Abertoir 2014 Day One

Abertoir Day One

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The 9th Abertoir Horror Festival kicked off particularly stylishly with a remarkable remaster of Vincent Price’s 1953 classic House of Wax. In full, glorious 3D we were treated to Price’s well-known wit and some great special effects that were sure to delight modern and traditional horror fans alike. Given Abertoir’s special relationship with Price (his daughter Victoria officially named him Abertoir’s Patron Saint a few years back) this seemed an apt start to the festival.

The second film of the night was The Editor and to avoid repeating myself, please go read my review here.

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Next up was more comedy in the form of Danger 5 – an Abertoir crowd-pleaser for the past few years with its farcical team of spies attempting to track down and, as always, Kill Hitler. Thanks to midnight screenings the audience was familiar with all of series one, but the second series is actually a completely different animal, or at the very least a completely different anthropomorphic animal head. If you’ve not seen Danger 5 that will be lost on you, but don’t worry…and go watch it.

Series 2 replaces the single-episode platform of series 1 with a narrative, but without allowing the structure of it to dull the strange antics of the characters and the often even stranger surroundings. If anything this new focus on a continuous story for the group allows for even more non-sequiturs as the mission rolls along and the group are distracted by personal demons and hang ups. As part of Abertoir we were also lucky enough to be joined by one of the creators of the show – Dario Russo for a Q&A following the screening which tackled the difficulties in casting Hitler and working with partly government-funded television channels.

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The final film of the night was the ABCs of Death 2, which if you’ve followed my Celluloid Screams coverage you’ll already know that I’ve seen it and found it a huge improvement over the first instalment. As a result, I didn’t stay for this one, instead opting for a slightly earlier night and extra sleep, which as we all know is essential at festival time.

The Editor

editorposterThe Editor

Directors: Adam Brooks & Matthew Kennedy

Writers: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy and Conor Sweeney

Back in the 2011 Abertoir schedule a little midnight movie caught my eye – that movie was Manborg and became my first exposure to Astron-6. Shamefully, despite Manborg making me laugh heartily including one line that I still quote with alarming regularity I never sought out any of the Astron-6 shorts that were available online. It was only really at Celluloid Screams in Sheffield that I really realised how brilliant they were and most of that realisation is down to The Editor.

The Editor follows Rey Ciso (Adam Brooks) whose editing work on a low budget feature takes a more sinister turn as members of the cast are found murdered, with a calling card of chopped-off fingers seemingly to point directly to Ciso as the culprit. As the investigation starts and filming continues Ciso is forced to confront his own sanity to absolve himself of guilt.

editorhandIt is almost too easy to pitch The Editor as The Beyond meets Airplane!, but that seems to do the film a disservice – to take away in some part the layers, thought and hard work that has obviously been put into this. I’ve been lucky enough to see the film twice now (at Celluloid Screams and Abertoir) and while at first being struck by how funny the film is on a basic, broad level during the initial viewing, the second opens up all the little jokes I’d missed the first time around. While I wouldn’t by any stretch call myself a giallo expert I did feel a certain level of pride in recognising some of the homages.

The film’s direction is strong, with lots of attention paid to small details that immerse you not only within the world of The Editor, but the Astron-6 canon itself (including a small cameo by Father’s Day’s Chris Fuchmann in the opening scene). By the very nature of the plot and the way the film is designed, writing a plot synopsis is damn near impossible but there’s so much to enjoy within this piece, including films within films that rather than pull you away from laughs, actually introduce more. In keeping with a giallo tradition it is hard to praise it for a coherent plot, but this merely adds to the charm and links to how ridiculous those films could be.

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Strong, funny and frankly, manic performances by Kennedy as detective Peter Porfiry and Sweeny as ambitious actor Cal Konitz play well against Brooks’ more restrained Ciso. The supporting cast too are incredibly enjoyable, with Laurence Harvey’s Father Clarke whose interactions with Porfiry provide the most instantly quotable lines of the film and also Samantha Hill as Bella, the fragile editing assistant to Ciso who seeks to prove herself in both her profession and personal life. My personal highlight is Paz de la Huerta, however, who in her role as former actress Josephine steals near enough every scene she is in with a pout and whispery delivery.

Overall, The Editor feels like a group of film-makers and actors really hitting their stride and producing a thoroughly enjoyable and unique film despite its debts to giallo. What is also wonderful about Astron-6 is even though they heavily lean on and pay homage to other genres (in particular, bad VHS films) they always leave you feeling that you’ve seen something original, even though the trappings are familiar. My only complaint is having to wait to see it again and to show it to other people, so for the time being I’ll mainly be watching Breaking Santa and Inferno of the Dead on a loop. I suggest you do the same by going here.

