365 Days of Horror, Day 7: Scrambled (short) (2013)

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scrambled horror short 2013

Know what’s really scary? An unseen force. Especially if it’s malevolent, violent, and hiding.

scrambled horror short 2013

Scrambled cleverly plays on that fear, thanks to some taut direction and camera work by Faisal Hashmi. In it; a young man accidentally injures himself and risks unleashing an evil entity that’s awoken by blood.

scrambled horror short 2013

Aside from some stilted acting early on and a hint of self-importance in the film’s trailer, these 10 or so minutes feel much shorter than they are. Music is a tad overused, and the final jump scare is blurry and inconclusive, but it’s a decent, shoestring budgeted first offering; and you’ll never again look at a throwaway, late-night injury.

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365 Days of Horror, Day 6: Amy’s Torch (2008)

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amy's torch 2008

As shorts go, this one is pretty one-note and linear. Ignore the thumbnail of the YouTube link, because this less-than-three-minute short is so simple that said thumbnail gives away the visuals of its single jump scare. So don’t look!

Which is probably what the two main characters should have done.

amy's torch 2008

Narrator Ian Champion does his best Christopher Lee narration while telling us the plain fact that Amy (Evie Charlesworth) has a monster hiding under her bed, and the only thing keeping it at bay is her magical torch, because her mother (India Charlesworth) is too much of a blasé twat to figure out even a logical guess as to what’s been traumatising her. All seems well until the torch runs out batteries. [Honestly, we could have done without a narration; it adds nothing.]

amy's torch 2008

The build-up is slow and predictable, and Mother’s acting is kind of awkward and panto-wooden. The jump-scare’s VFX and SFX are more than decent enough, but they’re almost split-second. Director/writer Ben Wilkinson harnesses some increasingly unsettling imagery throughout (check out the garden gnome), but there was a missed opportunity to put much of the aural elements on mute to create a better sense of dread. After all, isn’t a monster under the bed something we can all relate to being fearful of? I mean, not now, obviously. *(ahem)* Grown-ups aren’t afraid of the dark spots under the bed that we can’t see. Not. At. All.

365 Days of Horror, Day 5: The Cat with Hands (2001)

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My word, this 4-minute short is charmingly creepy! Beginning with a bit of intense, Cockney-ish singing around a well, we’re told – via the magic of stop-motion animation – about the titular handed cat.

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It’s by turns gruesome, shocking and fairytale-like. The animated interlude works perfectly, and the score and dialogue definitely up the creepy-yet-cute factor. A must watch!

365 Days of Horror, Day 4: Prey (short) (2001)

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prey 2001 horror short film ti west

I’d love to get into the habit of looking up directors’ early shorts – the more established they are and the further back you can go, the more interesting, because there’s a slight expectation to see at least the faintest hints of their current style.

prey 2001 horror short film ti west

Prey is a 2001 10-minute short by Ti West. Its plot is straightforward: two guys are running through the snowy woods, trying to escape an unseen attacker. Given the title, it’s clear it’s not human. The growling and blur-O-vision probably help lend credence to that theory, too, though said blur-O-vision is a little cheap-looking (I KNOW it’s a shoestring short) and borders on overused (yes, even in 10 minutes).

prey 2001 horror short film ti west

There’s not much more than a handful of dialogue, the acting’s a bit wooden, and the entire thing is set in linear real-time, yet this short speeds through its running time at a compelling pace. The camerawork veers effectively from master shots to shaky, found-footage POV, and there’s a quick flash-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in which the two leads realise exactly how intelligent their stalker is. More tense and mysterious than gory or chilling, this fast-paced short makes effective use of its simple, urgent premise has a suitably creepy mid-credits stinger.

365 Days of Horror, Day 3: Tub (short) (2010)

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tub short film 2010

So I just watched a short film in which a guy masturbates to Motown music and a newspaper clipping and then impregnates his bathtub. The less else you know, the much more rewarding and bizarre it is, but I’ll say that it genuinely does get far weirder from there on in.

tub short film 2010

Paul (Eric M. Levy, who is surprisingly sympathetic) is a paper-pushing, overstressed, undersexed schulb who can’t commit to his girlfriend Emily (Megan Raye Manzi). One night, he nudges her for sex, but she’s not interested. So he has a decent wank in it shower and goes back to bed.

tub short film 2010

The rest of this 12-minute short gets progressively disgusting and more bizarre. There are some jarringly freaky special effects, some of which awkwardly teeter over the line between quite scary and laughably gross. I’ve seen this listed under horror, but it’s more surreal sci-fi black comedy with a smattering of body horror. Honestly, that’s a lot of genre buttons to push into 12 minutes, and it shows.

