The Horror Honeys: Throwback Thursday: Head Honey's Short Film Reviews

Throwback Thursday: Head Honey's Short Film Reviews

A Head Honey Throwback Review by Kat

Popcorn Horror

I started watching short films on Popcorn Horror’s free app to pass some non-committal time one night, and it’s now turned into an obsession - I couldn’t stop watching.  I admit to having a short attention span, and a penchant for watching and re-watching the same movies over and over again…short film has provided an unexpected outlet, and an immensely satisfying one at that. 
In the short amount of time that I’ve been watching short film, I’ve become amazed at the capacity for short film to hook viewers…to pull them in by the tendons and really squeeze the small intestine in a very real and emotional way in an alarmingly short amount of time.     

Over the course of a few days I sank my teeth into 21 films…and wasn’t disappointed.  Below are my short-list of must watch films.    

Play Dead (2012)
Andres Meza-Valdes, Diego Meza-Valdes (Borscht Corp)

I’ll start off by saying this, the description of this film is misleading to say the least. From a tagline of “Dogs vs Zombies,” I was expecting to see some giant German Shepherds (which I’m terrified of incidentally) taking down heavily padded zombies and saving their weak human masters from the zombie hoards. No way. Play Dead operates on the assumption that zombies don’t eat dogs…which is fair enough, humans are way tastier and way slower, with the added bonus of less fur to contend with.   
Play Dead focuses on the beginnings of a big city zombie outbreak, and I LIKE these zombies…they’re fast, agile, and have great stunt coordinators.  The makeup FX are impressive as is the pyro, and the actors - well let’s just say they’re really into being zombies.  Approved and terrifying.  
So, now that we’ve established that Play Dead isn’t about attack dogs laying waste to the infected, things get a little more rational.  Our stars (the dogs of course) go about their lives as a pack, seeing the sights, missing their masters (Princess most poignantly) living the high life, and one of them (Diva) literally takes her owner for a drag (hahaha). 
I’ve become amazed at the capacity for short film to hook viewers, to pull them in by the tendons and really squeeze the small intestine in a very real and emotional way in an alarmingly short amount of time. In less than 17 minutes, I was rooting for these dogs. I was upset at their peril, felt sick at their loss, and rejoiced when they escaped danger.  My only beef with short film?  No closure. What happens after they escape? Questions, questions, questions.  But that’s the essence of short film, isn’t it?  I LOVED this film, and I’m hungry for more.

In Chambers (2008)
Aleksander Nordaas

I think what I love best about short film is how the viewer is literally SHOVED into situations, joining the action, in progress or starting mid-story… I really enjoy creating a background for the scene, the feeling of disorientation and helplessness as you struggle to find the thread of the story, something to grasp and identify with, because that’s the essence of film, identifying with characters and a story.  In Chambers grabbed me with atmosphere, beautifully decrepit, and very Matrix feeling.  The disorienting, Matrix-ish feeling is compounded by PVC-clad military looking personnel with gasmasks and notebooks, and residents with numbers, and some without.  The oppressive, fearful, Holocaust-esque atmosphere is emphasized by the residents visible and very real fear at being taken away one by one, unceremoniously or violently…
The characters don’t connect, locked in their own experiences and points of focus, a soldier babbling about numbers and theories for what happens here, and where it actually could be.  The separation is unsettling and adds to the unease of the entire scene. In Chambers is starkly beautiful, decrepit, well staged and powerful.  The audience is left wondering what the numbers mean, was that limbo?  The waiting room between heaven and hell?  The question of where our minds go during sleep, coma, blackout…the body cannot live without the mind. Stunning.

T is for Temptation (2011)
Michael Foulke

I like dark comedies…I like them so much I think I might be a little more twisted than originally expected.  I loved this film so much I watched it 3 times back to back, and then showed my husband when I got home. That good.  It’s vary rare when you see a young actor out-perform a seasoned adult…but that shit happened.
The scene pits an “innocent” cookie-peddling brat against a creepy child killer with bodies strewn about his kitchen.  I’m not sure what I was expecting from this film, but I was blown away by the lead actress’ cold, believable, and precise delivery carried this short from creepy and awkward to utterly brilliant.  As a former cookie-peddling brat myself, I would be lying if I said that the thought of knocking over a few houses didn’t cross my mind, the perfect untraceable crime….

Rebecca (2012)
Judson Scott

I have to admit, I was expecting a bit more from Rebecca. From the intro and build-up, I was expecting to be confronted with a bold, crazy, shocking gore covered “boyfriend” duct-taped helplessly to a chair…the victim of  Rebecca’s one-sided obsessive expressions of devotion.

