Where the Dead Go to Die (2012, dir. Jimmy ScreamerClauz) is an animated horror movie that follows three children through traumatic phases of their lives. These events follow themes of physical abuse, substance abuse, molestation, rape, religion, sex trafficking, and toxic family dynamics just to name a few. To put it bluntly, this film is filled with a lot of pain and suffering and performs this through the perspectives of young children. After watching this film it’s unsurprising to see it placed at Tier 4 of the Disturbing Movie Iceberg, alongside titles such as Slaughtered Vomit Dolls and Gummo – it fits right in. Despite its newfound popularity due to the Iceberg, Where the Dead Go to Die seemed to be drifting around the dark corners of the internet and gaining notoriety long before the Iceberg’s creation. Its initial popularity rose with horror YouTube videos at the time such as “I Feel Fantastic”, “Agamemnon Counterpart”, and “Salad Fingers”.
As a long time internet horror fiend, Where the Dead Go to Die has been on my radar for about a decade but I had never taken the time to watch it myself. Previously, I had received my information about this movie from others’ reviews and the clips included within video essays. Going into this film I didn’t have very high expectations. I didn’t remember much of the reviews I had watched X-many years ago, but I recalled people stating this film was pretty bad and nothing more than an edgelords wet-dream. In fact, the morning I decided to watch this film I procrastinated as long as I could to watch it because that was how bad I was beginning to feel about getting ready to watch this film. But I’m very glad that I did because I found that Where the Dead Go to Die exceeded my expectations in several ways.
This review will be structured differently than my usual reviews. As will be my goal with most films featured on the Disturbing Movie Iceberg I will be diving into more detail about the exact contents of this film in order to paint a picture as to why the film is regarded as disturbing. Also, I know the morbid curiosity of humans – many readers may feel very curious about this movie but may not be able to comfortably watch it for any reason. This review will be longer than normal to satisfy the curiosity without the actual exposure. Also, this film is not recommended for everyone and if you feel that this may be you, I kindly suggest not reading further.
The film’s narrative is split into three chapters: “Tainted Milk”, “Liquid Memories”, and “The Masks That Monsters Wear”. In each of these is a demon dog named Labby (a play on Lassie) who plays as “God’s messenger” and convinces the children (particularly the boys Tommy and Ralph) to commit horrendous acts of sex and violence. Other paranormal characters which repeat themselves through the three chapters include the Lady in the Well, the Monk, Shadow People, and a crucified Jesus with a ball of flames for a head. The entity that’s closest to being kind is the Lady in the Well who the children turn to for advice, however she’s still very frightening and threatening when she’s not listened to. The adults present for the children are the same forces the children are attempting to escape from which pushes them to listen to Labby’s advice even further. This leaves the main characters Tommy, Sophia, and Ralph stuck between a rock and a hard place throughout the film’s entirety as on one hand they can choose to stay in physical and sexual abuse situations or on the other they can be controlled by a malevolent force to be a part of much worse things. It’s a plot very wrapped up in exploring a lose-lose scenario.
The first chapter “Tainted Milk” is easily the worst of the three, but it is also the best choice to ease viewers into the film as it’s the least abrasive of the three. Here the audience is introduced to Tommy and Labby for the first time – and dear God, are their voices annoying. The acting in this first chapter is very over exaggerated with Tommy’s voice actor Joshua Michael Green providing a very goofy, high-pitched impression of a young boy and Labby’s constant panting and stuttering. Other than Labby, who is voiced by ScreamerClauz himself, none of the other voice actors have quite as goofy performances as in this first chapter. This seems to be left over from ScreamerClauz’s original intentions with “Tainted Milk” to be a horror-comedy, stating that he originally wanted to include a laugh track throughout.
Tommy’s situation within “Tainted Milk” is a dysfunctional household with divorcing parents and a new baby brother on the way. On his way to school, Tommy stops to talk with Labby who goes on a long tangent about the evil seduction of breasts and that this new brother has been tainted by the Shadow People who live under his parents bed. This rant is hilarious to watch as Labby sounds as if he’s a child on the playground at recess attempting to come up with the most bad-ass fake story of something he witnessed once. He goes on to explain it is now God’s will that Tommy has to kill his baby brother while he is still in the womb. What follows this is a very strange chain of events until the chapter’s conclusion, which includes Labby snatching the baby out of the womb, Labby killing both parents, and, in an effort to bring his parents back to life (don’t ask me), Tommy having sex with Labby over top of his mother’s corpse which Labby may or may not be having sex with himself. The chapter then ends with Tommy sitting between his dead parents waiting for God to revive them.
