Portland Horror Film Festival

PHFF 2019 Shorts: Day 3 & 4

portland-horror-film-festival

For my final bit of coverage for the 2019 Portland Horror Film festival I’m giving a rundown of all the short films! From terrifying to beautiful to hilarious, this year had a range of different shorts that covered virtually every subgenre of horror. Here are my thoughts on the short films from day 3 and 4:

THE FOG VS THE MIST

Another one minute “bumper” for the festival hilariously combines two classic horror films. The short acts as a fake trailer in a 70’s grindhouse style showing a man in a house that is simultaneously invaded by both the mist and the fog. The style is grainy and offers a delightful throwback. While only a minute long, the short delivers on the laughs as the narrator confuses which entity is the mist and which is the fog. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

LOOK TWICE

Kyle Wilson’s horror short shows a young night guard just starting his shift. When he notices someone lurking around outside, he tells them to leave through the intercom. The guard quickly regrets getting the intruder’s attention when he realizes they might not be human. The story and imagery are definitely spine-chilling and effective, although the plot moves in ways that can be a bit confusing as well. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

NEST

Brennan Gilpatrick and Erin Walsh combined forces to create this terrifying 2-minute short film. Shot entirely with an iPhone, it shows two young women as they go check out an apartment they want to rent. Once inside, they realize something horrifying is waiting for them. This short is definitely one of the most terrifying, which is especially impressive given the 2-minute run time. It also has some great creature design to add to the scares. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

WATER HORSE

A woman spending time with her husband and daughter is disturbed by a small boat that washes ashore near her family. From there her life turns into a nightmare where she can’t determine what’s real and what’s not. The film has a very panicked feel to it as the mother tries to keep her daughter safe. Unfortunately the play on reality makes it a bit confusing on what’s actually going on, which can take viewers out of the moment. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

CULPRIT

All the way from Tawain comes a chilling film by Shuan Yu Lin. On a visit to a public bathroom a man receives a strange picture of himself. From the moment he sees that photo the short film builds tension quickly. This leads the audience down a swift and sinister path. It is a quick horror film with effective storytelling, despite the lack of dialogue. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

WITCHES GET STITCHES

This local Portland short horror film, written and directed by Matthew K. Robinson, follows a coven of witches. They are attempting to summon a demon through a blood sacrifice, but it doesn’t go quite as planned. This hilarious short takes a simple action commonly seen in horror films and turns it into a 4 minute joke. What makes it so hilarious is the way Robinson says what audience members everywhere have thought, but characters in film almost never say. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE DARLINGS

In this world premier audiences were introduced to a group of ladies in an 80’s glam-rock band. They go to a secluded rented mansion after a show to hear over the radio that a psycho killer is on the loose. Yet these “darlings” aren’t as helpless as they appear to be. This is one of the most memorable films in the festival because it truly captures the look and feel of an 80’s film with great twists and turns. There are even some fantastic practical effects. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

HERE THERE BE MONSTER

Coming to us from Australia is one of my favorite shorts, written and directed by Drew Macdonald. A young girl experiences brutal bullying on the bus home from school. After falling asleep on the bus she awakes in the dark to find herself alone in the bus yard and she’s trapped there with something dangerous. This short is beautifully shot, has a compelling plot, and includes creepy creature design. The young lead, played by Savannah Foran-McDaniel, will instantly capture your heart and make the ending all the more satisfying. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CEMETERY SONG

Another world premier introduces this absolutely gorgeous short film, directed by Michelle Prebich with animation by Justine Prebich. This animated short film follows one man and shows a day in the life of those who inhabit the cemetery. The animation is truly stunning and the song that accompanies the short is equally beautiful. Because it is one of the few animated shorts in the festival, it definitely stands out from the crowd and it also has a sorrowful beauty to the story being told that resonates with audiences. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

I LEARNED HOW TO DRIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD

This touching short horror film from China introduces audiences to a young couple. As the man is trying to teach his wife how to drive they discover the world has been overrun by zombies, forcing her to learn at lightspeed. The film builds suspense very well in a short amount of time while also allowing time to get to know the characters. This assures the audience cares about the fates of the young couple. It results in a very sentimental yet frightening short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

FIVE COURSE MEAL

In James Cadden’s short horror comedy we meet Mark and Jenny. They agree to be part of an experiment to get some extra cash. They are confined to a room and served meal after meal through a slot in the door. From there things quickly escalate in hilarious and disgusting ways. While there is a lot of repetition that can get stale after a bit, the climax of the film has fantastic practical effects that almost makes up for it. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

FINLEY

Writer and director J. Zachary Thurman brought the film festival what was definitely a crowd favorite. After a group of college kids move into a new house, they discover a creepy puppet. It doesn’t take long to realize the puppet is alive and he’s hellbent on killing the college kids. This familiar plot is turned on its head in a truly hysterical way. Between the creepy puppet and the hilarious hijinks he gets up to, the audience was laughing from start to finish. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

RE-HOME

Izzy Lee’s short film touches on a poignant political issue. A young Mexican woman brings her baby daughter to an American couple in order to give her a better life. Yet the couple isn’t all they appear to be. The film delivers some shock value while also showcasing indie horror favorites Gigi Saul Guerrero and Morgan Peter Brown. It could have benefited from being a bit longer with a bit more plot, but it still drives home an important message. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE STRING

