Top Horrors of 2013 Part Two

In an attempt to avoid too-long-blog-post fatigue here is part two of my top horror films of 2013, again in no particular order.

 

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A Field in England

I was so excited for this.  Excited to the point that I nearly chased the postman down on the morning of its release.  Luckily for me and the postman, it was not a disappointment and is a great example of a film where everyone involved is working towards one particular vision.  Everyone knows I’m a big Ben Wheatley fan and it is exactly because of films like this – daring, dynamic and not easily forgotten.  It also contains the tent scene….oh the tent scene.  My review is on the blog and also at AllHorror.net

 

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Stoker

Some may argue that Stoker is more of a dark drama than a horror but there are some tension-filled sequences within it that for me, more than qualify it for inclusion in a horror list.  The piano scene in this, although one more fitting with drama than horror, is one of the most well-crafted scenes I’ve ever witnessed

 

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Chiméres

One of the films on this list I could totally write a very long (and spoilery) essay on, having seen it twice so far and am pretty much sure I’d get even more from it on future viewings.  The romance at the heart of the film feels like a genuine romance and the character development and actor chemistry adds an extra punch to an action-packed, tragic story.  Some wonderful, yet fairly subtle vampiric make up grounds the tale in a gritty reality.

 

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Big Bad Wolves

A morality gut-punch with a side of dark comedy that deserves all the praise it has received and more.  Really one of those films that hits you so hard that you can’t adequately discuss it until much later on…and then you can’t really stop talking about it.  Fantastic comic and emotive performances combine to create a film about torture that takes the consequences of vigilante justice very seriously

 

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Jug Face

Speaking of gut-punches, Jug Face delivers a frank discussion about acceptance of consequences and the restrictions that secluded cultures and rituals place on those within them and at no point backs out.  Everyone knows that I love a film that sets something up and no matter how unpleasant it is, follows through rather than backing out for a more favourable outcome and this does exactly that.  Worth watching for fans of The Woman to see Sean Bridgers and Lauren Ashley Carter reunited.

 

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The Borderlands

The scariest film I’ve seen all year.  Genuinely unnerving and a fine departure from the glut of found footage films out there.  By using a Peep Show POV shooting style you are thrown right into the thick of the action, yet are still allowed to see things that the characters themselves don’t.  At times, this is wonderfully subtle, but maintains enough tension that the big scares truly scare.  For further evidence, check out the Abertoir video where I look most like I need a pint.

 

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All Cheerleaders Die

Out of all the films on this list this one is probably the one I’ve recommended most to people, simply because it is so different.  A little bit late 90′s witchcraft movie wrapped up in an innovative, exciting, yet ultimately cynical Lucky McKee coating.  Bookended by one of the best opening and best closing moments All Cheerleaders Die is one I can’t wait to see again.

 

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Discopathe

First, a confession: I was not sold on this film upon starting to read the synopsis before Celluloid Screams.  Second, another confession: by the end of that synopsis I was in love with the idea and wanted a theme song.  Another one on this list that I’ve seen twice, Discopathe is a grubby, occasionally very darkly funny film that will get its infectious soundtrack and gory imagery stuck in your head.  My full review is just a few entries ago so feel free to check it out for more details.

 

So that concludes my favourites of this year. What are yours?  Anything else I should be checking out?  As always, my twitter is @caitlynmdowns, or you can just comment here. Thanks for reading!

Top Horrors of 2013

For the past two years I’ve done the conventional top 10 horror films of the year gimmick, but this year I’m passing up the ranking system because I simply can’t decide on any order for the films I’ve enjoyed most this year.  Much of this is because 2013 has been a somewhat strange year for horror with some of the bigger names absent from festival schedules giving way to some new and some re-emerging talents which can only be good for the genre. In addition, all of these films are so different that I’m finding it hard to rank them as each pretty much do what they want to do comfortably and confidently.  I did initially start to rank them but it turned me into such a conflicted mess I just had to abandon the idea.  I’m also aware that some of the films in this list were probably out last year but that is often the case so we won’t worry about that (am seeing a good few of my last year’s choices on lists this year – mainly the mighty American Mary and Antiviral.  As it is a pretty big list I’m going to split this into two parts…

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Yep…I was not expecting this to be anywhere near a year-end list of mine when I first saw the DVD cover and took a chance on it being so bad it might be entertaining.  However, it is a super fun reimagining of the Hansel and Gretel tale that really hit all the right notes with me.  Sometimes that’s all you need, but at the same time, it lacks the substance to be any further up the list.

