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Mortal Remains: A Docu-Thriller With a Retro Twist

Karl Atticus — Baltimore native, horror filmmaker, purveyor of the occult. Found dead in 1973 of apparent suicide. But was it actually Atticus? The body was headless and extensive decomposition prevented fingerprint analysis. The major determining factor which led investigators to conclude that the remains were those of Karl Atticus was a large, elaborate tattoo visible on its torso. This is the subject of Cryptic Pictures’ Mortal Remains, a 2013 docu-thriller which recently made its DVD debut.

Found footage pseudo-documentaries, such as Mortal Remains, blur the line between fact and fiction with seemingly real scenarios, and are an interesting sub-genre in the horror realm. The Blair Witch Project (1999) immediately comes to mind as the harbinger of such endeavors. Eduardo Sanchez, writer and director of The Blair Witch Project, appears in Mortal Remains as himself, providing a storytelling link between both features. Sanchez helps set up the urban legend of filmmaker Karl Atticus.  Influenced by obscure writer Vernon Blake, Atticus made a graphically violent film in 1972 (also titled Mortal Remains) so horrifying it caused rioting at its premiere. The story goes on to claim the film was never shown again in its entirety, with only a short clip surviving nowadays. This style of docu-thriller has its detractors. In this case however, flashbacks encompassing early 1970s Baltimore and the cult film circuit bring a certain charm to the proceedings, albeit a bloody one.

Mortal Remains was co-written, co-produced, and co-directed by Christian Stavrakis and Mark Ricche. The two filmmakers also appear in the feature, providing a nice slice of realism blended with the macabre. Ricche and Stavrakis keep the action moving along at a good pace. Viewers may even begin pondering if the story of Karl Atticus is real or fiction.

Now for the bit of retro grindhouse nostalgia. Grainy clips replicating late 60s and early 70s horror flicks. Vintage looking advertisements for Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol in Paris. Reimagined psychedelic images of 1970s horror film posters. Tales involving grisly murders in seedy movie theatres. Descriptions of exploitation film distributors. What more could one ask for?  If the aforementioned isn’t enough to whet genre fans’ bloody appetites, there are appearances by familiar faces, including John Amplas (Martin) and Nick Tallo (Dawn of the Dead). The contemporary Mortal Remains simultaneously captures an early 70s cult film vibe guaranteed to lure old school aficionados.

Credit: Karl Atticus

Mortal Remains features location filming in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Independent horror movies such as Mortal Remains can be a lot of fun for fans of the genre nowadays. There is a spirit in these indie productions that major films often lack. Additionally, Ricche and Stavrakis began as young film enthusiasts and evolved into moviemakers. This can add something special and familiar to the mix, which comes across in Mortal Remains.

There really isn’t a dull moment within Mortal Remains. Interviews featuring old friends, neighbors, and co-workers discussing Karl Atticus are well-played and extremely realistic. As viewers enjoy the ride, a gruesomely twisted finale will jump out when least expected…chock-full of 1970s grindhouse grit. Did Karl Atticus actually exist? If so, is he dead or alive…and was he solely a deranged filmmaker or a cult leader? Is it all simply a lurid urban legend? Mortal Remains may (or may not) answer those inquiries for viewers who take the plunge.

Mortal Remains has previously screened at various film festivals including the Spooky Movie International Film Festival in Washington, D.C. and NOVA International Film Festival in Fairfax, Virginia. In conjunction with the official DVD release on October 13, 2017, a big screen presentation took place at the Oaks Theatre near Pittsburgh, PA with filmmakers Christian Stavrakis and Mark Ricche in attendance for a Q & A session. The DVD is released and distributed by Cryptic Pictures and does not feature any extras. Original music was composed by Kevin MacLeod and Michael V. Coote.

I’m convinced anyone fascinated by the story of Mortal Remains will most surely initiate an internet search (as this reviewer did) as to the possible authenticity of this urban myth. Surprisingly, the question is not quickly nor confidently resolved…which adds some teasing to the mystery. This uncertainty helps propel the mystique of Mortal Remains. Karl Atticus himself may indeed have the last word on the subject.

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About Anthony Mangos

Anthony Mangos is a freelance writer from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He has contributed film articles in CLASSIC IMAGES and SCARY MONSTERS. His poetry has appeared in BACKBONE MOUNTAIN REVIEW and he is an arts & entertainment reviewer at PEOPLE'S WORLD online. His heroes range from Jack Kerouac to Jean Rollin and he carries on as a beat writing postman in the spirit of Charles Bukowski. He also enjoys traveling, writing fiction, and sitting in old movie theatres.

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