo)
The full-length horror-comedy film was made entirely by director/writer Josh Stifter, standing, and his three friends, from left: Daniel Degnan (co-writer/producer), Nathan Strauss (assistant director/executive producer/special effects artist) and Keith Radichel (actor). (Submitted photo)

Stifter, who lives near Minneapolis and has been in the movie business for years, said it was a longtime dream of his to make a film like “Greywood’s Plot.” Comedy-horror is his favorite genre, and he enjoys getting “a visceral reaction” of laughs and screams from the audience.

Shooting it in Detroit Lakes, however, was an impromptu move that only came about due to one of those “small world,” somebody-knows-somebody coincidences.

“My wife’s cousin’s husband told me that his dad had this amazing, little, tiny creepy cabin out in the woods,” Stifter explained. He talked to the property owner about possibly shooting his movie there, and the guy said, “‘Yeah, that’d be great!’”

That guy is Dean Eidenschink, who owns more than 100 acres not far from town.

“He was looking for an old cabin and I said, ‘Well, I got an old cabin,’” Eidenschink said of Stifter. “That’s basically how it started.”

The Eidenschink family uses the roughly 16-by-20-foot cabin for hunting, but otherwise it sits empty for most of the year, Eidenschink said. It’s “an old rustic thing that looks like it’s been there for 100 years.”

He had no problem letting Stifter use it for the film.

The 80-minute “Greywood’s Plot” was shot one sequence at a time. Filming in Detroit Lakes occurred in two separate stints, the first taking place over six days in September 2016 and the second over a longer span in the fall of 2018.

For the first attempt at filming, Stifter said he and his small team of three crew and cast members actually camped out at the Eidenschink property. They got some great shots of local scenery that made it into the final cut, like sunsets and foggy fields, but the initial movie itself “was terrible,” he laughed. “We failed miserably at it.”

So, he and the team decided to come back and give it another try. This time, they were more prepared, and they spent about six months shooting in the woods on weekends.

“We had a well-written script at that point, we really knew what we were doing,” Stifter said. “We did this little monster movie that we intended to do, and it’s much better.”

Despite having a firm idea of the film’s storyline, look and feel by then, “we found these amazing locations in Detroit Lakes, and we added elements that we weren’t expecting to have in the movie," he said.

When the crew saw the woods and rolling fields of Detroit Lakes that were to serve as their film's backdrop, they tweaked some of their original plans for the movie in order to incorporate more of the natural environment into it. (Submitted photo)
When the crew saw the woods and rolling fields of Detroit Lakes that were to serve as their film's backdrop, they tweaked some of their original plans for the movie in order to incorporate more of the natural environment into it. (Submitted photo)

The next-to-no-budget independent film was made entirely by Stifter and the other three members of his team — all friends of his. They include Daniel Degnan (producer/actor/co-writer), Keith Radichel (actor) and Nathan Strauss (assistant director/executive producer/special effects artist). Stifter said he's known both Radichel and Degnan since early childhood. He and Degnan wrote the script for “Greywood’s Plot” and also play the leading roles.

“It really was just a labor of three friends, and then another tag-along buddy, Nathan Strauss, who wanted to go and make a movie,” Stifter said. “It was just the four of us.”

There are, however, a few local extras from the Detroit Lakes area who made it into the movie. They visited the set for a one-day shoot of a monster scene, dressing up and acting as zombies or “tree monsters,” Stifter said.

Another big monster scene was shot at his house as part of his 30th birthday party.

“I like to make my birthdays a filmmaking event,” he said. “I told people not to bring presents, but to bring fake blood, makeup, whatever they needed to become zombies. I filmed it, and we had an absolute blast.”

That was one of the few sequences not shot in Detroit Lakes. A third filming location — a family member’s place in East Bethel — was also used a bit.

Stifter’s career began in animation, where he did some work for Kevin Smith (the director behind such famous movies as “Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”). From there, he branched out into live action, with various projects taking him across the country and overseas.

He was featured on the 2018 El Rey Network reality TV show “Rebel Without A Crew,” produced by Robert Rodriguez, where he was challenged to make a feature film called “The Good Exorcist” in just 14 days and with a budget of only $7,000.

He's worked on projects that have been featured in the Twin Cities Film Festival before, but “Greywood’s Plot” is the first feature film of his own to be included.

Josh Stifter shoots a scene in "Greywood's Plot." (Submitted photo)
Josh Stifter shoots a scene in "Greywood's Plot." (Submitted photo)

Jatin Setia, the executive director of the Twin Cities Film Festival, said the festival’s mission is to showcase “amazing content” from all over the country, with “story, production value, the essence of the film, the actors, the characters and the breadth of the journey that the story takes you on” all considered before a film is selected.

The festival tries to be inclusive of all genres, he added, with a particular bent toward horror since it’s Halloween season. There’s also a home-state feel to it, with 30-35% of the films screened there having “some sort of Minnesota connection.”

In all of these senses, Setia said, “Greywood’s Plot” fits the bill.

“‘Greywood’s Plot' is 100% Minnesota — it’s filmed here, the director’s from here, the actors are from here,” he said. “It also falls in line with good storytelling … ‘Greywood’s Plot’ takes you on a journey, and it’s not shy of suspense. … It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last frame.”

Setia said more than 600 films were submitted for possible inclusion into this year’s festival, of which 120 were selected; and of those, just 60 — including “Greywood’s Plot” — are full-length, feature films. The process is competitive, he said, because films that are selected tend to get a distribution deal after they debut.

“Greywood’s Plot” has a primetime Friday night screening slot, starting at 9:30 p.m. There’ll be a question-and-answer session with Stifter afterward.

A still from the film shows Daniel Degnan in character. The friendship between his character and the other main character, Dom and Milo, is central to the film. (Submitted image)
A still from the film shows Daniel Degnan in character. The friendship between his character and the other main character, Dom and Milo, is central to the film. (Submitted image)

“I am super excited to have my movie playing at the Twin Cities Film Festival, especially with it being the festival’s 10th anniversary,” Stifter said. “There’s some great talent coming to town, and it’s the kind of festival that brings people together. You can network and talk to other filmmakers.”

He said the "Greywood's Plot" premiere was already half-sold-out as of Oct. 3.

“I think it’s going to be a really good showing,” he said. “The reactions I’ve gotten so far make me feel blown away. People are enjoying it. I’m really, really proud of what we made.”

If you go

What: The world premiere of “Greywood’s Plot,” a horror-comedy movie filmed in Detroit Lakes, at the 2019 Twin Cities Film Festival

When: Friday, Oct. 18, at 9:30 p.m.

Where: The Showplace ICON Theatre, 1625 West End Boulevard, St. Louis Park

How much: $13 per ticket

Info: The Twin Cities Film Festival is an 11-day event happening Oct. 16-26. For more information about the festival, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org.

Follow along: Visit patreon.com/flushstudios for announcements about where to watch “Greywood’s Plot” after the premiere, or contact Director Josh Stifter on social media.