Circus of the Dead (2014)

CotD love

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It’s no mystery to regular readers of Anything Horror that I’ve been looking forward to seeing Billy “Bloody Bill” Pon’s debut feature length film, CIRCUS OF THE DEAD. I’ve been following the development of this film since around September 2012 and can thankfully write that it was well worth the wait!! CIRCUS OF THE DEAD has easily taken an early lead as being my favorite film of 2014. This, though, presents a problem when trying to sit down and write the review. See, the better a film is and the more I like it, the more boring a review it makes. Hold on, hold on … hear me out. When I watch a film I absolutely hate and which makes the bile rise up in my throat, this results in a review where I can unleash the dogs and rant and rave about what a terrible film it was. But when I watch a film where I have nothing bad to say about 98% of the film, where’s the fun? No rants, no raves!! I know that my brother-in-arms, Deggsy, knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Welcome to the Big Show, Don!!
Welcome to the Big Show, Don!!

First let me say that CIRCUS OF THE DEAD is not your standard “killer clown” movie. The clowns aren’t a gimmick here. The clowns in CIRCUS OF THE DEAD are main characters with distinct personalities who are the driving force of the entire plot. The clowns are well defined characters with individual personalities. That being said, they are also frightening as shit!! The lead clown, Papa Corn (Bill Oberst Jr.), is a sadistic, brutal, rapey-kinda clown that will have you sleeping with the lights on. Horror icon Oberst Jr. gives an amazing performance and he brings his patented intensity and rawness to the role. The other clowns include Noodledome the Clown (Ryan Clapp), a bald, chunky clown who is also a cannibal; Mister Blister the Clown (Rusty Edwards), a chain-smoking clown who enjoys getting his hands dirty; Jumbo the Clown (Mike Williams), a midget; and there’s even a special appearance by everyone’s favorite Bloody Billy Pon character, Doll Boy (Sergio Gracida). These clowns live to fuck with people’s lives. They don’t just don’t torture, rape, and kill the person in their possession but ruin his/her entire life. It’s a game to these clowns. But don’t expect the typical humor associated with most killer clowns. This group has only one side and it’s a very dark side indeed. Director Billy Pon, who wrote the story with Lee Ankrum, does a fantastic job with giving us just the right amount of humor in the right places. Most of the humor is very dark and the humor never ruins the intensity of the horrors occurring on screen. Great job guys!!

CotD papa & chanelAs CIRCUS OF THE DEAD opens we find Papa Corn focusing his attentions on Donald (Parrish Randall), a husband and father of two adoring daughters. Donald is going though a bit of a mid-life crisis where he’s been wondering a lot about the “what if’s” in his life. “What if I took a different road in life?” “What if I made different choices when younger?” But he loves his wife, Tiffany (Chanel Ryan), and his two kids, Alyssa (Jordan Bell) and Hillary (Madi Lane), and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for them. He’d better because Papa Corn is about to test the limits of that devotion. Papa Corn first notices Donald and his family at the circus. He brings Donald up in the center ring as a volunteer and through a tense scene, manipulates Donald into giving him all kinds of information about him and his family. Big kudos to writers Pon and Ankrum. There’s no standard “canned” or lazy dialogue here. The dialogue in both this scene and the film as a whole is crisp, direct, and intense. Papa Corn is not your typical eye-rolling psychopath. He’s an expert manipulator who knows how to get into the heads of his victims in order to not only torture their bodies but to torture their minds as well. Papa Corn also chooses his victims for very specific reasons and doles out his torments in a kind of morality game. Bill Oberst Jr. gives one helluva performance in a career full of fantastic performances.

