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.

[usr 4]

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

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

American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire (2015)

Being a Southerner, I am always excited to see a “killer hillbilly”/”psychos in the woods” film that does not take place in the American South.  Every region has its “rednecks” and I always enjoy seeing what other areas have to offer in this genre.  If this film is any indication, I would be weary to go into the woods of New Hampshire.  It appears to be full of murderers, monsters and rapists.  A terrifying combination that plays out pretty well in American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire.

Director, Flood Reed, has assembled a very sadistic and playful adventure that can be simultaneously exciting and frustrating.  The acting is incredible, the direction is imaginative, but there are a few things that really hold the American Backwoods from being one of the best low budget horror flicks of the year.  But, before going into the details lets talk about the story.

The movie takes place in 1994 New Hampshire and follows a group of close friends that are on a road trip to find a local rite of passage.  By “rite of passage”, I mean a legendary strip club.  The trip turns out to be an incredibly deadly one.  These guys are going to have to survive multiple groups of murderous humans, as well as something else that lurks in the woods

American Backwoods offers more than just blood and guts, Mr. Reed knows how to develop likeable/despicable characters that you cannot help rooting for.  The actors all nail their parts and feel like real people, rather than just filling an archetype that is ultimately just fodder for gore.  For as much praise that I have for this film, there are still a few things that did not work for me.  Most notably, the choice of a soundtrack over a score.  The music can be incredibly distracting at times and would yank me out of the movie, especially the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal.  Also, Flood Reed makes some creative flourishes that work well at times, but can also muddle the story and pace.  These moments of flashbacks and distortion sometime offer insight, but (more times than not) just distract you from what is happening in the scene.  Overall I really enjoyed this movie and will go out of my way to see more films from this director.  He is ambitious and I praise him for the chances that he is willing to take, even when they don’t work, I cannot help but admire him for trying.  American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire is currently available on DVD and VOD.

3.5/5 STARS

 

CIRCUS OF THE DEAD (2014)

Back in February I got a chance to see this movie at Days of the Dead and had a feeling that I was going to enjoy it based on the high energy trailer.  I missed its first showing due to unforeseen drinking, but the next day we were able to beg the guys at Jabb Pictures to show it again.  In retrospect, I owe Jason Hoover some drinks because Circus of the Dead is top notch, batshit-crazy fun that you rarely get these days.  Director Billy Pon takes us on a tour-de-force of depravity and violence that is mean-spirited but in all the most enjoyable (and dare I say fun) ways.

The story picks up in rural Texas and introduces us to a band of sicko Clowns.  The ringleader, Papa Corn (played by the stellar Bill Oberst Jr), leads his gang of merry weirdos in a game of randomized terror.  The target is an average Joe named Donald and they explain that in order to save his family, he will have to do whatever they tell him.  What we get is a tale of what a man is capable of when it comes to the people he cherishes the most.

Bill Oberst Jr steals the show and gives a career defining performance.  He owns this character and gives life to a role that would be cliche otherwise.  The direction and writing is impressive and manages to tell a story without expository dialogue and unneeded role players.  Unfortunately there is not an official release date yet, but we can cross our fingers.  If there are any screenings near you, run (don’t walk!) to the box office and fork over your hard earned dollars for an experience that will stick with you for years to come.

4.5/5 STARS