Home > Circus of the Dead - 7 > Circus of the Dead – 7

Circus of the Dead – 7

Director – Billy ‘Bloody Bill’ Pon

Cast – Bill Oberst Jr., Parrish Randall, Chanel Ryan, Rusty Edwards, Ryan Clapp, Mike Williams, Roger Edwards, Brad Potts, Tiffani Fest, Jed Duesler, Travis Steele

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

While attending Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014 in Dallas I received the opportunity to screen this indie horror film. I did not know anything about Circus of the Dead prior to the convention, but seeing the lines of people at their booth and the excitement around them I knew this was a flick I had to check out. Walking into the theater 15 minutes before the showing I figured I would have enough time to find a seat, but that was not the case. Every seat in the Alamo Drafthouse sponsored room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel was taken, and I was forced to stand in the back of the room for over two hours. With technical difficulties delaying the movie, several of the cast members came out to talk about the film, and excited the audience to the point where we were all yelling “We want the clowns!” while the bugs were being worked out. With a $150,000 budget I figured I should not expect anything fancy and should instead watch the film for what it is, but boy did this effort from Billy “Bloody Bill” Pon surpass my expectations. Heavy in sadistic and tantalizing horror, Circus of the Dead is an indie experience that proved to be the most horrific film I saw that weekend – an underdog, and an overachiever.

When simple family man Don Johnson brings his family to a run down Big Top circus situated on the edge of Odessa, TX he and his family have the time of their lives, but their joyous memories will soon be annihilated by the nihilistic group of clowns running the show. Now in a fight for the lives of his family, Don is sucked deep into lead clown Papa Corn’s heinous games and pushed to the edge of his sanity. Armed with a slew of weapons and a ’68 Camaro whose owner suffered a terrible demise, the clowns force Don on a blood-soaked overnight crime spree through oil-rich West Texas. With the hope of saving his family dangling before him, Don is forced to commit daunting tasks that defy his faith, reason, and the man that he is.

Based on the film’s title it would be safe to assume this is a zombie film, but it is instead a grindhouse-esque maniacal ride about killer circus clowns and the trail of bodies they leave in their wake. The film begins in engaging fashion, throwing us into the life and maniacal antics of Papa Corn and the old run down traveling circus he leads. Papa Corn relies on the Mexican card game Chalupa to determine who his future victims will be, and when the Johnson family arrives the cards line up and he sets them in his sights. With him being a clown, he is quite charismatic and proves to be a joy to watch. Unfortunately for the Johnson family, it is not just a movie for them. With his clown posse in tow Papa Corn stalks the family, which includes a hilarious masturbation scene outside their home, and he then lays waste to those in his way of kidnapping Don and his two young girls. The remainder of the film follows Don’s struggle to regain control of his life and the lives of his children. The clowns bring him along for an overnight joy ride that turns quite bloody and leaves a gory trail for the authorities to follow. Including Papa Corn there are four clowns, and each of them comes with their own traits and horrific attributes. The torture they force Don to endure is extreme, and while he suffers little pain physically he suffers immense mental pain in what seems like an everlong nightmare. For a film nearly two hours in length the story did not drag much and kept the tension and kills coming at just the right increments. Keep in mind that I was standing during this screening, and while my feet were hurting very badly after walking around all day I never once felt the film lose its focus.

Pon’s direction is pretty darn fantastic and he excells in the elements that matter the most. His atmosphere is solid, giving us a gloomy feel that looms over the film and positive sets heavy in shadows. The look of the clowns was great as well, and while only two of the clowns had real speaking roles it was Bill Oberst Jr. who stole the show with his insane performance as Papa Corn. We see multiple levels of emotion emitted by Papa Corn, from joy and elation to hatred and supreme anger, and all while managing to have a great time with some good laughs. I applaud Parrish Randall’s Don Johnson performance as well, given he also went through numerous emotions portraying this role. Most of his emotions stemmed from anguish and mental torture, and he sold his role in solid fashion. We feel for the man and the pain he is going through, and Pon’s execution allows us to place ourselves in his shoes and make our own decisions about what we would do in his situation. It was this solid execution and good storytelling that keep me very engaged with what was going on before me. On top of this, we get some brutal kills and positive gore. I was surprised at the amount of kills we received because this film has a pretty low budget and practical effects run up a bill in record time. Nonetheless, the kills were enjoyable and we received a full frontal view of the mayhem the clowns left in their wake.

Overall, Circus of the Dead is one of the better indie horror films I have seen. The level of horror is so extreme this film cannot be ignored once the opening scene hits the screen. By the end of the film the sick feeling in your stomach will remind you that good, hard-hitting horror is still alive and well, and I hope that Billy Pon continues dishing the goods in his future projects.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

  1. May 14, 2014 at 8:59 am

    John, thank you for reviewing the movie, man. Sorry you had to stand up the whole time!If it had been me I don’t know if I would have been so charitable in my comments with aching dogs. I missed Frightmare but am looking forward to meeting you at a future con.

    very best regards,

    • May 19, 2014 at 3:28 am

      Thanks for reading Bill! At times I just wanted to park myself on the floor, but to be honest, standing dead center in the very back provided me the best seat in the house viewing-wise. All in all, it was worth it.

      Thanks again for the response.

  2. May 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Great review John of the Dead!! (can I be tagged? I was the Cinematographer)

    • July 4, 2014 at 3:47 am

      Anthony! Sorry for the late response. I will most definitely throw in a tag for you right now. Bravo on your work with Circus of the Dead. I can tell you that the audience participation and enjoyment was real. Best of luck with your future work.

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