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 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

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

 

DEAD BEAT (2015 Short Film)

Luke Ramer and his team at West 2nd Productions have been busy as hell this year.  They have cranked out two feature films, one anthology segment and one high concept short.  This review is for the latter and (in my humble opinion) is his most accomplished to date.  It is very apparent that these films are made on shoestring budgets, but still manages to convey a very cinematic feel.  There are only a few instances where the budget shows is only really shows when it comes to the sound in a few scenes.  These few aurel shortcomings are easily dismissed, especially when you factor in the camerawork and acting on display.  The effects are brief, but in its painful climax I guarantee you will feel every bit of pain displayed on screen.

The story is very simple, but never feels cliche.  A guitar toting scumbag meets a young lady, sleeps with her and gets her pregnant.  From this point, we find out that already has a child that he rarely sees and quickly gets treated to a dose of his own medicine.

As I said before, nothing feels cheap in this film and I am happy to be able to watch a filmmaker grow and improve.  The story is quick and never lets itself get bogged down by boring, pointless chit-chat.  The director understands that movies are a visual medium and uses what he has to its maximum effect.  What we get is a brisk, squirm inducing ride of come-uppance that any decent person can root for.  Keep an eye out for this up and coming filmmaker and check out some of his earlier work if you like what you see.  Dead Beat is currently available for free on YOUTUBE.  Please click the link below to watch it in its entirety.

4.5/5 STARS

The World Of Kanako (2015)

 

The good folks at Drafthouse Films seem to have an eye for interesting foreign and domestic films.  Last year I fell in love with multiple titles (Nothing Bad Can Happen and Why Don’t You Play In Hell) and this year is no different. The World Of Kanako is a brutal, yet stylish tale of revenge that does not follow any paint by numbers structure.  Violence is at the epicenter of the film and everyone suffers throughout its 118 minute runtime.  Blood sprays, people are terrorized and no one escapes unscathed.  As violent as it is, this film is also very playful and sprinkles in quite a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor that can be a relief, but (at times) can also kill the pace of the movie.

The film follows an ex-detective by the name Akikuzu who is investigating the disappearance of his daughter, the titular Kanako.  As he digs deeper and deeper into her private life he uncovers a story of brutality, drugs and sex that only feeds into the rage of our wayward hero.   From this point we embark on a tour de force of murder and mayhem.  As Akikuzu descends further into her private life, he loses more and more of his humanity until he no longer wants to save his daughter…but to kill Kanako himself.

The World of Kanako is a grim flick that relies heavily on its style.  The truth is, without the style and camerawork it would be exhausting to watch this kind of intense abuse and hate.  Every twist and turn is darker than the last and it walks the line of absurdity that could fall apart at any moment.  The greatest downfall of the film are these drastic shifts in tone.  One moment a man is beating his wife and the next he is doing a slapstick routine.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter.  The filmmaker is confident in his craft and tricks its viewer to accept the strangest of explanations and scenarios.  But lets be honest, isn’t this why we love the extreme films of Japan in the first place?  The World Of Kanako is currently available on all VOD platforms.

3.5/5 STARS

 

THE INTERIOR (2015 BURIED ALIVE FILM FEST)

There is a moment at film festivals that really differ from any other movie watching experience.  This moment is directly after the credits, your short time to stretch your legs, go to the bathroom and check your phone messages.  What happens during this time is the best, you talk with other festival goers and see what the “other guy” thought.  The festival that I saw The Interior was a horror festival and found that I may have been one of the only viewers who really loved this flick.

Most people said that it was too slow or that was not enough true “horror” in this film.  My unpopular opinion was hard to defend.  Yes, it was slow.  Yes, it wasn’t a conventional horror story…but dammit!  It was beautiful, introspective and created a meandering experience that hit that sweet spot between the experimental docudrama of Herzog and the eeriness of a tent horror film like The Blair Witch Project.  I tell this long story to prepare you, THIS IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL HORROR FLICK.  This is something contemplative and experimental.  It sticks with you for days and takes time to simmer and really be appreciated.

 

The story is about James who is an office worker in his mid-twenties.  He lives a meandering and miserable life, without any real passion or direction.  He eventually goes to a doctor about some minor symptoms and gets some troubling news (which the details are never explained).  From there he eventually cuts all ties and moves to the woods because he “wants the opposite of this”.  He then wanders the woods and starts to experience terrifying nightmares and run-ins with strangers, deep within the dense woods of Canada.

 

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.  The sound design heightens both the serenity and tension, using either natural soundscapes or intense classical pieces.  I could go on and on about how much I love this movie, but don’t want to venture into spoiler territory.  What I can say is that this is a movie worth your time and attention, especially if you are sick of half-assed paranormal flicks.  This is a beautiful film that will eventually find its audience and I will not be surprised to find it on a lot of top ten lists for 2015.  The Interior is currently on its festival rounds and I will update when release  dates are available.

4/5 STARS

Curtain (2015 BURIED ALIVE FILM FEST)

The world of indie horror is a place that is never short on interesting ideas.  The fact that there is a compelling film about a transdimensional portal in a shower, should not come as a surprise.  Curtain is a great example of what you can accomplish when you have a great idea and a small budget.  Where it lacks in effects and expensive settings, it makes up in great acting and a stronger-than-expected script.  The stylistic choices are interesting and creates a surreal, beautiful experience that mashes numerous genres and styles.

Curtain is about a young woman named Danni who moves into her New York apartment and quickly finds that her bathroom is a shower curtain eating portal that activates every time she closes the door.  Things ramp up when Danni and her friend (Whale-saving activist, Tim) start to track down where these curtains are going.  What follows is an enjoyably creepy, headtrip of a film.

The meat of the story includes a populous of great characters including killer monsters, blind cult leaders and breast obsessed janitors.  Although the film has a very lean run time (74 minutes), the filmmaker still manages to flush out these roles and give each of their performances weight.  The overall feel of this film reminds me of earlier David Lynch, but with a air of whimsy and humor.  This influence is shown especially well in the dream sequences that are campy, but creepy in a way that echoes the offbeat tone of movies like Eraserhead and Wild At Heart. The few minor gripes that I had stemmed directly from the film’s budget and some awkward editing.  These complaints are very small and do not take away much from the final product. Overall, if you are looking for a fun, eccentric horror movie then Curtains is right up your alley.  It is currently on its festival run and I will update as information is made available.

3.5/5 STAR

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