CotD fireThe intensity of the film grows as Papa Corn puts Donald through one horrifying situation after the next that would make even Marilyn Burns from the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE feel as though she got off easy. The gas station convenience store scene, the empty movie theater scene, and the end confrontation scene will have you digging your fingers into your couch’s arm rest while you gasp for air. The gore is plentiful and is beautifully executed here by indie special f/x guru Marcus Koch, Heather Buckley, and Matthew Ash. The clown make-up, done by Esau Ramirez, is top notch and doesn’t look like any “killer clown” make-up you’ve seen before. Each clown’s face is painted to give that clown a unique personality and Ramirez was absolutely successful in letting each personality bleed though their make-up.

circus-of-the-dead-10I could go on forever about CIRCUS OF THE DEAD. I really loved this film and was lucky enough to see two different versions of it (more on this in a second). If I had to find fault with this film it would be with some of the acting, mainly with actress Chanel Ryan. She doesn’t always look comfortable in front of the camera and at times her acting looks forced. But I will say that her head should get a standing ovation (you’ll understand this after you see the film). There’s no doubt though that this film is about the clowns and those psychotic guys really deliver. They are a menacing, frightening bunch who hit all the right notes in their performances which just elevates their terrifying acts. There’s never a moment when you say to yourself, “Those clowns ain’t so bad.” If anything, I’ll probably never take my kids to the circus again!!

CotD bloodIf you’re familiar with Billy “Bloody Billy” Pon’s debut short feature, DOLL BOY (which he also wrote with Ankrum), then you know what Pon’s and Ankrum’s minds are capable of. These are two twisted fucks (and I mean that in the most endearing, positive way possible) who aren’t afraid to push the envelop and do and show things in their films that people may not have seen before. Are they doing this for shock value? Absolutely, and why the hell not? It’s obvious these guys absolutely love the horror genre and whether they know it or not they will be instrumental in taking the genre to the next level. Remember the faux-trailer for MISTER FISTER at the beginning of the DOLL BOY dvd? Remember the fetus hanging from the rearview mirror? Well there’s scenes in CIRCUS OF THE DEAD that also push the boundaries of decency (wait until you see that Papa Corn paints both his heads), and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’ve written it time and time again that indie horror filmmakers are the future of the horror industry and Billy Pon proves that I’m right.

How would you like THIS to be the last thing you'll ever see??
How would you like THIS to be the last thing you’ll ever see??

CIRCUS OF THE DEAD is now on the festival circuit and I’m wondering which distributor will have the balls to pick this one up as it is and distribute it? It’s times like this that I wish I was in the distribution game. So keep your eyes peeled if you live in a town that has a horror film festival. You don’t want to miss CIRCUS OF THE DEAD and all the fun, gore, horror, and depravity that comes with it. But don’t be fooled: CIRCUS is also a very dark film that takes many dark twists and turns. If you only enjoy happy endings then you’ll definitely want to steer clear of this one!! But be sure to stick around for a post-end credit scene. You’ll thank me. Don’t miss CIRCUS OF THE DEAD!!

A quick note on the two different versions of CIRCUS that I watched. The first version was the one that premiered at 2014’s Texas Frightmare Weekend. It was a solid version that had the crowd up on their feet cheering. But Pon, being the perfectionist that he is, saw that his film could be better. Pon re-edited CIRCUS OF THE DEAD and made it tighter and improved on the overall flow of the film. There were a few scenes he cut altogether and others that he edited down in order to improve the flow of the film and in order to get to the clowns quicker. Pon is a pro with a helluva eye and made a great film even better!! But best yet is that after the end credits rolled and after the end credit scene (which you’ve got to see), this casually rolls up the screen:

CotD ppart2

Hell yeah … I’m already counting the days!!

My Summary:

Director: Billy “Bloody Bill” Pon (& co-writer, executive producer, editor, & visual effects supervisor)

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars

Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Stay Bloody!!!

