THE BINDING (2015)

BY BLAINE MCLARENHorror has been skirting around religion (pretty heavily) over the past 10 or 15 years.  Most get pretty bogged down in the world of demons and devils and I think its time to admit that most viewers are burned out on these low concept The Exorcist rip-offs  This subgenre is well-worn territory, exhausted even.  The Binding is a religious horror film, but is more accurately a biblical thriller of sorts.  What I mean by this, is that it focuses on a particularly difficult story from the Old Testament and contextualizes itself in modern days.  (Believe it or not) Adapting a story about faith and child sacrifice does not make for light watching on a Friday night, but does serve as a unique concept for a horror film.

The Binding begins with  David and Sarah (Max Adler and Amy Gumenick), a young couple who has just had a baby and they are celebrating the child’s baptism.  When David (a minister and recovering alcoholic) begins having strange visions he thinks is from God, Sarah is forced to decide how to protect both herself and their daughter.

If you are not familiar with the story from the Bible, it is referred to as The Binding of Isaac.  This is the story of how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, then allowed an Angel to intervene and tell Abraham that it was just a test of faith.  It goes without saying that this is heavy stuff and the film does a great job of exploring these themes and the modern theology applied to this story.  It balances faith in a way that plays heavily towards suspense, but never strays from its ultimate question; How far are you willing to go to prove your faith?  Unfortunately that’s the only thing that really works.  The movie is slow paced and relies heavily on dialogue, which is the film’s weakest link.  A lot of the lines are very unnatural and feel incredibly forced, coming across unnatural and distracting.  The direction is very capable and I do hope to see more from Gus Krieger, but this film is far too long and jilted throughout the middle of the film.  What I can say is that the ending is very effective and powerful, leaving the viewer with a good taste in their mouth.  This does not excuse the script, but does show potential for future projects from the crew.  The Binding is currently available on DVD and VOD.

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THE NEON DEAD (2015)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

A few years back I saw a trailer for a creative little feature call “Invasion of the Undead” and I was struck by its throwback style and low budget charm.  The trailer was a barrage of neon colors and 8 bit nostalgia that instantly got me pumped for its release. Unfortunately I missed its Atlanta premiere, but I continued to keep up with its progress, saw it on Vimeo and I was surprised when news of the film went silent.  Cut to a year later and the Monsterbuster Entertainment Facebook page finally announced a release date and a new (and better, if you ask me) title, The Neon Dead!  This prompted me to dig up an old DVD copy and revisit this fantastic indie gem.

The story is about a young, unemployed woman named Allison (Marie Baker) who inherits a haunted property from her grandmother.  Once she stumbles across one of the Undead, she (with help from a girl scout) calls on a duo of slacker type paranormal investigators (played by Greg Garrison and Dylan Schettina).  Once the hapless duo arrive, they encounter something much older and more dangerous than either of them could ever imagine.

I’ve watched this film multiple times now and I am repeatedly impressed by the quality and care put into The Neon Dead.  The lighting and sets are spectacular, giving the film a dreamy vibe that is infinitely watchable.  The special effects are over the top and unique, offering a new mythology and cast of villains brought to life on a minimum budget.  The decision to swap gore for a fluorescent lightshow of violence is a choice that a much lesser director would not have made.  The only place where The Neon Dead lacks is the dialogue early in the film.  Some of the writing can feel a little stiff, but the actors are likeable enough to forgive these awkward moments.  So if you are worn out on gore heavy zombie flick and found footage retreads, I suggest checking out this charming low budget joy ride.  The Neon Dead is currently available on DVD and VOD.

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FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS (2016 BURIED ALIVE FILM FESTIVAL)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

****THIS IS AN UPDATE TO THE ORIGINAL REVIEW THAT I POSTED BACK IN APRIL****

Back in 2011 there were a lot of throwback movies flooding the market of indie horror.  Most of them were full of digital damage and parading under the moniker of “Grindhouse”.  Some of them were good, but most of them were pretty bad and thought they could hide their inexperience by force-feeding a nostalgia that most of us never experienced.  Amongst these generic titles was a little movie called “Dear God No!” It was a return to something that was (almost) fetishistic in its approach to authenticity.  Director James Bickert opt to shoot the flick on 16mm film and delivered a slick, but endearingly flawed film about bikers and booze.  Five years later we are finally being treated to a sequel and I couldn’t be happier to be revisiting this gang of sadistic bikers from hell and the mayhem they cause.

