Short Film

Etheria Film Night 2020

We all have experienced the major changes the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. Everything from daily life to events we looked forward to has drastically changed.

Etheria Film Night would normally have played its short films in Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, but this year they had to come up with a new plan. Lucky for all of us who don’t live in the LA area, Etheria Film Night 2020 instead is showing nine short films made by women exclusively on Shudder. The horror-focused streaming service has made quite a name for itself with the amazing Shudder exclusive films and even Shudder original shows. It is the perfect place for Etheria to showcase these short films.

Etheria’s co-founder and director of programming, Heidi Honeycutt, kicks things off with a lovely intro. She addresses how they are doing things differently this year due to the pandemic. Honeycutt also gives everyone a nice reminder to wear your mask! From there the block dives into the nine short films, all of them unique and fun in their own way.

WAFFLE

Directed by Carlyn Hudson and written by Kerry Barker and Katie Marovitch, who also star in the film, Waffle follows two women having a sleepover. What seems normal quickly becomes strange when the audience learns the women having the sleepover are a bizarre orphaned heiress (Marovitch) and a “best friend” (Barker) she is renting. What I love about this one is how awkward and uncomfortable it gets as the heiress becomes increasingly unhinged. It is hilarious, weird, and even offers a social commentary on how we live in an isolated society of artificial relationships. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

MAGGIE MAY (Jury Award Winner)

Writer and director Mia Kate Russell delivers a truly disturbing tale with her short film, Maggie May. After the death of her mother, a woman takes her infant twins to stay with her sister, but her sister takes doing nothing to a shocking extreme. This short film has some great moments that will make you gasp, as well as stunning practical effects. It also has a truly brilliant and haunting performance by Lulu McClatchy as the titular character, Maggie May. Of all the short films in this block, Maggie May is sure to disturb audiences and stick with them long after. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

BASIC WITCH

I immediately loved this short because it began with a disclaimer about consent and hexing the patriarchy. Basic Witch is directed by Yoko Okumura and written by Lauren Kurek Sweeney Cannon. The short film follows a young women the night after an unfortunate sexual encounter with her date. Feeling conflicted about the night’s events, she hexes a pumpkin spice latte for her date to drink so he can feel everything she felt, both physically and emotionally. Olivia Castanho perfectly plays Lily, the young witch, and Chris O’Brien does a great job as her date, Brian. This short film really excels at conveying the mixed emotions women go through when they are forced to do something sexual they didn’t want to do, but they don’t necessarily feel was rape. It even touches on the ethics of Lily forcing these same things onto Brian. The message of Basic Witch is important, well done, and something everyone should watch. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CONVERSION THERAPIST

In this short film, written and directed by Bear Rebecca Fonté, a pansexual, polyamorous trio kidnap a religious anti-LGBTQ+ fundamentalist and conversion therapist to torture him. The short includes some great performances, especially from Sara Fletcher, Evelyn Jake, and Jordan Morgan as the kidnapping trio. Conversion Therapist, in a way, has the same cathartic viewing experience as a rape-revenge film. This is a short about the LBGTQ+ community getting back at those who have wronged us, and it’s quite satisfying to watch. The one drawback to the short is the frequent use of the word “f*ggot” by the lead kidnapper. I understand the reason for using it in the context, but it is still jarring to hear and used a bit too much. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

OFFBEAT

Set in a future with horribly polluted air, director Myrte Ouwerkerk and writer Chiara Aerts tell the story of a young drummer named Olly trying to earn his way into the clean air dome, where only the best of the best get to live. This film comes all the way from the Netherlands and is very well done. The story stands out because it shows, almost immediately, how the testing to get into the dome is incredibly biased and clearly is made so certain demographics can’t get in, including artists and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Christopher van der Meer is completely lovable as Olly and does a great job of taking us through this strange new world. Offbeat is fun and has great production value and effects, but more importantly it shows the inherent bias in testing that exists even today. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE FINAL GIRL RETURNS (Audience Award Winner)

