Bram Stoker International Film Festival is typically programmed as an alternative to most horror film festivals, mixing shorts, classics, cult gems and new features together in a primordial cinematic stew. While shorts are the bread and butter of film festivals and early career springboards of professional filmmakers, this year the shorts were distributed evenly amongst the 5 day programme as pre feature warms ups in ‘double bills’ or occasionally as clusters of three.
Consuming film festival shorts in this way was an interesting experience, dampening the fatigue of long programmes in favor of short bursts of humour, horror and viscera. While interviews and events work unfortunately left me missing some of the shorts this year, the selection I did manage to catch were eclectic in budget, nationality and taste. From the psycho-sexual horrors of Takeshi Hirose, to American necrophilia, French pastiche and Spanish gothic there was truly something to fit everyone’s twisted taste.
The Dark Hours (2014)
‘All we have is hunger and thirst, day and night, them and us.’
This quote by an unnerving character in The Dark Hours surmises the whole short, as director Daniel Smith’s meditation on post – apocalypse, human need and survival. Beautifully conceptualized and shot, the short revolves around the plight of a man shacked up with his infected lover in the wake of an apocalyptic plague. In a context where every supply run is a deadly game of cat and mouse, an encounter with a unhinged survivalist while siphoning gas fractures the loose idea of ‘home’ and sanctuary irrevocably. As a huge fan of character based post – apocalypse, The Dark Hours flirted with elements of The Road (2009) and Threads (1984), while keeping information about the ‘plague’ secret for a fun final act reveal. With impressive acting, brilliant sound design and a dark foreboding tone, Daniel Smith’s film was a nice little apocalyptic package filled with, desperation, dependency and ‘thirst’ and was a nice warm up for the indescribable horrors of Dracula in Pakistan. Check out the official website here.
Dans L’Ombre – In The Shadows (2014)
As a film slowly accumulating film festival wreathes at the moment Dans L’Ombre (In the Shadows) falls into the familiar festival niche of meta – film exercises but this time wrapped in a film noir coat. Whether it be Nicolas Provost’s experimental distortions of Akira Kurosawa or Charlie Lyne’s deconstruction of the 90s teen movie in essay film Beyond Clueless (2014) , in these type of shorts cinephilia is sustenance. In this context In the Shadows is far more than a compilation of movie scenes and grizzled whisky fuelled narration, using cinematographic notions of ‘light and shadow’ to form a conceptual narrative about seclusion and autonomy. Director Fabrice Mathieu abstractly tells the story from the perspective of a shadow that has decided to get rid of its ‘wearer’ – the meat doll it’s attached to – using shots of shadows from other movies to create a mysteriously engaging film noir. Although the copyright infringement is undoubted it was nice to see little nods to Fritz Lang and Orson Welles amongst more modern films such as Session 9 (2001) and Sky Captain: The World of Tomorrow (2004). With pastiche, film noir and smooth French language narration involved, Dans L’Ombre is well worth 8 minutes of your time. For a full list of the films involved stay tuned for the credits after you stream the film on vimeo here.
Border Patrol (2013)
Director Peter Baumann’s Border Patrol was another eclectic foray into foreign language based black comedy, as a multinational collaboration between the Northern Film School Masters director, producers Simon Bolton – Gabrielsen and Nishad Chaughule and American cinematographer Justin Litton. Fittingly the plot of Border Patrol is about multi – national boundaries, power –play and local / national identities as two German police officers stumble across a suicide victim hanging from the trees in the forest. With a important football match about that start later that day, there’s no way they can be bothered with the ensuing paperwork so they hatch a plan to smuggle the body into Austria for their bureaucratic process to clean up. In all the classic clichés of the Coen brothers scatological humour is mixed with body disposal, while dialogue and humorous escapades overshadow the real ‘horror’ of the situation. With a brilliant thought provoking twist and a set – up taking full advantage of the arbitrary nature of national / legal boundaries, Border Patrol was a slick functional short designed for the international festival circuit and one of the better shorts at Bram Stoker this year.