CotD clowns

Horror Update: Bloody Billy Pon & Circus of the Dead

Hey everyone.  You can feel it in the air.  There’s a slight chill and it’s getting darker earlier at night.  I’m in Austin, TX so by “chill” I mean we’re in the mid-80’sto low-90’s, but you get what I’m saying.  Halloween is quickly approaching and in my house we’ve started celebrating since September 1st!!  Going to the two kick ass Halloween stores by my house I’ve been seeing a lot of evil/demonic/perverse-looking clown outfits and it got me thinking about indie horror filmmaker, Bloody Billy Pon.  Bloody Bill wrote (along with Lee Ankrum), directed, did the sound editing, the film editing, and produced (again, with Ankrum) the 2010 short horror film, DOLL BOY (my review here).  Ever since 2010 DOLL BOY has been tearing up the festival circuit and I even got to experience the gory, disturbing short at this past year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend with a crowd.  DOLL BOY killed!!!  But best yet is I got to meet Bloody Bill himself and even got to meet Doll Boy (even in a public setting with the lights on, Doll Boy is fucking terrifying).  It was the highlight of the 2012 convention for me.

Anything Horror Scott & Bloody Bill Pon

Since I was thinking about horrifying clowns and terrifying baby masks on sociopathic adult men, I decided to stop by the DOLL BOY and CIRCUS OF THE DEAD Facebook pages and see if there’s any updates.  Well the good news is that Bloody Bill is indeed making a full-length feature film (CIRCUS OF THE DEAD).  We talked a bit about that at the Texas Frightmare Weekend and he’s super excited about the project and so is everyone who’s seen DOLL BOY.  There were also a few pics up on the CIRCUS OF THE DEAD Facebook page of everyone’s favorite clown, Noodledome the Clown (the pics in this post).

Besides being a very talented filmmaker who’s a huge asset to the horror genre, Bloody Bill is also a really, genuine nice guy.  He’s friendly, goes outta his way to make you feel like a long lost friend, and always makes time for his fans.  But don’t let that cuddly, teddy bear-like demeanor fool you … Bloody Bill has a Dark Side.  Not just any Dark Side … a black-hole black Dark Side!!Just watch DOLL BOY and the faux-trailers he made before DOLL BOY!!

I’ve gotten Bloody Bill to promise me he’s gonna email me when there’s updates on the progress of CIRCUS OF THE DEAD.  For now I hope you enjoy the images (remember; these images are not from CIRCUS OF THE DEAD … these are promo stills).  So stay tuned … the future looks bright with horrors to come from Bloody Billy Pon, and I’ll be here to give you all the bloody details!!

Check out and support the DOLL BOY Facebook page and CIRCUS OF THE DEAD Facebook page and

Stay Bloody!!!

6 Short Horror Films: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2012

Saturday afternoon at this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend there was a screening of six short horror films (there was supposed to be seven, but we’ll get to this below).  Whoever chose the shorts did a nice job of gathering up some diverse films.  There’s an experimental flick, a horror-comedy, two that take place in an abandoned warehouse, and two very different sci-fi themed shorts.

The first one screened was KLAGGER (2012; 12mins).  This is one of the shorts that takes place in an abandoned warehouse.  This is the story of Perry (Matthew Aycock), a worker who’s job is going into abandoned warehouses in order to see what can be salvaged.  This particular warehouse had a horrible accident occur that shut it down.  The accident was so horrendous that the spirit of the man killed still haunts the warehouse.  Written and directed by Casey Crow, KLAGGER’s story isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, but Crow’s filming style is what makes this one worth your time.  The cinematography, by Anthony Gutierrez, is beautiful and I love the choice of colors used.  The film has a kind of yellow-reddish hue to it that helps increase the tension.  Crow and Gutierrez create some beautiful shots and do a nice job developing cut-with-a-knife tension before the titular spirit appears.

The next two shorts, DOLL BOY (2010; 27mins) and THE CODE (2011; 6mins) I had seen before.  DOLL BOY, simply put, is a great fucking short (my review)!!  Bloody Billy Pon really delivered a fast-paced, creepy, nightmarish, and gory short about the titular character, living alone in an abandoned warehouse, being supplied human beings to “play with.”  I can’t say enough good things about this short!!  THE CODE is the horror-comedy in the group and director Mark Blitch understands the material enough to know that anything over 6 minutes would’ve felt stretched and played out.  The story is about two lovers getting romantic during a midnight picnic when they’re ambushed by zombies … and a serial killer … and Bigfoot.  Uh oh; someone didn’t look at their Google Calendar!!  This one is really clever and has some genuinely funny moments.