Celluloid Screams Day Three

The last day of a festival is an emotionally trying time – you’re pretty much exhausted, but have had such a lovely time you don’t want it to end. A difficult balance. Kicking off the final day were two shorts – Canis: a hard-hitting stop-motion shot that while impressive, definitely wasn’t to my taste and Emptied: a ‘based on a true story’ short about a dentist with a grudge. The first feature of the day was Suburban Gothic, from Excision’s Ricky Bates Jr. Now anyone who has heard me speak about Excision knows I’m not a fan of it at all and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Suburban Gothic either, but it is a marked improvement. Comedy, particularly the type favoured by John Waters is clearly where Bates’ strengths lie and transporting it into a film about a haunting really, almost surprisingly, works.

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Up next was another feature introduced by Brian Yuzna – this time a film he had produced: Dagon. Ahead of the introduction a sea-themed short from the director of last year’s short film winner Angst, Piss and Drid played, which was described as what would be the result of Ingmar Bergman made a straight-up horror film. Dagon itself is an interesting film concerning a town where all the people are changing into…something, based on a HP Lovecraft story. Yuzna’s Q+A afterwards was also intriguing as he was able to discuss his role as a producer and the importance of branding in film distribution.

Following this was the short film shortcase of festival favourites Astron-6. This was downright hilarious – Astron-6 are such an inventive group who really love their subject and are therefore the best people to parody them. My favourite of their shorts has to be Inferno of the Dead, which happily, you can watch for free on their website here. Their short trailers are the kind of things you would happily watch all the way through a festival. Kennedy, Brooks and Sweeny were also on hand to answer more questions.

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The next film was probably the one that I had the most reservations about – The ABCs of Death 2. The first one was problematic due to an overuse of toilets (even though T is for Toilet is genuinely great), Nazis and some incredibly lazy film-making from some big names. The second instalment, I’m pleased to report is a far better film, with a balance of the shocking and funny. At the moment I can’t recall any of the shorts I actively hated – whereas with the first I probably had half an arm full of letters I didn’t care for. A Q+A afterwards, including special guests The Soskas via Skype mentioned that each director had been sent a manifesto warning them off certain subjects. It seems that using the first film as an experiment has resulted in learning lessons and vastly improving the second, so much so that I’m excited for the third.

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The penultimate film was the secret film and while there was a buzz around several fairly high profile films it could have been the film was nothing I’d even heard of. Asmodexia at first, seemed an appealing film, an exorcism story which had yet to feature in the line up. However, it offers very little in terms of a story that is anything different to a million other exorcism films other than a twist in the tale that takes too long to reveal itself, leaving the film generic for far too long. As an aside, the majority of people said they’d guessed the twist before it was revealed, so they didn’t even have that enjoyment out of it…which is unfortunate. Still, great to see how many people were interested in seeing a secret film as the screening was pretty full.

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So we’ve arrived at the final film – the hotly anticipated Dead Snow 2: Red or Dead. From reports before the screening I’d heard that the sequel takes all of those crazy moments from the first film and turns them up to 11 and that is certainly accurate. Backstory and build is pushed aside for more gore and impressive set pieces but it remains well-paced and doesn’t rush to each piece. The cast are engaging, particularly the American group of zombie hunters who are perhaps too keen to journey to save the day – only realising how inept they are upon their arrival. In short, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and does exactly what anyone watching it wants which is all you can ask for.

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There you have it – my complete round up of Celluloid Screams 2014. If you’ve enjoyed this please check out more of my work, follow me on Twitter (@caitlynmdowns) and also check out my joint project with Hayley (of Hayley’s Horror Reviews), Ghostface Girls (moviepilot.com/ghostfacegirls), for podcasts, videos and articles. Thanks for reading!

Celluloid Screams Day One

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While it was tempting to just review pretty much everything I saw at Celluloid Screams it doesn’t quite sum up the festival experience, which I think can really influence how you feel about a film. For example, if you’re getting up early to watch a really earnest horror, aiming for scares and high emotion, you probably won’t feel it as much as you would a little later on once you’ve shaken off the cobwebs. Equally, if you have a run of films that are too light or comedic you start to doubt you’re at a horror festival at all, which is where the real skill in programming a festival lies. Before going any further then, it is necessary to point out how much work Rob Nevitt and his fellow festival coordinators put in to ensuring the whole event runs smoothly.

Celluloid kicked off on a high with The Editor from Astron-6 with the three stars and creators of the film (Conor Sweeney, Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy) in attendance to provide an introduction and later, a Q+A for the film. Ahead of this a short film named Timothy screened, which if you’ve seen mine and Hayley’s videos you’ll know featured a few things that really freak me out. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining and well-crafted short.

