short

The Killer of Grassy Ridge (Short)

MV5BOTNiZDNkOGMtMzM5Yy00YjdmLTlkOWEtMTI4YmM2MDFmZjNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTAzNjYzMjcy._V1_SY1000_SX750_AL_

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)

4cfba04130-poster

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)

MV5BNDBlOWEzOWItOWZkYi00NWJhLWIyNzYtMmZjMzQ2M2QzN2UyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDgwNzMxOTY@._V1_SY1000_SX720_AL_

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

The Rage (Short)

MV5BYzY5NDE5MGItZjdiOC00YTg0LTgxZjQtNDU4N2MwY2M2MjhjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzkzNTcwNA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,704,1000_AL_

A man goes to a bar with a friend. The friend leaves, and the man is left alone. He sits at the bar avoiding calls and texts from his significant other. This triggers strange and violent hallucinations. When a woman at the bar bumps into the man, and they hit it off, the hallucinations only seem to get worse.

At first glance, The Rage appears to be a rather disturbing short film showing violence towards women. Upon closer inspection, the short is more than that. The violence takes place between the main character, Oscar, and his significant other, Kate. Both characters exhibit violence towards each other, so it isn’t one-sided, and all of the violence takes place in Oscar’s head. Initially the film gives the impression that Oscar is a budding psychopath or serial killer, imagining the things he wanted to do to the woman who hurt him. As the plot continues it becomes more clear that the hallucinations are not things Oscar wants to happen. Instead they are a visual representation of his emotions following an unfortunate discovery. While this is a very interesting way to convey the inner thoughts and feelings of Oscar, I almost wish they had been expanded upon a bit. Would these images in Oscar’s head lead to actual physical violence? Does his one night stand, Sylvi, have similar thoughts in her head when she is stood up? Going just a bit deeper would have made the plot that much more compelling.

Director Alrik Bursell made some interesting choices in his storytelling for this film. The most obvious is the use of hallucinations to convey intense emotions. A less obvious one is his choice to have almost no dialogue in the film. Even the bit of dialogue that is in the short is more in the background. This forces the viewer to focus on the visuals of the film, both with the hallucinations and the body language of the actors. It gives the short a more visceral, even primal feel, because the words are not as important as the physical expressions taking place.

The leads in the film do a surprisingly good job considering they don’t have much dialogue to lean on. L. Jeffrey Moore (Toxin) plays the jilted Oscar, while Sophia LaPaglia (Shout it Out!) plays the equally lonely Sylvi. Both actors excel at using their body language to tell the story, from how they feel when hurt by their significant others to how they feel when they first meet. This is vital considering the only speaking either character does is when they first bump into each other at the bar. Without the ability to speak through non-verbal means, the plot would not have flowed quite as well.

The Rage gives a look into the mind of an emotionally tortured man. The performances are strong and focus on the body language between characters. The short film has an interesting premise which relies heavily on visual storytelling more than it does dialogue. While that is one of the most successful aspect of the short, I also can’t help but wish the hallucinations and their implications had been expanded upon. The short is still an entertaining and interesting 6 minutes that will give viewers a unique view of what goes on inside a person’s head.

OVERALL RATING: 3/5

Heartless (Short)

MV5BN2I1YjU2MTItZTNhYS00OWQzLTg2NWEtMWU5ODE1ZWJiZDY2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjIwNzg0ODY@._V1_SY999_CR0,0,674,999_AL_

Shelby, a young business associate, is unappreciated by her superiors. When her boss doesn’t show up to work Shelby is forced to do a big presentation. As she attempts to complete the presentation her mind becomes unhinged. A dark secret is knocking away at her sanity like the beating of a heart.

Heartless is a short film inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Writer/director Kevin Sluder took Poe’s concept and updated it for the modern age. It focuses on a young woman trying to make it in the business world, only to have opposition from both her female boss and the other “boys club” type businessmen. This refreshing update makes Poe’s story more accessible for viewers. Most people can relate to trying to make it in the business world. Even more poignant is watching a woman in the workplace facing discrimination and cruel jokes from her male superiors. Sluder does an excellent job of making viewers empathize with Shelby, even as we learn more about her rather disturbing secret.

The storytelling of the short is very well done. The film begins with Shelby as she is about to enter the conference room where she must do her presentation for the male executives. As the short progresses, little things take Shelby back to the night before. The audiences gets more and more bits of information about the events leading up to the presentation. Then, of course, there is the beating of a heart. That beating leads to the unravelling of Shelby’s mind while also making her finally stand up for herself. This format only adds to the empathy audiences will feel for Shelby as the story unfolds. Yet she isn’t completely innocent.

The performances in this short film are entertaining to watch. Stacy Snyder (Pretty Dudes) is an excellent leading lady as Shelby. What I enjoy most about her performance is how easily she transitions from being a relatable, stressed out businesswoman to being completely unhinged. Snyder at times reminds me of the character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. The supporting cast is also quite enjoyable to watch. Shelby’s boss, Clare, is played in a delightfully evil way by Joanna Sotomura (Contracted: Phase II). Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase II), Blaine Vedors (Mainline), and Ron Morehouse (Hill Yes) make up the business executives. Their performances are great because they are the kind of men you can’t help but hate. Together the cast helps to create a darkly humorous short film.

