Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Micon Cinemas Downtown hosted the third annual MidWest WeirdFest from March 810 with another impressive array of unconventional genre movie fare. Two selections that screened that weekend included the world premiere of the decidedly quirky fear fare outing The Invisible Mother and the engaging documentary about searching for buried treasures, of a sort, The Secret of Byron Preiss.

    The Invisible Mother

    Co-writers and co-directors Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman have crafted an engaging, low-budget supernatural film in The Invisible Mother. Marcy (Fayelyn Bilodeau in a fine lead performance) pays a visit to her grandparents’ home to help her grandfather Archie (Richard Riehle) with the care of her grandmother, Mona (Helen Slayton-Hughes), who is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Occurrences at the house begin to be slightly odd, from a man bent over backwards who Marcy sees when she first arrives at the house, to inanimate bathroom objects displaying unusual behavior, to witnessing Mona seemingly talking to someone invisible. Things only get worse, and weirder, when Mona trades a Victorian-era photo of a baby sitting on its shrouded mother’s lap to ice cream truck driver and dope dealer Wyatt (Kale Clauson) for some marijuana. The grandparents have an unconventional neighbor named Coco (Kiersten Warren), who sports a 1950s fashion sense and an eccentric personality. She is learning to unlock her mystical powers with telephone psychic Glorianna (Debra Wilson). She will need them when outré visitors and vengeful spirits make their presences known.

    The Invisible Mother takes a while to get to the eerie stuff, but it delivers with some creepy scenes and unsettling atmosphere. A video that Marcy watches on her television is guaranteed to provide some of the freakiest cinematic moments viewers are likely to see this year. The film strays into some camp moments that feel a bit forced, there for the mere sake of having camp moments, and it doesn’t quite balance its surreal scenarios with its more realistic ones as much as it seems to try to do. Diebler and Gillman get plenty of points for original approaches, though, and for fashioning a fun horror movie that blends arthouse with accessibility.

    The Secret of Byron Preiss

    The Secret of Byron Preiss sees author and journalist James Renner lead a documentary journey to try and locate some of the still unearthed 12 keys that The Secret author Byron Preiss buried in 1982. The clues to find those treasures are enigmatically given in the pages of that book, in paintings and poems that need to be decoded and matched up. Lucky hunters who find the keys can exchange them for gems worth about $1,000 each. To date, only two of the keys have been discovered. Unfortunately, Preiss died in a car accident in 2005, taking the locations of the remaining buried keys with him.

    Preiss’ widow Sandi and adult daughters Karah and Blaire, all featured in this documentary, claim to have no knowledge about the locations of the keys, and are as eager as anyone to have them found. The family members provide  a great deal of touching information about Priess, who loved puzzles and mysteries. Karah and Blaire join Renner on one of the searches, providing some poignant drama. Renner also holds in-person and Skype interviews with fellow key hunters, and seeks advice from the men who have found the two keys.

    Plenty of armchair detectives and treasure hunters searching for The Secret’s keys already exist, and The Secret of Byron Preiss is likely to stir up more interest. Working with a limited budget, Renner and his filmmaking crew have composed a warm, heartfelt tribute to an author who loved to immerse his friends, family, and readers in adventure and wonder, and to those of us out there who find satisfaction in seeking out awe and fascination in this grand puzzle called life.

    Joseph Perry
    Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for most types of music --- but particularly hard rock and new wave --- began at an early age, as well, along with his affinity for professional wrestling and silver age and golden age comic books. He is a contributing writer for Gruesome Magazine, "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" magazine, "Diabolique" magazine, the "Drive-In Asylum" zine, and the websites That's Not Current, The Scariest Things, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Decades of Horror: The Classic Era" and "Uphill Both Ways" podcasts. Joseph has also written for “Scream” magazine, "Filmfax" magazine, “SQ Horror” magazine, and HorrorNews.net. He occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. Joseph has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, he has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

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