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The Editor itself is hugely entertaining and while many have termed it a parody of giallo films, its actually far more of an affectionate homage that doesn’t hold back on representing how very silly some of those films could be. Huge mentions here to Paz de la Huerta who is an absolute scene stealer where she appears and also to Matthew Kennedy’s delivery of pretty much every line he’s given. The Editor has had me laughing while going about daily business ever since I’ve seen it, which is about the biggest compliment I can give any film. It’s the sort of film I can’t wait to see again with another audience, which thankfully I will be able to at the Abertoir Horror Festival.

Next up (following some refreshments…mainly gin and tonic), it was time for another short film – Muck. Originally an entry for the ABCs of Death 2, Muck features a really great synthy soundtrack and a misbehaving water supply and actually, probably works better as a standalone short than it would within the anthology.

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This idea of horror within the home carried over into the screening of Housebound – a New Zealand horror-comedy that we were told delivered on both emotions. This is always a tall order, but Housebound covers them both with confidence, throwing in a variety of twists and turns that, handled with less skill, would soon tire an audience. Housebound benefits from a great cast and brilliant interplay between the characters and hinges its movement from fear to funny and back on their shoulders. Also, just look at that poster – wonderful!

Following Housebound, the hours of travelling had caught up and sadly caused me to miss the final film of the night Creep – a decision made partly on the fact that it is a found footage and secondly, it is part of a trilogy so another chance to watch will almost certainly be on the cards. Instead a sleepy glass of red wine with fellow reviewer Hayley was the order of the night in order to be ready for all that Saturday had to offer.

Coherence

coherence

Coherence (2013)

Director: James Ward Byrkit

Writer: James Ward Byrkit

Starring: Emily Baldoni, Nicholas Brendon and Alex Manugian

Despite its completion in 2013, I’ve only recently been able to see Coherence as part of the Abertoir Horror Festival takeover in Chapter Arts Centre for Halloween and honestly, I’m surprised I’d not heard more about it before now. This is a clever, engaging film that succeeds because it doesn’t need to remind you how clever it is at every turn. Instead, it thrusts you into a dinner party situation that begins innocently and descends into secrets, lies and recurring vices.

Married couple Mike (Brendon) and Lee (Lorene Scarfaria) are throwing a dinner party for friends during a night in which a comet is predicted to pass. In addition to the comet, tensions within the group are high, given that one guest is bringing the ex-girlfriend of Kevin (Maury Sterling) as a date, much to the discomfort of Kevin’s current girlfriend Em (Emily Baldoni). As the comet passes however, the night takes a very different turn.

It is hard to qualify Coherence as a horror in a strict sense and it probably belongs more to the sci-fi side of things, but this is not to play down some genuinely unsettling moments within the film. The characters too are introduced initially as average, middle class types and it is only as the film continues that we are introduced to their darker sides, largely through the characters themselves admitting to, or inadvertently revealing them.

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The start of the film positions the viewer within a naturalistic setting – a slightly off-focus camera moving loosely around the kitchen and dining space creates a relaxed yet dynamic feel which really contributes to the believability of the scene. The crafting of these scenes and the way we drop in and out of the action and conversations creates a feeling of a passage of time, meaning we relax into the evening along with the characters, and equally are exposed to the tension when it arises.  The naturalistic setting also contrasts well when events take a turn for the strange.

At the start of this review I mentioned that it succeeds by being a clever film that doesn’t need to remind viewers how clever it is being. Aside from one (genuinely funny) casting in-joke, the film does little to offer a nod and a wink to break the tension along with the fourth wall, choosing instead to immerse its audience within the night. The cast too is wonderfully put together and is a true ensemble, with only one character emerging as a lead in the true sense rather late on in the film.

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Coherence is a very strong entry into either the horror or sci-fi genre, with its ending packing a punch more often seen in the climax of short films and leaves you wanting more, yet ends with the knowledge that it has done enough. There are also enough clever twists and developments that I would happily watch it again and again (if only to pick up on extra potential clues). Coherence is a film that demands your concentration, but rewards you heavily for it.

Find Coherence on twitter: @coherencemovie

Starry Eyes Review

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Starry Eyes (2014)

Directors: Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Writers: Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Starring: Alex Essoe

Sometimes the best thing you can do before seeing a film is read as little about it as possible and I’d say that is certainly the case for Starry Eyes, mainly because the film frequently defies an easy classification within any sub-genre. It is also exceptionally difficult to make a comparison such as Famous Film A meets Famous Film B. Instead, Starry Eyes repeatedly switches gears, ideas and often tones, often making it a fairly difficult film to stay on board with.

Sarah (Essoe) is a troubled, struggling actress who copes with her repeated disappointments by tearing chunks out of her hair – a behaviour she keeps private from those around her. However, after yet another failed audition she is found in the bathroom by a casting agent and asked to repeat her audition while incorporating her dark impulses. Further auditions follow, but they seem to be for a far darker role than Sarah first imagined.

