31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 31: The Stomach (2014)

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It’s it! I did it! The final film of this year’s marathon!

[I’ve a feeling you’ll likely see more horror posts from me before next year]

I cheated again this year – another short! And what a short. Writer-director Ben Steiner‘s The Stomach is equal parts bleak family fable, gritty neo-noir and grisly body horror. Packing two hours’ worth of backstories and interpersonal relationships into just 15 minutes, it’s no surprise that a feature-length is in the works – yet it never feels rushed or overcrowded.

the stomach 2014 horror short

Unlike Frank (Simon Meacock)’s stomach. The poor man, a medium who literally goes with his gut to talk to those in the afterlife, is ready to give up his gift. The work has taken its toll – physically and mentally – but his brother Tom (Ben Bishop) begs him to finish the day’s sessions before they agree to get Frank an operation that will replace his stomach. But back comes Mr. Pope (Peter Marinker), a recent client who’s not pleased with his service…

the stomach 2014 short horror

For such a short film, I genuinely cared about what happened to these characters. It’s a bittersweet fraternal story: the brothers have such chemistry and Frank looks so close to death, it’s hard not to feel for them both. It’s also a tension twofer, between the rough and grimy threat of Mr. Pope and the unpredictable forces of the ghostly beyond. Which, given that the tension starts straightaway, it’s probably a relief that it only lasts a quarter of an hour.

4.4/5

And that’s it for this year’s horror-a-thon. See you next year!

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 4: Livide (2011)

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vlcsnap-2016-10-04-20h13m08s585Another day, another spooky story about three kids breaking into a creepy old person’s house.

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Young carer Lucy (Chloe Culloud, the gallic, heterochromic Scarlett Johansson) is being trained by an older woman, Nurse Wilson (the delightfully po-faced Catherine Jacob) at a comatose patient’s mansion. She tells her boyfriend and friend about the rumours of a hidden fortune in the house, the former of whom points out how this completely unsubstantiated treasure can buy them out of their raggedy lots in life. Reluctantly, Lucy agrees.

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Aside from that initial plot setup, French chiller Livide is worlds away from this year’s well-deserved critical darling Don’t Breathe.  While the latter is a (literally breathtaking – our audience inadvertently played along with the thieves and held their breath for silence) straight-up home invasion thriller, Livide soon fractures into ghostly, surreal, and oddly beautiful vignettes of gothic and bloody imagery.

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The less spoilt the better, but the bursts of gore and fairytale mythos layered on top of some already haunting atmosphere are a nice break from what was set up to look like a bog-standard slasher film. It might end up feeling like a movie of two uneven halves, but it’s all the more pleasantly jarring for it.

3.9/5

[I got back from Paris that evening, so from here on in, probably less French movies]

365 Days of Horror, Days 71-78

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So I let posting lag again, but I did watch a bunch of stuff!

But I missed two (I swear just the one, but whatever) days. Perhaps if it gets to 5, I’ll stop the whole thing. I’ve also ben rid of Facebook for the last couple of weeks, so my readership is probably nil at this point. Oh well.

Day 71: I Know I Watched Something, But I Didn’t Make a Note, and YouTube History Won’t Tell Me What It Was, So Fuck It

Day 72: Tik Tak (short) (2015)

Creepy time loops are more terrifying if you experience them, but hard to convey with if you’ve seen it all before. Simple and gracefully-shot, and without the mar of a cheap jump-scare.

Day 73: The Backwater Gospel (short) (2011)

Spindly, pop-up-book-style animated horror is always incredibly striking, and The Backwater Gospel is no exception. Throw in some bitingly witty commentary on religion as social manipulation and you’ve got a winning short. Whispers of a potential feature abound, but a commenter on YouTube echoed everyone’s thoughts when he implored TellTale Games to get involved. Incredibly talented lot.

Day 74: Help Me (short) (2011)

Yikes. This one did a number on me, because it employed cyclical storytelling to such excellently devastating effect. Brutal, uncomfortable to watch and thoroughly unpredictable, this French short ought to be used as a cautionary PSA on the dangers of partying and over-inebriation. Sharp editing and great acting to boot.

Day 75: Cam Closer (short) (2013)

Ah, David F. Sandberg and Lotta Losten crop up in my list once more! Though not as hair-raising as their other efforts, it’s a nice little spook, but it does fall into the now-predictable jump-scare-trap at the end. As an aside, I now feel I’ve seen every room/hall in their apartment. But they really need to stop those floorboards creaking.