The story picks up right after the last film with our antiheroes, The Impalers.  They have been brought back from the dead and are being employed by the doctor that they once terrified and tried to kill.  They are addicted to a reanimation serum that helps them survive, making the boys slaves to the Doctor and his Austrian cohort, Klaus (played by the one and only Laurence Harvey).  The past wrongs made by the gang seem to have caught up with them unleashing an army of hitmen, rival gangs and unspeakable creatures their way.  Now they must keep it together, survive and try to have a little fun while they do it.

“Frankenstein Created Bikers” is the best kind of sequel, deciding to take the kitchen sink approach rather than just retreading what we enjoyed the first time around.  Mr. Bickert amps up the gore and nudity to disarming levels, while still offering a smarter and more polished film than the last.  Nothing feels cheap in this movie (except human life) and the choice to shoot in 35mm only adds to the slick production value.  Jett Bryant returns as the leader of The Impalers and holds his own in a film full of great actors.  His natural charm and charisma plays out well, giving the audience a guy to get behind.  As polished as this film is they never lose sight at what it is, it is a sleazy biker flick with greasy dudes and naked chicks with machine guns.  Make no bones about it, this is a 125 minute epic of exploitation and excess!  I Cannot stress how fun this flick is and urge you to check it out for yourself.  Frankenstein Created Bikers is currently only playing film festivals, but I will update as availability is announced.

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SLIMY LITTLE BASTARDS (2015)

 

Dave Parker (AKA Mr Parka) has been dabbling in filmmaking over the last few years.  After some great performances in movies (such as Headless and Applecart) he has decided to step into the director’s chair with a new anthology film called Slimy Little Bastards.  This film is a love letter to some of my favorite movies; the little monster sub genre.  It is a brand of horror that exists in its own world of silly effects and (mostly) crass humor that appeals to the inner fourteen year old in us all.  Slimy Little Bastards is a confident, no budget debut that has the charm of a much older film.  It is pretty rough around the edges, but makes up for it in fun and a very DIY attitude.

The film opens with its eccentric Curator talking about his “collection” to a man whose car has broken down nearby.  He tells three stories to the man, all linking back to these bottles of fluorescent sludge that are on display. The first is “Organic Shit”, a tale of a green blob forming in a man’s garbage disposal.  Next is “Brain Busters”, where a young lady is prescribed a mysterious drug to deal with her mental illness.  Lastly is “The Crusties” and this is the ultimate send up to Ghoulies.  Pitting a group of flatulent role players against a gang of little monsters.

Ultimately this is a collection of shorts, but the oddly fun wrap around ties it all together nicely.  If you are familiar with Dustin Mills’ films, you will recognize a lot of faces.  The acting is pretty good and it feels like everyone is having a blast making the movie.  There are some flaws, but most are minor technical issues.  Sound and lighting is a little off, but this is a debut and I am sure that these issues will get better as Mr Parker keeps making films. What works the best is the pacing.  The vignettes never overstay their welcome and the whole film clocks in at only 66 minutes. Overall, this is a fun send up to shot-on-video, rental store-era fun that is worth picking up and watching with your friends.  Slimy Little Bastards is currently available on DVD at Amazon.com

3.5/5 STARS

PIG PEN (2016 Days of the Dead 48 Hour Independent Film Festival)

 

Every year there is that one indie release that really grabs me. That movie that strikes an emotional chord, that feels both cinematic and intimate.  In 2014 it was Found, last year it was Androgynym and this year it is Jason Koch’s Pig Pen.  This film is a masterful example of “true to life” horror, telling a grim story of poverty and the toils of boyhood.  This departure from traditional horror is refreshing and really shows the signs of a maturing artist who is not interested in being kept to one genre.  Pig Pen is a moving, but intensely ugly film that is just as much a thriller as it is a coming-of-age tale.