I loved the look and feel of this film, with a great filming location and set dec, but I’m going to put it right out there and say that I find it hard to relate to female characters that are written by men. I’m not sure why that is, or what it was about her character that didn’t get to me like other short film characters have. In the 10 minutes I had to absorb this film, I didn’t really connect with Rebecca.  It wasn’t a new twist on an old story, or a different depiction of a familiar theme.  A little bit Psycho, and a little bit Misery, but not enough of  either to be engaging.  I always struggle with the role reversal stories where the woman is the aggressor because of the way the female character is written.  Rebecca is clearly crazy-pants, but I have a hard time believing that she would be able to keep her boyfriend in any kind of captivity, kill him, and preserve him to the point depicted without anyone noticing his absence, disappearance, and the SMELL…if a neighbor had the druthers to knock on the door because of some random shouting, any other disturbance would definitely have been noticed and reported.  Now, I freely admit that my suspension of disbelief is a little lacking when it comes to movies of any length.  If I’m not hooked by the lower intestine right away, my brain immediately looks for plot holes or bad makeup effects.  So, I’m sorry, Rebecca, but that’s what happened here. 

Playground (2010)
Mark Kuczewski

My notes on this film are not the best. I must have been tired and cranky while watching it, because on second and third viewing, I really enjoyed this Playground.  The theme isn’t an original one, that might have been my original issue - a quiet guy who was bullied in school, has some palpable mommy issues, “no one suspects the butterfly” type stuff. Casual reveals about past violence, creepy behavior while picking up hitchhikers. But the devil is in the details…and I LOVE details.  I love the collection of trophies, the way I forgot about how personal keychains could be, the violence trigger, little snippets of information and nuances of speech pattern and particular words used in that conversation, camera focal points, even music choices.  I could care less about the hunter becoming the hunted theme, so what I care about and what makes me care about a film, is the delicacy of the details.  And Playground has plenty of delicious ones.

Lazarus Taxon (2008)
Denis Rovira

I’m going to wax all university-ish for just a second here. My “grown up” degree is in Archaeology and Anthropology, so I have to indulge myself for the sake of all those years and dollars spent on extra education that I’m clearly not using. Lazarus taxa are observational artifacts that appear to occur either because of (local) extinction, later resupplied, or as a sampling artifact.  After mass extinctions, the Lazarus effect occurred for many taxa. Reappearance of Lazarus taxa probably reflects the rebound after a period of extreme rarity during the aftermath of such extinctions.

I was initially drawn to this film by the title, which is sad, I know. But, much like buying a book with great cover art (which I’ve also done and found some of my favorite authors by doing so) and I wasn't disappointed here. Within the first 5 seconds, there it was - hooked by the gut.  Dystopian post-mass-disaster landscape?  Check.  Beautiful color scheme and mood?  Check.  Incredibly realistic makeup effects right out the gate?  Check check.  Bodies floating everywhere and some crazy talking to a corpse of a family member?  Hell yes.

Add to this that I absolutely love foreign films. This is probably crazy of me, but I seem to categorize foreign language films in the “more beautiful than ours” category. I’m not sure why either. Maybe it’s the language, the translation, the emotion of a foreign tongue, the different interpretations of social mores and taboo, and what true horror is.

This film is bleak, beautiful and utterly hopeless.  In search of a cure or some magical ritual that will bring a beloved dead daughter back to life, only to discover that how she will “live again” is by going down a road that no one wants to go down. Survival in and of itself is sometimes a tragedy, and the real horror is what has to be done to achieve and maintain that survival.

Zombification (2010)
Stefan Lukacs
As you may have noticed, there are two kind of short films that I like…the gut grabbers that force me to feel things (ew) and the ones that tickle my morbid little funny bone.  Zombification is one of the latter.  I absolutely loved this film.  From the Public Service Announcement style of a “Let’s All Go To The Lobby” advert before a feature film to the great costuming and makeup effects. The not-so-subtle throw back to Bruce Campbell’s iconic chainsaw yell/scream/laugh is fabulously done, and I have huge respect for the steely and unfaltering perfection that is our hostess.  Bravo on holding that perfect toothy grin and chirpy demeanor in what was arguably my favorite scene – “Well done, little one.”

I literally only have two notes that I made on this film….OMG THAT GRIN and “Let’s All Go To The Lobby”  safe to say,  I was too busy enjoying the film to judge it.

Dysmorphia (2012)
Andy Stewart

“In the end, they don’t help…they won’t do what needs to be done…”  Body horror is arguably one of my favorite mini-genres within horror.  Consider my guts GRABBED, squidged around a bit, and then shoved back into my stomach cavity. I didn’t know what I was in for with Dysmorphia.  What was I expecting?  I don’t even know anymore, maybe a split personality, maybe something less complex and detailed?  If I’d thought for a second that I wouldn’t be able to identify with this film, I was proved utterly wrong within a few short minutes. Beautifully set up with dialogue (and a gorgeous Scottish brogue) I was already feeling something for this character. I was sympathizing with his need to change himself on his own terms, to be the person he’d always wanted to be, whatever that was. I CARED about what he was going through, which is what made what came next so much more powerful. Self-surgery isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with as a photoshoot concept and in real life having removed god knows how many pieces of smashed wine glasses from my feet. I know what it feels like inside to watch your blood flow over your own hands. But this - I was not prepared for how much I truly FELT this sequence. The pain (physical and emotional) is palpable, heavy, overpowering, and the release is genuine…and to judge just how much this affected me, I spent a huge amount of time focused on finding the seams and creases in the makeup effects because it’s the only way I could get through it without bursting into tears. 
My notes on this film are just quotes…

“I want to feel whole, I want to be happy, I want to be me…”


Das Zimmer (2009)
Nik Sentenza

Let’s start this off by saying that I’m traditionally mistrustful of German films. I’ve been surprised on too many occasions by horrifying stuff that I wasn’t expecting or ready for, sometimes of the LOL variety, and sometimes the OMFG WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT kind.

