Movies: Three Corpse Circus (review)

Three Corpse Circus took over the historic Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI last night, Devil’s Night and presented four hours of short horror movies. Yup, four whole hours of films, contests and costumed tomfoolery. If you weren’t there, you done goofed up bad. I spoke briefly with one of the organizers Jonathan Barkan who says they hope the Circus will grow to be more than just a film festival, that Three Corpse Circus might become a rallying point for the horror community in Michigan. Last night was a excellent start.

The films were better than I’d feared, a notch above the mixed bag you’d expect from a college town. A couple were real gems. Others were arty and experimental. Some cute and amusing. And to be frank, some were unspeakable, trite, poorly shot, not acted at all… dumb. Bad even for Youtube. But what I saw last night were movies I never would have seen elsewhere. Most of the pieces had some aspect that was pretty interesting. Their failures were mostly in consistency. Technically, I suppose many of the movies were “mediocre” but I mean a kind of expectant and exciting mediocrity. They left me with a sense of anticipation, that I’m really interested in seeing the NEXT movie by these film makers.

A great example of this category is “The Lair.” ( The acting was more than good enough, much better than many commercial horror movies. There was evidence of actual script composition and, egad, character development, again a relative rarity in short horror. Competent editing built actual suspense and didn’t rely on cheap jump scares, well, not excessively. OK so the setting was the tried and true deserted campground and, granted, the premise wasn’t the most original. But the piece was generally effective. If I had to be a dick – and critics are supposed to be dicks, right? – the footage shot at night was too grainy. But where else would I have had the opportunity to see this film except at a film festival like Three Corpse Circus?

A gem of the evening was “Connected,” one two offerings from Denmark. ( Clocking in at barely 8 minutes, “Connected” gets in, does the job and gets out and it does so ENTIRELY WORDLESSLY. Great futuristic costumes, a convincing post apocalyptic backdrop and a clear situation, conflict and bleak resolution. It was probably dark science fiction more than straight out horror but, damn, it was a joy to watch. And again, I never would have even heard of it if I hadn’t attended the Three Corpse Circus.

The true highlight of the evening for me was the other Danish film Opstandelsen (“Ressurection”) which was as good a zombie movie as I’ve ever seen – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t find zombies particularly compelling. The movie is shot in and around an old austere church and incidentally, they shot the HELL out of this location. There are scenes in the sanctuary, the basement, UNDERNEATH the basement, the bell tower… I’ve whined in the past how easy access to fantastic ancient locations can make even crappy European movies into something watch-worthy, but the makers of Opstandelsen squeeze every bit of ambience from this place. It’s not just a cheap and easy backdrop. The prosthetics were first rate and relatively understated. The blood and gore was believable and I think the tone of its color grew progressively darker until the blood was nearly black by the end. The make up especially on the female survivor was exceptional. By the end of the movie, she was basically wearing corpse paint – her skin so pale as to be nearly white with drippy spatters of dark blood around her eyes. Lovely! The script showed off nice characterization with juicy familial strife. All three of the primary survivors had character arcs that led to satisfying conclusions. Damn, it’s hard to find something to complain about but, perhaps the range of the acting was a bit constrained – one character always stuck on high, another on low with the coke-snorting protagonist being a nice blend. I’d have to see it again before I said it was perfect but since it’s a 50 minute movie, a length too short to distribute commercially and too long for the internet, there is likely NO chance I would have been able to see it at all except at a film festival like Three Corpse Circus.

You’ve picked up on my take-home message by now. If you’re into horror and you’re in Michigan, get to the next Three Corpse Circus. It was well worth while this year and every indication is that it’s just going to continue to get better.

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