This short film by Alexandria Perez takes on a strange journey with a young man seemingly stuck in a loop where he encounters final girl after final girl. This short captures the look and feel of classic 80’s slashers, including a fantastic 80’s inspired musical score, but from there it brings something new to the subgenre of horror. One of my favorite aspects of the short is that we see many final girls of all shapes, sizes, and colors, which is not very common in the slasher subgenre. The plot leaves a lot of the “why” to the unknown, but it does a great job of showing how we have to take our destiny into our own hands. It’s a slick update to a tired concept with a huge cast that absolutely nails it. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

LIVE

Taryn O’Neill writes, directs, and stars in this short film about a livecaster whose online persona is getting to be too much for her. There are two main aspects of modern social media and technology at play in this short. First, the personas we play online and how they differ from who we are in reality. Second, the increasing dilemma of how much a person should be willing to share with the world in order to make a buck. Perhaps it’s not quite nuanced enough at times, but still a compelling story that makes the audience think. It’s an interesting concept shown with futuristic technology to convey ideas that are very relevant in today’s social-media hungry society. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

MAN IN THE CORNER

Written and directed by Kelli Breslin and co-written by Daniel Ross Noble, Man in the Corner follows a young guy hooking up with what appears to be a perfect guy, but things go downhill when he realizes they’re not alone. Part of what makes it so unsettling is the performance by Matt Pascua as Daniel. The audience experiences the encounter through his POV. It makes many of the unanswered questions and the strange events work because we only know as much as Daniel knows. There is some striking imagery and a few specific moments that will likely be seared into the viewers’ brains. This is an eerie, unsettling short film that is beautifully shot and makes great use of lighting and color. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

AVA IN THE END

After an unfortunate accident leads to a young woman’s death, her consciousness is uploaded to the cloud until her new body arrives, leaving her to wait with an AI. Written by Addison Heimann and directed by Ursula Ellis, Ava in the End tackles some very deep ideas. In a future where your consciousness can just go to another body when you die, it is easy to take your life for granted. This short uses this futuristic setting and technology in order to show the consequences of that and encourage individuals to use the time they have to seek out their dreams. The filmmakers wisely use a single set for the physical representation of the cloud and Elsa Gay is fantastic as the recently deceased Ava. It’s a strong short film to end on, hopefully inspiring viewers to go out and try to achieve their goals. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

The Killer of Grassy Ridge (Short)

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The Shenandoah backcountry is a gorgeous place frequented by hikers. Unfortunately, it is also the hunting ground for a dangerous serial killer. With several bodies already discovered, now the killer is stalking their latest victim.

Making his premiere as a writer and director, Johnny K brings horror fans his short film, The Killer of Grassy Ridge. This short film is less than 10 minutes long and utilizes minimal dialogue, but still manages to pack a punch. Johnny K does this by playing with the viewers’ expectations of the short. It opens on a dirty, somewhat frightening looking man burying something in the woods. As if that isn’t creepy enough, he soon encounters an injured young female hiker who is all alone in the wilderness. The man has no lines while the woman sparse dialogue. The only context we get in the short film is from a radio the man is listening to. It is turned to a news station that talks about another body being found. This is the source of the danger, as having a scary man in the woods is only enough to cause alarm rather than inducing fear. The lack of dialogue and setting up of certain horror expectations, or even tropes, allows K to have fun with the short and include a few great “aha!” moments in the climax.

The lack of dialogue makes it a bit more difficult to give a complete analysis of the performances. One thing I can say about the two leads of The Killer of Grassy Ridge is that they have great presence on screen. Michael Stumbo makes his film debut as the grimy looking sinister figure, Wetzel Reid. Wetzel doesn’t speak during the short, but Stumbo still manages to be an imposing figure. Many horror fans may watch Stumbo on screen and immediately think Wetzel sure looks a hell of a lot like Otis Firefly from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, played by Bill Moseley. I can only assume this was a deliberate choice to make sure viewers look at Wetzel as the villain without it needing to be explicitly explained. Opposite Stumbo is Heather Stone, also making her film debut, as the hiker. Stone’s performance in The Killer of Grassy Ridge stands out because she shows quite a bit of range in the short amount of time she’s on screen. She starts out as a happy hiker enjoying nature, to being injured and alone in the woods asking for help, to something quite different during the climax.

