I’ve said for many years that there was a lot of potential in the world of animated horror, but that no one had done it right yet. Anything is possible with animation, and you can go places and do things you couldn’t in a live action movie. What? What the hell did you just say to me? Oh for the love of…shut up about your beloved anime! Why can I never talk about animated horror without someone bringing anime up? Jeez. Ok, Vampire Hunter D had its moments. That’s about all you anime freaks are gonna get out of me. Maybe a little Wicked City. Anyway, what I’ve always held up as the best animated horror ever created was the B-17 segment of Heavy Metal. It had the atmosphere, but it didn’t go far enough and it was too short. I’ve seen some good stuff over the years like City of Rott or El Superbeasto, but that was horror comedy. Peurs Du Noir was cool, but lacked punch. I wanted a real, visceral, dark animated flick with that authentic horror atmosphere. I wanted something more extreme. Animation would seem to lend itself naturally to extreme horror as there are no limitations. Well folks, I can finally say that I have seen a film that serves up exactly what I’ve always wanted from an animated horror flick. Where the Dead Go to Die is trippy, demented, gory, and downright brilliant.
The movie was made by musician/filmmaker Jimmy Sceamerclauz. I say he made it because the voice acting is about the only thing he didn’t do himself here. This is his sick baby. To get academic for a moment, Where the Dead Go to Die is probably the best argument for “auteur film theory” I’ve seen in a long time. It is one man’s vision, and it is completely unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The name of Screamerclauz is not unknown to me. As those of you who know me in real life already know all too well, every year I make twisted and inappropriate XXX-mas CD’s as gifts for my friends. A couple of years back, Screamerclauz’s AMAZING rendition of the 12 Days of Axe-mess was on it and has become a perennial holiday favorite of mine. I’m not familiar with most of his other work, as speed/noise-core isn’t my thing, but when I saw that this was his flick I was very intrigued.
I don’t want to give away any more of what happens than necessary, so I’ll just go with the “back of the box” synopsis: “Where the Dead Go To Die revolves around a troubled group of children living on the same block. They are haunted by a talking dog named Labby who brings them on surreal hell-rides between different dimensions and time periods. On the night of a lunar eclipse he informs Tommy about the devil fetus living inside his mother. The same night he attempts to help Ralph court the girl across the street, who is an unwilling participant in her father's child porn tape trading ring. Add in a memory stealing junkie living inside an abandoned church and you have 90 minutes of pure mind melting insanity.”
Let me tell you Cellmates, that synopsis doesn’t do the flick justice at all. While the movie is split into three parts, as it was originally three short films, they flow together well and the transitions don’t feel disjointed at all. The first one, Tainted Milk, involves Labby telling Tommy about the demon child in his mother’s womb. Some of the stuff that goes on in this opening segment puts stuff like Serbian Film and Salo to shame. The fact that a lot of the sex and violence involves children adds a whole new dimension of depravity. The second segment, Liquid Memories, delivers quite possibly the most hallucinogenic visuals I’ve ever seen. The story of the serial killing memory junkie wraps and weaves around these visual manifestations of insanity until your mind gives up on trying to make sense of it and agrees to just go along for the ride. The Masks That the Monsters Wear, the final segment, continues with the surreal hellishness and graphic atrocities of the first two, but adds in a completely unexpected element, an engrossing story with empathetic characters and genuinely emotionally effecting scenes. The story of sexual abuse, physical deformity, and the hopeful helplessness of youth manages to be heartbreaking, fascinating, and absolutely riveting. The overall tone of the movie is hard to nail down. The over the top sickness, pervasive sadness of some scenes, threads of pitch black comedy, and the “whoa, that was cool” aspect blend to keep the tone of the film constantly in flux and keep the viewer from ever really knowing what to make of it. In other words, you don’t so much watch this flick as you experience it.