The story follows a thirteen year old boy who has recently been kicked out of his home by his mother’s maniacal boyfriend.  We see him trying to survive the harsh world of inner-city Baltimore. He is forced to shoplift for food and find a way back home to protect his mother.  What unfolds is a voyage of vagrancy and revenge that will ultimately end in blood (lots of blood).
Jason Koch really shines as a director in this film.  Even when scenes seem meandering they serve a purpose that feels much larger than the movie itself.  He took a risk, hiring his son (Lucas Koch) in the lead, but manages to get an incredibly honest performance that you rarely see in young actors.  As great as Lucas’ performance is, Nicolette Le Faye is the one who really gets to show her range.  Her role is so nuanced and has to portray kindness in a grisly world she cannot handle on her own.  I would go into more detail, but I would hate to ruin some of her scenes that appear late in the film. What I can say, is that I am excited to see her take more serious roles and look forward to seeing more in the future. My only complaint was the end of the film. It bookends the story, but felt a little too unambiguous.  Upon rewatching, I am happy to say that I now understand why Mr. Koch had to end it this way.  This movie is not meant to be an easy viewing and is intended to challenge its audience.  With all that said, I can honestly say that Pig Pen is the first great movie of 2016!  Pig Pen will be released on DVD soon and is currently on the Film Festival circuit.

5/5 STARS

 

When Black Birds Fly (2016 Days of the Dead 48 Hour Independent Film Festival)

 

I have to admit something that I am not proud of.  I hate animation!  Maybe its because I have a young son or maybe I just have never given the genre the fair shake it deserves.  Most horror/adult animation seems vapid or empty, but after watching the films of Jimmy Screamerclauz I am second guessing my prejudices.  When Black Birds Fly is an incredible feat of filmmaking that surpases expectaions and delivers a deep, psychedelic experience through hell and beyond.  I saw Where The Dead Go To Die and enjoyed it, but I was happy to see Jimmy trade in (some, not all) the gross out gags for something more mature and thought provoking.

The film begins in a quaint, suburban utopia called Heaven.  The residents are seemingly normal and are allowed to live in peace, as long as they follow the rules declared by their mysterious leader (Caine).  The most important commandment is to never leave Heaven’s walls and never, ever communicate with “The Evil One”.  A child (Marius) and a female friend from class wander too close to the wall and are then lured in by an evil cat.  Once they enter the world of “The Evil One” they are exposed to a kaleidoscopic world of unimaginable world of pain and truth.  From here, all hell breaks loose.

What is most impressive is Jimmy’s sense of direction.  The camerawork is impeccable and lingers just long enough to breath life into his oddly animated world.  There is a depth to each scene that you won’t find in most animated films.  Although this is a much more mature film than his last, there is still a great deal of humor sprinkled throughout.  Subtle things in the background and quick-witted one liners keep things from being too oppressive.  My only complaint is that the film does take its time getting started and drags a little in the middle.  This gripe is incredibly minor and could just come from my aforementioned prejudice for animated features.  In the end, I cannot help but urge film lovers to check out this one-of-a-kind movie.  If you crave unique cinematic experiences, then this is the film for you.  When Black Birds Fly is currently available on DVD at   http://screamerclauz.com/store/

4.5/5 STARS

 

THE BOY (2016)

 

 

Here we go again, another PG-13 horror flick that is mildly creepy, but lazy and inoffensive.  I keep finding myself sitting in the dark each week, hoping to find that occasional gem.  Unfortunately The Boy is not that one-in-ten that shines, but is just spooky enough to be fun.  Although this film is enjoyable, I am not sure why it received a theatrical release.  Given its limited budget and setting, this film would probably play better on the small screen and would be great for a Netflix release.  Before I get too deep into my opinion, lets talk about the story.

