Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here with some thoughts on Fantastic Fest's short film block, "Short Fuse." While Fantastic Fest is great at pairing shorts to features, playing the short before the feature begins, they also have blocks devoted solely to short films - and if you know me, you know I'll be there to check them out! Each year they devote a chunk of the more graphic, gnarlier, and just bizarre shorts to "Short Fuse" and nine times out of ten they're incredible. The Fest's shorts programmer, Kier-la Janisse, hand picks some of the finest shorts out there, providing the fest with numerous filmmakers who might just be the next big thing. This year she's certainly topped herself... The lineup below is incredible. Between the craziness of Fantastic Fest and having to juggle a job at the same time, if I had to see anything this year - it's always going to be the shorts. So here are my thoughts on Short Fuse. (If you're attending the fest, do not miss Short Fuse. If you're not, then be sure to look up some of the films and filmmakers as they're definitely worth keeping an eye on!)
Let's do this.
CRAZY FOR YOU
TRT: 10 minutes
The first short of the block is a film from UK director James Moran in a dark comedy about a serial killer who falls in love. "This subversive twist on the romantic comedy from Fantastic Fest alum James Moran (SEVERANCE) stars Arthur Darvill (TV’s Doctor Who) as a serial killer who falls in love at first sight with a quirky shopgirl. Can he keep his nocturnal proclivities from his new beau, or is his romance doomed?"
"It's difficult to find love when you're a serial killer." This film was spot on, with a beautifully designed look (Polka Dots and Lines galore) it's endearing and has you chuckling while a man is being murdered. That fine line of horror-comedy clearly is something Moran's walked a few times as there are moments of "Oh shit!" immediately followed by laughter. First dates are always awkward, especially when you have to sporadically leave to go kill an innocent person. It's fun, nicely shot, and has a happy/fitting ending.
TRT: 14 minutes
Next up is a film from director James Sizemore, a 14 minute glimpse into a satanic ritual that will leave you with nightmares. "A young woman participates in her humorless girlfriend’s black magic ritual in a bid to win her affection, but realizes she’s got tough competition in the form of a terrifying she-demon. An immensely satisfying Satanic short filled with all the boobs, blood and black metal you expect from the genre."
Satanic rituals have always found a home with horror audiences. The wave of supposed devil worshipping back in the seventies/eighties clearly freaked enough folks out, creating a lovely little subgenre (Yes, I'm aware there were Satanic films before then), but their popularity with films like THE GATE, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE NINTH GATE... We've all seen a satanic ritual in one movie or another, so it's pretty damn tricky to give it a new spin. That's exactly what Sizemore has done with this disturbing short. The creature designs were incredible. Nothing looked "cheap" or took you out of the piece. The makeup, blood, special effects... they all work together here. This is the most intense and well done calling on demons I've seen in years. I ate it up.
TRT: 12 minutes
Up next is a torture film from Julien De Volte from France. "A woman savagely brutalizes two men in the woods. What would drive a woman to commit such atrocities? A frank and disturbing film about vengeance."
This one was raw, unpleasant torture (so it succeeded on that front). While most of you know I'm a massive HOSTEL fan, I actually don't care much for torture films. This one was a little hard to take, but was well done - and with a combination of clearly well shot "cinematic" footage with bits of BLAIR WITCH style handicam exposition. If you are a fan of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, this is for you. Despite loving genre films, this was a bit too real for my blood.
HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME
Let that title sink in for a bit. Ben Aston created a lovely/weird as hell short based on a story by his fiance. "An exquisite short from relative newcomer Ben Aston, about a man who removes his skin at his girlfriend’s whim, only to realize that it wasn't the best idea. A poignant, yet guignol-esque analogy for what many go through as their relationships decline."
While I love my lady, I'm positive I will never take my skin off for her - and I'm not quite sure why someone would do that, but I guess love makes us do crazy things, right? This film is sweet and funny. It's calm, beautiful, and disgusting as hell. Ever thought "what would it be like to make love to a skinned person?" Yeah, me neither, but thanks to Aston's short - I now know. It's not just a gross-you-out kind of film, but one that's got a sincerity to it where even while you're squeemish, you still get a loving sense of two people madly in love (one of them just has their skin hanging in a closet). The film's very much enjoyable and possibly one of the most bizarre things I've seen at the fest so far. "Loved it."
Straight out of Norway comes our next short, from director Fredrik Hana. Straight from the festival's website, Autumn Harvest is "a Lovecraftian tale of a reclusive fisherman in service to an entity that inhabits the rolling mists of the sea."
