It’s almost that time of year again, the day where the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest…and then we have to take down our Halloween decorations. The spooky season never ceases to fly by at warp speed, leaving us in a wake of fright to hopefully satiate our appetite for Halloween until next year. Though it is nearing the end, it ain’t over yet! Thankfully, we have the second of three blocks of curated short films from the Killer Valley Film Festival! Do these shorts live up to the spooktastic shorts from Block One?
Home Before Midnight, written and directed by Jacob Filler
Block Two of the Killer Valley Horror Film Festival starts off pretty strong with a heavily inspired ’80s slasher to really get the blood pumping. Brandon (Timothy Thatcher) arrives at Jessica’s (Bella Mencia) to pick her up for Jessica’s prom. Brandon is a typical jock-looking Chad, who seemingly has one thing on his mind, and it’s under his zipper. Jessica’s father Paul (Marc Cameron) only has two requests of Brandon: a picture of the two, and to have his daughter home before midnight. You can feel the sadness in Paul when Brandon whisks Jessica away in his drop-top car before a picture can be taken. There’s a really nice moment of visual storytelling here, when Brandon speeds off there is a long shot of Paul standing alone in the doorway, alone. It’s such a minor moment but cinematographer Simran Modhera does a good job visually depicting the emotion felt.
There is a great kill that feels incredibly reminiscent of Friday the 13th III, with an over-the-top 3D feel to it. Modhera really gets the feel of an ’80s slasher with their camera work, and it works well with Filler’s direction. The tropes in this are fun and set the tone perfectly for the visuals we are served.
Night Terror, written and directed by Jeff Verge
Night Terror is a complete 180 from Home Before Midnight, taking us from an ’80s slasher to a deeply psychological and claustrophobic short. A man (Andrew Creme) has trouble sleeping, due to the titular night terrors he faces. He goes downstairs for a drink and comes face-to-face with a demon-looking creature, but is it real or not? The man tries waking up his significant other (Amanda Chiappari) but she won’t budge, which takes him even more over the edge.
The score in this short is really great, with cues similar to Insidious, and a visual feel that rivals The Further (not saying this is a knockoff or anything of Insidious). The blue hue that cascades over each shot adds an element of distinctness to its visuals, and creates a nightmarish feeling throughout. Even though this is a shorter short, it succeeds in creating an atmosphere and sticking to it throughout the final moments.
Occupier, written and directed by Vinnie Pagano
Shorter than its predecessor, Occupier doesn’t quite know what it wants to be and could have benefitted from either two more minutes or a tighter script. It’s not bad, but it can’t figure out if it wants to be funny or ominous by not fully committing to either. I think that could be due to its writer/director Vinnie Pagano also starring in it as The Guy. It felt like instead of focusing on acting or directing he just took a whack at both, leaving the performance and direction a bit flat.
With all that being said, the script is a thoroughly interesting one. It takes the trope of being in a confined space what would happen if you hear a supernatural noise. Pagano’s greatest moment as an actor is the final moment when he is on the phone after hearing the noise in the attic; a noise that starts out farcically fake, and devolves into a spooky snarl. I can’t help but feel this would have been a tighter and more enjoyable short if Pagano focused on his directing, rather than trying to be a jack of all trades.
Relentless, written and directed by Jack Ure
If Upgrade was a segment in the V/H/S franchise, it would probably be Relentless. It has a very Grindhouse feel to it, and plays off that with its grittiness. The pseudo-one-take aspect is also pretty fun, adding a layer of unsafety to the whole short. The choreography for the fight is also pretty well done, and you can really tell how much time and effort everyone involved put forth to have a fairly seamless final product.
That being said there are a few issues with Relentless. The main issue that arises is the reliance since it [looks like it] was shot on one solid sheet, with no depth to the shot at all. The chroma key is very off, and the background just feels synthetic. It’s pretty distracting and takes away from the badass action that takes place; it could have benefitted from throwing a bit more film grain on the image, and maybe a bit more keyframing in a few specific areas.
You Will Never Be Back, written and directed by Monica Mateo
Spain’s Monica Mateo brings us an excellently ambiguous psychological trip in You Will Never Be Back. Ana (Ximena Vera) and her boyfriend David (Chumo Mata) are preparing to move apartments. Ana goes out to run some errands, but unfortunately for her, her life will irreparably change. After encountering an electric black hole in the hallway, she is told by a doppelganger version of herself that, “You will never be back.” What ensues from here is a deeply unsettling series of events that would turn the sanest person, in[sane].
Out of all of the shorts from the second block You Will Never Be Back takes the most chances and is cinematography wise the most appealing. There is a split diopter shot, a shot that is totally underutilized in cinema, and the shot where Ana runs into herself is just handled so incredibly well. I would also be remiss if I didn’t bring up the beautifully handled vertigo shot that makes the hallway look endless and horrifying. This feels like a twisted new take on a Twilight Zone story.
The Killdren Are Coming, written and directed by Dana Berry
The Killdren Are Coming is a quick and fun idea, that could easily be turned into a long short, or even a feature. It starts with The Old Caretaker (Tim Flanagan) giving a monologue about the Killdren, which is such an original and creative name. This could ride a franchise on name alone. The Old Caretaker is wrapped in barbed wire with a pitchfork pendulum hanging from the ceiling above him. Flanagan’s monologue is perfectly delivered here. The only thing that I think could have made this better is if it was a one-shot. His acting is completely realized and is just completely on point, the one thing that took away from it was the constant cuts away. If this whole short was one take it would have been even better than it was. “Born of sin, damned to live as children stuck in time.” – Old Caretaker
The Little Girl (Audrina Miranda) does a good job with her monologue, though it does feel a little off. With the exception to the monologue, Miranda does excel in making The Little Girl absolutely creepy and bone chilling. I would not want to be on the opposite end of that saw she’s carrying. She says all that she needs to say with, “the toys we like are flesh and blood.”