In Chapter 2: “Liquid Memories” the audience is greeted with Tommy again but much older. It’s not made clear until the chapter’s finale that the homeless, drug addicted man living in a church which we’ve been following is Tommy. ScreamerClauz does a good job at not revealing who the church hobo really is too early, and for most of the chapter we’re led to believe he might be a boy named Johnny. As a whole “Liquid Memories” is the strongest story told and the visuals that come along with it are mostly too surreal and crazed to describe in a short form. The best I can describe the visuals in “Liquid Memories” is a wet, grimey, acid trip filled with gore, sex, and religion. It’s wild and I highly recommend this chapter on its own for anyone who enjoys psychedelic horror.
“Liquid Memories” explains how a person is able to control and change their own memories if they steal someone else’s memory liquid from a gland in the back of the head. Tommy does this by first brutally murdering his victims then injecting a syringe into the gland to extract the blue, glowing memory liquid. The bulk of this narrative is fixated on Tommy’s inner thoughts as he works his way through the jumbled memories of a prostitute (who is an adult Sophia) in an attempt to change his own negative memories with death. As he does, Tommy realizes the complex array of emotions the prostitute gives him as he holds her during her final breaths – the main one being a warped impression of love. This chapter holds some of the best dialog and acting in the film and ScreamerClauz’s descriptive writing skills shine through. One of my favorite moments in this chapter is Sophia’s death and how Tommy describes this event as it’s unfolding. Sophia lays on the floor of a church bleeding out from an attack by one of her clients, and as she does so she reaches out to Tommy asking to be held as she goes. Before Tommy holds her he slits her throat in an attempt to help her pass quicker. However, this fails as Tommy finds himself overcome with the physical sensation of holding Sophia. He states:
As soon as the wound is open I pull her close to me, and I hold her tightly. I hold her a little too tight and accidentally apply pressure to the wound, making the blood come out slower…But holding her makes me feel good. An odd sensation of love, and I make her suffer longer just so I can feel a few more moments of this beautiful sensation.
The demented way in which ScreamerClauz depicts love may give audiences complex emotions themselves. From any angle the representation of love in this chapter (and the next) is incredibly sad. Tommy has potentially never felt a loving embrace and the sole time he does it’s a woman he once knew dying in his arms. From Sophia’s perspective, the warped sense of love becomes worse.
Chapter 3: “The Masks That Monsters Wear” is a heartbreaking and upsetting love story between Sophia and Ralph as children who both suffer from intensely abusive home-life situations. For Ralph, this means being tormented and beaten by his parents for not being considerate enough towards his twin brother who is an underdeveloped baby head that is formed to the side of Ralph’s face. The twin’s eyes and mouth remain somewhat active enough for the parents to consider this a separate living child, but they continue to remind Ralph about how he “murdered” his brother in the womb. However, it’s Sophia’s home-life which makes this the most uncomfortable and disturbing of the chapters.
“The Masks That Monsters Wear” heavily covers the topic of child pornography, sex trafficking, and rape. Sophia has a father who films her having intercourse with grown men (one of which is Ralph’s father, who later states he paid to be involved) and sells the tapes around the neighborhood/town. Other family members in Sophia’s life include a silent mother figure and a brother named Johnny who seems to happily assist in his father’s “business.” Ralph develops a crush on Sophia who lives across the street, and here we get further examples of ScreamerClauz’s writing skills with lines such as, “I was lucky in a way…I found the love of my life. But not at the right time. By the time I found her, she was already broken beyond repair and nothing I say or do will ever change that. But at least I know she exists.” After a pattern of scenes showcasing the tragic details of Sophia and Ralph’s home lives, the two spend a surprisingly sweet and wholesome afternoon with one another in Sophia’s secret garden in the forest. This scene, as sweet as it is, only makes the audience feel worse with what follows it. Ralph returns to Sophia’s home in hopes of spending another afternoon with her, which he does; however the situation is not ideal. Sophia’s father invites Ralph into the home and takes him into a back room where there is nothing but a mattress, camera, and Sophia in smeared make up. What happens next is one of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever had to sit through and unfortunately it drags on much longer than maybe it needed to be. Ralph is forced by the father to rape Sophia as she lays motionless begging Ralph to stop. This event causes Sophia to be broken beyond repair as the day prior Ralph was the last person she found herself able to trust and be happy with. It’s clear, too, that during this scene Ralph doesn’t understand what’s happening and only knows what Labby had told him previous to this, which is that having intercourse with Sophia will make her fall madly in love with him. What it does instead however is destroy the final threads of innocence Sophia may have had. This is shown symbolically as well, as bugs that Ralph rescued and re-released into the wild take over Sophia’s garden and kill her flowers, the one place she had left to escape to. The chapter ends with Ralph seeking revenge on the father, killing him, and then falling into a well where he seemingly dies and becomes the Monk apparition.