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First off, the central performance by Alex Essoe is strong and probably one of the main reasons for sticking with the film to the end. Her initial fragile appearance allows for a powerful transition as the film progresses – she critiques her looks in the mirror and doesn’t really seem comfortable around her ‘friends’ who live around her who seemingly exist just to put her down. Essoe however takes the whole film’s progression into stride with a confident performance for a relative newcomer.

Secondly, the way the film is put together stylistically really works with a great soundtrack and some very effective lighting techniques. Where the film fell down for me is the numerous direction changes, meaning the film ceases to be one thing or another, but without a seamless enough blend to make it completely work as a solid piece. Given a more seamless transition between the different elements the film would be much stronger, but the balance is a difficult one.

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Overall, Starry Eyes is a film with plenty of ideas and ambition that will find an audience with people looking for something with some interesting twists and turns. However, I’d liken it to a patchwork piece in which there are several convincing and impressive pieces that perhaps don’t always work together as intended.

Starry Eyes is showing at the Abertoir Horror Festival on November 16th at 12pm.

The Strange Case of UK Distribution

Recently I’ve been struck by just how much a horror film changes from its showing at a horror festival to its arrival on a UK supermarket shelf, not in content but through its cover art. Now, it could be said that with the rise of VOD platforms that cover art is becoming less and less important with apps offering tailored lists to users of what to watch next rather than offering interesting covers to entice audiences. While the online viewing experience is no doubt a far easier option and offers film’s exposure to a far wider audience, I feel like it would be a sad thing to lose out on genuinely inventive designs to accompany often very inventive horror films.

It is this ease of access though that I feel is contributing to a decline in cover art. I’ve found myself that the majority of my DVD buying is now done in the supermarket, rather than paying out for postage costs for online specialists or even travel to a genuine media shop like HMV. Of course, in order to gain purchase in a supermarket – that most general of shops, everything must become comparable to something else in the hopes of attracting people to it. Perhaps the most obvious example of this, to me anyway, is Wither. Yes, the film is pretty much a direct homage to Evil Dead, and honestly, a pretty decent one. However, is there really any need for the cover art to be so different in the UK and US?

I mean, US cover art – pretty nifty looking scary demon:

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UK cover art….really, really familiar:

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So, you take the colour scheme of the Evil Dead remake and use the template of The Cabin in the Woods cover and hey presto! Instant success:

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Frankly, the US cover art in this instance isn’t really that much better, but it at least pretends to be its own thing. I’m also aware that having things on display in a supermarket does somewhat limit your options in horror, because yeah, there’s always the idea that some child is going to walk past and be completely traumatised by a Wither, but still, is there nothing that can be done without mashing two previous covers together? Some might say that this is more forgivable considering the debt that Wither has to the Evil Dead, but there are other, even more perplexing examples.

Take Jug Face for example. A wonderfully inventive, original film with the kind of title that really makes you lean forward. What is a Jug Face? What does it mean? I really want to find out. So, of course, when it comes to UK distribution, that fantastic title falls away and the film becomes The Pit. Now, for me a title like The Pit is too simplistic and places far too much emphasis on that as the point of the film rather than the original Jug Face. By calling it The Pit it reduces it, particularly when the back refers to it as Jug Face anyway. The cover art between these too, is problematic given the US release shows the lead female character in full trance mode, a striking image that directly relates to the film and the UK release again highlights the role of the pit. For anyone who has seen the film, it is obvious that the pit is not the main focus of the film, instead focusing on the complex moral decisions at work within the film’s community.

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On a purely aesthetic appeal there seems to be a tendency toward coding horror DVDs in black, adorning it with skulls and calling it a day while other regions enjoy cover art that is directly related to the film and also something that stands out. For example, Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem, a colourful and inventive piece concerning a spiral into madness (although many aren’t fond, I generally am), that in the UK was represented by a plain black background and skull motif. Compare this to the US version that uses imagery from the film to create a striking piece that really attracts the eye.

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These decisions seem strange as surely the aim of selling any film is that it should stand out. By placing near identical, dark, uninspired cover art a serious disservice is being paid, particularly to lesser-known films without the budget afforded to more mainstream releases.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this.  Please get in touch with more baffling cover art decisions or even your favourite covers.  As always, I’m on twitter @caitlynmdowns and also on Facebook through Ghostface Girls.

Sheffield’s Short Shockers

Check out that alliteration right there…I think I may have spent all of my remaining creativity on that alone.  As most readers will know I spent Friday through Sunday at Celluloid Screams in Sheffield – a task that involved a three and a half hour drive each side of the festivities and during I was of course indulging in a few drinks.  I’d say it’s practically impossible not to during a festival.  As a result of all this I’ve spent much of my time since Monday morning tired, emotional and even a tiny bit unbalanced so this has taken a little longer than first anticipated.  I wanted to write about some short films I saw at the festival, as I hardly see short films and so don’t really review them that much.  There were some really strong shorts at Celluloid and sadly I didn’t see them all, so this is limited to being a personal overview rather than any exhaustive look at all of them.  I’m disappointed I missed Fist of Jesus from the team behind bat-shit insane Brutal Relax as it was shown during the all-nighter but hopefully will catch up with that one.  So without further non-short-related rambling I’ll make a start.