The next film screened was perhaps the most interesting of the bunch, OTHER (2011; 15mins).  This is the story of Patrick (David Steiger), a doctor who discovers he has a very aggressive and deadly cancer growing inside himself and decides to bypass the conventional medical avenues and conducts his own research.  His research leads to a very radical new procedure that works in removing the cancer … but there are some brutal side effects.  Everything about this short is spot on.  Daniel DelPurgatorio, the director and co-writer (along with Rob Foster and Anthony R. Williams) crafted a tight, fast-paced story that grabs you from the first frame and keeps you glued to the screen.  There’s also some biting commentary on the current state of health care and the way pharmaceutical companies ‘run the show.’  Steiger gives a great performance as a man at the end of his rope desperately trying to save his life at any cost.  OTHER is DelPurgatorio’s debut live action short, and I’m willing to bet we’re gonna see a lot more from him in the future.

Next up was FALLOW (2009; 14mins).  FALLOW (written and directed by Dave Alexander and Colin Landry) explores the delicate balance between Man and Nature and what happens when that balance is corrupted.  All across a small farming community, baby calves are being stillborn with barbed wire threaded throughout their bodies.  This is the catalyst of bad things to come after a sacred pact established centuries ago with a presence in the soil has been broken.  FALLOW has a decent enough story to it but lacks a certain punch that all the other shorts have.  The plot unfolds in a predictable way and doesn’t throw anything unusual or ‘twisty’ at us.  Technically, the film also offers nothing too exciting.  This isn’t a bad short, but compared to it’s fellow shorts screened, it fails to really grab you.

The final horror short screened was ENDLESS (2011; 9mins), an experimental film about a man (Chris Geere) being attacked in a bathroom by what seems to be some kind of supernatural creatures (Katy Gannon, Jenna Harrison, and Martina McClements).  This nine minute short details the attack (which takes place in about 30 seconds) in slow motion and at times, super slow motion.  Writer-director Matt Bloom captures and creates some really beautiful and horrifying shots and even gets in an homage to Lucio Fulci!  ENDLESS isn’t about the story itself and never attempts to answer questions like who the creatures are, who the man is, why these things are attacking him, etc …  ENDLESS is about the attack itself and seeing it from different perspectives and angles.  Very creative and fun.

The most disappointing part of the screening was that the program mentioned that there was going to be seven shorts screened.  The last one was supposed to be FAMILIAR (2012; 24mins), written and directed by Richard Powell.  This one should ring a bell with you because I watched and reviewed FAMILIAR back in January of this year (my review) and absolutely loved and raved about it.  But after the sixth short was screened the the Texas Frightmare Weekend 2012, the lights came up and that was it.  No FAMILIAR.  I was really looking forward to seeing this one on the big screen and seeing the reactions of my fellow horror lovers as they watched the climax of the film.  So what happened TFW??

All in all, whoever selected the horror shorts to screen did a really nice job of giving a cross-section of what the horror genre has to offer.  They were all well made and well acted with a few flaws here and there.  But my question remains … what happened to FAMILIAR??

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer from the Texas Frightmare Weekend 2012

Texas Frightmare Weekend 2012: Friday Night with Gaylen Ross, Barbara Crampton, and Bloody Bill Pon

What would a horror convention be without some iconic killers??

Well another Texas Frightmare Weekend has come and gone and right now it’s Sunday night around 11pm and I’m fighting off sleep and the lull I always feel after the big weekend is over.  I eagerly await the Texas Frightmare Weekend all year and then it’s over in a short but very busy two days.  But I always manage to cram a lot into those two days and this year was no different.  This year I attended five Q & A’s, saw six horror shorts, eight feature-length films, and met a bunch of horror icons and future horror icons.  I didn’t sleep too much, but you try sleeping know that Italian Maestro Lamberto Bava is staying just a few rooms down the hall from you or getting into an elevator and seeing Keith David and Laurence R. Harvey already standing there.  Its a horror-lover’s paradise where fan and icon mingle freely and sit side by side while eating breakfast or getting some drinks at the bar.  I’ve written in my summaries of the the last two Frightmare’s I’ve attended how awesome horror celebrities are … I don’t need to go over that again.  But we as fans always hear that “Horror fans are the best fans out there,” and I agree completely with this.  But there’s another side to this quote:  “Horror celebrities are the best celebrities around!!”

