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Killer Valley Horror Film Festival 2021: Block One Is a Strong Start to the Festival

One of the best things about short films is that they force creators to take ideas, be they large or small, and make them palatable and digestible. Sans fat and padding, these filmmakers of shorts have an obligation to get right to the point. Thankfully, the wonderful people over at the Killer Valley Film Festival have curated some of the best, weirdest, and wildest shorts from all around the world. Created in 2007, the Killer Valley Film Festival is now entering its 14th year of celebrating genre shorts and proving that the pandemic really got some creative juices flowing! Each short was special and intriguing in its own way, so join me as we take a look at some of the best of the first block that ran from October 15th to October 17th.

Timber, written and directed by Jared Tipton

Man walks out into the woods, getting ready to do some deforesting...unfortunately nature has other plans

If there was any short that seemed singularly inspired by ’80s horror, and specifically Sam Raimi, it is Timber. The idea of it is something that isn’t done too often—what happens when nature fights back? Our lead and only actor is grossly played by Jason Lorimer, who is on his way to the woods to cut down a bunch of trees. Unfortunately for him, nature decides it is time to fight back. Timber is gritty, short, and to the point, boasting a very stylized straight-to-VHS look and opening title. There’s not a hell of a lot to it, but it’s one of the funniest shorts I’ve seen in the festival so far.

Zombies Like to Watch, written and directed by Rollyn Stafford

Ex-boyfriend and zombie, Ben, likes to sit in his cage and watch as his ex makes moves on other men

Who knew zombies were cu*ks? This short is probably the funniest of the festival, again, so far. Based on the title and my opening line, you can probably figure out what this one’s about. The standout part of this short is the wonderful SFX design of the zombie, which just looks absolutely great. Lucy (Jenny Jen) seems fairly nonchalant with the fact that not only is her ex-boyfriend a zombie, but that zombies are, like, a thing now. This leads me to believe they live in a True Blood-esque world but instead of vampires, it’s zombies; honestly, I would love to see a full feature with that basis. There is a great laugh-out-loud moment in this that, I think, could make the surliest person chuckle.

Koreatown Ghost Story, written and directed by Minsun Park and Teddy Tenenbaum

Mrs. Moon (Margaret Cho) and Hannah (Lyrica Okano) meet for the first time in years, as Mrs. Moon plans insidious things

Out of every short, this one completely caught me off guard, where immediately I thought…is that Margaret Cho?! And it was! I was unbelievably surprised to see her pop up in this short. Hannah (Lyrica Okano) gets invited to an old family friend’s house to visit Mrs. Moon (Margaret Cho), who practices, among many things, acupuncture. After Hannah reluctantly agrees to get on the acupuncture table, Mrs. Moon reveals her insidious plans, thrusting Hannah into an unsavory situation. Lyrica Okano and Margaret Cho absolutely nail their performances, each selling their own roles wonderfully, and they really play off of each other very well.

Even though I don’t think this was the main intention, the acupuncture scene made me physically nauseous. Like Hannah, I’m not a huge fan of needles. The ghostly visuals in this stand out and really help sell the creepy atmosphere. Out of Block One, I think this may be the second-best directed short, with everyone involved really understanding and appreciating the material they are working with, and it really shows. Also, I won’t say when and where, but there is a skin degloving at one point, and it looks GNARLY.

Smiles, written and directed by Javier Chavanel

Borja sits at the head of the table, as his girlfriend's parents and brother stare deep into his soul...hoping that he has the right smile

Smiles just really knocks it out of the park in all facets of horror filmmaking and is singlehandedly the best short from Block One.

Borja is about to meet his girlfriend’s parents. This is meant to be a tricky moment and even awkward. However, he hasn’t even imagined what he’s going to suffer next. The best way to overcome the situation: to give smile and wait. (IMDb)

To start, the soundtrack and score to this one are absolutely wonderful and really mesh with the visuals. Most notable is when the orchestral swooning fades into New Politics’ “Dignity,” which is a song and band I forgot I loved as much as I did in high school. Due to the soundtrack, this is the only short I had to go back and watch again, just so I could appreciate the visual lead-up to the perfect juxtaposition of “Dignity.”