The Killer of Grassy Ridge skillfully presents stereotypical characters and horror cliches, then proceeds to roll them in their grave. Johnny K takes care to make sure all signs point to a single logical conclusion. Everything from the lack of dialogue, to the casting, to the radio news context lends to one possible outcome. Then he flips the script and delivers something a bit more unexpected. The one thing I’m not sure The Killer of Grassy Ridge fully achieves is telling a complete story while also leaving the audience wanting more. There is definitely a complete story told here, and it could easily be expanded upon. Yet there isn’t anything making me crave more information from the plot. Either way, this is a strong debut from K, Stumbo, and Stone. The Killer of Grassy Ridge is a fascinating short thriller that feels fresh by using classic horror tropes to subvert your expectations.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

Camp Calypso (Short)

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It’s the 1970’s and a group of kids are arriving at a summer camp on its last legs. It’s a typical camp complete with misogyny, cabins, camp counselors on drugs, and a seedy new camp director. It seems like just another summer at camp, until the legend of the lake siren proves to be a little too real.

Camp Calypso is the sophomore short film by directing duo Hannah May Cumming (Fanatico), who also wrote the short, and Karlee Boon (Fanatico). This short begins much like the classic slashers of the 1980’s. We meet a small group of campers and the counselors who will watch over them for a fun-filled summer. On the first night while gathered around the campfire, the campers learn about an the legend of a siren who lives in the lake and a young woman who drowned at the camp in the 1960’s. Cumming and Boon do a fantastic job of creating a complete story in less than 20 minutes. They gradually reveal more details for the audience, slowly unravelling the mysteries of the past and connecting them to what is happening at the camp with the latest batch of counselors and campers. It veers from a typical summer camp horror flick to something much more intricate and interesting.

While the only other short film I’ve seen by Cumming and Boon is Fanatico, from what I have seen it is clear this duo has something to say. A common theme in their work, which is clearly evident in Camp Calypso, is feminism, the battle against misogyny, and challenging traditional female roles. The only characters in this short that could be considered stereotypes are the men. They are chauvinistic womanizers who care more about getting laid than doing their job, even when that means being forceful with women. The female characters, on the other hand, are more dynamic. Cumming and Boon also flipped the classic idea of a siren. Most people know the legend of how sirens dwell in bodies of water and use their song to lure men to their deaths. While that is true in Camp Calypso, there is more to the siren’s origin than the legend suggests.

The entire cast of Camp Calypso delivers compelling performances from the camp counselors, to the campers, to the camp director. While everyone is great, I’m going to focus on the female performances. Ruby Cumming stars as Margot, the shy young camper. Margot is the more reserved and observant type, so she is the first to really notice something is wrong at Camp Calypso, and Ruby Cumming adds a sincerity to the role. Misha Kemp plays camp counselor Heather. She is kind and in charge, but also willing to sneak off for a little weed. Kemp excels in the role with how she is able to be gentle and nurturing, yet she takes no shit when a male counselor tries to feel her up. Then there is the other female camp counselor, Cherry, played by Savannah Rae Jones (The Halo). At first glance, Cherry looks like the stereotypical slutty camp counselor. Yet Jones shows there is much more to Cherry than meets the eye. This is evident from her first interaction with the male counselors when she blows them off, to the way she remains cool under pressure. While the women are the clear stars, I will give honorable mention to the men including Derek Sweet, Dawson Redmond, Erik Norseth, and Nathaniel Owens.

A lot of artistic work went into Camp Calypso to make it feel like it could come from the late 1970’s while also making it a fun creature feature. For a low-budget short film, they managed to get a really great location for the camp that helps transport the audience. The wardrobe also helps quite a bit in this area, each outfit looking like it could easily have come from the late 70’s or early 80’s. Camp Calypso also has a vibrant color palette that catches the eye. What is especially surprising is the delightful creature effects for the siren. The practical prosthetics are subtle, but very well done and effective. Plus there is some delightful gore thrown in for good measure. Plus the short boasts a fantastic score by Rudy Klobas, Carlo Mery ft. Nick Mcclurg that perfectly embodies the time period. The only visual aspect I didn’t like is more of a film pet peeve of mine: the use of blue filter to make turn day into night. I realize it’s the simplest and most cost effective method for filmmakers, but it never looks right.

