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!

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.

365 Days of Horror, Day 34: Passenger (short) (2015)

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passenger short horror 2015

Shot by an aspiring filmmaker on a nothing of a budget, Passenger quickly creates a uncomfortable sense of dread. It’s what I love most about horror shorts – they know they’re there to scare from the get-go. The good ones are about creating mood – and the basest for the genre is, of course, fright.

At under 4 minutes, it’s to Passenger‘s benefit that its concept is simple and, crucially, relatable: a young man is in his car, thinks he sees something (driving =/= a good time to think you’re hallucinating). Add to that your car is a tiny, very personal space, and the idea of an intruder who doesn’t play by the rules of physics, nature and everything is a fairly unsettling scenario.

It’s got some pretty top editing, with some tight close-ups and some clear, crisp sound; a near-lack of score keeps you in perpetual jump-scare anticipation, but thankfully it doesn’t go that route. Really quite rewatchable and, for me, passed the “Is it Kinda Scary to Watch in the Dark?”* test.

(*i.e., I’m compelled to turn the lights back on – like, a lot – but I’m too lazy)

365 Days of Horror, Day 33: One Last Dive (short) (2013)

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one last dive short 2013When a short’s just over one minute long, you know it’s going to incorporate a jump scare – but it’s a hell of a doozy.

One Last Dive readily exploits its deep-dive, underwater setting to maximum, chilling effect, rapidly escalating its sense of dread and tightening the noose with not just the aforementioned jump scare, but what I like to call a “doom scare” – something that, when you see it, makes you realise that everything and everyone is fucked. That it’s over. That there’s no way out. And that the very idea of it even remotely happening to you is enough to give you moviegoer’s anxiety.

All that in under two minutes. More, please!