It seems to me that it is easier to do something innovative and challenging in a short feature than it is to try it in a full-length feature. Certainly the most satisfying horror films I saw at After Dark were the ones in the Cutting Edge Horror shorts programme.
For me the festival started out with a gut-punch: Wok, written and directed by Australian Mark Alston, can be watched online, here (click the film’s link under Play Videos). It was the first thing I saw at the festival and, fuck me, but did it ever raise my expectations for everything that hadda follow it! As far as I am concerned, this is how to combine comedy and horror. If you have a fear of foreign food or a fear of less-than-pristine public washrooms (both somewhat common and reasonable fears, I reckon) or a fear that something is gonna come up the pipes while you’re sitting, vulnerable, on the throne (mebbe a titch less reasonable, but still… not altogether uncommon), then I suggest you watch this because it’ll freak you out. And that’s the point of all this, isn’t it?
Happy Birthday 2 You, by Spaniard David Alcalde… You think it’s gonna be one thing, and it turns out to be another. Then it turns again. Nobody in this story is who you think they are. Each revelation produced a delighted gasp from me. It appears that it is a story about a good-hearted social worker who thinks she has found a case of child neglect. But that’s not really what she is, and that’s not really what she’s found. Then there’s that cat. Which makes me shudder whenever I look at it. The trailer is out there on the director’s website, but it gives away too much. If you think you’ll get a chance to see the film sometime, then don’t watch the trailer.
There were a couple of animated shorts included in the programme–both of them quite striking, both of them using similar–almost painterly–animation styles, and both of them telling bleak stories: Roland Becerra’s Dear Beautiful and John Bergin‘s From Inside (both U.S.). Bergin’s film is an intro to the feature-length film he is adapting from his post-apocalyptic graphic novel of the same name. You can see clips and trailers here. Becerra’s film is about a virus that makes the infected go mad. You can watch Becerra’s film online here.
Speaking of bleak, there was Brazilian Carlos G. Gananian’s Akai, which tells what is probably a pretty accurate story about how lonesome and miserable and hopeless it would probably be to be a vampire. A nice tonic to the romanticized version of the vampire that we’ve been fed by Hollywood for years… Here is the trailer:
Ange, by Belgian Nikolas List, is a creepy but beautifully-shot film about a dollmaker who seems to fall in love with a woman he finds in a carny sideshow. She has no spine and is held vertical in a metal cage (the carny barker bills her as a fallen angel). Does Our Hero rescue her? Er, not exactly… The trailer is online here (scroll down to find it).
Australian Daniel Knight’s The Morning After, like Wok, is a one-gag story. But Knight’s cartoonish film beats you over the head with it so, for me, it loses its edge pretty quickly. Like, it was 7 minutes long and prolly coulda been half that. In any case, anyone who’s ever had “morning-after regret” will, at very least, smile ruefully.
There were a couple more shorts in this progamme but I hated ’em so much I hardly even wanna talk about ’em. One of ’em was a puppet zombie western that was so fucking unfunny it made me wanna gouge my eyes out with a spoon. The rest of the crowd seemed to eat it up, but mebbe they were just being polite because the film’s producer had come all the way from Denmark for the screening. Or mebbe I just didn’t get it. Dunno. But the producer said they’re trying to get the money together to make it into a feature-length film. Gah.
Terror on 3918, directed by Mathieu Fontaine, is a play on a science fiction story like Alien, in which the crew of a ship is menaced by a (mostly) unseen horror that is consuming the ship’s fuel. Those who do catch a glimpse of it are struck mad and are left to gibber and gnash their teeth. The joke is that the spaceship, in this case, is an apartment and the everyday items that fill the apartment stand in as the ship’s equipment. So the overhead fan is how the captain steers. And the engine is the toaster (powered by toast, natch). The toilet is a video communication device. The sound effects are from Star Trek. It’s inventive and fun and silly and, hey, it even has a nice little twist at the end. You can see a clip from it here if you click the button that says “voir un extrait” on the middle of the page.
Last, but certainly not least, is Steve Miller’s Zombie Jesus. Yes, a movie based on a t-shirt. Absolutely as goofy and blasphemous as you’d imagine. The crowd loved it.
There were a few themes and techniques that ran through the shorts I saw… A lot of them had no diegetic dialogue and either were silent (very effectively, in most cases) or used voiceover narration. Lots of use of muted colours or limited colour palettes–each variation of which always included red. And I was astounded by the number of times I encountered a director’s willingness to transgressively kill children or have children kill others. Notta lotta faith in the next generation! All in all, the most interesting work I saw at the festival was in these short features. The three Cutting Edge series were very well programmed by Peter Kuplowsky. Kudos to him!
→ originally published 2007-10-29