Here is a link to the Border Patrol teaser trailer:
Bandaged / Yields (2011)
Next up we had two films from Takeshi Hirose, a Japanese director with the philosophy ‘I do what I want, I love what I love .., fuck the rest’. Preech it brother! As a Bram Stoker Film Festival favorite Hirose’s back catalog suggests that out of things he loves, psycho – sexual horror and violence are prevalent.
The first film to screen Bandaged (2011) was undoubtedly the better of the two, a low – fi vision of a couple bound together romantically by sado – masochism. From the couple hitting each other with hammers to romantically slicing up their own flesh it’s nothing that a few bandages can handle as long as they are happy…right? With the film cutting between the horrific psycho-sexual scenes and surreal visions of traditional rom – com cliches with a horror tint, Bandaged is an interesting film exploring relationships, autonomy and taboo and definitely has the potential to divide audiences. With the film screening in film festivals in America, Australia and Hamburg and a win of ‘Most Shocking Film’ at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival (2011) the film will undoubtedly provoke a reaction from you.
The second film Yields (2011) in confrontational Hirose fashion mixes murder with black humour in a narrative of a seasoned killer training a young intern how to dispose of bodies. What we learn as viewers is that the body disposal game pretty messy work when you only have a economy blender . In comparison to Bandaged, Yields does have a much lighter, comic tone while its overall critique of capitalism is just as morbid as the ‘sloppy joes’ that character ‘Butch’ chomps on every five minutes. While Hirose’s movies are crass and distasteful, they are far from exploitation with dark messages and satire enhanced by the rough low – budget style. With zombie short Moratorium out in the public domain and a crowdfunding campaign in place for his next film Brutal (2015), I will definitely keep an eye on this director. Given a real budget heaven knows what horrors he is capable of…
You can watch both Bandaged and Yields here: http://takashihirose.blogspot.co.uk/
Tasha and Friends (2013)
If you think about the more sinister uses of Jim Henson creations in films like Labyrinth (1986) and Dark Crystal (1982), the darker side of puppetry can provide uncanny revised perspectives of children’s television, from the ‘predatory’ intentions of Big Bird to wild eyed Bear in the Big Blue House. Having experienced Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey (2011) and its troubling real – life context (see Kevin Clash’s arrest), when I originally heard about a horror short focusing on the puppets of a children’s TV show enacting murderous revenge on humans I was interested to see its tone and direction.
Greg Kovacs’s Tasha and Friends (2013) thankfully taps into puppetry in a fun low –budget fashion, following local TV host Tasha finishing up another season of the Tasha and Friends – a show so cheap looking it uses a dirty bed sheet a backdrop. As the rest of the crew prepare for some much needed time off, the egocentric Tasha steals the puppets as a malicious act of sabotage but fails to foresee that they will come to life (via the inciting incident of a lightning bolt), doing anything in their power to stop the show being cancelled. The result is basically ‘The Muppets’ movie meets Braindead (1992) mimicking 1980s slasher movie conventions, with some generous comical gore thrown in for good measure. For added comedy each of the puppets also have their own specific trait, from the taboo ‘Spew’ who ejaculates from the head, to a character called Jingles who in one scene mistakenly believes she can sneak up on Tasha despite being covered head to toe in jingle bells.
With a dynamic mixture of straight horror pastiche and the odd anarchic subversion of children’s TV conventions, Tasha and Friends is a movie that delivers exactly what it says on the tin. While my own warped imagination and consumption of creepy pastas has led me to re-interpret children’s TV icons a little differently – from a carnivorous Barney the dinosaur to crossing the river Styx with Rosie and Jim – Greg Kovacs’s low fi gem Tasha and Friends was still an unequivocal hoot and more than lived up to my expectations. Three cheers for a sequel everybody!