Another bumper contest winner, written and directed by Tom Eastwood, takes the audience back to an old age of filmmaking. Feeling reminiscent of 50’s films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space, the short follows an experiment gone wrong resulting in a string monster. It hilariously hits many of the tropes of horror sci-fi films of that era in this quick one minute film. OVERALL RATING. 3.5/5

VINYL DESTINATION

This short follows a man on the hunt for treasures at a yard sale. He finds a strange vinyl record, which he brings home to his roommate in the hopes of reselling it for a profit online. When they play the record, they realize it’s not your average vinyl. What makes this short so humorous is how it presents certain tropes, but then subverts audience expectations in unique ways. Combine that with endearing characters and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

GEORGIE

Have you ever wondered what happened to little Georgie after Pennywise the clown got him? This short film shows him all grown up and following in Pennywise’s footsteps. The creepy reimagining of the classic Stephen King tale even brings together original cast members from the 1990 mini-series; Tony Dakota, who reprises his role as Georgie, and Ben Heller, who played young Stan Uris. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

I AM NOT A MONSTER

Ambrose makes an unexpected visit home just before his brother’s engagement party. What complicates things is he was born with a sinister growth on the back of his head that controls his mind and attempts to make him do things. This Irish short film is beautifully shot, has strong performances, interesting practical effects, and it does a great job of making it unclear what is real and what is in Ambrose’s head. This is another more unique short film from the festival that definitely sticks with you. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

RETCH

Keir Siewert delivers a unique short film all the way from the UK. This short depicts a woman going through a strange illness, but this isn’t your average cold. The short takes on a creepy and disturbing tone as it shows the woman struggle with the illness while also going through a physical transformation. There are great practical effects in this short which are very well done, but the highlight is the surprisingly humorous tone. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

30TH NIGHT

Megan awakes one morning to find her husband murdered and she is sent to jail for it. 30 nights later, all hell breaks loose in the prison, leaving Megan’s cellmate fighting for her life. This film packs a lot of action into 8.5 minutes and the two leads, Laura Burke and Jodi Pongratz, are delightful. Throw in some awesome creature makeup and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE LESHIY

Anya must confront a dangerous demon in order to save her husband in this visually gorgeous short film. The plot alone is fascinating as it shows the young wife attempt to outsmart a demon from ancient legends. Yet what makes this short truly stand out are the visuals. The film is shot in black and white and only illuminated with natural light. This being a dark horror short, that means all the light comes from fire and candlelight. It allows for some gorgeous shadow-play that is only more beautiful in black and white. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE FISHERMAN

Rion Smith spins a yarn of a fisherman who is a less-than-pleasant fellow. After a lovely day of fishing his trip home is interrupted by something very unexpected. Smith does a great job of making you instantly dislike the main character, making the second half of the short all the more entertaining to watch. It’s surprising and it’s funny, even if the short feels a bit less polished than some of the other short films from the festival. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

WE GOT A MONKEY’S PAW

Jakki and Zack are roommates. Zack comes home one day with a monkey’s paw and convinces Jakki they should use it to make wishes. The ensuing chaos is shocking and hilarious, leading the pair down some unexpected paths. This short has so many different horror elements thrown into one film, yet it all creates a cohesive story. The two main characters are lovable, the effects are great, and it is impossible not to laugh at this bizarre adventure. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

LOBISOME

All the way from Spain comes a tale of two men trying to make an illegal deal in an airport bathroom. As the try to make the exchange, a briefcase for the cash, something goes horribly wrong. The short film is very tense and manages to have some surprising parts, while also injecting a bit of comic relief. The practical effects aren’t the strongest, but it is still a very entertaining 11 minutes. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

PHFF 2019 Shorts: Day 1 & 2

portland-horror-film-festival

For my final bit of coverage for the 2019 Portland Horror Film Festival I’m giving a rundown of all the short films! From terrifying to beautiful to hilarious, this year had a range of different shorts that covered virtually every subgenre of horror. Here are my thoughts on the short films from day 1 and 2:

2019 HORROR BUMPER

Made specifically for the festival by writer and director Tim Blough, this one minute horror short hilariously dives into all the different horror tropes. This contest winner kicked off the horror shorts and set the tone perfectly. It isn’t necessarily the most memorable short of the festival, but it works very well given the incredibly short runtime. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

BAD RESOLUTION

Not everyone likes celebrating the new year and coming up with resolutions. In Steven K Jackley’s 7 minute horror short, we follow Betty as she rings in the new year in her own special way. I loved this one because I could definitely relate to Betty on her darkly humorous journey. The short also had an almost dreamy look to it, adding some visual interest to the fun plot. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

@SELFJUNKIE

Ty Huffer’s 2 minute short horror film takes on something familiar to most people these days. With the popularity of social media and selfies, Ingrid is obsessed with staying connected. While alone late one night in her house, a dangerous encounter leads to some hilarious results that also deliver a bit of social commentary on today’s social media obsession. The short drives the point home in a delightful little package. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE MONSTER

