I love animated films. You can create so much with animation—animals, explosions, car chases, and of course, bloody gruesome deaths—without the added expense of traveling, location scouting, permits, lodging… Sure, it might not have the same impact on your audience, especially if they’re the kind of people who think “cartoons are for kids.” But I can tell you first hand that animation can work for horror just as well as live action does.
Initially, I was curious when I first saw the poster for Zach Passero’s throwback animated creature feature folk horror, The Weird Kidz.
Then I read the synopsis
Zach Passero’s animated feature film debut is a labor of love, eight years in the making. Written and single-handedly animated by Passero, The Weird Kidz is a horror-inflected creature feature and an ode to ’80s coming-of-age films and favorite late night cinema tales. When three pre-teen boys and an older brother and his girlfriend take off for a weekend campout, none of them could imagine the horrors (and laughs) awaiting them in a remote desert inhabited by a legendary night creature and crazed townfolk. Puberty and adventure await… along with terror, amputations and midnight cult rituals!
I knew it was going to have to see this film. I’m old enough to remember watching so many of those coming-of-age films from the ’80s in the theatre, so the idea of feeling it again at my current age of **grumble, mumble** was enticing to say the least. Some films can’t get the right balance between the awkward teenage years and the bloody, chunky gore of my youth. Would The Weird Kidz be able to pull it off?
The film was written, directed, and animated by Zach Passero (Wicked Lake 2008, Isolation 2021), who combined his talents with The Woman (2011) alumni Lucky McKee (producer), Angela Bettis (voice artist), Sean Bridgers (voice artist), and one of my favorite musicians of all time, Sean Spillane (music). McKee’s Deathcember (2019) teammate, Charles Horak, also produced. Other voice artists include Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood 2014) as Wyatt, Glenn Bolton (Sampson’s World franchise) as Mel, Brian Ceely (Terror of the Flames 2014) as Fatt, newcomer Sydney Wharton as Mary, and Tess Passero (Motel Glimpse 2005) as Doug.
First, a note from The Weird Kidz creator Zach Passero:
My nearly decade-long journey with this film (inception, screenplay writing, voice recording, animating, animating, animating) has come to an end, and The Weird Kidz is ready to be shared with audiences.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what made me want to set forth on this crazy undertaking. The story for the Kidz’ adventure started forming when my wife and creating partner, Hannah, got pregnant with our first child. I began to imagine explaining to our new little one what things were like when I grew up.
That is how The Weird Kidz was born.
A stew of memories, adventures, movies, and influences from throughout my life lifted the intention to finally realize a lifelong dream, and to make that lifelong dream something I could one day show my kid to explain what my life was like– in reality, in imagination, in influence.
I write this, ruminating in a house now filled with TWO growing children. The oldest (now 8 years old), and the younger (5 years old) have only known their father as he worked away on The Weird Kidz in whatever free chance he got between work projects and family duties. Now, our whole family is about to start a new chapter and I cannot wait to share The Weird Kidz with them… and the rest of the world!
Almost a decade in the making, The Weird Kidz is a true trip back 40 years, an 80 minute time loop from the ’80s. Everything from the jokes to the kills, the creature to the local adults, the action to the dialogue… it’s all bathed in a glorious nostalgia. Some throwback films just sprinkle retro pop culture references throughout the runtime. The Weird Kidz doesn’t just take place in the ’80s; it encompasses the era. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was released right along side Chopping Mall and Critters.
The kids, Doug, Mel and Fatt, are cringy, awkward, and likable—my favorite combination. They all have dreams of awesome futures, but will settle for a glimpse of a girl’s boobs. Older brother Wyatt has this worldly yet immature quality to him. He records himself singing this terrible song he wrote for his girlfriend, Mary, and makes them play it (on the van’s cassette player, natch) until everyone is uncomfortable to say the least. He reminds me a bit of Demon from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985 – our retro review). The only girl, Mary steals the boys’ hearts while saving their asses. Angela Bettis and Sean Bridgers voice locals Duana and the Sheriff, a couple who ooze untrustworthiness. The creature freaked me out a bit with all of those legs and strange green saliva. My favorite character is Grumbles the dog, the bravest of the brave. Everyone is stereotypically ’80s but nuanced with personality.
The animation is simple and completely hand-drawn, something I can definitely appreciate. Although I have to admit that I’m not too crazy about the decision to give the characters only three fingers. I assume it’s to help with the ’80s feel of the film, but every time I saw someone’s hands, it took me out of the story a bit. But I love the animation, color choices and expansive backgrounds.
The Weird Kidz will premiere at the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at 7:00 in person and via festival streaming. There will be an introduction and Q&A with Zach Passero and the cast. So, if you’re looking for a near perfect trip back to the ’80s with a gnarly creature and a big dose of folk horror, be sure to grab yourself a ticket to see this film.