Check out the films trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXIaKzAQ3vE
Dead Hearts (2014)
Out of all the shorts at Bram Stoker International Dead Hearts was a film meticulously designed for the film festival audience, wielding a slick combination of style and substance that has previously propelled features Amelie (2001) and Mary and Max (2009) to audiences worldwide. As the second film by award winning director and children’s author Stephen.W.Martin, Dead Hearts has played at over 20 film festivals this year alone and also won the Bram Stoker audience award for ‘Best Screenplay’. The formula for its success? A healthy mixture of love, loss, taxidermy, kung-fu, biker werewolves and whimsical narration.
Steven.W.Martin and producer Alexander Glua crank the charm factor to 11 on this occasion by creating a strange Wes Anderson / Tim Burton styled world in the tale of Milton Mulberry, an eccentric young chap who falls in love for the first time in his life. When he similarly experiences heartbreak for the first time too he cuts himself off from the world for 70 years, replacing social interaction for a quiet life of taxidermy and self – loathing. Finally with no end in sight he commits suicide but in a magical twist, being an organ donor lets his heart pass on to a mysterious women who may be his adolescent love. In this complicated situation Milton does what any love-struck fellow would, rise from the grave and take another shot at happiness.
Without giving too much away Dead Hearts is a film brimming with character from its rich cinematography and suburban Halloween setting to its electric mix of young / elderly acting talent. Although a little saccharine at times, the short manages to balance enough strange horror elements to push through. Loveable old zombies, amateur taxidermy and a biker gang with ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ back patches in reference to American Werewolf in London (1981)? If you put aside the ‘furries’ of Finsterworld (2013), indie horror / comedies don’t get any better than this…
For more information check out the official website for Dead Hearts here: http://www.deadheartsfilm.com/
I am Monster (2014)
Every horror festival has a taboo that divides audiences. For some it’s gratuitous sexual violence, for others the ‘snuff’ simulations of Bram Stoker fest screening House with 100 Eyes (2013). However one taboo that is pretty universal in its derision is necrophilia and not since the seminal Nekromantik (1988) has there been a film that flirts with perversion in such a way.
As a directorial / writing collaboration between Lori Bowen and Shannon Lark, I am Monster the narrative follows the notorious Vivienne (Lark) as a women whose fetishism knows no bounds. Getting her kicks by violating the dead in a Los Angeles morgue, her sexually charged voyeuristic rituals are interrupted when she meets Jason, a fresh body who engages her in dialogue for the first time. While the short explores delusion, perversion and the darkest depths of sexual fantasy, the dialogue, strong female protagonists and twisted style of comedy reminds me of films like Excision (2012) and American Mary (2012), perhaps beckoning a new trajectory for females working in horror.
Whatever your opinions on the content of I am Monster, its impeccable style, cinematography and confrontational comedy reflect the experiences and talent of everyone involved. I eagerly await whatever ever taboo breaking future projects Lori Bowen and Shannon Lark have in the pipeline.
Check out the official website for I am Monster here: www.iammonstermovie.com
The Legend of the Chained Oak (2014)
In true professional style I stumbled into The Legend of the Chained Oak after severe festival fatigue had set in, approaching the short completely blind and devoid of context. At first viewing the short explored paranormal investigators travelling to Staffordshire to investigate a legend surrounding a tree accrued with a history of suffering and vengeful spirits. However the mystique surrounding the existing tree is a phenomena wider in scope than Dan Weatherer’s fictional script, with the ‘chained oak’ legend symbiotically tied to its local context, attracting coverage from the BBC and influencing the ‘Hex’ ride at Alton Towers.
While many attempts have been made at developing a film based around the oak, directors Mark Mooney and George Watts working together with writer Dan Weatherer have finally got one out into the public domain. Shot on a micro budget of £500, The Legend of the Chained Oak is an effective indie shocker, attempting to tread in the steps of Paranormal Activity (2007) as a micro budget piece with global appeal. While the film itself does fall foul of many of the pitfalls of micro-budget filmmaking including its frustrating ‘found footage’ style, its concept and scope leaves room for an effective follow – up. When taking into account it’s delicious mixture of folklore, vengeful spirits and rural English locations, The Legend of the Chained Oak is a more than worthy contender for a big budget reboot and with an audience award for ‘Best Short’ from Bram Stoker International the Bramily is behind them every step of the way. The film will also be released to the public on the 1st of December at www.fatherdarkness.com
For a more in – depth exploration of the production, process and motive of a potential ‘British Blair Witch’, check out my interview with head writer Dan Weatherer .