In this fascinating horror short, writer and directer Neil Stevens introduces the audience to a young boy and his father. The boy is afraid of a monster he believes lurks in his room, while the father attempts to help the boy conquer his fears. This short is a combination of different horror subgenres that blend together seamlessly. With only 11 minutes to tell the story, The Monster packs quite a punch that will stick with you. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

CREAKER

Vidar T. Aune’s short hails all the way from Norway. A young girl awakes in the night to a creaking sound and knows she’s not alone. The short is very well shot and the end is shocking while also making me inappropriately laugh. Looking at it on it’s own, the film is clearly well made. I think it ultimately suffered by being shown after The Monster as both had a few very similar shots. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

BARREN

This is probably one of the most unique short films at the PHFF made by local Portland filmmakers. The stunning stop-motion short follows a woman desperate to have a child. She goes to great lengths only to have dire consequences. It relies on visuals to tell the story instead of dialogue. Between the sad story of the barren woman and the gorgeous stop-motion, this short film definitely stands out from the crowd. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE HIDEBEHIND

Parker Finn’s short horror film is the only one to genuinely send chills down my spine. A hiker is injured and lost deep in the woods. He comes across what he thinks is another person, but quickly realizes it is something terrifying. The film has a bit of humor and some great scares created by simple effects. This short creeped me out enough that I felt like someone was behind me on my entire drive home. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

TICK

I actually reviewed Tick through Nightmarish Conjurings for another film festival. You can read my full review of the short here.

FANATICO

Portland local students Hannah May Cumming and Sam Schrader made movie magic with their short. Inspired by Italian giallo films of the 70’s, the film follows a girl as she joins a Catholic school just as other students are being murdered. The film has the look and feel of an Argento film, but with a definite feminist twist. It is clear that these young filmmakers have a promising career ahead of them. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

ROAD TRASH

This short features Natasha Pascetta as the writer, director, and star with none other than Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street) narrating. The darkly comedic horror short follows a young woman with an affinity for road kill. When she messes with the wrong corpse, she ends up being stalked by an evil creature. The concept is unique and the film takes some hilarious turns. Plus, it’s hard not to love a film with Langenkamp attached. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

3 DAYS

This short film by Julie Sharbutt is one that will definitely hit home with almost ever female viewer. While on a camping trip, three women hear something in the woods outside their tent and try to laugh off what could potentially be danger. What makes this short so effective is how it shows how difficult it is as a woman to feel like she can go camping or hiking alone without the threat of danger. Not only does the short convey that very well, but it also does it in a way that helps male viewers get a better understanding of what it is like for women. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

ESSERE AMATO

Writer and director Bas-Tzion Beahan creates a nightmarish black and white short film about love and abandonment. A young pregnant woman leaves her strict home to be with the one she loves. From there the film examines the sadness of being alone and feeling unloved. This one might not be the most memorable short of the festival, but it has quite a bit of depth and stunning imagery. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

SMILEY DEATH FACE

This short is another social commentary on the use of technology. The film follows a young woman alone at home when she begins to get increasingly menacing texts. It’s a clever short because it takes a concept horror fans are familiar with, but fits it in the modern world by having the texts be entirely with emojis. The only speaking roles are from a newscast on the tv, while everything else is the emoji texts superimposed in mid-air for the viewers to “read.” It’s incredibly clever and uses some great camera work. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Z-GOAT: FIRST BLEAT

All the way from Belgium comes a post-apocalyptic horror short. The short follows a young woman as she hunts for food and resources, only to be stalked by something we’ve never seen before. The film is fun and exciting. It also has some creepy creature design to delight horror fans. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE ONLY THING I LOVE MORE THAN YOU IS RANCH DRESSING

This one minute short film by Sydney Clara Brafman definitely manages to bring the laughs considering how short it is. Everyone knows someone who puts ranch dressing on everything. This short shows a woman taking that love to a bizarre extreme. There isn’t necessarily a complete story here, but it still puts a memorable idea in the mind of viewers. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

HANA

One of the most compelling shorts at PHFF this year came from Korea. Written and directed by Mai Nakanishi, this disturbing short shows a young college student getting hired to be a nanny for a little girl named Hana. Once the two are left alone, frightening things begin to happen. The film is gorgeously shot and the story unfolds in a clever and chilling way. This is definitely one of the most memorable short horror films of the festival. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CODA SACRA

Pol Barrós delivers a unique short film all the way from Spain. The black and white short shows a group of people as they dive into the water in order to hunt an unseen evil. The short effectively throws viewers in the midst of high tension and builds upon it. The cinematography is beautiful and the creature design is gorgeous. With no real dialogue the film relies heavily on the audience to pick up on visual queues in order to understand the plot. OVERAL RATING: 4/5

DEAD TEENAGER SEANCE

This Brazilian short film combines 80’s slasher with the supernatural in a hilarious way. A group of teens who have all been killed by a serial killer in a creepy mansion combine forces to perform a ritual and stop the madman once and for all. The filmmakers do a great job of presenting traditional horror tropes and then changing things up in fun and unexpected ways. The result is an entertaining and hilarious short film. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE FOG VS THE MIST