Camp Calypso is a delightful short monster movie that takes a bite out of misogyny. Cumming and Boon make a unique short film that creates it’s own complete story, yet it has a mythos that could easily be added to in order to make a feature-length film. The short has beautiful visuals and practical effects, although the use of the blue filter during the climax of the film cheapens the look a bit. With strong performances and an even stronger message, it’s impossible not to enjoy this short film. Between Camp Calypso and Fanatico, I can’t wait to see what Cumming and Boon do next.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Darling, Darling, Wendy (Short)

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We all know the story of Wendy Darling and Peter Pan and their adventures in Neverland. But what happened after Wendy came back? It’s been 15 years, and Wendy is obsessed with Peter, Neverland, and finding her way back. Yet when she finally meets Peter again, things don’t go quite as planned.

Darling, Darling, Wendy is a short film directed by Elise Robertson (Donner Pass) and written by Katherine Sainte Marie (Wicked Mirrors). The short offers a unique look at what happens after the beloved story we all know and love. It is quickly established that Wendy, now married with a daughter of her own, has been a bit unhinged since her return from Neverland. She tries to spend most of her time in the nursery, and for some reason she is not allowed to be left alone with her own daughter. In hopes Wendy will leave these childish thoughts behind, her husband allows her to spend one final night in the nursery.

The plot weaves together various mysteries to keep the viewer intrigued. Was Neverland real? Why can’t Wendy be alone with her daughter? Will Peter come back? Darling, Darling, Wendy grips the viewers’ attention and makes us want to know what happens next. The filmmakers also do a great job of bringing something new to the familiar, while also giving it a very dark twist. One thing that caught my eye as being a bit odd was how a drug bottle was labeled. While this short film takes place in a different time, to my knowledge the drug shouldn’t have been labeled that way even back then. It may be a minor detail, but in a 13 minute short it stands out.

Darling, Darling, Wendy is filled with enjoyable performances. The small cast all perform well, but there are two particular performances that stand out. The first memorable performance is from the short film’s writer, Katherine Sainte Marie (Diaries From Wonderland), as Wendy. The Mexican-American actress does a fair job of portraying an English woman from a different time. There is a properness about Wendy that Marie conveys quite well, but there is also an underlying mania and obsession that constantly threatens to break through. The other memorable performance comes from Ty Shelton (First Kill) as Peter Pan. Since Peter is perpetually young, he has a childlike lack of filter when speaking to others that allows him to speak whatever truth he wants. He also has a wisdom from living many lifetimes, and this allows him to see the truth others might not. Shelton does a great job of maintaining that balance in his performance.

The visuals of Darling, Darling, Wendy are a bit of a mixed bag. The set and costume designs are the clear highlights. These aspects work quite well to transport the viewers to a different place and time. The visuals made the short film feel like something from Masterpiece Theater. At the end of the short the filmmakers utilize a bit of CGI or greenscreen effects. It is just a quick little scene at the climax, but it ends up looking a bit cheap like something out of a children’s TV show. While there are obviously financial constraints to work around when making a short film, these effects simply don’t come across as in keeping with the overall look and feel of the rest of the short film.

Darling, Darling, Wendy brings something new and dark to the fairy tale we all know and love. The filmmakers do a great job of creating a believable follow up telling viewers what happened to Wendy after she returned from Neverland. The plot is helped by strong performances and a great gradual reveal of surprises. There are some small missteps, such as the effects at the climax of the film, but it is still a compelling watch. Viewers who enjoy dark twists on classic stories will enjoy this short film.

OVERALL RATING: 3/5

A Really Nice Guy (Short)

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Sean believes he has seen the girl of his dreams – she just doesn’t know it yet. With the help of his friend, Milo, Sean makes a series of unfortunate attempts to connect with this dream girl. Yet from the dream girl’s perspective, Sean’s “romantic” gestures are anything but.

This unique film was co-written and directed by Christina Przada and Paul Hibbard. What makes A Really Nice Guy feel different is the fact that it feels like two completely different style films combined in one short. On the one hand the short is a goofy buddy comedy. It follows two men, one of whom happens to see the girl of his dreams while out and about. The friends hatch a plan to try to get the dream girl’s attention and ask her out on a date. Then there is an entirely different film from the dream girl’s perspective. A woman, weary from going on dates with losers and creeps, is just trying to go about her day. Then she notices two strange men following her.