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Evil Dead

This one may be slightly controversial, given the fairly negative response from many genre fans, but I enjoyed it.  Plenty of gore and enough small references to the original to keep me happy and some great imagery toward the end too.  My only complaint really is that maybe it would have benefitted from not being associated with The Evil Dead as it was bound to be compared unfavourably to it and perhaps could have been given more creative freedom if not under the Evil Dead banner.

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Chantaly

A deserving entry on any list considering the fact that it is the first horror film made in Laos and also the first film made by a woman there too.  However, that is not the only reason it appears here as it is a strong, haunting ghost story in its own right with its own spiritual background woven into the film by director Mattie Do.  Ooh, and an awesome whippet who greatly appeals to a crazy dog lady like myself.

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Lords of Salem

After many years of only mentioning Rob Zombie’s film efforts in a disgruntled mumble (Halloween grrrr) he is finally back in my good books with a more original project that includes some genuinely creepy moments that is satisfying enough before something of a drop-off toward the end.  Still, a nice turn away from his previous work and one of the most interesting on-screen depictions of witches in recent memory.

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Bad Milo!

Funny, touching and with frequent arse jokes Milo! is a really fun film, ideally enjoyed with friends and beer.  The titular Milo is very cute, but also very deadly and is off-set by some wonderful performances.  The easiest way to describe it would be something like a horror version of Ted, which looks at growing up with the help (or should that be hindrance?) of an unusual ‘friend’.

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Painless

Superb Spanish film that I’ve already expressed my appreciation of in a full review.  A stunning study of a country coming to terms with past brutalities wrapped up in a personal story about children who have no concept of physical pain.  It kept me gripped from its sinister opening to its emotional conclusion – a tall order during the festival overload. My full review is up at AllHorror.net

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Maniac

The Maniac remake has to be on this list for having the dubious achievement of making me feel genuinely, physically sick during one particular kill.  It is relentless both in its violence and the style behind it, culminating in the closest thing to a fevered nightmare I’ve seen on screen in some time.  Doesn’t Elijah Wood do creepy so well?!

Part Two is coming soon…

Abertoir 2013 Day Six

Again, I missed the short film competition today but during the closing ceremony it was announced that Fist of Jesus had been voted the winner.  This was the only short I wanted to see that I hadn’t already seen so was kind of sad to miss it, particularly as the team behind the short were behind the absolutely insane Brutal Relax two years ago.  Still, I’ll catch up.  I also skipped out on Motivational Growth due to having seen it at Sheffield.  While it is certainly an inventive and ambitious debut it didn’t quite grab me or become a favourite.  From what I understand it split the crowd at Abertoir, but that’s always a risk with some of the unique films that are screened.

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My first screening of the day was the silent horror shorts with composer Paul Shallcross providing original scores to four silent short films, including the 1910 Frankenstein.  I’m told Shallcross’ specialism does not lie in horror, meaning that he researches the films he is to show to a great degree, managing to come off as a complete expert.  His compositions fit wonderfully with the films and the extra trivia was welcomed as I know relatively little about the films.  What was really interesting about this was the different uses of colour used in each film and also the evolution of acting styles. 

Next up was another film I had seen at Sheffield but was eager to see again – Chiméres, due to the director and lead actress being on hand for a Q&A afterwards.  I really enjoyed Chiméres the first time around, but the second time I loved it, being able to appreciate more of the nuances and I think by now I could probably write an essay on this film.  This is quite something as I’m not too keen on vampires, however, both this and Kiss of the Damned made quite the impact, despite being very different in their approaches.  The Q&A also revealed a few extra details about the location and non-subtitled conversations that add another layer to the film.

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Sadly, I missed The Ghost Hunter, which was a one-man show focused on a man who leads ghost tours.  While it sounded wonderful (and I hear was very effective) I wanted to be alert enough to watch and enjoy Soulmate, which was the final film of Abertoir 2013, in keeping with the ghostly theme of much of the festival, ending with a Q&A with the two main actors.  Soulmate is a slow, relatively gentle ghost story concerning a woman who goes to a Welsh cottage to recover from a suicide attempt, but instead finds herself talking with the ghost of the previous occupant.  This is Axelle Carolyn’s first feature film, following shorts like the wonderful The Last Post and this is rather similar, mixing the soft and the sinister.  While I can’t say it’s one of my favourites, it’s certainly an interesting debut and I’m definitely interested in seeing what will come next from Carolyn.