Another one minute “bumper” for the festival hilariously combines two classic horror films. The short acts as a fake trailer in a 70’s grindhouse style showing a man in a house that is simultaneously invaded by both the mist and the fog. The style is grainy and offers a delightful throwback. While only a minute long, the short delivers on the laughs as the narrator confuses which entity is the mist and which is the fog. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

LOOK TWICE

Kyle Wilson’s horror short shows a young night guard just starting his shift. When he notices someone lurking around outside, he tells them to leave through the intercom. The guard quickly regrets getting the intruder’s attention when he realizes they might not be human. The story and imagery are definitely spine-chilling and effective, although the plot moves in ways that can be a bit confusing as well. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

NEST

Brennan Gilpatrick and Erin Walsh combined forces to create this terrifying 2-minute short film. Shot entirely with an iPhone, it shows two young women as they go check out an apartment they want to rent. Once inside, they realize something horrifying is waiting for them. This short is definitely one of the most terrifying, which is especially impressive given the 2-minute run time. It also has some great creature design to add to the scares. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

WATER HORSE

A woman spending time with her husband and daughter is disturbed by a small boat that washes ashore near her family. From there her life turns into a nightmare where she can’t determine what’s real and what’s not. The film has a very panicked feel to it as the mother tries to keep her daughter safe. Unfortunately the play on reality makes it a bit confusing on what’s actually going on, which can take viewers out of the moment. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

CULPRIT

All the way from Tawain comes a chilling film by Shuan Yu Lin. On a visit to a public bathroom a man receives a strange picture of himself. From the moment he sees that photo the short film builds tension quickly. This leads the audience down a swift and sinister path. It is a quick horror film with effective storytelling, despite the lack of dialogue. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

WITCHES GET STITCHES

This local Portland short horror film, written and directed by Matthew K. Robinson, follows a coven of witches. They are attempting to summon a demon through a blood sacrifice, but it doesn’t go quite as planned. This hilarious short takes a simple action commonly seen in horror films and turns it into a 4 minute joke. What makes it so hilarious is the way Robinson says what audience members everywhere have thought, but characters in film almost never say. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE DARLINGS

In this world premier audiences were introduced to a group of ladies in an 80’s glam-rock band. They go to a secluded rented mansion after a show to hear over the radio that a psycho killer is on the loose. Yet these “darlings” aren’t as helpless as they appear to be. This is one of the most memorable films in the festival because it truly captures the look and feel of an 80’s film with great twists and turns. There are even some fantastic practical effects. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

HERE THERE BE MONSTER

Coming to us from Australia is one of my favorite shorts, written and directed by Drew Macdonald. A young girl experiences brutal bullying on the bus home from school. After falling asleep on the bus she awakes in the dark to find herself alone in the bus yard and she’s trapped there with something dangerous. This short is beautifully shot, has a compelling plot, and includes creepy creature design. The young lead, played by Savannah Foran-McDaniel, will instantly capture your heart and make the ending all the more satisfying. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CEMETERY SONG

Another world premier introduces this absolutely gorgeous short film, directed by Michelle Prebich with animation by Justine Prebich. This animated short film follows one man and shows a day in the life of those who inhabit the cemetery. The animation is truly stunning and the song that accompanies the short is equally beautiful. Because it is one of the few animated shorts in the festival, it definitely stands out from the crowd and it also has a sorrowful beauty to the story being told that resonates with audiences. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

I LEARNED HOW TO DRIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD

This touching short horror film from China introduces audiences to a young couple. As the man is trying to teach his wife how to drive they discover the world has been overrun by zombies, forcing her to learn at lightspeed. The film builds suspense very well in a short amount of time while also allowing time to get to know the characters. This assures the audience cares about the fates of the young couple. It results in a very sentimental yet frightening short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

FIVE COURSE MEAL

In James Cadden’s short horror comedy we meet Mark and Jenny. They agree to be part of an experiment to get some extra cash. They are confined to a room and served meal after meal through a slot in the door. From there things quickly escalate in hilarious and disgusting ways. While there is a lot of repetition that can get stale after a bit, the climax of the film has fantastic practical effects that almost makes up for it. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

FINLEY

Writer and director J. Zachary Thurman brought the film festival what was definitely a crowd favorite. After a group of college kids move into a new house, they discover a creepy puppet. It doesn’t take long to realize the puppet is alive and he’s hellbent on killing the college kids. This familiar plot is turned on its head in a truly hysterical way. Between the creepy puppet and the hilarious hijinks he gets up to, the audience was laughing from start to finish. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

RE-HOME

Izzy Lee’s short film touches on a poignant political issue. A young Mexican woman brings her baby daughter to an American couple in order to give her a better life. Yet the couple isn’t all they appear to be. The film delivers some shock value while also showcasing indie horror favorites Gigi Saul Guerrero and Morgan Peter Brown. It could have benefited from being a bit longer with a bit more plot, but it still drives home an important message. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE STRING

Another bumper contest winner, written and directed by Tom Eastwood, takes the audience back to an old age of filmmaking. Feeling reminiscent of 50’s films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space, the short follows an experiment gone wrong resulting in a string monster. It hilariously hits many of the tropes of horror sci-fi films of that era in this quick one minute film. OVERALL RATING. 3.5/5

