OCTOBER 19, 2012
I didn't do a dedicated shorts post for last year's Screamfest, because quite frankly very few of them were worth discussing in detail - and the two best ones I saw I had already seen elsewhere. But they came roaring back this year; the first two blocks were pretty good and then tonight's 3rd and 4th blocks were just incredible - I was legit blown away by several of them, and I at least enjoyed something about ALL of them - not a single outright stinker. And thus for the first time ever, I don't need to highlight the ones I liked and ignore the others - what follows are my thoughts on all THIRTEEN shorts that played Friday night!
Fade Into You
One of the few shorts of the night that didn't have a giant crew that could have pulled off a feature, this was an impressive, darkly "romantic" tale of an unhinged individual who hasn't gotten over his ex (and since she's played by Danielle Harris, who can blame him?) and thus stalks her and her new boyfriend, played by AJ Bowen. Harris admirably pulls off finding that schlub attractive, and the scope image nicely fits its Halloween-ish scare scenes. Good stuff courtesy of actor turned director Michael Rosenbaum, who was seemingly dipping his toe into the water before diving into feature work (a comedy called Old Days that is now in post-production).
Oh man. OH MAN! I loved every second of this love letter to "Summer Camp" horror films of the early 80s, like The Burning, Friday the 13th, and Madman. The killer is a giant ape man, and I swear, if director Rob Himebaugh wanted to claim the film was an actual unearthed relic from 1982, it'd be pretty difficult to spot the "proof" that it wasn't. Supposedly a feature is in the works; I cannot possibly be more excited, and I pray Himebaugh and co. get everything they need to do it justice.
Not really horror, this is a sci-fi story with heart; think Wall-E fused with a sad amnesia tale and you'd be on the right track. A terrific score and not one but TWO Black Christmas actors (Margot Kidder and Keir Dullea, though the latter is more likely there to play up the film's 2001 influence) are just icing on the cake, and the robot (a terrific, seamless blend of practical and CGI) is one I'd run out and buy an action figure (or model) of in an instant, if they merchandised independent short films, that is.
Incident on Highway 73
A very creepy, inventive piece about a couple who take a scenic route through the desert and end up breaking down. But it's not the usual thing; the car seems to be the victim of an EMP-type phenomenon in the area, one that also crippled a minivan nearby. But where is the family that it belonged to? And what's with that mass of clouds and lightning a few miles away? I won't answer it... because I don't really know, nor does it matter. This is ambiguity done right, and I want to give HUGE props to the director and his FX guys for the amazing sequence with a character holding on to their seatbelt in order to keep from being sucked away by (SOMETHING).
Suckablood (click to see the full version!)
This was the filmed version of a delightfully twisted nursery rhyme, featuring incredible creature FX and a terrific location enhanced by Sin City style CGI. Also, narrator Ben Tillett has one of the best voices ever - I'd listen to him reading the phone book.
The Captured Bird
Visually wonderful, this was probably the weakest of the lot, as the story was paper-thin and not particularly compelling. Thankfully, it was short; perhaps it could be better utilized as the "story" part of a music video? Still, when the weakest entry is still worth a look, you know you're watching a damn fine collection of work.
A single character tale of a guy looking to cure himself of cancer, this one reminded me of Survivor Type in that it went on a bit long but was saved by the actor's performance and the incredible makeup work on his final stages of "treatment". Weird final shot though - I liked it because it was serious, then they throw this nutty nonsense in... make up your mind!
I actually saw this one at Fantastic Fest, and I still think it's too damn short and clearly exists to raise interest in future installments, but it was fun to watch again - the animation of the dude being ripped apart is extraordinary. Hopefully the PostHuman world will expand sooner than later.
There are fewer weirder ideas for a short than a parody/homage to John Carpenter's Christine (with a touch of Drive), but that's what Vicki is. There's no Dennis character, but the guy playing "Arnie" is amazing, with his ridiculous outfits and colorful headphones, and the bullies may seem ridiculous to a newcomer, but they pretty much act exactly like the actual characters from the film. I have no idea what possessed them to do it, but I fully endorse their decision. Now do Maximum Overdrive!
Root of the Problem
Anyone who hates the dentist (most people) will be amused/terrified in equal measure by this Twilight Zone-y account of what REALLY goes on when you get knocked out for a root canal. The makeup effect (I won't spoil its nature) is truly impressive, and the coloring/set design reminded me of Bioshock in a way.
YES!!! Much like Eaglewalk, this piece from director J. Feeney had me grinning like an idiot the entire time. The title explains it all - there's a killer shopping cart menacing the night staff of a grocery store, and it's played mostly straight, which of course makes it funnier. The explanation is one of the funniest things I've ever heard, and the final sight gag left me wanting more. Also like Eaglewalk, this was a student short - can't wait to see where they go from here.
The Other Side
A few minutes into this, I had the passing thought that the house they were using reminded me of the house in High Tension. I didn't think much of it until the residents of the house were attacked, and the protagonist - a visiting female - got on a truck in an attempt to rescue one of them. At this point I was actually kind of concerned, and then sure enough, the short has the exact same twist as Aja's film. Unlike Vicki (which acknowledged Carpenter, King, etc in its credits), there is no mention of Aja or anyone else in the film to let us know that this is an intentional homage, yet the similarities are far too numerous for it to be coincidence. So I just don't get it, I guess? It's well made, the fake killer has a terrific design, and it stars the wonderful Jennie Jacques (from Truth Or Die), and if you haven't SEEN High Tension it will play great, but I struggle to think of a good reason to put all this talent and effort to waste, copying a well-known film so closely.
I didn't know what to make of this one at first, which had a couple moving into an old apartment with a weird box nailed to the floor. But once I got what was happening, I really got into it, and started wondering why no one had done it before. Bonus points for one of the best "strain your eyes" background scares in ages!
Again, kudos to all of the filmmakers for making such great stuff, and Screamfest for putting it all together in a way that flowed wonderfully - scary films, fun/gory pieces, even some sad stories... a perfect roller coaster sequence. And if you know of another of these shorts that are available online, please let me know - I'd be happy to link it up (I looked for a few others, but Suckablood was the only one I found). However, in Eaglewalk's case, I think you're better off watching it with a crowd of like-minded folks, just to add to that old-school feeling where a new horror film would be packed with excited fans. Congrats to all of the filmmakers - I look forward to ALL of your future endeavors!
What say you?