There are multiple aspects of this short film that make it a compelling watch. The most obvious is the poignant plot. It not only shows the things women are forced to endure from men, but it also helps to convey to men how some of their “nice guy” behavior can be anything but nice to a woman. The difference between the two perspectives is shown through changes in acting style, tone, cinematography, etc. It begins by showing the man and woman both getting ready for the day in seemingly similar ways, but gradually the differences become much more apparent.

From the man’s perspective everything is just a bit goofier. The most obvious ways this is conveyed is the color palette and the performances. All of the colors are very bright and cheery. When it comes to the performances, they are slightly over-the-top, but it works with the formatting of the short. Clayton Bury (Safe and Happy, Confined) stars as the self-proclaimed “nice guy,” Sean. His best friend, Milo, is played by Pete Papavlasopoulos (The Blair Trump Project, Time of Death). Both men are equally misguided in their quest to get Sean’s dream girl and the performances from both Bury and Papavlasopoulos are ridiculous and goofy. Within the context of this film, this kind of performance works well to help tell the story of how the men are completely oblivious to how unsettling their behavior truly is. It also allows for some comedy to break up an otherwise very serious topic.

From the woman’s perspective, everything is different. The most immediate difference is in the look and feel of her perspective. Her point of view takes on a slightly more monochromatic look with a bit of a gritty edge to it. Carlie Lawrence (Supermen: World War) plays Courtney. What makes her performance especially interesting is how she conveys the things a woman will often go through in order to find the perfect man, only to grab the attention of the creeps, weirdos, stalkers, and men who claim to be “nice guys.” Lawrence also perfectly conveys how women have to always be alert when we are out just trying to go about our lives. This important part of daily life as a woman coupled with how Courtney’s POV is filmed allows for a lot of tension to be built. We as the viewer may know that she is not in any real danger, but it is easy to see why she would think she is.

A Really Nice Guy is a short film that manages to tell the same story from two completely opposing perspectives in very different styles. The way Przada and Hibbard blended the two together works very well to show the differences between how men and woman experience the dating scene. I believe this short also wisely uses humor to not only show those different points of view, but to also make the message being send more palatable. Guys don’t want to hear that their actions can be construed as creepy. Yet by adding some laughs into the mix, along with the more suspenseful aspects, the message becomes more palatable and less preachy. There are times when the humorous parts are a little too goofy, but overall the performances, style, and plot mesh together to create an enjoyable short film.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

PHFF 2019 Shorts: Day 3 & 4

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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

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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

 

Tap (Short)

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A woman awakes in the night to a tapping sound. Upon investigation she discovers something more sinister than she could possibly imagine.

This short film is written and directed by Dave Bundtzen (The Maestro, The Record Keeper). It is a fairly simple premise. A phantom tapping wakes a woman up in the middle of the night. From there the filmmakers create tension by having the tapping sound grow and grow. There are also some good jump scares thrown in for good measure. The tapping itself is also quite effective. The taps always come in threes, creating a clear pattern as the taps grow more and more violent. Considering the fact that this short is just shy of 3 minutes long and has one line of dialogue, it still tells a complete story. The viewer may not have all the details on why these events are happening, but that is something that tends to work well in a short film. It is intriguing and gives the film a sense of mystery, but no so much that the plot is disappointing.

The small production has two cast members. The only one I can really critique for acting is Katherine Celio (The Yellow Wallpaper, Malaise) as Amanda. Celio gives a great performance. There is a balance of both fear and strength in her portrayal of Amanda that works well. She is clearly scared by the tapping and the events that follow, but she also has a strength that keeps her from being your average victim.

In a short film there typically isn’t a large budget for effects. This short has some minimal effects, but some aspects are more successful than others. There is an interesting effect done in a mirror that appears to be a combination of CGI and practical effects. While at first it is very effective and eye-catching, it progresses into something that does’t quite insight the fear it is meant to. It is a situation where “less is more” would likely have been a more appropriate approach. The makeup design for the evil entity in the film is striking in its color pallet, but it also seems bit too minimalistic. It is as if some of the effort put into the mirror effects should have instead gone towards creating a more iconic makeup design. Either way, it still manages to create memorable imagery that lends to the plot.