A lot of “mind f**k” style movies tend to rely on either bizarre visuals or a sick story for their power. This movie perfectly melds both. Neither is in service of the other, they work in tandem. The word “nightmarish” is thrown around a lot in the horror world, but this might be the best cinematic representation of a nightmare ever made. You have the feeling of being in an otherworldly place that you have no control over. It’s that feeling that anything can happen in that place, and you don’t know what rules apply. Everything seems not quite real, but real enough to hurt. It’s all intriguing, vivid, and strangely beautiful, but the loss of control and macabre nature of these visions threaten to make them turn on you any minute. After the film, you have the feeling of waking up from a nightmare that you remember in every detail; a combination of “what the hell was that,” “what does it mean,” and “holy mother of shit, that was intense.” It’s either a nightmare or a really strong trip that’s constantly on the edge of turning bad.
A couple of other reviewers have taken aim at the animation style, pointing out clipping and synching issues and calling it “amateur” and “glitchy.” You know what? They’re right. What they’re dead wrong about is thinking that the animation is a detriment to the movie. In fact, it works to the flick’s advantage. It’s a very unique style. Just like the movie itself is an amalgam of the profound and the perverse, visually the movie is primitive and picturesque at the same time. The computer animation itself sometimes reminds me of lesser examples of early PC or Playstation 1 era video games. Nevertheless, the lushness of the colors, the sheer freakishness of what we’re seeing, and the knack Jimmy has for shot composition all come together to create an enthralling world for the film to take place in. Sometimes there are issues with objects passing through other objects when they shouldn’t. Sometimes hair or clothing or liquids just don’t move the way they’re supposed to. Yes it’s jarring and doesn’t look right, but I think this actually adds to the other-worldliness of the film and ends up being an asset. Had this movie had Pixar level animation quality and Hollywood polish, it would have lost its unique edge and that nightmarish quality would have been ruined. On a technical level, the only thing I didn’t dig was that the characters voices were very low in the audio mix at times. With the exception of Labby, who always whispers, I’m not sure if the low voices were an artistic choice or not, but I found straining to catch what they were saying distracting and aggravating at times.
As usual, Unearthed Films brought the awesome as far as special features go. There’s an audio commentary with Jimmy Screamerclauz where he discusses pot cookies, how he was learning to animate as the movie went on and, most interestingly, how he originally envisioned the film as a comedy. He also says that for a lot of the film he didn’t have anything deep in mind, he just wanted it to be weird. If that’s true, then his mind truly works in wondrously mysterious ways. In addition to the commentary, there’s a featurette showing them doing motion capture with an X-box Kinect, a featurette showing the recording of the voices for Liquid Memories (including a great conversation with Linnea Quigley about selling toenail clippings on ebay), an additional short called “Ice Cream Sunday,” deleted scenes, trailers, and more goodies that I have yet to delve into. I’m always impressed at the amount of TLC that Unearthed gives to these underground and obscure flicks. No barebones release here. It’s currently available HERE in a numbered limited edition DVD, Blu-ray, or VHS. Yes, I said VHS. How cool is that?
Random Thought 1: My mom has a black Labrador that looks just like Labby. Now when he sits, pants, and looks at me, I get a little creeped out.
Random Thought 2: Joe was kinda pissed that I didn’t save this one for EC3.
Random Thought 3: I have a feeling that if this film had come out during my acid days, it REALLY would have messed with my head.Where the Dead Go to Die is a movie that walks that fine line between the gorgeous and the grotesque. This flick will make you recoil, make you think, make you feel…and might make you vomit. At times it reminded me of a mix of Fantastic Planet, Cannibal Holocaust, Holy Mountain, Peanuts, Gozu, and a 90’s Tool video. It’s also the most original piece of film I’ve seen in a long long time. This is not for everyone. If your tastes run more towards the mainstream, this might be too much. If you need big budget gloss on your flicks, you probably won’t like it. If, however, you are the type that appreciates eccentric artistry and strange, unique, beautifully made, effectively realized, and challenging movie fringe experiences, I can’t recommend this highly enough. I’ve watched it about 5 times in the last week, and it still blows my nearly unblowable mind every time. I'll post a trailer to it below. You'll be able to tell if it's something you'd be into. Warning, the trailer is NSFW. Hell, it's probably not safe for human consumption. The top of the 2012 class so far. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.