During the closing ceremony, posters (I’m now in possession of a The Last Exorcism Part Two poster, bluergh, haha) and DVDs were thrown out and the announcements made for the winning films.  After that, it was time for yet more socialising in the bar to close off the festival and start to make arrangements for next year.  I’d strongly suggest that if anyone has been thinking about making the trip, do so next year.  You won’t be sorry, as Abertoir offers the best value for the lowest price, while not compromising on sub-par films.  Even if I didn’t like some of them, I couldn’t deny that they were all well-made and offered something unique to the genre.  There is also something for everyone, from classic screenings, brand new independent films and everything in between, while also offering the opportunity to chat and network with some of the most dedicated genre fans around.

Until next year…

Abertoir 2013 Day Five

In keeping with my own Abertoir tradition I did not make it to the short films.  I think I made it to one set in the first year.  I will say though that I’m really surprised that again, Butterflies did not sail past the competition.  It is a beautiful piece of work, but obviously, without having seen many of the others I can’t say whether it was the best (it probably was though).

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So, yeah, the first thing I saw on day five was something I was looking forward to and dreading in equal measure.  A found-footage film.  Yeah, I know, I was looking forward to it, for a change, but also with that same feeling that I’d spend my next 2 hours watching an empty room until a cupboard door opens.  Imagine my surprise when it was not only a great film, but I was also scared out of my tiny mind by it.  I described the style of it in the videos as Peep Show goes ghost-hunting, due to the head-cams that document much of the action, managing to avoid the vomit-inducing shaky-cam of so many before it.  Also, while it does a fair bit of stationary camera watching, when things happen, things really happen and the effect is an incredibly nerving experience.  Can’t wait to terrify myself with this one again in April.

Following this was The Forgotten, a German ghost story with a difference about a woman who returns to her home town with an old friend and begins to unearth an unpleasant past.  It was a well-constructed tale, but the packing in of twists did take some of the shine off for me.  Perhaps with even one less turn I would have liked it more.  However, the first half and particularly the opening sequence is superbly creepy, with an almost fairytale feel to it.  It’s something I’d definitely recommend and just goes to show the variety of films Abertoir screens.

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Saturday was to be a very special night with a double bill of Zombie Flesh Eaters followed by The Haunting, with special guests Fabio Frizzi and Richard Johnson meeting for the first time on the stage at Abertoir despite both having credits on Zombie Flesh Eaters in the 1970s.  This was a really special moment and we were treated to both sharing their experiences with Lucio Fulci in a light-hearted but reflective and thoughtful session.  Zombie Flesh Eaters is perhaps best known for a scene in which a zombie and a shark fight and also a scene where a woman is pulled eye first onto a splinter of wood.  While I’ve seen both scenes in isolation it was great to see them as a wider part of the story, even if the shark thing makes no sense anyway!  The Haunting is one of my favourites and always scares me, with this screening being no different, but extra special for seeing it on the big screen.

To finish Saturday night it was the Abertoir party, in which band White Blacula played, followed by a DJ set by Bronnt Industries Kapital that incorporated a variety of Italian horror themes for us all to enjoy while sipping cocktails, reflecting on the previous films and also readying ourselves for the last day. *sniff, sniff*.  No, that’s just something in my eye…

Abertoir 2013 Day Four

Due to attending Celluloid Screams in Sheffield pretty much just a week before Abertoir, Friday was host to two films I’d already seen and in the case of one…had very strong feelings about.  First up on Friday was The Battery, a film I was very mixed on, feeling that it was over-long with the ability to get its message across without plunging the viewer into a real-time situation.  While I understand the motivation, it soon lost its effect, but that’s not to say there aren’t some really great sequences in the film, just that it doesn’t quite come together for me.

Second on today’s agenda was a talk by Gavin Baddeley about the search for the original Gothfather, which took everyone on a journey through the past of the gothic tradition, including some notable figures along the way, before arriving at and crowning Montague Summers as the Gothfather.  I always end up learning so much from Baddeley’s talks that often delve deeper into the reality and history behind common horror figures and tropes.

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Following this was The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears – a real crowd-divider and I have to admit, I walked out during the Sheffield screening of it, so I can’t provide a full, detailed review as it wouldn’t be fair.  It is an ultra-stylish Giallo-homage, but the lack of any coherent narrative and the constant repetition of scenes made it an incredibly frustrating watch for me and from what I heard afterwards, a few others too.  However, those who liked it, really loved it and sometimes the best discussions are had when there’s such a difference between opinions, something which Abertoir’s emphasis on the social aspect of the festival allows for.