Kevin Sluder’s Heartless is a dark and funny horror short highlighting what it is like for a woman in a male-dominated business world. Sluder’s inspiration from “The Tell-Tale Heart” is apparent, and the update to a modern work setting gives the short an American Psycho vibe as well. The entire cast does a great job of blurring the lines of what makes a person good or bad, especially Stacy Snyder as Shelby. The story is relatable, as most people have either been overlooked in their career or experienced sexism in the workplace. Heartless is a relevant short film with classic inspiration that many viewers will enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5 (short film scale)

The Secret of 40 (Short)

Josh (Julian de la Celle) recently lost his mother in a tragic accident. Despite his efforts to move on and continue living a normal life, he can’t seem to let go of his mother. In a desperate attempt to communicate with her one last time Josh decides to perform a ritual that is supposed to reach her from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t the only one that heard the ritual, and now Josh may have unleashed something more sinister than he ever intended.

There are so many aspects of The Secret of 40 that make it a great short. Part of what makes it stand out from other short horror films is the format it was shown on. The Secret of 40 was the very first horror film to be shown on the Barco Escape three-screen experience. When I saw the film I saw it along with a series of other shorts, each one taking a different approach to utilizing the three screens (some more successfully than others). The Secret of 40 used the screens in a few different ways that worked exceedingly well; they used it to show the present and a flashback scene at once, they used it to do a panoramic shot circling through a room, and they used it to have small details hidden in plain sight but in an area you may not initially notice. This added a level of interest to the short that you wouldn’t get with any other horror film. Not only were you watching a great film, but you got to have a unique experience while watching it in Barco Escape.

The idea of someone wanting to contact a loved one who has passed away is something we have seen before in other films. What makes The Secret of 40 different is the method in which the contact is initiated. In most films you get the typical Ouija board or seance. These filmmakers did their homework and gave the audience something they haven’t seen before. The team that created The Secret of 40 also did a great job setting up the scary moments. In some cases they would set up a scare you knew was coming, but then left it until you had forgotten about it only to surprise you with a good jump. Other times, they took an already frightening scene and pushed it just a bit further, making the audience gasp.

All around the cast of this film did a great job, but there were two stand out performances. The first one is obviously Julian de la Celle (The Fosters, Heroes) who plays Josh. What made his performance great is the way he portrayed the grief Josh goes through after losing his mother. At first he appears foggy and detached, like many people who lose loved ones do when they are in mourning, but still trying to get through each day. Then, once the idea clicks in his head that he needs to try contact his mother, de la Celle expertly shows Josh’s desperation to reach that goal. The second performance that stood out to me came from Robert Rusler (Weird Science, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) as Josh’s father. In the scene after Josh performs the ritual, Rusler masterfully portrays a combination of fatherly concern for his son and confusion as to what Josh has been up to.

This short worked not only because it had a compelling story and great acting, but also because it leaves the possibility to expand the story. The Secret of 40 ended in such a way that works well for a short, while also leaving room for the potential to add another hour of footage. The only aspect of this short that I could potentially dock points for is the simple fact that we barely get to see the evil entity. You only really saw it in brief glimpses. That being said, I believe that also works in the filmmakers’ favor because it leaves you wanting more. The Secret of 40 is a deeply unsettling film that will send chills down your spine. I truly hope that it can be made into a feature length film.

OVERALL RATING: 4.75/5 (short film scale)

Over My Dead Body (Short)

This is my first time writing a review for a short horror film, but shorts are becoming more popular (especially with websites like YouTube and Vimeo) so it seems high time for me to write about one. In the short film “Over My Dead Body,” by director Timothy Plain, we see Marie (Karina Wolfe) getting ready for her blind date. Much to Marie’s surprise her blind date, Richard (Jeremy Mascia), turns out to be a zombie.

There are so many great qualities to this short film. The most important for me is they manage to fit a complete story into a mere 7 minutes. It has everything you expect to see in a feature-length romantic comedy. The script by Zergog Sebastian Tovar made me laugh many times. Blind dates are awkward enough on their own; add the fact that your date is a zombie, and things get even more uncomfortable! I especially loved the bad jokes Tovar incorporated into the script. Most guys try to make jokes to make an awkward situation more comfortable. Poor Richard’s jokes only seemed to make things worse, which made everything more hilarious to watch.

Another great aspect of this short is the attention to detail. These are little things that you may not even notice the first time you watch the short, but they have a big impact. One of my favorite scenes consists of one of these small details. When Richard first arrives to the blind date he gives Marie a bouquet of dead flowers. The gesture of a dead guy giving his date dead flowers made me laugh so hard. This scene reflects the short as a whole: cute, clever, morbid, and completely hilarious.

Richard’s makeup was very fitting because while the character is a zombie, you still want the viewer to see Richard as someone who is dateable. If they had gone for the full “Walking Dead” treatment, no one would want to date that zombie! The only downside to this makeup is that it didn’t necessarily extend beyond the face. It would have been nice to see the pale complexion and dark veining wherever zombie skin was showing.

“Over My Dead Body” really has everything you could want from a romzomcom. It’s funny, it has a zombie, and it has a very sweet story. Now, consider the fact you get all this in a 7 minute short, and that is pretty impressive. This short film is something that can not only appeal to people of many different ages, but to non-horror fans as well. You can even watch it on a break at your day job (like I did) or pull it up on Vimeo on your TV. Either way, be sure to check this short out.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5 (Since it’s a short it seemed appropriate to use a smaller rating scale!)