A young American woman named Greta takes a job for an elderly, British couple and agrees to look after their child.  Once she meets the geriatric couple, she realizes that the child is actually a doll that is kept like a real boy.  She is given a list of silly rules, told to follow them and then the two wisk away on vacation.  Once they leave, she goes back to treating the boy as a doll until things take a more sinister turn for the worse,

As I stated before, this is neither great nor terrible.  It falls right into that mediocre spot that most of these theatrical horror releases do.  There is just not a lot to say about this movie.  The acting and script is okay, the cinematography is pretty standard and the sets are appropriately creepy.  The third act does take a 180 degree turn that is fun and goes in a direction that is both entertaining and unexpected.  All in all, I do not suggest going to the cinema to see this flick but could be enjoyable if rented out of the Redbox on a boring Thursday night.  The Boy is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

2/5 STARS

THE LEGEND OF WASCO (2015)

I am not usually one that cares at all about killer clowns, especially ones based on viral videos, but after seeing the names attached I had to check it out.  The Legend of Wasco has a plethora of talented filmmakers involved, including Scott Schirmer (Found, Headless), Brian Williams (Time To Kill, Headless) and Ellie Church (Time To Kill, Headless).  This was enough for me to toss out my prejudices and fork over my ten bucks for the DVD.  I am happy to say that this film is a mixed bag, where the good really outweighs the poorer aspects of this movie.  First time directors  Shane Beasley and Leya Taylor show a lot of promise and offer something way better than anyone could expect.

The story centers around Tyler and Christy, a young couple being visited by Christy’s older brother Byron.  He has just left the Army and is excited to reconnect with his sister and get to know his future brother-in-law.  Tyler is a clown performer, flipping signs for a local carwash company.  After a few drinks they start to discuss a local legend about murderous clowns that send our protagonists on a drunken adventure to create a viral prank.  But once the pictures go viral, people in town start dying…one by one.

The major problem that I have with this film is in the comedy.  The first two-thirds feel very organic, but somewhere in the third act something changes.  The comedy begins to feel forced and some of the more menacing elements disappear entirely.  In spite of these gripes, they never stop The Legend of Wasco from still being a fun and sometimes amazing film.  The biggest standouts come from both the cinematography and the score.  Grand, cinematic shots really add to the experience and fool you into forgetting the low budget that the filmmakers are working with.  Along with the camerawork, you get a very intense and serious score that sets the mood nicely.  In the end, I think this is another win for Forbidden Films and a good movie to tide you over until Harvest Lake.  The Legend Of Wasco is currently available on DVD and VOD. 

3/5 STARS

THE FOREST (2016)

Its officially January and it is time to dig through the dumping ground of Hollywood.  It is no secret that January and February is the black hole of theater releases, allowing us the chance to watch whatever studio execs have lying around.  When I saw the trailer for The Forest and its January release date I wasn’t overly excited to see it, but one thing grabbed my eye…no Jason Blum.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not hating on the guy but I just can’t trust his name (on a film) anymore.  After seeing this supernatural thriller I can say that The Forest is much better than it has any right to be.  It is a strange blend of great cinematography and terrible CGI that is entertaining up to its lackluster ending.  It is a great example of enjoying the ride, but not necessarily liking the final destination.

The story begins with a young woman having an feeling that her twin sister is in danger.  She wakes up from her dream and immediately leaves for Tokyo to try and help her sister.  She does a little digging and finds out that she has ventured into the “Suicide Forest” at the base of Mt. Fuji.  Through her ESP-like superpower, she can sense that her sister is still alive and fenagles her way into a guided tour to find her twin.  Once she is there she finds out that the forest is a sinister and dangerous place full of spirits.

The best part of the film is the setting and the amazing camerawork.  There is little to no shaky cam and nothing ever seems static or boring.  The actors are passable and the script seems like it may have had a lot of last minute changes.  Some of the red herrings are less than brilliant and there are major clues that are either ignored or abandoned.  The film does best at building up tension and there were more than a few scenes that had me on the edge of my seat.  The biggest problem was how the filmmakers decided to wrap up the story.  I won’t go into any spoilers, but the last 10 minutes do not seem to gel with what we had seen up to this point.  All in all, this adds up to a serviceable (and sometimes exciting) popcorn flick that you will probably forget about a few days later.  The Forest will be available 1/8 in theaters everywhere.