Lot 254 – Toby Meakins – UK – 2012 – 3mins

One of the shortest shorts on offer, coming in at only 3 minutes, this film featured a haunted camera that allowed the user to see things through the viewfinder that they could not see in reality.  Sadly, this one did very little for me, despite a solid attempt at creating something spooky, but I think the lack of time to allow things unfold let it down as there is a shortage of real tension.  Had this one had more time, I’m sure I would have ended up on the edge of my seat.  For some wider perspective though, this received an honorary mention in the judging of best shorts, so likely it worked for others.

 

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The Last Video Store – Tim Rutherford & Cody Kennedy – Canada – 2013 – 10mins

This short was far more up my street, featuring some great effects by Manborg’s Steven Kostanski and injecting some comedy into proceedings.  A delivery man is tasked with ensuring a package gets to a video store, where he finds an eccentric owner eager to discuss the virtues of VHS over digital means.  He also warns that there are nefarious methods being used, causing video stores to be decimated by a golden video tape that causes VHS machinery to turn against its owner and reap destruction upon other non-digital formats.  The owner and the delivery man find themselves pitted against a monster made from tape, packing laughs, gore and plenty of references into its 10-minute time slot.

Invocation – Robert Morgan – UK – 2013: 3mins

Stop-motion animation has featured in a great deal of horror shorts – none so more than in the hilarious film parodies and original works by Lee Hardcastle, who was presenting his show reel in Sheffield.  However, it is rare (for me at least) to see stop-motion animation used alongside live action actors.  This is exactly what Morgan’s Invocation does in its portrayal of a stop-motion directing session gone very wrong.  Coming in at just 3 minutes the short does much to cut straight to the gory chase after warming up with some zoom shots of the teddy bear subject’s expression being manipulated.  What follows is a gory, satisfactory and cyclical piece of work that maintains a fast pace and some great imagery.

 

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Butterflies – Isabel Peppard – Australia – 2013 – 12mins

This is possibly the most beautiful short I have ever seen.  The animation and puppetry is some of the most expressive and thoughtful work, giving the characters a grounded, yet magical appearance.  The subject matter is incredibly interesting too, considering how art and commerciality do not always go hand in hand and the trauma that some artists can go through when their work does not make money, yet their talents are forced into monotonous, yet technically-sound productions.  The best thing I can say about it is that I was genuinely sad when it came to an end as I really could have watched a feature-length version.

Shellshocked – Dominic Brunt – UK – 2013 – 12mins

Introduced by Brunt himself as the total opposite to his feature Before Dawn where the zombie apocalypse is told simply through the impact on an ordinary couple, Shellshocked introduces zombies into a World War II setting as both a British and German soldier find themselves underground, guns focused on one another, both waiting for the other to attack.  As they spend more time together, they appear to soften, offering one another chocolate and cigarettes despite the language barrier.  It seems that the story takes a great deal from the real story of the ceasefire on Christmas Day during World War II where soldiers took a break from shooting at one another to play a game of football, only to return to combat the following day.  That touching and tragic event weighs heavily on the short as it examines the capability of humans to adapt, overcome but also the consequences for breaking someone’s trust.

The Root of the Problem – Ryan Spindell – USA – 2013 – 13mins

Personal confession time: I’ve never had a fear of the dentist.  This means that a lot of dental-related horror is sort of lost on me (now laser eye surgery or something…yeah I’d squirm like you wouldn’t believe) so maybe this one didn’t have as much of an impact on me as it did for others.  While the construction of the dated dental office (fitting it’s 1950s setting) is good and sets the scene for the horror to come it is really the performances that make this short, with all three turning in wonderful performances that can be so hard to find in short films.  One actress is even limited to mostly mumbling, but manages to convey her move from general unease to total terror solidly and convincingly.  The tooth fairy mythology is something that despite fitting well within the genre has been relatively rarely explored so is nice to see a short tackle it.

 

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Cat Sick Blues – Dave Jackson – Australia – 2013 – 10mins

When I first read the description for this one it was probably one of the only ones to instantly creep me out.  People wearing masks are always fuel for nightmares and the idea of being followed home is an incredibly real and horrible one – even if that person isn’t wearing a cat mask.  It is an incredibly effective short, featuring a couple who stop to offer help and a kind word to a man passed out on the beach.  However, their kindness is unrewarded as the man enters their house.  There are a few comic moments arising from the surreal situation, but this is soon abandoned for a far darker tone that fits and leaves the short in your mind for much longer.