VINYL DESTINATION

This short follows a man on the hunt for treasures at a yard sale. He finds a strange vinyl record, which he brings home to his roommate in the hopes of reselling it for a profit online. When they play the record, they realize it’s not your average vinyl. What makes this short so humorous is how it presents certain tropes, but then subverts audience expectations in unique ways. Combine that with endearing characters and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

GEORGIE

Have you ever wondered what happened to little Georgie after Pennywise the clown got him? This short film shows him all grown up and following in Pennywise’s footsteps. The creepy reimagining of the classic Stephen King tale even brings together original cast members from the 1990 mini-series; Tony Dakota, who reprises his role as Georgie, and Ben Heller, who played young Stan Uris. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

I AM NOT A MONSTER

Ambrose makes an unexpected visit home just before his brother’s engagement party. What complicates things is he was born with a sinister growth on the back of his head that controls his mind and attempts to make him do things. This Irish short film is beautifully shot, has strong performances, interesting practical effects, and it does a great job of making it unclear what is real and what is in Ambrose’s head. This is another more unique short film from the festival that definitely sticks with you. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

RETCH

Keir Siewert delivers a unique short film all the way from the UK. This short depicts a woman going through a strange illness, but this isn’t your average cold. The short takes on a creepy and disturbing tone as it shows the woman struggle with the illness while also going through a physical transformation. There are great practical effects in this short which are very well done, but the highlight is the surprisingly humorous tone. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

30TH NIGHT

Megan awakes one morning to find her husband murdered and she is sent to jail for it. 30 nights later, all hell breaks loose in the prison, leaving Megan’s cellmate fighting for her life. This film packs a lot of action into 8.5 minutes and the two leads, Laura Burke and Jodi Pongratz, are delightful. Throw in some awesome creature makeup and you get a very entertaining short film. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

THE LESHIY

Anya must confront a dangerous demon in order to save her husband in this visually gorgeous short film. The plot alone is fascinating as it shows the young wife attempt to outsmart a demon from ancient legends. Yet what makes this short truly stand out are the visuals. The film is shot in black and white and only illuminated with natural light. This being a dark horror short, that means all the light comes from fire and candlelight. It allows for some gorgeous shadow-play that is only more beautiful in black and white. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE FISHERMAN

Rion Smith spins a yarn of a fisherman who is a less-than-pleasant fellow. After a lovely day of fishing his trip home is interrupted by something very unexpected. Smith does a great job of making you instantly dislike the main character, making the second half of the short all the more entertaining to watch. It’s surprising and it’s funny, even if the short feels a bit less polished than some of the other short films from the festival. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

WE GOT A MONKEY’S PAW

Jakki and Zack are roommates. Zack comes home one day with a monkey’s paw and convinces Jakki they should use it to make wishes. The ensuing chaos is shocking and hilarious, leading the pair down some unexpected paths. This short has so many different horror elements thrown into one film, yet it all creates a cohesive story. The two main characters are lovable, the effects are great, and it is impossible not to laugh at this bizarre adventure. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

LOBISOME

All the way from Spain comes a tale of two men trying to make an illegal deal in an airport bathroom. As the try to make the exchange, a briefcase for the cash, something goes horribly wrong. The short film is very tense and manages to have some surprising parts, while also injecting a bit of comic relief. The practical effects aren’t the strongest, but it is still a very entertaining 11 minutes. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

The Funeral

funeral

Zhong Tonghiu, a young model with a tragic past, receives an invitation to her aunt’s funeral. Even though this aunt isn’t a blood relative, and she hasn’t seen her in years, Tonghiu still decides to go. When she arrives at her aunt’s remote mansion, strange things begin to happen. Something sinister is happening and time is running out for Tonghiu.

The Portland Horror Film Festival was lucky enough to get The Funeral for its world premiere. The film comes all the way from China and was written and directed by Yujie Qiu in her directorial debut. With an atmospheric slow-burn style, The Funeral builds suspense as a strange mystery is unraveled. When we first meet Tonghiu it is when she experiences her mother’s suicide as a child. This leads to a lifetime of nightmares that only become worse when she goes to her late aunt’s mansion. Everyone in the remote mansion seems to have some sinister motive. The tension gradually grows until the climax of the film as Tonghiu tries to discover the truth.

While The Funeral tells a compelling story, the ending takes away from the overall impact of the film. I won’t go into too much detail of the actual ending, but I will say the ending makes sense after hearing the star of the film discuss it at PHFF. Leading lady Kunjue Li traveled all the way from London to be at the world premiere of The Funeral. The way she explained it to the audience after the film, there were multiple different endings filmed and she wasn’t aware of which one was chosen until she watched it with the rest of us. The ending chosen isn’t necessarily the best option to serve the plot, but Kunjue described the many rules and regulations involved in Chinese film. There is so much censorship that it is difficult to make any film, let alone a horror film. With this in mind the end of the film makes sense, but I can’t help but wonder how different the film would have turned out if it had been filmed in a country with less censorship.

Aside from the eerie story being told, The Funeral also has fantastic performances from the small cast. Everyone does a great job adding to the tension of the film, but there is one performance that truly makes this film stand out. Leading actress, Kunjue Li (Peaky Blinders, One Child) is completely entrancing as Tonghiu. She has a gentle innocence about her, but there is strength deep within that comes out as Tonghiu’s life is threatened. Kunjue even won the “Masque Rouge Award” at this year’s PHFF, which is given to the actor or actress the festival directors believe delivered the best performance.