Thankfully, I was able to relax a bit once Das Zimmer started.  The subtitles were hard to read (white letters on a white background are annoying), but I understand a pitiful amount of German and was able to figure out most of the beginning.  Things got interesting and went in a WAY different direction than I was expecting, especially with the CC-TV Mindfuck - now I was paying attention.  Blue CCTV light and surveillance camera footage has always creeped me the fuck out, and it was a great addition to the overall feel of this film, which is very clean and spare, and very stereotypically German. With the TV now acting as a version of a “View to a Kill” I found myself wondering if we were watching the future, the past, the thoughts of the main character, his split personality, the memories of the room - what was happening??? The TV kills, he finds the body…what’s real, what’s not, is this a nightmare on repeat, are we an insider or an outsider, or is this reality versus delusion, .and who wins in the end?  My final note is WTF ENDING.

After 3 viewings, I STILL don’t know what’s really happening, but I’m going to keep watching until I figure it out, because my understanding of what's happening seems to change every time.

Chameleon (2012)
Samuel Lemberg

Post-alien invasion, the military is searching for alien imposters. So the idea is, the aliens are disguising themselves a humans to take the system down from the inside? Right. Gain their trust, then eat their faces…got it.
Being that in “real life” I’m a makeup artist, makeup effects (and their quality) are a huge part of my enjoyment of a film.  This being the case, Chameleon annoyed me from the start. Allowing actresses to do their own makeup for film, oh wait, they had a makeup artist…that’s even more embarrassing.  Filming in HD, requires HD product… end rant
What I did like about this film was the intimate interview between husband and wife. It was tender, unforced, and real…the set up and questions are also done well enough that when the “big reveal” happens…it’s a genuine surprise. And then it’s ruined by some horrifyingly bad CG effects. Not that I’m a filmmaker or anything, but even I know when it’s wiser to spend your money on makeup effects than shitty animations that turn your film into a crappy version of an Independence Day scene.

Third Shift (2009)
Bruce Guido

A short film about a loser vampire who works the graveyard shift in a shitty convenience store? Oooo my funny bone!! Feeding off of hobos (my favorite American slang-word) gives him an upset tummy, and he can’t hypnotize a woman to save his supernatural life. I already love him, he’s like the Seth Rogen of Vampires, a loveable loser who just can’t catch a break (I don't love Seth Rogen, but you get the idea).

Aside from some small styling issues (if you’re going to focus your shots on an actor’s shoes, make sure they actually FIT the actor…seriously. Details.) and some makeup for film that just isn’t flattering (I’m sorry, but a makeup artist with THAT many iMDB credits should know better), this film was too adorable to ignore. It even has an an ultra cute, if slightly cop-out feeling, ending. I could totally see this short as the building blocks of a feature or TV series. But not with Seth Rogen. Please.

Negative Image (2011)
Karl Holt

I was super intrigued by the premise of this film, and that signature gut-grab happened with the opening lines, because they spoke to my innards:

“An artist is a creature driven by deamons.  He does not now why they chose him, and is usually too busy to wonder why…”

As someone who works with the photography medium on an almost daily basis, the narration is eerie and lyrical at the same time. The negative is unique, unchangeable, and timeless, everything else is a lie.  How much of our lives are governed by lies, how heartily and willingly do we buy into those lies…how much of ourselves do we lose to those lies without even realizing it. I loved the location for this film too. The abandoned hospital setup is beautifully done or beautifully abandoned and I would love to shoot in that location. I’m so envious of the shoot locations available south of the border, Canada feels so boring sometimes. But hey, we have moose…and stuff.

I also really enjoyed the creeping suspense of this film, I’m not usually a fan of suspense by any stretch of the imagination, but I was hooked. What I didn’t figure out, and what I didn’t want to try to figure out for fear of it ruining the unique mystique of the film was how the shade in the negative came to follow our protagonist home, was it in the negative/film itself a la Sinister or did it attach to the character himself?  Feeding off of his interest, his investment and focus on the location and his desire to find and capture the truth.

The negative is the only truth in photography, I can absolutely see the negative as a metaphor for something deeper, like the soul. What’s captured and imprinted on the soul is the only real truth, it’s what we show the world that’s the airbrushed and photoshopped perfection of what we want to be.  Negatives are raw, unalterable and primal, like the soul.