Presented in black and white, this film rivals SIN CITY in just how much contrast is presented in each frame. It's a great choice, beautifully composed, and cuts through the spectrum of color between black and white to present a hard look as some rather nasty events. There's a quick kill montage that had me wondering "What the hell must have been going through Hana's head when he created this?" It's great. Not a feel good movie by any means, but obviously that's not the point. The point was to present a troubled man who must do horrific things in order to survive. Very cool.
TRT: 9 minutes
Ah yes, my favorite short in the block! Director Ryan Coonan created a tale that's authentically Australian and 100% fun to watch. "Move over, Skippy! There’s a new ‘roo in town and he’s undead and pissed off. An environmental worker sent to investigate a report of dodgy water in rural Australia has his hands full when the local wildlife turns deadly."
Zombie Kangaroos! Coonan's hoping to expand this twisted short into a full blown feature, and I sure as hell want to see that movie. There are so many ways to screw up a zombie creature movie and this film dodges all of them to give us a fresh, cool, new reason to care about zombies again. I know I'm not reading into the film too much, but Coonan's love of JURASSIC PARK is obvious here as the blending of animatronic psycho kangaroos with CG hoppers is deliberate and masterfully done. I'm now a fan of his and hope to watch this guy take on bigger projects. The characters were fun and the zombie attacks just worked. I wan't to see more.
TRT: 6 minutes
Six minutes is all director Jason Kupfer needed to tell us this tale of two robbers who just aren't that lucky. "A Thanksgiving home invasion does not turn out as planned."
With great dialog and two funny leads, this arterial spraying piece is funny across the board. The sickos figuring out what masks to wear... how to do this and that... then getting exactly what they deserved in such a bizarre situation - just great. I really do love the dialog here, and I feel silly for spelling it out - but it's witty as hell while never feeling pretentious at all. (And the gore effects are so over the top, you don't have time to be grossed out, because you're laughing too hard.)
Ben Steiner has our next film, a total gear shift from the zaniness of INVADERS. "Frank is a bedridden man in a squalid London house who is able to communicate with the dead in a most unusual fashion. With his health failing, he opts to do one last job before quitting the spirit medium business for good. But some local gangsters have other plans…"
Again, the acting is great. The gentleman playing "Frank" brings a vulnerability that just feels real. He's being used, he's tired, and he's got no where to turn but his brother who seems to be pimping out his incredible gift to turn a buck. With only 15 minutes to play with, there are twists and turns at every corner, culminating with a weird as hell bang out of left field (Which to be fair, fits the context of the world Steiner creates here). Great acting, interesting take on the medium story, and is well shot. It's definitely something to seek out.
BAD GUY #2
Next up is a film from director Chris Micnroy that will leave you in stitches (then immediately rip the stitches out). "This outrageously gory Austin-based crime comedy follows a struggling hitman whose upward mobility lands him at the dreaded position of Bad Guy #2–a prominent but ultimately expendable character in the bad guy pantheon–leaving him no choice but to up his game or die violently at the hands of his emotionally erratic boss. Full of over-the-top practical FX and dazzling comedic performances."
We've all seen villains take out their own guys in movies, be it frustrations or well deserved screw ups. Mcinroy took it a step further and asked "Well, I wonder what it's like to be that guy, "Bad Guy #2." This film has gruesome kills galore, again all in the name of sick, twisted, fun. It's a comedy that follows Bad Guy #2, giving us great insight into what it means to get that promotion when you are heavily involved with organized crime. Gore hounds will love this. Mcinroy perfectly casts the baddies in the film, specifically with the lead. He's an unassuming whacko who's covered in blood the entire film. (Part of the uniform.) It's enjoyable and I can't wait until it's online. It's a must for SATURDAY SHORTS.
TRT: 23 minutes
Our last film of the block, from director Pascal Chind, is a highly stylized revamp of a story we all know and love, PINOCCHIO. "A sordid, politically incorrect twist on Carlo Collodi’s classic 19th century children’s story, where our “Gepetto” is a portly pedophile and his wooden boy is in fact a disguised junkie dwarf out to find the pervert’s hidden stash of cash. So wrong in every way."
Drugs, hookers, marionettes, and a rapping Jiminy Cricket. I can't even wrap my head around this one. It's bizarre as hell. It's a perfect play that sticks it's nose up at Disney. It's full of funny moments, odd casting choices (in a good way), and wonderfully detailed sets. I believe the filmmakers plan on turning this into a series, wherein each episode is like a Grimm's fairytale, just revamped and cranked up to eleven. I'd watch the hell out of that show.
And that's the block, ladies and gents. I have truly got to give mad props to Kier-la Janisse for programming such fun films for genre lovers like myself. I see a lot of short films (a... lot...) and it's blocks like this that still remind me "Muldoon, you have not seen it all." SHORT FUSE plays for the last time on Monday (tomorrow) at 8:15 - so if you're in Austin, be sure to check it out!
- Mike McCutchen