Much of the eeriness of this film comes not only from the plot, but from the look of the film. The film is primarily set in a gorgeous yet dark mansion secluded in the countryside. What is especially impressive about the set design is that, whether in darkness or in bright light, there is an edge that implies something is wrong. There are also lovely visuals for the various dream sequences. Many of these scenes are filmed with a very soft focus, making it simple to determine what is reality and what is a dream.

The Funeral manages to be a compelling and chilling film, despite the lengths it has to go through to get through censorship regulations. The backflips Yuje clearly went through to make this film in China only proves her talent as a writer and director. She created a film that is fascinating, has great performances, and is beautiful to look at. Unfortunately the ending of the film suffers from having to follow China’s film censorship. Without the context of that censorship, I might not have appreciated the film quite as much. I would be curious to know what some of the other endings were and I hope audiences outside of China will get the opportunity to see them.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Reborn

reborn

On a stormy night, a stillborn baby girl is brought back to life in the morgue by an electrical surge. The morgue attendant takes the baby home, never telling the mother her baby is alive. 16 years later the girl escapes the torment of her adoptive home. Now she searches for her mother and she won’t let anyone get in her way.

This year, the Portland Horror Film festival introduced Portlanders to Reborn. This film is directed by Julian Richards (The Last Horror Movie, Summer Scars) and it is the feature film debut of writer Michael Mahin. The film begins by showing the strange attendant working in the morgue when suddenly a storm causes a bolt of electricity to bring a stillborn baby back to life. The film then jumps 16 years later. The mother is an actress who is having a hard time finding her inspiration, and the daughter is trapped in a horrific life with the morgue attendant. On the girl’s 16th birthday she manages to escape and track down her real mother. The girl is clearly unstable from the horrific life she had to live and she is so determined to reconnect with her mother. What takes her determination to a whole new level is the fact that her resurrection also gave her electrokinetic powers, which she uses to destroy anyone who tries to get in her way.

Reborn offers audiences an intriguing and suspenseful film, but it’s not without its flaws. One of the biggest issues is that the film often goes back and forth on how the daughter is portrayed. Early on she is shown as a victim of obvious abuse from her “adoptive” home. This leads to some obvious mental issues that accompany being held captive and likely tortured for 16 years. As the film progresses, she becomes more of a villain, obsessing over her mother and killing anyone who wrongs her. She also can’t seem to decide if she wants to reconnect with her mother or kill her as well. Again, this is likely due to the mental trauma she has experienced for years, but the back and forth happens so instantaneously that is ends up being more jarring than anything.

One of the stronger aspects of Reborn is the performances by the two leading ladies. Horror fans will immediately recognize Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Castle Freak) as the mother, Lena. This is actually the second film Crampton appeared in at PHFF, which is a testament to how beloved she is in the horror genre. While her character comes across as being a bit bland, Crampton is still enjoyable to watch as she brings Lena to life. Kayleigh Gilbert (Break Night) plays Lena’s electrokinetic daughter, Tess. Gilbert does a surprisingly good job of performing alongside Crampton. She also does a great job of showing the different sides of Tess from desperate to deranged. There is also a fun cameo by Chaz Bono (American Horror Story, Dirty) as Ken, the creepy morgue attendant.

At the beginning of Reborn there are some great makeup and practical effects used in the opening morgue scene. There is one cadaver that is featured quite a bit in this scene and it looks great. There is another body found later one that looks almost mummy-like which is also very well done. When the film gets to Tess’ kills, that is when the effects team loses me a bit. She uses her electrokinetic powers to shock people to death, and the CGI effects used to convey that electric power look very hokey. In one specific death scene I almost laughed out loud. Luckily, Tess’ powers are the focus of the film and the few deaths that utilize this power can be overlooked.

Reborn has great star power and an interesting concept, but it fails to really cash in on that idea. There are simply too many instances where the motivations and focus of the plot switch back and forth, making the tension wane. Tess’ power also seems to be almost an afterthought and more of a gimmick for them to use in death scenes rather than an integral part of the plot. It is a great first effort for Mahin and enough to make me interested in what he does next. The biggest draw for this film is clearly Barbara Crampton, and fans of her work will likely still enjoy this film enough for a watch, but it won’t stand out in her stellar filmography.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Depraved

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On a late-night walk home, a man is randomly attacked. When he awakes, he finds himself in a room filled with medical instruments. His terror truly sets in when the face looking back at him from the mirror isn’t his own. A field surgeon suffering from PTSD has pieced the man together from different bodies in an attempt to defeat death.

Horror alum Larry Fassenden (Beneath, Wendigo) wrote and directed this updated take on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. While past iterations of Shelly’s classic tale have primarily focused on the doctor’s point of view, Fassenden chose to focus more on the “monster” with Depraved.  He opens the film by introducing the audience to Alex as he gets into an argument with his girlfriend about moving in together. While Alex isn’t the greatest guy, this moment allows for the audience to quickly become invested in Alex and his relationship. When he is killed not long after that, he awakes in a monstrous new body made up of different parts. While it is a different face, it is the same brain so the audience still cares about his fate. The monster, dubbed Adam, has limited motor and intellectual skills. He has to re-learn everything and as he learns more he also remembers more. It creates a compelling story from the perspective of the man brought back from the dead with interesting moral issues the audience likely hasn’t seen before.