The Guest – Jovanka Vuckovic – Canada – 2013 – 4mins

Another shorter film which throws the viewer into a situation in progress – offering very little background or context aside from a man who appears conversing with an unseen voice in a mirror about the deal he has made.  It soon transpires that the man has killed his wife and daughter – a fact illustrated by a bleached out, haunting cutaway to images of his wife and child holding out severed hearts.  It is impressively shot with that fantastic imagery really lingering in the mind.

Angst, Piss and Drid – Fredrik Hana – Norway – 2012 – 19mins

Angst, Piss and Drid won the prize for best short at Sheffield and while certainly competently directed and suitably dark subject matter handled I was surprised that it did.  This may just be my Butterflies bias creeping in of course but that was really the only short that totally blew me away.  Angst, Piss and Drid is exceptionally dark – the sort of film you think you need a wash after watching, as would be expected for a film that chronicles the relationship between two serial killers.  However, we only see the male of the couple continuing to kill, while the female stays at home, cradling body parts in plastic bags and obviously finding a disconnect with her partner, regularly lashing out at him.  Their previous exploits together are shown via old film footage, featuring the two torturing and dismembering a victim, but the film grading makes it appear as a fond family home video – a return to happier times.  The film is relentlessly gritty, never allowing an out for the audience or encouraging enjoyment.

Eden – Todd Cobery – USA – 2012 – 14mins

Some shorts are films by themselves, with beginnings, middles and ends not dissimilar to their feature-length counterparts.  However, others are obviously used as pitches toward a feature-length version and I believe this is the case with Eden.  There is no exposition or real background provided for the strange goings-on, the panic, rioting or the terrorism as all of these things would be difficult to explore fully in such a short time.  As a result of this lack of background however, I found myself confused and unable to enjoy it as much as some of the others.  Of course, this could also be that I do struggle to hold an interest in sci-fi, which this appeared to be for the most part, with the horror as an addition to the dystopia.  In saying that though, the short is glossy and thrilling, making me wonder what could be done with the idea in a feature-length medium so if it was indeed a pitch, then mission accomplished.

 

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Hell No – Joe Nicolosi – USA – 2013 – 3mins

One of the only shorts that was exclusively a comedy, acting as a trailer for a horror film in which good characters make smart decisions, playing on a variety of horror tropes that have had genre audiences screaming at the screen for decades.  A particular highlight for me is a cheerleader who approaches another student to ask if he wants to break into an abandoned building and play with a Ouija board, only for him to respond with a deadpan “No, no I don’t.”  The different scenes are intercut with reviewer quotes like ‘Kind of…anticlimactic’ and feature a voiceover typical to horror trailers.  Despite playing with these tropes to a hardened horror audience who is aware of them all Hell No got a great deal of laughs all the way through which is a great indication of its quality and how it hits all of the right notes for the jokes.

Delicacy – Jason Mann – USA/UK – 2013 – 11mins

An interesting little short that constantly manages to balance the comic, the ridiculous and the downright sinister throughout.  The film features a grumpy food critic who bemoans the fact that he hasn’t tasted anything exciting since 1991 and the chef who feeds him a mystery meat in order to prove him wrong.  However, when the chef can’t resist snatching the meat for himself it becomes clear that the meat is addictive and highly regarded.  Never has a short film changed so quickly with one word as in this film as the meat is revealed to be from a mythical creature.  I won’t spoil it as the delivery of the reveal is so wonderfully funny and strange it really needs to be seen.  The remainder of the film follows the pair as they go on a hunt for more meat with a virgin female leader and utilises the woods well in its balance between mundane nature and something far more fantastical.

Awake – Francisco Sonic Kim – USA – 2013 – 10mins

Another entry into the ‘children are creepy as all hell’ section of the horror genre that probably keeps the birth rate amongst horror fans relatively low.  The film drops us into the lives of parents of a young boy who is unable to sleep and have adapted their lives so one member of the couple is awake with him at all times.  The boy has a scar on the side of his head that bleeds from underneath its dressing and appears to be from some sort of surgery, likely to determine the cause for his lack of sleep.  However, the child is prone to violent outbursts and after striking his mother, heads off into the woods.  This is another film I would be interested in seeing a feature length version of, with more exploration of the boy’s condition and also the parent’s attempts to cope as the short does not quite have the creep factor that it could for me, although there is a solid and frightening idea behind it.

 

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The Body – Paul Davis – UK – 2013 – 19mins

Last year Davis’ short Him Indoors was a real favourite of mine, packing in horror, comedy and a healthy dose of irony and Davis has used the same package here to great effect once again.  The Body follows a serial killer (played wonderfully by Alfie Allen who maintains a quiet, yet confident and sinister manner throughout) who uses Halloween to transport the body of his latest victim.  However, he is stopped by some people who are attending a costume party and want him to bring along his fantastic costume with them.  The short fits wonderfully within its time frame, with no wasted time and closing off the story at an appropriate point, showing that Davis has a real grasp of pacing.  I’m very interested to see if he will make the transition from shorts to features at some point and can safely say I’d buy my ticket in advance.

