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Salem Horror Fest 2020’s Shorts Program Is A Blast

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It’s amazing to me what stories people can tell in the span of a few minutes. What’s more incredible is how they’re able to do it. I love short film programs, they’re like bite-sized, straight to the point movies, and they rarely, if ever, disappoint. Salem Horror Fest’s short film program has not disappointed me in the last few years. They always feature amazing, new, talented horror professionals and this occasion is no exception. This is a fantastic crop of shorts and you will not be disappointed.

(Note: Circle of Stone and Diabla are also showing, but were not available at the time of review)

In Allergic Overreaction, a group of friends gather for a horror movie marathon. The guests bring various treats and as the movie binge begins, they dig in. Nine films later a member of the group has an allergic reaction to nuts that were in a plate of cookies and a hilarious rampage begins. Zachary Eglinton’s short features some fantastic use of slasher tropes and practical effects while maintaining an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia vibe.

Clean showcases one woman’s (Amber Gaston) battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder as she attempts living on her own for the first time. We watch as she struggles with neatness and cleanliness; through her eyes, we view a unique perception of horror that stems from her illness. I think Allysa Sing’s short comes at the right moment, culturally speaking. It’s very effective given the amount of time this year I, and likely others spent wiping down our groceries and washing our hands.

Empty Windows is more complex than most shorts. A detective (Joseph Rosenstein) trapped in a basement tries to make his way out of the house of a man (Andrew Rosenstein) who has returned from an institution. Tracing back his childhood memories, the man recalls the nagging voices of the ghosts in his house while trying to explain his motives to the detective. The Rosenstein Brothers’ short hits a bit different and features an interesting twist as it unravels.

Face Your Fears looks to create a few more shorts at some point as they title this specific short “The Dark.” When a pet sitter (Leah Briese) with a fear of the dark makes a late-night house call, she stumbles upon a curious box inscribed with a warning. The box will cure you of your fears if you can make it through its challenge, cheat or quit and there may be no escaping your fear. Neil Stevens’ short is beyond fun and I hope they use it as proof of concept for an anthology to continue their series.

A young girl (Jane Schaper) keeps correspondence with something living under her floorboards in From Below. By exchanging Morse code, the entity writes love letters with the girl and plans something sinister for them. It’s a fun idea, but I was hoping it might go the extra mile. The way Clay Stanley’s short ends leaves you thinking about it though, and in that it definitely makes an impact.

Gabby! centers around Meredith (Deanna Rooney), a comic strip creator who doesn’t know how to put the cap on the finale of her strip. Meredith witnesses a murder in her backyard, and when the killer (Davey Johnson) corners her in her house, he admits that he’s a fan and encourages her to finish the strip. Pulling from the likes of Misery, Adam Murray creates a quirky fan tale aimed at the comic con crowd.

Laura-Beth Cowley’s animated The Gift brings us a woman dealing with very strong visions of witches during her monthly period. The short is a quick take on the feminine mystique and the power a woman has within her.

In Itsy Bitsy Spider, newly moved in Chris (Fletcher Donovan) suspects his beau Jacob (Thomas Nicholson) may be cheating on him. As Chris maneuvers around Jacob’s apartment chasing a spider, the evidence mounts, but Chris has doubts about what he’s seeing. Is Chris’s arachnophobia real or is he the fly in Jacob’s psychological spider web? Director Brodi-Jo Scalise creates a vulnerable paranoia through Chris’s panic and mental distress.

With Make a Wish, Lexi (Josephine Chang) surprises her fiancé Freddie (Edward Hong) for his 30th birthday by kidnapping his childhood bully (Roman Joseph Moretti). When Freddie attempts to explain everything wrong with what she’s done, Lexi’s mental status swiftly changes. Freddie attempts to untie his bully, Brock, but after insulting and racist comments, Freddie starts to reconsider his gift. Dinh Thai serves up a deliciously quick little revenge confection for a very sweet birthday gift.

Jenna Jaillet’s The Mechanical Dancer is a loving animated tribute to the era of silent film. I was reminded of the tone and spectacle of films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Phantom of the Opera, and Metropolis. The film unfolds over five acts with a small theater owner seeking a new dancer for his stage show and the stagehand enlisted to help him. It is delightful in every sense of the word.

Movie Night opens with Chris (Skeeta Jenkins) begging Rachel (Natali Jones) to stay and watch a movie with him. Rachel agrees and Chris begins to make popcorn, uneasiness sets in almost immediately as Rachel can feel Chris’ gaze on her from the kitchen. As the two settle-in for Night of the Living Dead, we get the sense that Rachel is just not that into Chris. After a minute of the film, the video switches to a VHS recording of a murder. Matt Rosenblatt’s snack-sized tale is an enjoyable half-smirk inducing horror-comedy tidbit.

The words Nunquam Omnis Moriar come from the literature of Horace and translate to “I shall never wholly die.” In Angel Hernández Suarez’s NOM: Nunquam Omnis Moriar, an old man (Diego Higuera) on a bicycle sets a trap for another cyclist in search of the ultimate sports beverage. This is a rare angle you don’t see to often in horror and it was quite fun. From the beginning, the film challenged me at the start wondering where it was heading, and it delivers.

I saw Satanic Panic ‘87 as part of the Salem Horror Fest Mother’s Day shorts program back in May, and I can confirm upon my second viewing that it is nothing short of messed the f*cked up. If you’re a fan of 80s aerobic workout videos and practical effects horror, look no further than this short directed by Bryan M. Ferguson that sees two metalheads (Yuki Sutton, Arran Totten) sacrifice an old lady (Yoshie Camobell) in the name of Satan.

I really like what Rebekah McKendry’s Separation puts together. As a couple (Austin Highsmith, Justin Benson) separating begin divorce proceedings, their physical breakup gets far harder. This was a real quick one with some subtle enjoyment, the ending will have you cringing and maybe holding your loved one tighter.

In our final short, David Mahmoudieh’s Snake Dick, two young women (Poppy Drayton, Sierra Pond) break down at a gas station. When the girls don’t appreciate the comments of the local yokels (Micah Fitzgerald, Ross Francis), they bust out a gun and rebuke Deliverance style. As the altercation escalates, so does the weaponry. This is a neon-soaked surprise for the yokels and the audience. Post credit WTF’s ensue. Enjoy!

Salem Horror Fest’s Short features will be available during both weekends October 2 and October 9. An all-access pass will allow you to see all of the premieres, panels, retrospectives, and more beginning October 2.

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Sean Parker

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston and loves all types of horror movies.

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