New York City Horror Film Festival: Short Film Round-Up!Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Now in its 14th year, as well the first in its new venue of Times Scare, the NYC Horror Film Festival unleashed some scary and solid fright fare among their feature programming, including DEAD BODY and LAST GIRL STANDING among others. However, for many horror fans, one of the highlights of any film festival are the scary surprises among the shorts programming, and to their credit, NYCHFF has put together a truly terrific assembly of bite-sized nightmares. And while this writer couldn’t catch every last short film on the docket, there was more than enough spine-tingling shorts to write home about.
The first short this writer caught at NYCHFF was Oliver Park’s VICIOUS, a ghoulish, minimalist ghost-story with a last-minute payoff evocative of the J-Horror subgenre. Sleek and atmospheric, VICIOUS might be familiar in terms of imagery, but is rather great at building dread out of its longer, suspenseful moments. It’s an effectively creepy short, and while it won’t necessarily break any new ground, VICIOUS is worth your time should it come to a festival near you.
Following VICIOUS was KNOB GOBLINS, a horror-comedy short from NYCHFF regular Christopher G. Moore. Following a man overcoming a childhood trauma, KNOB GOBLINS is an irreverent creature feature with tongue firmly in cheek and a hilariously gross gimmick at hand. It’s a fun, fairly lean short flick, and hopefully, Moore will be able to bring his practical FX-driven genre madness to the feature format sooner rather than later.
The next short this writer saw was Michael G. Kehoe’s HUSH, a really fantastic short about a babysitter who goes to check on a frightened little girl, only to discover something much scarier. It’s a wicked, expertly directed short with a supremely clever climactic twist that is legitimately terrifying, and there’s a good reason HUSH has been a festival favorite for quite some time. With eerie cinematography from John T. Connor, HUSH is a striking effort on all fronts, and Kehoe is definitely going to be a talent to watch.
Following HUSH was Jake Hammond’s THE FUNSPOT, a very creepy short about a pair of kids who find themselves in a terrifying playhouse. Playing with a palpable sense of foreboding, THE FUNSPOT is definitely the kind of short to see with an audience, as there’s few things as fun as watching something genuinely scary unfold while next to a squirming audience. And after THE FUNSPOT, this writer revisited Shant Hamassain’s excellent NIGHT OF THE SLASHER, which you can read all about HERE.
The next day, this writer caught Richard Karpala’s IRIS, which played very strongly at Mile High Horror Film Festival last month. IRIS follows a man disposing of a body following a kidnapping, as well as the karmic justice offered by a Siri-esque smartphone app. A fairly straightforward and confidently directed short with a bloody payoff, IRIS features stunning cinematography from Nikolai Galitzine, which highlights the gorgeous natural location as well as the epic scale of the shoot. Following IRIS, this writer saw future Best Short winner DEAD HEARTS, which you can read further on HERE.
Next up was the Audience Award-winning short A STRANGER KIND, a brilliantly crafted horror short from director Ollie Murray. Armed with a dark, mischievous sense of humor and some exceptional horror moments, this short follows a young, depressed bartender (Eleanor Tomlinson) stuck in a dead-end life who finds everything turned upside down from the appearance of a mysterious magician, played by genre-friendly British character actor Keith-Lee Castle. Charming in the way a story of murder and mutilation with a dry wit can be, A STRANGER KIND is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and one this writer would absolutely like to see expanded into feature territory in the future.
After A STRANGER KIND, this writer checked out J.T. Seaton’s THE PERIPHERAL, a very atmospheric tale of a therapist aiding her patient with his fears of irrational monsters that are out to get him. Starring the great Lynn Lowry, THE PERIPHERAL is actually quite scary, and really gets intense in its final moments when the audience finally gets a glimpse at the horror at hand. Seaton proves himself to be an adept director with a fantastic sense of awareness when it comes to revealing the monstrous truth in THE PERIPHERAL, and hopefully this writer will see more from the filmmaker in the future.
Next up was Ivan Villamel Sanchez’s MR. DENTONN, a fright flick with shades of THE BABADOOK and SINISTER but with a much more supernaturally-driven aesthetic. Playing very much like a horrific dreamscape come to life, MR. DENTONN sports impressive production design and camerawork and offers an unnerving, mythical ending. While the look of its titular character could have definitely been a bit more original, MR. DENTONN is nevertheless an undeniably creepy affair worth a watch if you find the opportunity.
Following MR. DENTONN, this writer saw Andrew Ionides’ THE QUIET ZONE, a rather terrifying neo-slasher with an unsettling killer on display. With phenomenal performances by Jessica Bayly and Kasey Iliana Sfetsios as well as the aesthetic-building work of composer Richard Keyworth and DP Markus A. Ljungberg, Ionides film is a gripping exercise in tension from start to finish that aims to effectively shock and scare. While the concept may be a bit too simple for a feature-length adaptation, Ionides proves himself to be a filmmaking force to be reckoned with in THE QUIET ZONE.
Following THE QUIET ZONE was EL GIGANTE, a festival favorite this year that made waves at L.A.’s Etheria Film Festival back in the spring. Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero and Luke Bramley, EL GIGANTE definitely offers style over substance, establishing a gross and unrelenting world that almost appears to be setting the stage for a the Mexican twist on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE’s Sawyer family. And while the short may not have lived up to the massive hype, particularly because of the lack of character within the presented protagonist, this writer would definitely love to see what off-beat and brutal places Guerrero and Bramley can take EL GIGANTE in the future with more time to let the story breathe and develop.
After EL GIGANTE was Corey Norman’s TICKLE, an over-the-top but otherwise well-constructed story about a bedtime story that comes to life. While not as fantastic as some of the other shorts on display, TICKLE is a strong effort nonetheless with a great, grueling FX-driven climax and an endlessly amusing credit sequence. Following TICKLE, this writer watched Richard Powell’s HEIR, an effortlessly creepy affair that is, unfortunately, too convoluted for its own good. A mixture of NAKED LUNCH and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS with a scene-stealing performance from Bill Oberst Jr., HEIR is a film to follow, even if it’s more likely to get under your skin than it is to blow your mind.
Coming into the final stretch, this writer caught Chris Walsh’s THE SHUTTERBUG MAN, a stop-motion scary short with narration by FANGORIA #342 covergirl Barbara Steele as well as a brooding score from former FANGORIA Editor Chris Alexander. While the all-too-brief short is a bit of a tease for its creepy title character, there’s way too much talent on display not to be charmed by this flick. If THE SHUTTERBUG MAN comes to your town, make sure to check it out in its goosebump-inducing glory.
And lastly, and appropriately perhaps the most memorable of NYCHFF’s short films, is Chloe Okuno’s SLUT, a 20-minute film that’s not only visually spectacular and clever, but just really goddamn good. Rather than make a statement on the slasher genre, Okuno cuts a film from the slasher cloth but uses raw talent and resourceful direction to make the genre feel fresh, reinvigorating and ultimately excellent again. If there’s any film in this bunch that deserves a feature adaptation, it would be SLUT, and if the film is an indication of what Okuno can do with limited resources but a wealth of imagination and ambition, this writer won’t be surprised if the future holds big, bold things for Okuno as a filmmaker.