Day 76: Oops, Nothing; Back Where I Started on This Post

365 Days of Horror, Day 70: The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow (short) (2008)

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the facts in the case of mister hollow

I never would have thought that a camera zooming in and panning out over and over across an old-timey-looking photograph would be such a fascinating, spooky little short.

After a series of newspaper clippings, we as the viewer are invited to take a close look at a single photograph of four people in a forest clearing. One man is kneeling, possibly tying his shoelace or fixing something on the ground; another in sunglasses is waving at the camera; a woman is holding a baby, and an older man is looking at the car to their right.

At first glance, it just looks like a regular 1920s-era photo of a family or group of friends who are headed off on a road trip or something (there’s a house in the background behind the trees).

But as the camera rolls in and out, poring over the photo over and over again, little details start to emerge, and parts of the photo, especially the odd facial expression, morph as our understanding of the photo becomes clearer.

It’s all quite spooky and gothic and menacing, in a vintage, sinister kind of way. A jump-scare at the end mars it a little, but it’s a minor low point at the end of an innovatively-designed piece. The way in which we’re shown the photo over and over is like a pop-up book; the forest’s trees don’t just get glossed over, they become 3D; we weave in and out of the branches and around cawing crows. We peer into the car’s backseat, zoom in and around what the kneeling man is really doing and, even on subsequent viewings, can still pick up new details, which is a nice touch for a short based on the hidden details that any photograph could be hiding.

A picture telling a thousand words, indeed.

365 Days of Horror, Day 43: Arrêt Pipi (short) (2015)

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arrêt pipi short horror As if I needed another reason to avoid public toilets.

This Belgian short is predictable but grimy, gritty and realistic enough to sustain some pretty decent dread. It’s smoothly shot; nice colour contrasts, and capable acting. The plot is simple: a young couple stop to use a public loo but are out of loo roll in each cubicle (seriously, unless you’re drunk, who doesn’t fucking check before going in?). The janitor/bathroom attendant/old lady asks if they want red or blue toilet paper. The couple laugh, but, well, then it gets weird.

Predictably weird, but gory and scary enough. The atmosphere’s been effortlessly built for us: said public toilet (gross and nerve-wracking enough for any germophobe); lack of toilet roll (even scarier); being trapped in said toilet by aforementioned lack of toilet roll and weird goings-on. Not like you can escape, right? That’s already uncomfortable and tense enough without what follows.

I don’t care if I get backed-up kidneys. If I can avoid using a public loo, I will hold it until I get back to the comfort of my own home/hotel. Especially after this.

[And fuck you if you hover; you actually ruin it for the rest of us]

365 Days of Horror, Day 41: Giggle (short) (2015)

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giggle short film 2015You know, I can’t be an asshole about every short film that I watch. Expectations might always have to be manually lowered once you’re ten seconds in, because you’ll know if you’re watching a minus-budget production rather than something a bunch of top-of-their-game film students worked on. That being said, this isn’t that great, even for the former.

It’s a bunch of awkwardly-set-up static shots (i.e., accidental almost-upskirting – which is worse as the sole protagonist couldn’t have been older than 14) with not much to build up the tension other than a mysterious giggle. Kid investigates and we get a very cheap jump scare with some lop-sided CGI. For what little we get, it would have been better if 4 minutes had been chopped off the 6 and a half-minute running time, including the ostentatious ‘A FILM BY [DIRECTOR’S NAME]’ credits at the beginning. Kid, you ain’t fucking Kubrick.

365 Days of Horror, Day 40: I Feel Fantastic (short) (2009)

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i feel fantastic hey hey hey short

I think there must be something wrong with me, because I didn’t find this creepy in the tiniest bit of slightest. Mannequins, or just doll faces, are a common ick/fright factor, but I guess I’m defective in that regard, because there are two things other than spiders and death that scare me, and I have yet to find anyone who shares these. (No, I’m not telling.)

So a 2-minute short about a mannequin singing a song about how fantastic she feels just isn’t unsettling at all. The ditty, while bleeped out in heavy autotune, is actually quite lilting and sweet, and nothing much of note happens in the video, other than an unexplained fuzzy ’80s VHS zoom in onto a plain patch of grass.

Judge for yourself. I still felt perfectly fantastic after watching it.