I was very unsure going into the next film.  Obviously, I’ve stated my aversion to science fiction time and time again and The Machine seemed to be exactly that, with relatively little horror mentioned in its description.  However, as there was a Q&A following the screening, I thought it would be interesting to hear that and would need to watch the film first.  Q&A’s are a wonderful way to not only learn more about the film being screened, but also the film-making process in general.  In the end I was thrilled and surprised to really enjoy the film, which although had very little going on in terms of new ideas, was sleek, well-crafted and well-acted, meaning that it was enjoyable, although certainly emotional in some parts.

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Speaking of being enjoyable, the next film was spectacular comedy-horror Bad Milo!, a film I had originally discovered while doing the write up for AllHorror.net in October and all but wrote off from the description.  After watching the trailer, however, I was sold by the blend of wit and disarmingly cute design of Milo himself.  The film is exactly how the trailer pitches it, cramming in some kooky characters to put pressure on main character Duncan (Ken Marino) so the titular Milo can appear and wreak havoc while also creating some not only hilarious, but genuinely touching moments.

The good mood I was in after Bad Milo! proved very important, as next up was another Abertoir staple – Nicko and Joe’s Bad Film Club in which the pair subject a willing audience to a dreadful film that everyone would rather forget about.  Unfortunately due to a scheduling conflict Joe was unable to make it to the festival, leaving Nicko to tackle the terrible alone.  Our ‘treat’ for this year was The Night Train to Terror, a totally nonsensical anthology utilising a wraparound story featuring God and Satan talking on a train, combined with an unbearably catchy musical number between each story.  The stories themselves make no sense either and the film, if watched alone could drive even the most sane person to the end of their tether.  Thankfully Nicko (with chocolates) makes the experience a far more pleasant one and led us into the weekend with a smile (and that bloody song in our heads).

Abertoir 2013 Day Three

My first film on day three was Chanthaly, a film that is not only the first film to be made by a woman in Laos, but also the first in the horror genre to come out of the country.  It is always interesting with Abertoir in the way that they schedule films from a variety of countries, which makes for some fascinating comparisons and contrasts in terms of sensibilities, cultural practices, histories and also restrictions.  The production of Chanthaly was carefully monitored in order to avoid causing offense in director Mattie Do’s native Laos which means there is no gore, very little violence but a quiet and reflective ghost story, with a focus on the family.  Considering the inexperience of the director it is an impressive and ambitious debut, with my only complaint being that it ran a little long.  However, it is deliciously creepy in parts, with scenes comparable to Ringu and the 2010 version of Whistle and I’ll Come to You and, perhaps most importantly has an awesome dog starring in it.  That’ll always win points with me.

ImageNext up was Kiss of the Damned – advertised as a homage to Euro-sleaze and on that it delivers.  Perhaps more interestingly is the fact that director Xan Cassavettes is the daughter of John Cassavettes – known in the horror genre for his role as Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby, but also for his directorial work on films like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, lending that extra expectation to it.  Kiss of the Damned is like the ultimate guilty pleasure, containing vampires who live to have sex with one another, a simplistic plot with some awkward lines delivered ridiculously but it works!  It is so well-constructed and charming (not to mention it has an awesome soundtrack) that you’re willing to instantly surrender to it and be taken along for the duration.

Following this was another talk from Peter Hutchings, again covering the life and times of Peter Cushing.  The talk was an emotional one, filled with not only clips of the great man in action, but also personal anecdotes that left the majority of the audience at least a little misty-eyed.  Also another great excuse to see the Morecambe and Wise clip, alongside other media inspired by Cushing.

ImageOur last film before the Pub Quiz was Ghost Graduation – a film initially described as sounding a bit shit, having a terrible poster and was a last resort for organisers during a festival stay.  However, this lovely Spanish comedy film turned out to be the best last resort ever taken – storming to a confident win as the Best Feature of the festival.  There’s very little horror in it, even though it is a ghost story but functions more as The Breakfast Club (including at least one moment directly acknowledging this)…with spirits.  What it is, though, is touching with great comedic timing and with tons and tons of feel-good moments.