Jason 7 ‘lil Sam Hain mugging it up.

I was pretty stoked to see two main themes at this year’s Frightmare Weekend:  Old -School Italian Horror and Women in Horror were really well represented.  We had Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deaodato, and Sergio Stivaletti (I’ll talk about their Q & A in another posting) who were a blast to see all together on stage.  And the women were really well represented this year.  Icons like Nancy Allen, Barbara Crampton, Betty Buckley, Meg Foster, Danielle Harris, Piper Laurie, Traci Lords, Lynn Lowry, Gaylen Ross, Tiffany Shepis, and Ashlynn Yennie (who is an absolutely stunning woman in person).  That’s not even all of them!!  Now I must admit that this year my funds were a little more limited and I didn’t get to meet and get pictures with all the celebs I wanted to.  I could really only afford to meet two of them.  Who did I choose?  Barbara Crampton and Gaylen Ross, of course.  These two women were and still are hero’s of mine.  They were both in some of the best horror films ever made and they played characters that questioned the typical roles women usually played in horror films.

Gaylen Ross is best know as ‘Francine’ in George Romero’s 1978 masterpiece, DAWN OF THE DEAD.  I had everything mapped out in my head of what I wanted to say to her standing in line, and when I got up to meet her I became a stuttering, tongue-tied, star-struck kid.  I managed to say something like, “It’s a pleasure meeting you” (I think my voice may have actually cracked) … and “”Dawn of the Dead is the pivotal film that really turned me into a hardcore horror fan.”  And then I just stared at her in awe.  But she understood and she got it.  I’m sure she gets that a lot, and she looked as though she truly and genuinely appreciated my idolization (I couldn’t get myself to tell he what a huge crush I had on her).

Me & ‘Francine’ herself, Gaylen Ross

I’m no film historian, but for me, Ross’ role as Francine was the role that forever changed the way women are viewed in horror films.  She was brave and hard and courageous and didn’t crumble into a weeping foetal position every time danger raised it’s ugly head.  She was a fighter and a survivor and with no disrespect to the other actors in DAWN OF THE DEAD, Francine was the real star of the film.  When I was ten years old watching the uncut version of DAWN OF THE DEAD, I knew even then that I was watching something special and important.  All the men behaved in exactly the way I expected.  They were trained, strong, and ready to fight and be heroic all the time.  But so was Francine, and this was something I hadn’t seen before … especially in a film from the late 1970’s!!  These are the things I wanted to say to her, but nooooo … what did I manage to get out?  “It’s a pleasure meeting you.”  Sometimes I’m an idiot (okay; more than sometimes).

Me & Barbara Crampton

Barbara Crampton was next.  Aahhh Barbara Crampton.  She friggin’ OWNED the mid-1980’s to mid-1990’s!!  She was beautiful, sexy, smart, and even though she found herself the ‘victim’ in a lot of her roles, she never played them laying down (okay; maybe that one scene in RE-ANIMATOR).  She may have been a victim, but she always fought back and always looked fantastic doing it.  Back in July 2011 I had the honor of interviewing Barbara (interview here), and we stayed in touch through Twitter.  When I found out she was gonna be at this year’s Frightmare Weekend, I was as giddy as a school boy!!  Tell me one 15-17 year old horror fan boy who wasn’t in love with Barbara Crampton back in the 1980’s.  From her role as Megan in RE-ANIMATOR to Dr. McMichaels in FROM BEYOND (who made leather look even more sexy and dangerous), Crampton had a knack for picking great roles that would have horror fans remembering her for decades.