Born to be Damned Chapter III, written and directed by Alan Baccus
Born to be Damned is a perfect example of how to make a short and make it damn well. There are no frills, no explanation, no time for you to ask questions. It slaps you across the face with the horror and says take it or leave it. This short was really enjoyable and has a great scare factor. It looks good, sounds professional, and has very competent direction. Born to be Damned is an all-around winner.
Keep Closed at All Times
This is less of a short, and more of a fake trailer. It’s decent and really pulls off the vibe of a ’50s horror trailer a la The Tingler and other William Castle movies. The highlight of this one is that it stars Linnea Quigley (The Return of the Living Dead, Graduation Day, Silent Night, Deadly Night). Besides Linnea Quigley, this short was fairly forgettable.
Lisa was written by Elise Forier Edie and directed by Jacob Pinger
Live your best life! That’s a way better slogan than YOLO. Lisa is a dark short film about the struggles of growing up, family drama, and depression. Mandy (Ava Acres) is forced to move to a whole new state after her mom has an affair. Her father thinks it would be best for the family to get a new start. Mandy is a scourge on her mother, as she was the one who spilled the beans on the affair. It’s obvious to see how all of this can contribute to a negative headspace. One interesting aspect is that Mandy is a vlogger, which I think makes her a very relatable character for younger people.
Edie’s script is a coming-of-age drama, mixed with a helpful dash of hormones, and a sprinkling of mental health issues; Pinger does an excellent job with Edie’s script. He carefully edges the question of whether or not Lisa (Isabella Acres) is real or a figment of Mandy’s imagination. No matter how you watch this short, you can make justifications for either argument. Pinger takes moments that, by a worse director, would be handled gratuitously, and turns them into commentary rather than critique.
Creature, directed by Larissa James and written by Larissa James and Nicholas Nardini
Sound the alarms, we have another good for her story on our hands! Jokes aside, this is one of the most badass shorts from the first two blocks. Alice (Lily Gibson) listens to some indie rock as she drives towards a Halloween party, where she is to meet a friend. She is going to the party sans costume when a group of droogs come out of the woodwork and have some insidious intentions.
Alice is an absolute boss in this and is wonderfully portrayed by Lily Gibson. The SFX and any digital all look fantastic! There’s not much I can say without really giving away the meat and potatoes, so I think reiterating it’s badassdom is the best praise I can give it.
Your Turn, written by Dan Bowhers and Dan Titmuss and directed by Dan Bowhers
A couple, Dan Bowhers and Natalie Sullivan, play rock-paper-scissors to see who has to take the trash out. The man loses and is forced to take out the trash. This black and white short film doesn’t look good, but if it was a specific artistic choice the direction wasn’t strong enough to make it feel like a choice. The supernatural creature they, respectively, run into looks lazy. I can find the comedy behind it, but again if they were going into this with a distinct artistic choice, it does not work.
The acting is fine, but they have nothing to do. The idea behind the script is solid and could be an interesting concept. Unfortunately, this is an overly grainy, boring, time-filler. Maybe if it was thrown into the block at number one or two it would have worked. Being this far into the block just made it feel flat and unappealing.
Script, written and directed by Piero Cannata
Creature may be the most badass, Born to be Damned may be one of the spookiest, but Script succeeds at being the most wildly entertaining. Maybe it’s because I’m a screenwriter, or maybe it’s just because it’s that fun. Script is about two writers who are trying to write their next, well, script. What ensues is a copious amount of Script-ception, with false scares and unfaithful narration. When it’s finally time to know what is actually real, you will know.
Script has such a tight script and excellent direction from Piero Cannata, and there are points where it seems like Daniele Marotta and Monica Zanforlin’s characters aren’t even sure what is happening. Cannata really had full control over the aspects of the project and really nails it.
The Tell-Tale Heart, written by John Lindquist and McLain Lindquist (and Edgar Allen Poe) directed by McLain Lindquist
I feel it’s safe to say we all know Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart story. Right? Well, McLain’s adaptation is billed as being, “re-imagined in this mind-bending, pulse-pounding, bloody-disgusting short film. . .” (IMDb). To an extent that is definitely a good way to sell it.
To start I think Sonny Grimsley, who plays The Narrator, does an excellent job as this is mainly one long monologue for him while having minor interruptions. I’m not sure if he’s British, but this somewhat feels like it is his audition tape to do Shakespeare at The Globe. It’s perfectly flamboyant, without his characteristics being unrealistically over the top; given the atrocities committed.
There are tons of interesting visuals in Tell-Tale Heart, and they are accompanied by a wild score. I don’t think I’ve ever heard metal music in a Poe adaptation. Chris Hanson deserves a shoutout for his SFX work. His prosthetics on The Old Man (James C. Morris) look pretty solid, especially after seeing what James C. Morris actually looks like. Cinematographer Joseph Olivas does such a fantastic job with his shots and really finds the juxtaposition between rooms during the interrogation.
McLain Lindquist does something a lot of adaptations fail at, which is making an adaptation stay faithful to its source material while also finding a way to put his flair on it and make it feel unique. For someone who only has two directorial credits on IMDb, Lindquist has proven himself to be a genre filmmaker with a voice and a style.
Block Three of the Killer Valley Film Festival goes live on October 29th! It’s not too late to get one more good scare before the spooky season comes to an end.