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Circus of the Dead (2014)

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Circus of the Dead (2014)Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Parrish Randall, Chanel Ryan

Directed by Billy Pon


Clownsploitation. I don’t know if it’s an official genre, but it should be. We’ve had a few that fit the bill, but maybe not any as much as Circus Of The Dead.

Realistically, the title of this one is completely off. The whole ‘of the dead’ thing makes you expect zombies, and this is thankfully bereft of the walking dead. I’d suggest ‘Clowns Behaving Badly‘ or ‘A Serbian Film In Greasepaint‘.

I don’t really mean either of those as a compliment, but they do fit.

This one is Texan through and through, from Odessa-based writer/director Billy ‘Bloody Bill’ Pon, to Texas horror mainstay Parrish Randall, to the setting and shooting location of West Texas. The soundtrack throbs with Texas Psychobilly and Texan accents are everywhere. Being a Texan, I consider this a plus, but it can’t save the movie from itself.

The setup here is as simple as it gets: there’s a run-down traveling circus with a group of clowns that are psychotic serial rapists/killers. They choose their victims from town to town via a card game from Mexico. If they think you somehow match one of the cards, it gets an X and you get dead after an assortment of horrible things happen to you.

This ain’t Shakespeare, so that’s okay. More has been done with less.

The Johnsons are a standard suburban family. Dad works too much and doesn’t pay enough attention to wife or daughters. Wife is straying. Daughters are doing things like listening to gangsta rap and drinking soy lattes. (This is Texas so those are bad things. Look, just go with it.)

They go to the circus as a bonding trip, and draw the attention of Papa Corn (Bill Oberst Jr.) who leads the troupe of killer clowns.

A violent home invasion later, and the kids are in the hands of the clowns. Dad (Parrish Randall) has to do whatever Papa Corn says, and then maybe he’ll get his kids back.

Pon wants all of this to be a morality play. Will the detached, neglectful father find the love inside to do these horrible things to save his daughters? It almost works. Almost.

Circus of the Dead is a victim of it’s own excess. It runs almost two full hours, and man does it feel longer. You could easily slice half an hour out of this movie and still have a little fat left around the edges.

The problem isn’t just that it’s long, it’s what needs to be cut. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but they need to cut the most extreme of the content and shoot for a straight R rating.

See, Pons is trying to tell a morality tale while showing insane amounts of extreme content. He’s seen A Serbian Film one too many times, and this film starts to feel like a checklist of transgressions. Clown masturbation? Check. Rapes? Check. Torturing children? Check. Graphic murder of a fetus? Check. Clown penis? Check. (Yes, I said clown penis. Yes, it had a clown face on it.)

The extreme content doesn’t serve the film. Take that penis for example. That could have been a funny moment, but it’s revealed immediately following the brutal beating of a young, pretty girl, and immediately before her attempted rape. All portrayed very graphically and realistically. That’s not fun, so to shove something fun in the middle just comes off as jarring and bizarre, not entertaining.

The movie is full of moments like this. Papa Corn getting hot and bothered as he watches through the window at Mrs. Johnson’s infidelity is played for laughs…then it goes on and becomes graphic masturbation, and that just makes it…icky. One second, it’s over-the-top insanity. The next, gritty, realistic perversion and violence. It’s an uneven mess.

Pon needs to decide what movie he wants to make: a schticky violent movie (House of 1000 Corpses) or a hardcore, gritty, mega-transgressive film (A Serbian Film). Right now he has something that tries to be both, and succeeds at neither.

The movie isn’t without it’s merits. Oberst Jr. creates a honey of a lunatic in Papa Corn. The guy is becoming the man you go to when you need a completely bent psychopath, but this is why. He’s really, really good at it. Randall, previously a fixture as second banana or background characters, takes the lead here and does a really solid job as the anguished father. He certainly must be tired after the amount of thrashing and screaming that goes on here.

The clowns are a very interesting team. You want to learn more about them, and sadly, you never do. They’re equal parts hilarious and creepy, and that’s exactly how they should be. Even though Papa Corn gets 90% of the dialogue, you’re just as interested in the other three killers. That speaks to the performances and the direction.

Circus of the Dead is not a bad movie. It’s also not a good movie. It is definitely an unpleasant movie. I’d like to see Pon hire on a really good editor and have a come-to-Jesus moment in the booth over this one. Trim the worst of the worst, since it adds nothing to the film anyway, and focus on the clowns and the main plot. Find a tone and stick to it. Somewhere in here is a really enjoyable low-budget 90-minute film. Unfortunately, I saw a two-hour confused movie that couldn’t decide if it wanted to make me laugh or make me throw up, and didn’t manage to do either one.

2 out of 5

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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review

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Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo

Directed by Colin Bemis


Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.

The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.

As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.

Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.

In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.

On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.

In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.

Until then, check out the film’s trailer HERE, and follow the movie on Facebook.

  • Strawberry Flavored Plastic
3.5

Summary

Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)

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We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.

In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View

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Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly

Directed by Marcel Sarmiento


Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as

17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?

What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?

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