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

Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain (2015)

My favorite thing about being a genre fan is that there is never a shortage of strange, interesting movies to check out.  Every few months I stumble on an oddity filled to the brim with bizarre, original material that reinvigorates my interest and sends me back to the web to find that next hidden gem.  This current gem that I am discussing is this year’s Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain.  It is a psychedelic freakout of faith, sex, torture and self-realization that is unlike anything that you have ever experienced.  The director (Jeremy Westrate) takes the “kitchen sink” approach to storytelling and packs more ideas into this film than a corporate think tank.  In case I am not being clear, this is an ambitious and absolutely batshit crazy flick that needs to be seen to be believed.

This won’t be easy, but I am going to attempt to explain the basic story.  The titular Franklin spends a day out in nature and is quickly abducted by masked occultists who torture and exploit our protagonists until he submits to his pain.  After waking in a new location, he is then assaulted by foul-mouthed 60’s “street toughs” who then beat the breaks off of him again.  These run-ins repeat to differing effect and are inter-cut with hellish vignettes and dialogue with a less than comforting priest.

Each scene reveals a little hint of the developing story and is accompanied by a maddening score of both classical and pop-inspired music.  Colors shift, as well as perspectives and the camera never sits in any kind of static state.  “Break neck” is how I would describe its pace.  With this kind of experimental filmmaking, not everything works.  There are some scenes that may feel a little indulgent, but with a film like this, it is expected.  Actors can be middling to cartoonish, but good writing and spot on camera work makes up for the performer’s shortcomings.  There is very little to compare this film to and that (in itself) is a great reason I recommend this movie.  If you like acid trip cinematography mixed with absurd levels of violence, then this is the flick for you.  Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain is currently available on DVD and Vimeo.

4/5 STARS

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

 

Androgynym (2015)

I would not be lying if I said that I have been less-than impressed with this year’s low/no-budget releases.  For every one review that I put up, there is a slew of boring, uninspired releases that I glaze over and (usually) forget rather quickly.  I am very excited to report that Androgynym is not one of these disappointing films.  In fact, this movie could be one of the best low budget films of 2016.  Writer/Director/Star, Nick Iway, delivers a powerful labor of love that explores some heavy themes that most films would never touch.  Every scene is deliberate and builds to its highly cinematic conclusion that does something movies never do; make me care about these fictional characters and what happens to them.  Most movies would spend more time highlighting the gore and nudity, but Androgynym knows when to pump the breaks and let the story develop.  When the horror and shock occurs, you feel every bit of its drama, elevating what could have just been another exploitation rewind.  Instead we get a thoughtful drama that is both exciting and relatable.

 

The film begins by introducing us to our protagonist’s life as a thug for a gangster named Carlos.  Things go bad quickly and has to flee town and lay low for a while.  When he cannot adjust to his new lifestyle, he looses control and lobs off his penis (in an impressive fit of rage).  After his self-mutilation, our lead develops a fast friendship with an employee at a local pizza shop.   I will stop at this point, because I would hate to spoil what comes next.  I watched this film cold and feel that is the best way to approach Androgynym.  What I can tell you is that this is the point where Nick Iway really finds his feet as a filmmaker and you will not be disappointed.

While there is a lot that I love about this movie, there are a few small gripes that I did have.  The first act can be a little wonky and hard to follow.  As the film progresses, it quickly corrects these issues (especially in the camera work).  This is Mr Iway’s first feature film and I am very confident that we will see more quality work from him.  What makes this film so powerful is not the technical aspects, but the raw emotion behind the film.  This is a brave movie that does not gloss over things like addiction, loss and self identity.  In fact, it barrells 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.  This film is currently working on a wide DVD release and you can keep up with its progrss at http://androgynym.com/

4/5 STARS