I found myself grimacing more than laughing or watching through my fingers, but kudos to the soulful music choices, which actually complement the film in a tragi-comic way. Given the story’s compelling human elements, I think it would have worked well as a 30-minute piece, but maybe 12 minutes is enough to start some new bathroom kink on Reddit or something.

365 Days of Horror, Day 2: Suckablood (short) (2012)

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suckablood short horror film 2012

This stylised, ultra-black short – about a demon who haunts thumbsucking children – has just the right amount of camp to notch it above generic fairytale level. There are some genuinely tense scares (think you’re safe under the covers?), nightmarish character design, and some gruesome SFX, all concocting a wickedly creepy little piece.

suckablood short horror film 2012

It’s too bad though, that Robin Berry‘s narration undoes a lot of that beautifully gothic atmosphere. While his voice is distinctive, the tone, accent and enunciation are over-affected, making the whole thing sound like an advert for a haunted house ride at Alton Towers. A ride I would probably go on, though. And the advert would probably still creep the hee-bejesus out of me.

suckablood short horror film 2012

If you’re still an adult thumbsucker, maybe you’d better sleep with the light on.

365 Days of Horror, Day 1: Ash vs. Evil Dead 1×01 – El Jefe

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[I can’t fucking believe I’m doing this.

But since I consume an already unreasonable amount of horror, might as well. I’ll mix it up with feature-length stuff, TV shows, live theatre and shorts, but for every day over the next year, up to and including Hallowe’en 2016, I will be writing up some drivel on something horror-related. Wish me luck!]

ash evil dead groovy

Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are back! So I’ve been waiting for Ash vs. Evil Dead since it was announced, and by the leathery biting pages of the Necronomicon, boy was it beyond groovy. In no way did it pander to the fans, feel stale or veer into post-post-modern, self-referential territory. It was just glorious. Six minutes in and I was already cackling like a maniacal Deadite; halfway through I was contorting my face at the balletic projectile gore; and in the last ten minutes I actually clapped and squeed and jumped a little in my seat becaUSE CHAINSAW

ash vs evil dead el jefe

It should be noted that the show sticks with the tone and portrayal of Ash from Army of Darkness, rather than the played-for-straight of Evil Dead 1 and 2. Ash is a cringeworthy, arrogant douche; at his age, living in a trailer, still working a shite job at an S-Mart-type store, it should seem tragic on paper, but he still gets to bang the odd trashy bar chick and doesn’t seem in any way disappointed with his life. But then, mid-said-bang, when his bangee’s face temporarily transforms into a Deadite face, he remembers a drunken night in which he and some prior trashy bar chick read stuff aloud from the Necronomicon and basically re-unleashed hell.

ash vs evil dead el jefe

By the end of the episode, he teams up with two fresh young recruits (his coworkers, to whom he’s fairly indifferent, aside from the chick), and my god CHAINSAW THE CHAINSAW IT’S JUST ALL SO GODDAMN PERFECT.

ash vs evil dead el jefe

There’s also a B story introducing a young cop who’s traumatised/confused from, well, having to kill a murder suspect plus her partner after they got Deadited in the face. It’ll be interesting to see those two finally meet. There’s also that pitch-fucking-perfect Evil Dead humour – absurd and madcap and screwball but with gleefully gratuitous violence – which all adds up to where the hell did those 43 minutes go?

ash vs evil dead el jefe

Can’t wait for next week. What a cracking, fitting start to this series.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 31: Terrifier (short) (2011)

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terrifier 2011

And so comes the end of my third annual October horror-a-thon. I still hate this name, but it’s stuck. I’ve skirted the rules somewhat this year – in 2013, I watched a movie every night and wrote it up right afterwards; I’d also write something on my tumblr every day. In 2014, I wasn’t working so I had all the free time in the world. This time, I’ve been living in London these past 7 or so months and I forget that those people really like to drink.

And yesterday, I was back in my other home of Salem (fuck yeah Haunted Happenings! – photos to come later), so I cheated by watching a horror short – the aptly-named Terrifier.

terrifier 2011

But it’s by no means a less effective watch. A lot’s packed into these tense 19 or so minutes, and its simplicity is its strength: Clowns and and inexplicable, logic-defying chasing – specifically the classic horror trope in which, no matter how fast you run, the slower-moving killer is always somehow one step ahead of you (It Follows used this as its principal scare).

terrifier 2011

It’s by turns gory, shocking, and fucking bizarre. And scary. The beauty of short films like this is that, much like non-US horror, there’s the potential to not just push the envelope, but tear it a new one; there are almost no rules about what can and can’t be shown on screen, and the limited running time means that the plot could go anywhere. There’s no time to actually develop characters so that we can have it telegraphed to us which ones will live based on actor name recognition and final girl/victim tropes.

