The Herd (2014)

The Herd

May contain mild spoilers.


‘True horror isn’t found in the movie theatre, it is found in reality’

The above quote appears at the very end of the credits of Melanie Light’s short film The Herd, serving as a powerful parting shot to the audience. Billed as a vegan feminist film, The Herd has been on my watch list for some time now.

While there’s been plenty in mainstream news regarding slaughter house brutality (particularly when those brutalities are carried out by those of different ethnicities or religions), the dairy industry has been relatively ignored by mainstream news. While vegetarianism is now more largely accepted, it often feels like veganism is viewed as something still reserved for red paint-throwing extremists like PETA rather than a lifestyle choice that’s surprisingly easy to implement. As a result, many don’t realise how much cruelty is actually present in the industry.


What The Herd does is transfer this into a film in which LV Industries is housing women in cages, subjecting them to repeated inseminations, rough treatment from guards and even having new-born babies taken away from them. The guards are gleeful while carrying out their duties, employing electric shocks when the women don’t comply while the female captor (played by genre-favourite Pollyanna McIntosh) carries out her work with a cold indifference. Somehow the fact that a female character is complicit in the abuse of other women makes it all the more disturbing.

During the film one of the women is able to escape and the film focuses on her attempts to free herself from the compound where she makes further horrific discoveries about what the company is using the women for. What LV Industries as a business actually trades in is kept a secret until the very end and the high-gloss advertising of the company is excellently contrasted with the grungy and unpleasant industrial side that has come before it. This reveal also critiques the beauty industry and the onus on women using products in order to stay young and wrinkle-free.

Technically speaking, the film looks fantastic, with the grading and lighting adding a lot to an already incredibly dressed set. Stains of bodily fluids are present in every scene, giving a sense of history about the place – the abuses in the film are not temporary but a constant cycle. As a result, the film feels like the smells might seep through the screen which is a clear indicator of thoughtful, considered design.


The Herd is a difficult film to review – partly because there’s nothing quite like it already on the market and shorts are notoriously hard to review without giving too much away, but mostly because it is a staunch political statement, punctuated brilliantly with the use of real imagery of treatment of cows over the credits. While this does make for upsetting viewing it is an exceptionally important aspect of the film – hopefully snapping audiences out of complacency by turning the film they’ve just seen into something all the more real and troubling.

Abertoir 2014 Day One

Abertoir Day One


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 (, for podcasts, videos and articles. Thanks for reading!

Abertoir Day Six

The last day of Abertoir featured the film I was most looking forward to – Robin Hardy’s ‘The Wicker Tree’.  One film from each day will form a full review and ‘The Wicker Tree’ is the one I’ve chosen for day six.  For this reason I won’t mention a great deal about it here.  What I will talk about though is the selection of short films in the second collection.  I sadly missed the first due to having had too good a night the night before, so really wanted to catch these.  Overall I was very impressed with the quality and variety of the films and how they were all enjoyable in their own ways.  I think my personal favorite was ‘Nursery Crimes’ which I’d love to see again, but on the other hand ‘Brutal Relax’ was the most batshit insane and fun 15 minutes of my film-viewing life.  The fact that it won the Abertoir Short Film Audience Award says a lot, both for the quality of the short and the insanity of the Abertoir audience.  The selection also featured ‘Survivalismo’ which I will review very soon.


‘The Wicker Tree’ was next, but as already stated, that will be in a bigger review so I won’t go into that here.  What I will talk about though is ‘The Perfect Host’, featuring David Hyde Pierce.  The film was a massive hit with the audience and won the Abertoir Audience Award, knocking previous top-scoring film ‘Some Guy Who Kills People’ off the top spot on the last day.  While I still think ‘Some Guy Who Kills People’ was the better film for me personally, there were moments where I was almost crying with laughter at ‘The Perfect Host’.  The standard of films was so high that I’ve found myself struggling to put together a coherent top 5, which is no bad thing.


Next up was ‘House of Usher’ with a live piano accompaniment.  This was a really interesting way to view a silent film and definitely an experience I’d like to try again.  The screening was really full which suggests that its an idea that a lot more people are interested in than you might expect.  The last part of the festival was a talk given by Victoria Price about her father Vincent and was one of the most engaging and touching things I’ve ever witnessed.  From the talk it was made clear what an exceptional man Vincent Price was in terms of his dedication to visual arts and living his life without limits on his interests.  A very inspiring talk that was a lovely way to end the festival.


All that remains is to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Abertoir and highly recommend attending to everyone with an interest in horror.  Roll on next year!