Depraved also focuses somewhat on the doctor. At first it is simply through his relationship with Adam. There is clearly a fatherly affection there as he teaches Adam how to problem solve and communicate and, essentially, how to be a man again. While this aspect is interesting, the film gradually shifts its focus from Adam to the doctor and not necessarily for the better. The audience is suddenly faced with flashbacks from the doctor’s time in the war and his drive to defeat death as a result from his PTSD.

This shift in focus causes some problems for the plot for two main reasons. First, it stalls the plot making it go from a slow burn to a sputtering crawl in some parts. There is a clear forward momentum and this shift in focus almost completely eradicates that momentum. Second, by focusing more on the doctor it changes the sympathetic point of view. For the first half of the film the focus is on Adam and he is conveyed as the protagonist we should be rooting for. As that focus changes to the doctor, not only does he become the more sympathetic character, but Adam also does increasingly monstrous things. It almost makes all the character development from the first half of the film irrelevant.

The film has a small cast of extremely talented actors. Alex Breaux (Bushwick, John Harvard) stars as the newly created Adam. What makes his performance especially compelling is the way he acts with his entire body. From a simple limp, to conveying poor motor skills, to showing emotions through his face when he can’t speak, Breaux truly brings Adam to life (pun intended). Another great performance comes from David Call (The Magicians, The Sinner) as the disillusioned doctor, Henry. Call excels at showing the audience that Henry isn’t a bad person and he cares about Adam, but he is single-minded in his scientific quest. On top of the great performances there are a few familiar horror faces fans will recognize such as Chloe Levine (The Ranger, The Transfiguration) and Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, Bates Motel).

Unlike most Frankenstein-inspired films, the filmmakers behind Depraved opted to go for a bleak color scheme and more minimalistic effects. The film appears to be drained of color, providing a monochromatic color palette. This choice enhances the dark and depressing tone of the film. The practical effects are solely focused on Adam. Minimal prosthetics on the skin give the appearance that Adam is made up of different body parts stitched together. While these are very well done and the minimal use gives the body a more realistic look, I almost wish the effects team had taken it a bit further. Even though the body is stitched together, it still looks like it is all from the same body. The overall look would have been more striking if the pieces looked more like they were from different bodies of different colors and sizes.

Depraved delivers a unique, updated version of Frankenstein’s monster with a more sympathetic eye toward the undead creation. The film is filled with excellent performances and well done makeup effects, although I wish the effects had been a bit more elaborate. Fassenden manages to give the audience something different from the commonly remade source material. While the plot does a great job of focusing on the “monster,” the eventual shift to focusing on the doctor messes with the pacing of the film and ultimately confuses who the protagonist is. It is still a very well made film, but it likely would have been stronger if Adam had been the primary focus of the story.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Satanic Panic

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Sam is strapped for cash, so she takes a job delivering pizzas. After a terrible first day, she makes one last delivery to a rich part of town. After the customer stiffs her on the tip, she finds her way into the house and in the middle of a Satanic cult. Now they want her for their virgin sacrifice.

One of the most anticipated films of this year’s Portland Horror Film Festival is Satanic Panic. The film is directed by Chelsea Stardust (All That We Destroy, Seeing Green), who has been making quite a splash in the horror industry this year. The story came from both Ted Geoghegan (Mohawk, We Are Still Here) and Grady Hendrix (Mohawk), with Hendrix helming the script. I went into the film blind to the plot and actors, but it was impossible to escape all the buzz around this film. I had heard so many great things, and luckily the film did not disappoint.

Satanic Panic takes on a classic 80’s feel. The idea of “satanic panic” was prevalent in the 80’s, plus the film is equal parts gore and laughs. It plays perfectly into the idea that people are rich got that way by making a deal with the devil. The plot follows Sam, who is the sweetest, kindest, most innocent young woman without being annoying. The audience watches as her first day as a pizza delivery girl goes from bad, to worse, to deadly. The resulting chaos is a perfect mix of gore and humor as Sam tries to avoid becoming a virgin sacrifice. Despite her innocent nature, Sam has a knack for getting herself into trouble and then accidentally getting out of trouble in unexpected ways. Her interactions with the cult members are hilarious and the dynamics within the cult are even more hilarious. Watching as Sam tries to stay alive is highly entertaining and takes the audience down some unexpected paths.

I mentioned before that I went into this film blind, so I was shocked at the star power behind Satanic Panic. The film stars relative newcomer Hayley Griffith (Drew, All My Children) as Sam. She is probably the most sweet and innocent character I have ever seen in a horror film. Yet Griffith does a great job of showing Sam’s inner demons and her surprising ability to get out of dangerous situations. One of the most surprising appearances and performances in the film is from Rebecca Romijn (X-Men, Femme Fatale) as the cult leader, Danica. It’s great to see a female leading the cult, and Romijn is both fierce and hilarious in her role. In a smaller role as Danica’s husband, Jerry O’Connell (Piranha 3D, Stand By Me) makes an appearance as Samuel. His role may be smaller, but O’Connell’s performance is still memorable and brings the laughs. Finally, there is Ruby Modine (Shameless, Happy Death Day) as Danica and Samuel’s daughter, Judy. Judy probably has some of the best lines, and Modine’s deadpan delivery of her outrageous dialogue is sure to make her a crowd favorite. All of the strong female leads give the film a welcomed feminist edge. The entire cast from top to bottom is truly hysterical and had many opportunities to go over the top with their performances, but they straddled the line perfectly.