One of the main complaints I’ve seen online about Where the Dead Go to Die involves the poor animation, however I don’t think many of these reviewers realize that aside from voice actors, this film was done entirely by one man. It obviously will not be the same quality as an animated film with an entire animation department working behind it, but for a single man’s passion project I find the animation to be incredibly impressive. Many of the scene compositions have a lot of thought behind them and were obviously not thrown together at random, especially the surreal nightmares and “trips” each character takes. These scenes are incredibly detailed with life and surrealist horror. This includes spiraling tunnels made of a real person’s photographed face, the Shadow People who are blacked out 3D models with footage of real eyes as a face, and wild, perverted creations such as a woman fingering herself, and just below her vagina is a baby’s face screaming and crying. ScreamerClauz uses the medium of animation to his advantage and is able to create unimaginable nightmares which could not translate well in most other mediums. Although crude at times, I found the artistic style used matched the tone and vibes of the narrative and aided in creating horrific and disturbing settings to place the characters into. The style both artistically and narratively reminded me a little of a graphic novel titled I Luv Halloween by Keith Giffen and Benjamin Roman which received a series of short animated shorts released in 2007. Because of this, it felt nostalgic and appropriate that the animation is as imperfect as it is.
I found myself also surprised by the fact that this film has a clear, cohesive narrative which not only serves the purpose of storytelling but provides ample content that could be analyzed. While on the surface the film’s narrative is coated in abrasive sex and violence which may turn some viewers away from the film, I believe there are deeper readings one can make regarding this film. If given more attention and time, theoretical applications for this film could include trauma theory, abjection, surrealism, a deeper look at the religious themes and iconography, the destruction of innocence, gothic romanticism, and perversions of nature to name a few. For example, one might look at the masks used in chapter 3; who is wearing masks compared to who should be the monster. I could also see the extension of Tommy’s story in “Liquid Memories” being analyzed in a variety of ways such as through substance abuse, nihilism, psychedelics, the philosophy of love, and so on.
One could also go on to write further about the character Johnny who is an incredibly minor character and whose life is explored by Sophia’s memories through Tommy’s brain in “Liquid Memories”. The Johnny in “Liquid Memories” has a frail and timid mind who seems to “accidentally” kill animals and is the victim of sexual and religious abuse by his mother. But, the Johnny in “The Masks That Monsters Wear” (who is the same Johnny as in “Liquid Memories”) is deformed and mean, he’s a kid who seems to revel in the filth and violence his father participates in. While there’s not a focus on him as there is with the other three, I believe there’s still something that can be analyzed about who his character is and how he fits into the same tragic mold as his peers yet gets excluded. I would love to hear more fans’ thoughts on Johnny.
Another strong example is how religion and God play a role in the story. ScreamerClauz seemed very set on this being one of the strongest messages used throughout his film. In the few interviews ScreamerClauz has done, he attributes much of his inspiration for this film to come from his experiences with marijuana, shrooms, and LSD along with his interest in conspiracy theories and messages shown in religious scare films, or films developed by religious folks to scare the audience into following their faith. This religious scare aspect is showcased throughout all three chapters as God plays a massive and negative role in each of the children's lives. There’s a focus on God’s abandonment of Tommy, Sophia, and Ralph. For Tommy and Ralph, this comes in the form of Labby instructing the boys to do heinous acts which will be rewarded by God, only for God to never come up with his end of the bargain. The boys become isolated, traumatized, lost, and self-proclaimed monsters due to these tricks from Labby. For Sophia, God gave her a life which dealt her a poor hand with no chances or hope of a life free of abuse and trauma. The lacking presence of God being there for these children rings like a cynical question on if God exists, and if he does why he would allow children to experience extreme pain and suffering. Why has he abandoned the children, and why has he placed them in these situations in the first place? The only voice of God present are the messages carried through Labby, who is clearly a force with ill-intentions. Overall, Where the Dead Go to Die paints a disturbing and nihilistic picture of a few grim, nasty realities in our world which many struggle to accept are true.
I give Where the Dead Go to Die 3 out of 5 coffins
Although the highest I think I could personally give this is a 4 out of 5, I understand that a lot of viewers who decide to research or watch this film will find it as only an edgelord fantasy – which is an argument I find to be completely reasonable. Every moment of this film is made specifically to make the audience uncomfortable, disturbed, and at times angry – and I think it achieves this very well. The curse with disturbing movies such as this is even if the content itself is good or has a meaningful, interesting message, the hard-to-look at scenes can alienate a viewer and cause them to only focus on how the shock feels. This can make it hard for a disturbing film to reach a larger audience no matter how good the story, message, and questions raised are. However, I can see myself rewatching Where the Dead Go to Die in the future.
Where the Dead Go to Die is now available to digitally rent or buy via UNEARTHED FILMS’s website.