Meeting Barbara wasn’t as nerve-racking as Gaylen Ross for the sole reason that I previously interviewed her.  As I walked up and introduced myself as “Scott, from Anything Horror,” a terrifying thought went through my head … what if she doesn’t remember who the hell I am.  I almost panicked but was quickly put at ease.  To both my name and my website’s, Barbara’s face lit up and came around her table and gave me a big hug.  I was floored; I never expected to be treated as a long lost friend!!  We then chatted for a little bit and I got a picture with her.  She gave me a quick update on her two new films:  YOU’RE NEXT is supposed to be released later this year, but may be pushed back, and THE LORDS OF SALEM is currently in post-production.

I don’t think I need to tell you everything that was going through my mind as I was getting a hug from and chatting with Barbara freakin’ Crampton!!  Some guys may wanna meet super models or different pop stars or whatever.  Meeting Barbara Crampton for me was like meeting your first crush and realizing that she’s even more beautiful, intelligent, and nice than you could’ve ever thought.

Me, Bloody Billy Pon, & the MISTER FISTER glove

The final person I had time to meet on Friday night before the first film screened was Bloody Billy Pon.  I reviewed Bloody Bill’s debut short film, DOLL BOY, last June (review here) and absolutely loved it (it even made my list of the Best Shorts of 2011, here).  DOLL BOY is twisted, fast-paced, gory, and disturbing, but most important … it’s fun as hell!!  Starting with two faux-trailers, DOLL BOY will grab you by the throat and shake ya till ya vomit.  I met Bloody Billy and just like with Barbara Crampton, after mentioning my name and Anything Horror, Billy jumped up and came around the table to shake my hand vigorously.  According to Billy I was one of, if not the, first reviewers to give him a great review and that apparently “Got the ball rolling” on DOLL BOY.  I couldn’t have been happier.  Besides being gory and twisted, DOLL BOY is also a technical achievement.  With great cinematography and editing, Billy’s a fantastic filmmaker and I can’t wait to see what’s gonna come outta this guys twisted head next!!

One of the faux-trailers before DOLL BOY is titled, MISTER FISTER, and is about a man with some woman issues.  He makes a glove out of chain mail-like material that he uses to fist girls and turn them inside out.  No, this one isn’t meant to be taken seriously.  The trailer is absolutely hilarious and done in the good old-fashioned grindhouse style of the 1970’s.  But as we were set to get a picture together Billy said, “Hold on,” and goes and gets the glove used in MISTER FISTER … and asked me if I wanted to wear it in the picture.  FUCK YEAH!!  I was in heaven.  I’m gonna sound like a broken record, but Bloody Billy Pon is one helluva great guy.  Pon made me feel like we were long lost brothers, and talking with him you can just see it in his eyes and body language that he genuinely loves the horror genre and loves making films.

Me & the psychotic Doll Boy himself (Billy’s brother-in-law)

Bloody Billy Pon also reminded me why I love running AnythingHorror.com.  Sometimes I get very frustrated about the fact that I put so much time and effort into this site and I can’t seem to make a dime from it.  But meeting horror filmmakers like Bloody Billy Pon reminds me that this is the real reason I run this website … to support and get the word out on people like Bloody Billy.  And the fact he’s such an appreciative and really great guy makes it all the better.  Currently Pon is working on a feature based on one of the faux-trailers, CARNIVAL DE LA MUERTE.  This will also involve the titular character for DOLL BOY.  Pon told me that CARNIVAL DE LA MUERTE is going to be about people torturing others to create the freaks for the carnival.  Hell yeah.

I could’ve stayed and talked with Bloody Billy for hours, but there were four films that night I wanted to see:  IT’S IN THE BLOOD, ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS ZOMBIES, THE VICTIM, and ZOMBIE ASS: TOILET OF THE DEAD.  Look for these reviews soon!!  But thank you Barbara, Gaylen, and Billy for making my first night of this years convention a memorable one.

Stay Bloody!!!