Director Damien Leone is a quite the one-man show, crafting the special effects as well as doing the editing and sound. You can tell he’s got a lifelong love of horror; with its off-kilter, sparse score and burnt-film overlay, Terrifier ends up looking much like a lost snuff film of the ’80s. It’s seeing new life as a feature-length piece, currently filming but slated for release this year, but its clown killer Art (Mike Gianelli in this; David Howard Thornton in the remake) was also the featured psycho in Leone’s 2013 anthology All Hallow’s Eve.

I ended up choosing this as it was a horror short set on Hallowe’en night (thanks, Google!). Thankfully my October 31st wasn’t as eventful as this. Equally thankfully, I’m not a coulrophobic.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 30: Texas Chainsaw Musical (Arts After Hours) (2015)

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source: artsafterhours.com

I bloody love Arts After Hours! The Lynn, MA-based theatre company does not get enough credit. I went to see their 2013 offering Evil Dead: The Musical, honestly expecting nothing, and got one of the most delightfully bloody, humorous and heartfelt pieces of musical theatre I’ve ever experienced. This, for their 2015 Hallowe’en season (and 4th overall), comes a musical romantic comedy-drama based not on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, but of…Ed Gein himself.

Mother issues! Gratuitous violence! Fun with skin furniture and belt projects! Texas Chainsaw Musical has it all, and much, much gore! And, given its dirt-cheap ticket and tiny set, it’s exceedingly funnier, better-choreographed and cleverly-plotted than it needs to be. Bursting with characters, it does get a little crowded (madcap is an understatement), but there’s just enough room to rip through everyone’s stories with the utterly brilliant songs actually counting for something and driving the plot forward like a runaway chainsaw.

The core story – Ed’s relationships and interactions with a series of visitors, is the most interesting, and somehow bittersweet and adorable, largely in part due to the actor’s (fuck it, I’ll update when I find out the names) ability to Hiddleston-ise his role with the right amount of sympathy, and Ed’s mother (see previous fuckit), who I wished could have stayed in the show a bit longer.

Copious smatterings of fourth-wall humour had the audience reeling in fits of giggles, including a running gag that involved moving/slightly redressing a couch to make the miniscule set resemble a different character’s living room, or characters hamming up their train-ride-mimicking by bouncing up and down. The jokes come thick and fast in increasing levels of absurdity (a door-to-door street preacher with a life-sized mannequin that speaks in a dubbed, deep man’s voice) and disgustingness (a delightfully Looney Tunes-style evisceration involving, well….an unborn baby).

I was in the Splatter Zone, which was not an understatement. Blood literally rained down on me. Twice! Ponchos had been provided free of charge, and at least the second time it rained I remembered to put my hood up, but I could feel it trickling down my neck; one front-rower got her beer all bloody, but continued to drink it. My hair is still crunchy from the blood… Something I instantly regretted saying out loud and out of context, especially as my makeup for the evening was an express, first-time attempt at this awesome goriness. Though I was awesomely singled out to the audience by the show’s MC as someone who “literally ripped off her own face to be here”.

I’d compel you to go see it, but its last showing is tonight. I can’t wait to see what they have planned for 2016!

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 29: Genuine (1920)

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dat set design.

dat set design.

Ah, Robert Wiene. If you haven’t seen the German director’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, then I guess you haven’t seen (arguably) the first proper horror movie (no, the whimsical, comedical French shorts from the 19th century don’t count). Genuine is a slightly later offering of his, and still sticking with the vampires theme, so Wiene’s clearly got a thing for the bloodsucking bastards.

It’s sadly not on par with Caligari; we do get the dizzying, eye-punchingly manic Expressionist set design (by César Klein), and the use of a hypnotic element to compel others to kill, but it’s not as tautly-plotted as the former classic. In fact, much of the story is piecemeal through the acting and title cards, so much of the nuance is lost, especially the turns in plot and character developments. It also ends rather abruptly.

The vampirism is less obvious than in Caligari (I feel like such an ass for continuously making this comparison), but the costumes and silent acting lend the very short (44-minute) piece a creepy, decadent air. I’ve read that the original cut was longer, and I’d love to find it, because I imagine that, well, condensing it into a half of itself punishes every element of the movie. For fuck’s sake, I’ve just seen an IMDb post that says their print is just 19 minutes. I guess nobody can agree on how long it was actually intended to be. Still worth a damn good atmospheric watch, whichever length you discover.