Tap is a simplistic yet effective short film. It utilizes a basic sound pattern to build suspense leading up to the startling end. While the effects and makeup design leave a little bit to be desired, the overall look is still memorable and works will with the short. Add a great performance from Celio, and the result is a compelling short film. It gives viewers just enough to satisfy their horror needs, but rightfully leaves them wishing they could know more.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

IHSFF 2018: Horror Shorts B

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The International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival always shows a great collection of short films. Because there are so many to discuss, I decided to write-up little blurbs about each one and organize them by how the short films were programmed in the festival. Here are my reviews and ratings for the short films in HORROR SHORTS B:

ALFRED J HEMLOCK – Written by Edward Lyons & Melissa Lyons, Directed by Edward Lyons

This darkly twisted tale follows a young woman whose date ditches her in an alley one night. In that alley she meets a strange character named Alfred J Hemlock who is anything but human. This short has strong performances and a fascinating concept. The one thing that will make this film less enjoyable is that it feels like it tries too hard to emulate the work of Tim Burton, yet it falls short. If the styling had been different, putting the focus more just on the characters, it would have been a much stronger short. OVERALL RATING: 2.5/5.

HOPE – Written by Adam Losurdo & Chris Stival, Directed by Adam Losurdo

In a world filled with zombies, one zombie wanders around looking for love. The zombies are different in this short; they don’t attack people. Instead, it’s the people who are terrible to zombies. The film is unique, funny, and has a great ending. It’s the kind of film that makes you hate people and human nature, which is something I always enjoy. Plus, the zombie makeup is pretty fun to look at as well. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

EN PASSANT – Written/Directed by Barron Hilton

One thing I can say definitively about this short film is that it is beautiful. It is filled with beautiful people, beautiful cinematography, and beautiful sets. It is the kind of film that blends sexy and dark very well. There is even an appearance by the late Rick Genest (aka Zombie Boy). Beyond the beauty the film lacks a bit of substance, choosing to have no dialogue and focusing more on the sex appeal rather than the sinister ending. With just a bit more explanation into the “why” of what happens, even without dialogue, the film would have been exponentially better. OVERALL RATING: 3/5

WHAT METAL GIRLS ARE INTO – Written/Directed by Laurel Vail

The film follows a group of female metal fans as they rent a place to attend a metal music festival. They quickly realize their host is up to no good. The plot is quirky, humorous, and has a very satisfying ending. The film is also relevant in the #MeToo era. Audiences will even recognize Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase II) as the creepy rental host and writer/director Laurel Vail (Contracted: Phase II) herself also stars in the short. Of all the shorts at the festival I had the most fun watching this one, and it is honestly probably my favorite this year. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

THE DAY MUM BECAME A MONSTER – Written/Directed by Josephine Hopkins

This short film comes from France and follows a young girl who lives with her divorced mother. The estranged father is supposed to come for the girl’s birthday, which delights the girl but has the opposite effect on the mother. This short has a similar feel to The Babadook. As the mother becomes more depressed over her situation she goes through a physical transformation that represents her internal turmoil. It’s a very compelling, gorgeous, and well acted film. It also has some fantastic practical effects portraying the mother’s transformation. This is a short you won’t want to miss. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

GRIN – Written/Directed by Tanuj Chopra, Story by Sheetal Sheth

A young woman goes on a photoshoot where the photographer crosses a line that should never be crossed. The short film follows her mental and emotional unravelling after these events with stunning visuals. The film is beautifully shot, but it lacks a bit of substance. It seems to focus to much on making something visually beautiful rather than sending the intended message that relates to the #MeToo movement. There needs to be a bit more actual plot to go along with the artistic imagery. As it is, the short is more of an art installation than a well hashed out story. OVERALL RATING: 2.5/5

IHSFF 2018: Horror Shorts A

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The International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival always shows a great collection of short films. Because there are so many to discuss, I decided to write-up little blurbs about each one and organize them by how the short films were programmed in the festival. Here are my reviews and ratings for the short films in HORROR SHORTS A:

LOVE CUTS DEEP – Written/Directed by Veronica Shea

This short follows Jeremy, played by Trevor Stevens (Swipe Right), as a serial killer who hates love. That is, until he meets someone who could be the girl of his dreams. This short is quirky and fun. It has a little bit of something for everyone, from a sweet and romantic story to blood and gore. Stevens is great as the lead. He has a distinct American Psycho vibe as he plays Jeremy as a charming sociopath, even breaking the fourth wall throughout most of the short by talking to the audience. OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

FISHER COVE – Written/Directed by Sean Skene

A fisherman and his dog go out for a normal fishing trip, which turns strange when a mysterious creature appears. This short actually won Best Horror Short Film at the festival, and it’s easy to see why. It’s an exciting plot that goes in a direction you wouldn’t expect for a short film. The practical effects for the creature are also very well done. What might be even more surprising is that the creature has an apparatus on his head that moves that was done with CGI, but when I saw the short I was convinced it was practically done. That is very unexpected in a low budget short, and a sign that this is a must-see flick. OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

IT BEGAN WITHOUT WARNING – Written/Directed by Jessica Curtright & Santiago C. Tapia

The generally premise of this short film is very interesting. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say the filmmakers do a really great job of making you think one thing is happening, only to turn the tables. It gives audiences a shocked or “aha” moment when the realize the truth. It’s surprisingly effective, especially considering there is virtually no dialogue. The one thing that detracts from the short a bit is a practical effects “creature.” It looks a bit too much like they just grabbed a wound prosthetic and turned it into an evil being. Still, the short film is worth a watch. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

THE NIGHT DELIVERY – Written/Directed by Scott O’Hara

This is probably the only short at the festival that genuinely scared me. The creepy short film follows three grocery story delivery boys turned would-be thieves who discover something evil is in the house they targeted. The short feels like a well thought out, complete story and the three leads do a great job. There are also some phenomenal practical effects and creature design that elevate the beautifully shot short film. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

THE DOLLMAKER – Written by Matias Caruso & Directed by Alan Lougher

A dollmaker offers to make doll in the likeness of a child who has died to help the family grieve, but there are rules that come with the magical doll. This is a sad, sentimental short that will touch anyone who has experienced loss and/or any parents. Sean Meehan (The Normal Heart) and Perri Lauren (Grey Lady) both give compelling performances as the grieving parents. The filmmakers do a great job of keeping a constant sense of dread throughout the film as it approaches the inevitable, yet still somewhat shocking end. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

AVULSION – Written/Directed by Steven Boyle

This short film is interesting because it begins with what appears to be an encounter between a high-class prostitute and a client. As the plot progresses things take a turn for the gory. One of the most successful aspects of this film is the little clues the filmmakers leave for the audience. When the big twist is revealed at the end it is shocking, yet when you think back to the bread crumbs left throughout the film it all makes sense. There are also a lot of really well done gory practical effects and a creepy creature design. If you enjoy gore and films that discuss the darkness inside everyone, then this is the short for you. OVERALL RATING: 4/5.

SOMETHING IN THE DARKNESS – Written/Directed by Fran Casanova

All the way from Spain comes a short film about a little girl’s fear of what lurks in the dark. This is something that almost every horror fan (or really any human being) can relate to, especially from their childhood. Young Luna Fulgencio (El es tu Padre) is perfect as Veronica. The film does a lot by simply setting the mood and putting the audience on edge as they experience the little girl’s fear. There are also some fun twists and turns to thrill and shock the audience. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

RIGOR MORTIS – Written by Matthew E. Robinson & Shandton Williams, Directed by Matthew E. Robinson

This is the most comedic short of this block at the festival. Conjoined twins go through the surgery to separate. When one of them wakes up, he realizes his brother didn’t survive the surgery. From there it is a lot of strange hallucinations of his brother intertwined with comedic elements as the surviving twin goes through survivor’s guilt. It is an interesting concept with decent acting, but there is something about the color pallet and sound mixing in the film that detracts from the overall appeal. OVERALL RATING: 3/5