It proved great scheduling as the fun-filled film put everyone in the right mood for the Pub Quiz.  Now I’ve bemoaned the difficulty of the music round in this before, but this year (largely thanks to a bone thrown to us by Nia) we were able to secure a few more correct answers than previous years.  Despite not winning (but importantly, also not losing), the Pub Quiz is always great fun, particularly when complimented by the specially designed cocktails.

ImageThose cocktails would certainly help with the next film…Hentai Kamen Forbidden Superhero, which served as Abertoir’s annual slice of Japanese mayhem and weirdness.  Before this though, we were treated to the final episode of series one of Danger 5, but happily were given a preview of series two, that will hopefully make its way to Abertoir for next year.  Anyway, HK, is…odd.  There’s not much I can say about the plot other than it is about a teen who unlocks his superhero potential, via perverted means.  While the joke ran fairly thin fairly soon for me, there are some real laugh-out-loud moments in this one and a hellishly confident performance by the lead.  Look up screenshots and you’ll see what I mean.  Might be an idea to chuck a safe-search on first if you’re in a library or something though.  Actually if you’re in public DO NOT LOOK IT UP!

With Thursday over, we can now look into the long weekend of Abertoir 2013…coming soon.

Abertoir 2012 Day Two

Now moving on to day two of Abertoir, with something resembling an early night on night one I woke up surprisingly refreshed and ready to get down to some serious horror viewing, helped greatly by the 1pm start time.  Today’s first film was Madhouse, featuring the focus of this year’s festival Peter Cushing and Abertoir’s very own patron saint, Vincent Price (no, seriously it’s in the programme now.  Victoria Price has confirmed it…she’s that cool).  This was a first viewing for me but anything featuring those horror greats must have something to it, and indeed it does.  Gaz during an introduction to the film explained how this was one of the last horror’s of its kind before the juggernaut-like The Exorcist hit screens and left people wanting evermore violent and disturbing horror.  What Madhouse provides is a warm and nostalgic look at a time before this, with the knowledge that you’re in safe hands for entertainment with Cushing and Price.

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Keeping on the subject of horror icons, next up was the Court of Cult: British Horror’s Greatest Stars.  The court was presided over by Judge Gaz (do excuse the terrible quality on my camera, ’tis all my fault) and featured presenters arguing for their favourite cult British horror star.  Lively presentations were given in favour of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Sheila Keith and Michael Ripper to be awarded Abertoir’s favourite.  All the presentations were wonderful, but with a little help from Morecambe and Wise, Peter Hutchings secured a victory for Peter Cushing, rather fittingly.  However, had Russ Hunter been able to play the fantastic clip of Christopher Lee reading from The Exorcist….that might have swung it.  Nevertheless, we were not to be disappointed for long as it was screened just before Danger 5 later that night.  Worth the wait.  So worth the wait.

Up next was the second short film of the festival Grandpa, screening ahead of Across the River.  I’ve spoken before about how I feel that some short films can function as a pitch for a feature length version and I would strongly suggest this is the case with Grandpa.  There were quite a few half-ideas throughout it, with nothing completely fleshed out, which honestly, left me a little cold.  A couple of creepy moments worked well, but ultimately felt a little hollow.  This feeling would continue into Across the River – an Italian film with a focus on the history of tension between Italy and Slovenia using a ghost story as a way of exploring the themes.  Somewhere within this film is a creepy and effective ghost story that hints at human cruelty, but unfortunately, it is over long and spends far too much time in the set up, meaning that the necessary ‘scary bits’ are few and far between.  However, when there is a scare – it tends to be a good one.

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Next up was Painless, and as I’ve already reviewed this, you already know that I loved it.  Sharing a similarity to, Across the River, Painless is far less about the supernatural and more about troubled human histories and the cruelties within it.  I did not see Painless for a second time here, but will definitely pick it up on DVD.  I also missed The Station, largely due to its description as being like The Thing and having an emphasis on sci-fi.  Those who know me, know that sci-fi is often not my thing, so as already mentioned, whenever you can find a break at a festival – it’s usually a good thing to take it.

My long break (and a little bit of rum) left me nice and refreshed for the midnight screenings of Danger 5 and Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 1Danger 5, as always, was a real treat and was again introduced by the hilarious creators.  Now, I’ve never properly experienced a Troma film before, so Return to Nuke ‘Em was quite the introduction.  I’ve already said in the videos how in the beginning, I laughed despite myself, thanks to a few well-placed cameos.  However, the controversial one-liners soon came thick and fast and while some may have been well-received, the sheer amount of them turned the film into something rather more cruel than first imagined and for me, it lost a lot of steam.  Still, I’m glad to have finally seen a Troma.    

