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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LIGHTS OUT (2016)

BY BLAINE MCLARENIt seems that every year we have a horror film that endures months and months of hype.  The hype is usually created by horror sites who tout “scariest movie of the year” and “will change the face of horror…forever”.  I would like to say that I am above this kind of hyperbole, but I am just as bad as the next guy.  These films are usually above average and seen in that perfect environment of a film fest, which instantly boosts its rating by at least a star or two.  By the time it makes its way to us, it is hard to not be excited and (even the most self controlled) expect more than your average studio horror film.  This was definitely the case with Lights Out and after watching it, giving it some time to process, I am still on the fence.  It offers some great moments of tension, but very little else.  Maybe I am just burned out on this kind of film, but I just expected a lot more than a one-dimensional jump scare flick.

The film begins with an introduction to the family in peril.  There is the son (Martin, played by Gabriel Bateman) and his mother (Sophie, played by a frazzled-as-hell Maria Bello) who are already squaring off with the supernatural, while mourning the loss of their father/husband.  After we meet them, we meet the Daughter (Rebecca, played by Teresa Palmer) who is portayed as troubled based on her heavy metal posters and rebel attitude.  She is fighting with her saint of a boyfriend and worried about her family.  After the son is caught sleeping in class, we find out that this supernatural force lives in the dark and can kill you.  This is where our gang starts their cliché adventure and try to survive while fighting this “dark” force in their home.

Supernatural horror has been quickly turning into a parody of itself.  This film is no exception, but when they do amp up the tension it works.  The only problem is that there are long, drawn out scenes that rely on the characters and they are hollow, boring caricatures.  Horror movies should be scary (which this film can be, at times), but doesn’t the audience deserve a little more substance?  Every interaction only exists to set up the next big jump scare, but after a while you stop caring.  The filmmaking is competent, but there is very little risked here (as well).  I believe that if this film was made five years ago I would be more forgiving, but we have seen this all before and if you wait another two weeks you will see (at least something very similar) it again.  LIGHTS OUT is currently in theaters everywhere. 

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CHAOS A.D. (2016)

BY BLAINE McLARENThe good folks at Sleaze Box have been working overtime to bring us some of the best no-budget exploitation films since bursting on to the scene with Amerikan Holokaust a few years back.  As rough-around-the-edges as that first movie was, there was something unique and fantastically DIY about their vision.  Chris Woods and company have been putting out a lot of titles and each release has shown a progression in craft, but (thank God) not lost that charm and grittiness that I have come to love.  Their name says it all. These are sleazy, fun exploitation films that make Florida seem even more dangerous than any twenty-four hour news cycle could ever imagine.  They wear their influences on their sleeves, but they are not pulling from your typical pool of influential movie directors. Directors like Bruno Mattei and Todd Sheets have made major impressions on these guys and it shows up in a glorious way.  Their most recent effort, Chaos A.D., is no exception.  We are treated again to an ultra-violent world of naked ladies, over the top gore and way too much of actor Bob Glazier’s anatomy.

 

The story takes place on Halloween night and we are introduced to a housewife, a brother and sister and a hooker loving politician.  Each of our central characters are kidnapped by a gang of viciously perverse weirdos that are ready to celebrate the night with torture and murder.  Once our protagonists are forced into their world, its a non-stop game of blood thirsty cat and mouse.

Having seen all of Sleaze Box’s releases this film is a big leap in production and sets.  Most of their films have been pretty minimalists, but they seem to go out of their way to mix things up this time around.  Also, Chris Woods spends more time developing characters and establishing who these folks are.  Ashley Lynn Caputo really shines as a housewife with a secret and I cannot believe how well she plays her role.  Both her and Bob Glazier steal every scene they are in, not to mention giving brave (nudity filled) performances.  Overall, the acting is pretty great.  Most of these actors have worked with Sleaze Box before and seem to have a level of comfort that is rarely seen in no-budget filmmaking.  My only complaint is very minor.  The runtime is a little longer than expected, but luckily it doesn’t feel too padded.  I just prefer these types of movies to be shorter and more briskly paced.  Besides running a little long, this is another great “gore and gals” roughie that lives up to its provocative title.  This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for the few who dig this kind of unapologetically filthy filmakking will love the shit out of Chaos A.D.  The film has not been released yet, but is currenly available to pre-order at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/chaos-a-d#/

