Every so often I come across a horror short that scares the living daylights out of me long after I’ve finished watching it. Found via Shortoftheweek’s excellent horror channel, Special Day is the most bastarding slice of terrifying hell since David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (the original 2013 short).
For variety (and sanity), I try to include a short film every horror-thon, but it’s mostly to remind myself that the short film format has the potential to produce the strongest scares. They’re mostly single scenes, with no character build-up, are often wordless (good for global reach), and zip by in a few minutes. All of that cooks up some delicious and terrifying unpredictability.
For this October’s short, I chose Reverse, directed by Josh Tanner and co-written with Jade Van Der Lei. In it, an everyman (Joel Stanton) is just trying to get into his car and drive out of a dark underground car park. The setting itself is creepy enough, but an unseen force seems determined to prevent him from leaving…
Well…there’s a lot packed into these less than 4 minutes, and it somehow does it with some unsettling dark humour. In director Charlene Bagcal‘s moody short Neighbors, there’s gore, decadence, bizarre creature design, and a cautionary kicker of an ending. It’s like a modern-day, campfire Wicker Man tale squeezed into the below.
This wordless, slow-burn student-made slasher makes memorable use of Cigarettes After Sex’s Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby. It’s a simple 6 minutes: a young woman makes her date some pretty decent-looking stakes, they gaze at each other over red wine, and then the inevitable Plot Thing happens.
While pretty to look at, it’s all a bit overwrought, with its obtuse angles, jump cuts and a puddle of an ending that asks more questions than it answers. Still, points for the song.
Two years before fellow short Lights Out, there was another little horror preying on our fear of being alone in the dark. Ben Franklin’s eerie office slice Lock Up is a tense, fun 3 minutes, in which an everyman pencil-pusher realises that, under cover of mostly darkness, an empty office looks nightmarishly different.
Well-acted with some great makeup and some efficient editing, this is cautionary tale against all of you schlubs working late. Unless you get overtime or time off in lieu, don’t. They can’t make you!
I can safely say I’ve seen and/or heard every type of human be slaughtered in this naughtily gruesome comedy short.
More enjoyable to me than the mildly similar Deathgasm, Chris McInroy‘s SFX-laden Death Metal is a devilish treat for gorehounds. An adult slacker and musician is gifted an impressive guitar (literally fashioned from an axe), a cursed-object heirloom that promises its wielder infinite death-metalling power.
Unfortunately, our protagonist is too excited to stick around to hear the 3 simple rules [don’t play in daylight, don’t use it for money, don’t play it like you’re wanking], and bolts down to the park to start some mid-afternoon busking. No sooner does he do said penis-strumming move, than the axe flies out of his hands and literally shreds everything in sight in a gloriously gruesome never-ending POV shot.
Memorable, and not just for metalheads. But the music’s not half-bad, either.
Right. As penance for missing a single day on year 4 of my Hallowe’en marathon, I’ve decided to ‘punish’ myself by trying, for the second time, to consume one horror thing per day for the next year. It’s probably too much pressure, but I have a friend who regularly watches this kind of crap with me, so perhaps he’ll spot me or something.
Last night’s entry was the perfect antidote to a Hallowe’en hangover (both literal and emotional): the sumptuously designed Treaters. Boasting production design and props that would rival most feature-length films, this perfectly encapsulates the spooky, colourful, indulgent wickedness of the season (and makes me sad that it’s over for another year).
Set in England, two teens meet up with a third kid they met online, a clown-costumed little shit who promises them the candy heist of their lives. Borrowing some of its tension-setting from both Don’t Breathe and every snacking kid ever, the trio must sneak into the odd setup of a woman’s lounge (where she’s watching some fairly fucked-up animation) to get to her wonderfully impressive sweet shop. Naturally, the gang go nuts – literally like kids in a candy store – but the plot thickens thereafter. No spoilers, but it toes just the right line between gruesome and magically Burton/Selick-y. A trick and a treat.
On second viewing, I liked Kasey LaRose‘s short After Hours a bit more. For horror shorts, I’m a bit of a sucker for simple creature design, mostly because it’s cheaper to do (and harder to mess up), but also because it skirts the unsettlingly ambiguous line between demonic and real-life threat.
It also helps if you have a decent score (check), tight camerawork (check), and an actress that is easy to watch and root for (Shiloh Nyce Despain) (check). For a short though, it is incredibly short, yet there are moments that could have been chopped since it stuck with a single, in-the-moment strand of tension that so many early shorts go for.
I can’t hate on an student film when it’s clearly many amateurs trying very hard, not least the sole actress on screen who must carry the story by herself. And she (Amy Shaw) does a pretty decent job, though she’s let down by the (i’msorryi’msorryi’msorry) really quite distractingly bad voiceover work that doesn’t sound professional and just doesn’t fit and deflates any of the tension this is trying to build up.
It’s short (obviously) and sweet, and the editing keeps the creepiness afloat. Given its length, it might have benefitted from keeping the action in one room, particularly as it looks like they were going for an old-fashioned ghost story – something you’d tell around a circle at a Hallowe’en sleepover or see reenacted on stage as a short horror play.
Five days after watching this and I have very little memory of it. That doesn’t mean that this ‘cursed item’ short was bad, just not as memorable as the 30 other things I watched this month.
It’s a one-note affair that could even stand to have 2 minutes trimmed off, since it’s really just a showcase for some genuinely good practical effects, and especially as we know exactly how it’s going to end – just from the title.