The film utilizes some fantastic visual effects that also feel reminiscent of the 80’s. Satanic Panic delivers quite a bit of carnage as the cult hunts down their virgin. It’s all very well done, although I wouldn’t necessarily say the guts and gore are realistic. Instead the filmmakers opted to stay with the 80’s feel and make the gore a bit more campy and bright red, which only adds to the humor of the film. There is even a running theme with the use of vibrant red between the gore and the outfits worn by the cult. It is a simple identifier to show the audience who is evil that packs a visual punch. On top of that the film has some gorgeous set design and even a bit of creepy creature design, making the film as stunning as it is funny.

Satanic Panic is a delightful gore-fest that delivers side-splitting laughs horror fans will absolutely adore. It further proves 2019 is becoming the year of Chelsea Stardust. The characters, the humor, the blood and guts, and the various twists and turns are perfectly balanced in this crowd-pleasing film. It is also the kind of film that is best seen on the big screen where you can laugh out loud along with the audience. You can still catch it on the big screen while Satanic Panic is still on it’s festival run, then it will be released in theaters and VOD on September 6th.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Stay Out Stay Alive

sosa

A group of friends goes on a camping trip. While on a nighttime stroll through the woods, one of the friends falls into an old mine shaft. When the rest of the group finds her, they also discover gold in the mine. They decide to mine what gold they can, but as each of them feels the power of greed and paranoia, it soon becomes clear something supernatural is at work.

Stay Out Stay Alive had it’s world premier at the Portland Horror Film Festival. While he is known for his visual effects work in films such as Iron Man and Star Trek, this is Dean Yurke’s feature film debut as writer and director. Stay Out Stay Alive is noted as being based on a true story. I was lucky enough to hear Yurke speak about his film at the festival (and he is an absolutely delightful human). He explained the true aspects of the film are almost split into two parts; half of the truth is a true Native American curse, the other half is people often disappear or die in caves and mines. This inspiration lead to a tension filled slow-burn with some great frights thrown in the mix.

The plot follows a group of five friends. When they stumble upon the mine, the girl who has fallen in is trapped under a rock, but they all choose to dig for the gold before finding help since what they are doing is illegal. What starts out innocently enough quickly escalates as the group becomes paranoid, greedy, and deadly. One of the things I really love about the plot in Stay Out Stay Alive is that there is a supernatural element, but it isn’t the true threat. The curse is only really a punishment rather than a murderous force. It is the friends who end up being the true danger as their lust for gold grows exponentially. This aspect of Stay Out Stay Alive is vital because it makes it clear the Native Americans are not the villains of the film. The film ultimately becomes a commentary on things like greed, the destruction of sacred land, and the murder of Native Americans.

Often times, smaller budget indie horror films are hit or miss when it comes to the acting. The performances across the board in Stay Out Stay Alive are fantastic. One stand out is Brandon Wardle (Frisky, Bumblebee) as Reese. Wardle’s portrayal of Reese is truly disturbing as he goes from a typical jock to completely paranoid as his greed takes over. The change can be seen through both his performance and also in his body language and facial expressions. Another strong performance comes from Brie Mattson (Eastwick, D-Railed) as Bridget. Similar to Wardle’s performance, Mattson shows Bridget as she goes from the stereotype of a ditzy blonde to the surprising voice of reason in the group. Equally entertaining to watch are Sage Mears (Half-Dragon Sanchez), Christina July Kim (Dropping the S Bomb), William Romano-Pugh (January Jaguar), and the ever-amazing Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) as Ranger Susanna. The way all the actors play off of each other helps to build the tension throughout the film.

With Yurke’s background in visual effect, it’s no wonder Stay Out Stay Alive has some stunning visual aspects. The first thing audiences will notice is the interesting camera work and cinematography. Yurke works in some unique angles and framing that is unlike what I have seen in other films. He perfectly uses nature as a mechanism to build suspense without the need for elaborate effects. The CGI effects Yurke does use are subtle. It allows for the supernatural elements to enhance the tension from the friends’ strained relationships rather than being the focus. There is one bigger effect saved for the climax of the film. It is still somewhat subtle, but it creates a compelling image for the audience that is spine-chilling.

Stay Out Stay Alive is a suspenseful descent into the power of greed that shows Yurke’s potential as a filmmaker. Not only is the film bubbling with tension, but it also sends a powerful underlying moral and social message to the audience. Yurke smartly opted for more subtle effect, despite his visual background, which allowed the characters and the suspense to carry the plot. The film also boasts a terrific ensemble cast, as well as the star-power of Barbara Crampton. This was not a film I went to the Portland Horror Film Festival knowing anything about, but it is definitely one I recommend horror fans seek out.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10