 

So there’s my view on a selection of shorts from Celluloid Screams 2013.  Pretty soon I’ll be getting some full reviews of a few features that should go up over at AllHorror.net but will keep people posted on that. Hayley is also sorting out more of our videos from the festival.  Twitter, as always is @caitlynmdowns

Top 10 Horrors of 2012

Happy New Year everyone and I know I’m a little late with this as most had their ‘best of’ lists out by the end of December, but I’m ridiculously indecisive and I know as soon as I post this I’ll immediately think of others that should have been on here or it should be in a different order but such is life.  So with no further ado, my top 10 horror films of 2012…

 

10 – Manborg

manborg

At just over an hour long this frantic, 1980s video-game look and sound alike makes for the perfect midnight movie.  Some brilliant, endlessly quotable one liners make it a great one to watch with friends and the fairly short run time means the film ends before the joke wears too thin.  It is hugely enjoyable and its impressive to see a film without a big budget utilise it to create a ‘look’ that escalates the film into something more interesting.

9 – Resolution

resolution

With horror fans crying out for original additions to the genre I’m expecting Resolution to be one of the most talked about horror films of 2013 despite it not really fitting into any sub-genre.  Much of the film’s appeal for me rests on the incredible chemistry between drug-addled Chris (Vinny Curan) and well-meaning Michael (Peter Cilella) as it is their unlikely yet believable friendship that carries the film for the most part.  I must see it again.

8 – Citadel

citadel

The first film on this year’s list to make me cry, which is, regrettably, becoming more and more common.  Taking an altogether more sentimental take on ‘hoodie-horror’ ‘Citadel’ rests on the shoulders of Aneurin Barnard as a father traumatised by the death of his wife and it is his performance at the centre, despite a great turn from James Cosmo as a rather sweary priest.  I do have my complaints about the film in terms of it relying a lot on loud noises as opposed to genuinely scary moments (which it does have) but this film was a great surprise with its ability to maintain a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout.

7 – Chained

chained

Chained was probably the most uncomfortable film I saw this year and I definitely left the cinema feeling a little grubby for it.  Although disturbing it also allowed for some incredibly uplifting moments as Rabbit is repeatedly conditioned to become a killer by his serial-killing captor Bob.  Eamon Farren has a strangely beautiful screen presence used to full effect and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Bob intimidates through the screen.  Jennifer Lynch has created a haunting film about the ways in which damaged people cope.  Wonderful, but so glad I did not have to get a taxi home after watching it.

6 – Errors of the Human Body

errors

Body horror was something I was really unsure of before attending Abertoir this year due to being unaware of my own limitations in terms of watching gore.  Turns out, I’m quite a fan as this and a higher entry on the list will show.  Errors of the Human Body is a heartbreaking tale of genetic modification, mad scientists and failed relationships backed up by slick production, dark laughs and a steady, if slow for some pace.

5 – Before Dawn

beforedawn

One of a few feature debuts on this list – this one is from husband and wife team Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell.  This was a film I was interested to see, but honestly did not expect that much from it and I was so glad to be proven wrong.  Zombie lore meets romantic drama as a troubled couple (played by Brunt and Mitchell) head off to a remote cottage in an attempt to save their marriage, blighted by husband Alex’s drinking problems brought on by losing his job.  There are some wonderful touches in this in relation to zombie mythology but at its heart remains a study of love and ultimately, despair (Aww..sweet).  The second film on this list to make me cry too.

4 – The Cabin in the Woods

cabin

I think the marketing for this film was one of the things to let it down.  The posters proclaimed it to be a ‘game-changer’ for the horror genre and this likely appealed to many fed up of the constant found-footage films, remakes/reboots and sequels being churned out.  However, ‘Cabin’ is not a game-changer at all.  What it is though, is great fun and this is probably the way it should have been sold to cinema goers.  The conventions and cliches being played with have already been tackled and some of the ‘you get the horror films you deserve’ points are a little heavy-handed, but it had me glued to my seat the first time I saw it and every time since too.  The only word I can ever use to describe it as is fun, and isn’t that enough sometimes?

3 – Sightseers

sightseers

Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List’ took the number one spot in my top ten last year and the teaser clip for this had me very hopeful, with its tone very similar to British comedy series like Nighty Night – dark, biting and delightfully absurd.  Of course, last year the film I was looking forward to seeing most was The Wicker Tree and we all know how that one turned out, so I was prepared for disappointment.  Luckily, Sightseers did not disappoint and while probably not strictly a ‘horror’ film, work of this quality should be welcomed into the genre.  Amy Jump is fast becoming one of my favourite screen writers and her collaboration with stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram for this film is hilarious.  I am strongly looking forward to Wheatley and Jump’s next project ‘A Field in England’, starring Julian Barratt, Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley, among others.