The practical effects in Smiles, mixed with the fantastic masks Borja’s girlfriend’s parents wear, are just top-notch. Director Javier Chavanel handles his material with grace and precision and creates the perfect eerie atmosphere with very few words needing to be spoken throughout. I would kill to see what Chavanel can do with a feature and full creative control.

Transfigure, written and directed by Dylan Clark

The Girl (Hannah Clark) freaks out as her photoshop changes start having real like consequences

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Photoshop used as the antagonist in a horror film. Transfigure is undoubtedly the most original film from Block One. The idea of taking something that many of us frequently use and turning it into the antagonist is brilliant, while simultaneously commentating on beauty standards and the extremes a lot of people would go to just to try and fit in with what they think other people want to see.

Clark’s direction of The Girl (Hannah Clark) is handled well, and she definitely gives it her all for this short. I’m not too sure about how they did the effects of the transfiguring, but it looks fantastic and was completely believable throughout. The final twist threw me for a loop, and makes us question what the actual antagonist is…the computer? Photoshop? Beauty standards? Transfigure is a very well-made short that I think could affect a lot of people in very different ways.

Dragonfly, written and directed by Lola Daehler

Bean (Lola Daehler) is happy after finding some twizzlers, and a creep to kill

The coke-like manic energy Dragonfly gives off makes this my absolute favorite short of Block One. If I had to make a list of the best-directed shorts, this would probably be third on the list, but it would stay at my favorite.

Dragonflies are the deadliest hunters in the animal kingdom…well, second to a pair of girls that feed on creep blood. (IMDb)

Friends Jan (Parker Love Bowling) and Bean (Lola Daehler) chill on the side of the road, followed by a cemetery, throwing a football around while waiting for creepers to come by getting their just desserts. I could understand if some people weren’t fans of this short, but that manic energy that the pair has is just fantastic. They really give off Manson girl vibes, which would make sense as Parker Love Bowling plays Manson girl Tadpole in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. There isn’t a lot to say about this one besides Bowling and Daehler really take Daehler’s fragmented script and embody these characters to a whole other level. I don’t know if anyone could have handled this script as well, directing-wise, as Daehler does, so I’m thankful that she was the one who directed it. If this short came out on DVD/BluRay I would definitely purchase it.

The Witch’s Bargain, written and directed by Corey Trahan

Scarah (Sarah Webb) walks through the dark woods, looking for the book her mom buried, with the hopes of finding immortality.

In this featurette by HorrorWeb Productions, your hostess Scarah, Damsel of the Dooms, seeks the ultimate spell for eternal life—at all costs. (IMDb)

The Witch’s Bargain is the selected featurette of Block One, and it is definitely an interesting one. Out of every short for Block One, this one definitely feels like it had the biggest budget, and itlooks really good. The production design is on point from the room Scarah (Sarah Webb) conjures Barbas (Chance Jones) in to the interiors of the castle she skulks through.

The acting feels very stilted and as if they had just learned their lines a few days prior, or they didn’t have rehearsal time although this could have been a specific style they were going for. If they were, the direction wasn’t strong enough to make it feel like a style choice. Sarah Webb spends the majority of her time on screen repeating the word “mother” and acting with her hands rather than with her voice and emotion, which wasn’t the most interesting to watch after about five minutes.

The twist in this was fun though, and I was not expecting it! Her goal to find immortality starts to go awry, and the payoff for what happens is fun and fourth-wall-breaking. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this short, it just didn’t really do it for me, but I can completely understand how a lot of genre fans, and Sarah Webb fans, would be head over heels for this short.

Killer Valley Shorts Block Two

Block Two will premier from October 22nd to the 24th, and tickets can be purchased on their website! Needless to say, Block One was incredibly fun and helped carry my spooky mood through the day, leaving me entertained and thrilled. I am very much looking forward to seeing what Blocks Two and Three have in store for us!

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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