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THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)

BY BLAINE MCLAREN

There has never been a more aptly titled and timed film than the most recent entry in The Purge series.  The U.S. is currently suffering through a real “Election Year”, enduring our way through two power hungry assholes that don’t seem that far off from the film’s fictional “new founding fathers”.  The concept of an annual purge has been a pretty high concept idea from the beginning, but I don’t think the creators had any idea of what they were starting.  The series had a pretty rocky start, but really found its footing with the release of its sequel “The Purge: Anarchy”.  This film took us into the streets and became an ultra violent homage to films like The Warriors and other action/exploitation films of the 70s and 80s.  The streets seemed as dangerous as you would imagine, allowing for some very interesting set pieces that were more than satisfying.  What I never expected was the introduction of a not-so-subtle message of class warfare.  We followed the lower class this time and we were tossed into a gritty world of survival that showed the true nature of why The Purge (actually) exists.  The big question going into this follow up (at least,for me) was “Is this going to just be Anarchy all over again or will this build on this concept and offer something new?” and I am glad to say it did!

The story picks up two years after the events of “Anarchy” and we are reintroduced to Leo, our unlikely hero from the last film.  He is currently working as bodyguard for a controversial senator who is currently running for president.  Her entire platform is built around outlawing The Purge and restoring the lower classes of this alternate America.  As you can imagine, this prompts the New Founding Fathers to attack her, setting off a series of events where our protagonists end up back on the city streets on Purge night.  From here we meet a slew of good guys and baddies hunting and surviving on the streets of Washington D.C.

The biggest difference with this film is the shift in tone.  This time around, the writing is much tighter and allows for more humor and humanity.  The comic relief is subtle and does not take away from the tension.  The streets feel even more dangerous this time around and the bad guys are even worse than before.  Some of the actors may be a little too exaggerated for some movie goers, but I feel their bigger than life performances fit this film perfectly.  The overall vibe has more in common with classic blacksploitaion films and this is (once again) because of the excellent script they are working with.  The only thing that can be grating is this series’ obsession with its “white crusaders”.  The events seem to be constantly surrounding Senator Roan and her every action seems out of place in this world.  She is given a compelling backstory, but every word from her mouth seems phony and incredibly cringe-worthy.  That aside, The Purge: Election Year is better than it has any right to be and I will be ready to fork over my next fifteen bucks when the inevitable sequel is released.  The Purge: Election Year is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

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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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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

 

THE LAST SHIFT (2015)

Siege films are one of the great, unsung genres of film that often gets overlooked.  Its usually overshadowed by its more popular labelS (Horror or Action).  A lot of folks forget that Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 and Demons all share the same plot lines.  I love this concept of peopled holed up together, trying to weather a storm or survive the night.  This setting creates a suspense and dramatic edge that few other styles capture.  The Last Shift is another strong entry into this subgenre.  It may not be wholly original (borrowing heavily from the three movies I mentioned earlier), but makes up for it in sheer creepiness.

The movie starts with a young, female officer named Jessica Loren showing up to her first day at work.  She is assigned to work the last shift at a closing precinct, while the rest of the department makes the transition to a new building.  Once there, she learns more about a satanic cult that reigned terror over their small town and took her father’s life.  We get a ride to madness revealing a villain who addresses himself as “The King of Hell”.

The plot is simple, but the director/co-writer (Anthony Diblasi) builds up each scare like a well mapped funhouse.  The imagery becomes increasingly darker as each set piece builds to the next, making the pace feel almost stressful.  What stands out most is the eerie sound design.  The film utilizes a looping sound style that makes the most mundane seem sinister.  There are a few things that feel cheap, but the budget and overall creepiness makes it all pretty forgivable.  I suggest that you give this little movie a shot and make sure to turn out all the lights and blare your surround sound.  The Last Shift is currently available on DVD.

3.5/5 STARS