The Last Will (2012)
In zombie flicks powerful reoccurring drama often revolves around a cruel fracturing of the grieving process, where discarding memories and associations of loved ones – who have since transformed into shambling flesh eating wraiths – is a crucial step between life and death. From ‘The Governor’ playing ‘daddy’ to his caged daughter in The Walking Dead,to the psychological effects of welcoming ‘rotters’ back to society in UK drama In the Flesh, ‘letting go’ is a powerful theme in a world where ‘death’ is a relative term. Kotsuke Kibe’s emotional short The Last Will (2012) tackles these themes in a context where zombies are executed via firing squad on the edge of town. After character Kyoko witnesses an execution for the first time she becomes even more fearful of her zombie husband being found out. When a friend stumbles upon her discovery is only a matter of time before she has to finally make an unbearable choice for the future of her ‘marriage’.
While The Last Will is melodramatic in its style, from impressionistic shots of cornfields and sweeping musical cues, its performances and primary dramatics are very effective. From impressive zombie effects to the emotional act of killing itself, the people in this world are far from immune to the walking horrors their former friends and family. While it would be more than valid to interpret the film as a replication of the potential atrocities, emotions and actions that can happen in wartime, The Last Will also functions as effective zombie short that is serious in both its message and tone. All in all, an impressive little film from director Kosuke Kibe and proof that there is still mileage in the zombie formula if you keep the drama taut, intimate and character centered. This is something World War Z could have definitely took a few pointers from …
Hinckley’s Drop (2014)
Hinckley’s Drop’s is a short that is not only symbiotically tied to the culture of Bram Stoker Film Festival but arguably born from it. With the cast and crew partly plucked from the artists, actors and filmmakers involved in running BSIFF, Hinckley’s Drop is director Neil Vidler’s first narrative film and at almost 30 minutes, is an ambitious one at that. While it is sometimes a trite cliché to for films to use the coast as a metaphor for madness, when it comes to the coastline of North Yorkshire you would be foolish not to take advantage of such dramatic visual splendor. Hinckley’s Drop doesn’t hesitate in this respect, staging human drama at the precipice of sanity and wielding the mystery and mood of classic gothic tales in its narrative of an individuals psychological struggle with loss.
The plot follows photographer Samuel Marston who retreats to a small coastal town, steeped in grief by the recent demise of his wife. However it isn’t long before he is tormented by a ghostly apparition, reality begins to slip through his fingers and the allure of returning to ‘Hinckley’s Drop becomes dangerously strong. With a diverse range of talent both in front of and behind the camera, Joz Rhodes’s screenplay and Vidler’s original story emerges as a real slow brooder, with an interesting layered narrative, beautiful cinematography and a welcoming thematic exploration of grief / depression. With a great reaction from audiences at its World Premiere at BSIFF, Hinckley’s Drop also has regional significance due to its use of locations and is likely to be made available on – demand sometime in the future.
For more information about the film and production, check out my interview with director Neil Vidler here.
Tin and Tina (2013)
Last but not least was the award winning Tin and Tina, an innovative exercise in horror and storytelling from director Rubin Stein. Presented in beautiful cinematic monochrome, the narrative follows children Tin and Tina having a ‘last supper’ with their overbearing father. As the tagline states ‘they are not eating the puree tonight’ with some other fiendish plans in store. As a film that combines childhood taboos and an interesting shooting style using a single panoramic shot and deep space to wield tension, Tin and Tina was a genuinely unnerving film in everything from its suggestive tone to its child-like observations on horrific acts. Unlike many of the other shorts at Bram Stoker International Film Festival Rubin Stein’s film was a simulative experience with dark pleasures that I cannot bring myself to spoil for first time viewers.