2.5/5 STARS

BLAINE’S TOP 15 OF 2015

Holy Shit!  Another year has come and gone and now its time to see which films rose above the rest.  This year’s list includes all of the blood, guts and nudity that you would expect. But don’t worry, I included a few “classier” flicks for all you college grads out there. 

15.  The Duke of Burgundy (Directed by Peter Strickland)

A cold and confounding movie about a woman obsessed with moths who tests the limits of her relationship with her lover.  An exercise in obsession and repetition, that is worth enduring.

 

 

14. Tantrum (Directed by James Bell)

There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Mr Bell’s most recent film, but there is one that I keep using: indescribable. Not narrowly fitting into any real genre of horror or scene. It blurs the line between avant garde film experiment and performance art in a masterful way.

13. Girlhood (Directed by Céline Sciamma)

On top of covering the usual coming of age drama, there is a naturalness that feels so real and universal. From the boring technical side it is nearly perfect. Camerawork  is impeccable and its pace is perfectly meandering. The film may suffer from an unfortunate title, but hopefully people will see it without the looming Boyhood comparison.

12. Death-Scort Service (Directed by Sean Donohue)

A fun throwback to blood, guts and boobs.  The sleaziest film of 2015 and should not be missed.

 

 

 

 

 

11. Circus Of The Dead (Directed by Billy Pon)

Great sense of direction and great acting by Bill Oberst Jr and company. Also, some of the most enjoyable gore gags in years. When it finally gets a release, it is worth a look.

 

 

10. R100 (Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto)

Like a blend of Quentin Dupieux and Sion Sono, with a little Bunuel on the side. I can’t decide if anything or everything matters (in this film) but there is something so unique and appealing about this film that really sticks with you.

 

9. Headless (Directed by Arthur Cullipher)

Found was one of my favorite movies of last year and this “lost slasher” is a excellent companion piece.  Great effects, fun acting and some of the nastiest kills in the history of cinema.

 

 

 

8. Der Samurai (Directed by Till Kleinert)

A spectacularly violent and mysterious film that feels both existential and playful throughout its run time. This is the kind of movie that requires multiple viewings to truly grasp.

 

7. Flowers (Directed by Phil Stevens)

This is the kind of film that is missing from underground horror lately. A grotesque, but beautifully shot film that mutely tells the story of 6 women and their murderer.

 

 

 

6. Androgynym (Directed by Nick Iway)

 This is a brave movie that does not gloss over things like addiction, loss and self identity.  In fact, it barrels itself directly at it.  There are scenes of extreme and shocking violence, but I hope they do not overshadow the beautiful experience that is Androgynym

5. The Interior (Directed by Trevor Juras)

There is very little when it comes to plot or story and instead focuses on the existential horror of being a young man who may not live long enough to figure out what he wants in life. That is much scarier to me than monsters or masked killers and there is no place better to experience this than deep inside of nature.

 

 

4. Turbo Kid (Directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell)

In the year 1997…

This is the movie that captures nostalgia without coming off as pandering.

 

 

3. Spring (Directed by Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson)

A beautifully shot genre bending project from the guys who brought us Resolution.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Bone Tomahawk (Directed by S. Craig Zahler)

If there was any justice in this world this film would sweep the Oscars. From best screenplay to best supporting actor, this film would win it all. This first time effort is everything that a fan of cinema could ask for.

 

 

 

 

 

1. The Tribe (Directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky)

“Don’t tell me, show me!” That is my battle cry when watching movies and this film couldn’t tell you if it wanted to. If you do not already know, this movie is told entirely through Ukrainian sign language with no subtitles or voiceover.  It is an unsettling, unique experience that cannot be compared to anything else.  A great example of how a film can transcend genre and language to stands on its own.

Some honorable mentions: Metalhead, The World Of Kanako, Mad Max: Fury Road and Under The Rainbow

Thanks for checking out my list!  Now let us know some of your picks in the comments below!

Blaine McLaren

Lead Writer for Mondo McLaren