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.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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