2 – Antiviral

antiviral

Brandon Cronenberg’s first film is bleak, clinical and every bit as invasive as the needlework undertaken on-screen as it explores celebrity culture, cosmetic surgery and the obsessions surrounding both.  Caleb Landry Jones has a brilliant on-screen presence and often it seems like the environment has been built around him as the centre point.  It is beautiful, captivating and I still can’t believe it is Brandon Cronenberg’s feature debut.  It feels far more sophisticated than that.

1 – American Mary

americanmary2

American Mary could have won this simply with its soundtrack, which is honestly one of the best I’ve heard in a while and needs an official release.  While I’m mentioning the sound (without giving anything away like some of the latest trailers…grrr) there is a moment of sound in this film so well designed that it sounded like it was coming from inside the cinema.  Some fantastic prosthetic work, lashings of dark humour and not ignoring the seriousness of their story make it a very strong follow up to ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk’.  I’m already interested to see what the Soska Sisters will tackle next as their first two films couldn’t be more different.  Katherine Isabelle is a compelling leading lady, but for me the star was Tristan Risk as Beatress, who ably switched from confident and comedic to tragic and fragile.  With any film as highly anticipated and praised as this one its bound to have its detractors, but for me its blend of ‘Nip/Tuck’-esque stylised surgery and snarky revenge film worked very well.

So there you have it!  I realise that no top 10 list will have everyone nodding in agreement so welcome others to submit their ideas about the films that maybe should have been included, or anything I’ve missed out that I should have seen.  I’m on Twitter @caitlynmdowns for any discussion.  Thanks for reading and I’m hoping to be able to announce a pretty cool project fairly soon…maybe even during this week.

Carnage After The End

This theme tends to do strange things to punctuation in headers so I’ll just clarify here that the title is meant to be Carnage: After the End.  Anyway, once again I am really pleased to be involved in the announcement of a new horror anthology from Sirens Call Publications.  More accurately, two new books, as After the End is split into two volumes, each with ten stories – a credit to how much writing talent there is right now.  So with no further ado, I will let the book explain itself to you, starting with volume one!

Carnage: After the End – Volume 1

The Apocalypse has come, leaving in its wake small pockets of survivors battling to stay alive; each carving out a new beginning for mankind.

The ten stories in Carnage: After the End – Volume 1 are the terrifyingly harsh and brutal realities those survivors must face. Each one takes us to a place where humanity’s stragglers are forced to battle with enemies outside of their control; mutant beasts, groups of depraved and desperate people, and the terrifying threat of a dwindling food supply. Their fight for survival gets even more difficult as they search among the tatters of civilization for the will to carry on.

In a world where society has collapsed and terror lurks around every corner, no one can be trusted and nothing can be taken for granted.

Hell has invaded and happy endings are a thing of the past…

Contributing Authors in Volume 1 include:

Kimberly A. Bettes, Shane Cashman, Shane R. Collins, Laura Diamond, Rodney James Galley, Michael Griffin, Russell Linton, Adam Millard, Christofer Nigro, and Julianne Snow.

 Carnage: After the End – Volume 1 can be found at any of these fine retailers:

CreateSpace

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Smashwords

Just in case one volume isn’t enough for you, then check out the details for volume two:

Carnage: After the End – Volume 2

Hell has invaded Earth and happy endings are a thing long since forgotten.

The ten stories in Carnage: After the End – Volume 2 tell of the frighteningly horrific and cruel lives the survivors must face. Each one takes us to a place where humanity’s stragglers are forced to battle for their very existence against their own grim reality; creatures from different worlds or times, individuals or groups of miscreants who feed on the fear of the weak, and even the terrifying threat of unknown bacterial organisms. Their will to go on diminishing among the tatters of the civilization they once knew.

In a world where society has collapsed and terror lurks around every corner, no one can be trusted and nothing can be taken for granted.

The Apocalypse has come, leaving in its wake small pockets of survivors battling to stay alive; each carving out a new beginning for mankind…

Contributing Authors in Volume 2 include

Angel D. Callido, Charlie Fish, Harper Hull, Magda Knight, Jason Lairamore, Harry Manners, Zachary O’Shea, Wednesday Silverwood, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and L.E. White.

Carnage: After the End – Volume 2 can found one at any of these fine retailers:

CreateSpace

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Smashwords

You can find more from Sirens Call Publications from the website or by contacting Kalla Monahan (@KallaMonahan) or Nina D’Arcangela (@Sotet_Angyal) on Twitter.