Abertoir 2013 Round Up

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So, Abertoir is over for another year and while my liver is suffering and my craving for an actual vegetable is almost unbearable, I could happily have stayed for much longer.  What would be left of me is a whole different matter, but I can always recommend the festival to anyone.  This year was my third year attending the festival and it has been a great experience every year – even if I do make myself a promise to attend everything before red wine happens and it all falls apart a bit.  Of course, there were some films I had previously seen at Celluloid Screams in Sheffield – Painless (my review for allhorror.net is here), Discopath, The Body, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, Chiméres and The Battery – meaning I could have a few breaks without missing out, although Discopath, The Body and Chiméres demanded a second viewing.

As most of those who follow me on Twitter know, myself and Hayley of Hayley’s Horror Reviews have been producing some short on-the-ground festival footage, thanks largely to Hayley’s quickly-increasing editing abilities that have meant that we’ve been able to record a great deal of our instant reactions to films and get them uploaded fairly quickly.  The link to the playlist for these videos (and others from Sheffield and last year’s Abertoir) is here and we’d be grateful for comments, shares and even helpful tips or what you might like to see next year.

With that bit of housekeeping taken care of it’s probably best that I structure my thoughts following the festival on a day-by-day, film-by-film (or event) basis.  Of course, I’m not going to give away too much of my thoughts on films that I might get around to doing full reviews on at some point.  Will probably return to my method for my first Abertoir and review one film from each day…wish me luck.  Without further ado…my Abertoir 2013 Round Up, with thanks to Gaz, Nia and Rhys for putting on such a wonderful festival and working so hard.

Day One

The first film at Abertoir 2013 was originally intended to be a classic screening of The Haunting with Richard Johnson in attendance to take part in a Q&A session following the screening.  However, due to a scheduling conflict, Richard Johnson was unable to attend until the Saturday, but this resulted in some very special moments which otherwise would not have happened.  Instead, we were treated to a screening of The Mummy, featuring some wonderful eye-acting from Christopher Lee and one of the greatest backhanded compliments from the mouth of Peter Cushing.

Following this was my second opportunity to see Discopath – again screening with short film The Body.  The best description I can bestow upon Discopath is that it is a grubby and disarmingly, darkly funny film.  I feel like some of the negative response to the film is as  result of people expecting it all to be played for laughs – admittedly the premise does have a comedic value – but instead are confronted with a frequently unpleasant and gory film.  The Body before it is an example of a short film done very right – playing perfectly into its run time with wit and stylish design.

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The third film of the first night came from Lucky McKee, which of course, I was very excited about.  The Woman is one of my favourite films of the last few years and getting to directly fangirl at Lauren Ashley Carter at Celluloid Screams was a major highlight and I was expecting a similarly hard-hitting, social commentary.  Instead, we got All Cheerleaders Die.  I knew very little about it, and again those watching the videos/following on Twitter will already know that I loved this, partially for being so different to what I was expecting.  However, there are moments that are distinctly Lucky McKee, although it is missed with a humour and madness not always present.  The ending was probably one of the best I’ve seen too.

The final film of the night was Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, continuing Abertoir’s love affair with 1970s Italian horror.  As I’d seen this fairly recently I decided some sleep was a better option, but not before sticking around for episode 4 of Danger 5.  Last year, Abertoir showed the first three episodes before midnight screenings of the 1960s, Nazi-hunting, spy team parody full of strange non-sequiturs and perhaps more importantly, some great cocktail recipes.  These recipes in fact, formed an important part of this year’s festival as bar patrons were treated to The Perfect Fruiten Kahmoon (the best one) and The Perfect Swiss Kiss (surprisingly tasty), designed for us movie and booze hounds based on actual recipes from the show.  The creators of Danger 5 had also prepared a special introduction for each episode – often upping the strangeness considerably.  I can’t really accurately explain entirely what Danger 5 is, but it’s a slice of absolute brilliance.

ImageThis was my first day at Abertoir 2013 and as my rambling about it has dragged along a little, I think I’ll be posting the round up by days to avoid the dreaded wall of text.  Day Two through Six to come.  Six days!  How did we all survive that?!

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.

 

butterflies

 

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.

 

catsick

 

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.

 

hellno

 

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.

 

body

 

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