The time has come. Mariah Carey will take over the airwaves replacing our Monster Mashes and Spooky Scary Skeletons and the orange and purple dorm lights come down only to be replaced by twinkling snowflake lights. Halloween is over. But isn’t Halloween just a state of mind? Well, that’s at least what I like to go with. Hopefully, you had a safe and happy spooky season, I know I sure did. One of the highlights of my October was getting the opportunity to view all of the shorts from the Killer Valley Film Festival, which delighted, amused, and horrified me. The final block of shorts, block three, had some real heavy hitters. So let’s take a look.
The Nick (Written and directed by Robert Smellin)
The Nick is a sharp start to the third block of Killer Valley Film Festival shorts. What starts inanely enough as The Character (Tamara Hill-Beary) chops up some veggies for dinner, we’ve all been there, but then, it turns into a bloody brutal bisque. This short is a fast, no-frills piece that has a very memorable moment; it’s clear what makes it a great choice for a festival flick. Lizzie Sharp does a great job with the SFX work and creates some really grotesque moments. All in all, The Nick is fun enough to set a good tone for the third block of shorts.
Stalag III-C (Written and directed by Jason Rogan)
What’s worse than Nazis? Well, nothing. But Stalag III-C posits that zombies are more horrifying than those Anti-Semitic a**holes. It probably goes to show that I disagree with that, but it’s not my film. Stalag is an incredible-looking, fantastically shot short film, with some really standout moments.
A group of U.S. Prisoners of War escape a Nazi camp and are faced with even more horrors soon after. One of the more interesting concepts was having the zombies run on their hands and feet, which I am not sure I have seen zombies do. It really added a new level of horror to their presence. This short is very cohesively filmed and put together, with some great editing from Michael J. Rix. Combined with Rogan’s direction, the cinematographer Vladan Pavic paints a beautifully eerie scene. My favorite shot is a minor one, it’s a simple long shot that shows the group of POWs walking across a field in pitch black. It’s simple, but ultimately very effective.
Familiar (Written and directed by David J. Ellison)
The year? 1942. The Place? Blackwell, Pennsylvania (hey, that’s like 30 minutes from my hometown!). Richard Mason (Hugo Nicolau) is a familiar to a crazy ass looking vampire creature and is tasked with bringing offerings for it to feast on. Whereas a typical story like this would focus on the kidnapping of the offerings and the brutality of the creature, Familiar takes a much more psychological route by delving into the psyche of the man who must do the creature’s biddings. That’s the one thing that stories like this don’t deal enough with.
Nicolau does an excellent job selling Richard Mason, and David J. Ellison does a stellar job directing him. There is a refined subtly to his performance, with him knowing when to subdue an emotion, and when to take it over the top. Demetris Robinson’s creature design is an excellent show-stopper. I appreciate the minimal amount we get of the creature, adding to its terror, but I definitely would not have complained if the creepy creature got way more screentime; it’s absolutely gnarly.
Lake Forest Road (Written by Richard Tango, directed by Ashton Avila)
A group of highly annoying teenagers/early 20s friends travel home from a party, only to have their evening flatline after Kyle (J.J. Hawkins) can’t stop messing around with their car’s headlights. The most appealing aspect of this short is the creature design which is honestly nightmare fuel. The creature alone brings this short from the ashes but ultimately cannot make up for these boringly banal characters.
Midnight (Written and directed by Tanem and Rani Davidson)
At this point block, three of the Killer Valley Film Fest are shaping up to be the Creature Feature block! One of the best things about Creature Features is while most of them end roughly the same way, it is such a blast to see all of these different grotesque creature creations. I think it is underappreciated how much work goes into creating creatures, especially for short films.
The Davidson’s do a pretty solid job with Midnight, blending the aspects of creature world-building before the big payoff. There is an incredibly eerie moment that has to do with a zipper on a duffle bag, which creates a pretty intense and slightly comedic effect. There is also a slight psychological horror element to this short that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is a nice cherry on top of the whole sundae.
Pizzaman (Written and directed by Rosalie Kicks and Katie McBrown)
Uh, yeah, can I get a large pizza with cheese, pepperoni, and…murder. Pizzaman is super fun and a quirky delight. Kicks and McBrown have created an irreverently strange short that easily rivals the brilliance of an Ari Aster short. It’s colorful, funny, weird, and melancholic.
An elderly couple, Helen (Julie Chapin) and Teddy (Randall Gort), are still grief-stricken over the death of their son at the hands of a Pizza Heaven delivery driver. Years later the unthinkable happens…there is a new Pizza Heaven franchise coming to town. After hearing this the couple digs up a plan from the past that will put a new delivery driver in harm’s way.
Human pizza, werewolves, and car crashes…oh my. Pizzaman is an absolute delight and was such a blast to experience. Kicks and McBrown’s script and direction are on point and they have created an all-around excellent piece of horror-comedy, blending both genres expertly into one another.
Knock-Knock (Written and directed by Nate Irvin)
FINALLY. A clown that is better than [f]Art the Clown. Irvin creates a highly atmospheric psychological romp that, unlike Terrifier, makes the clown actually scary. Our creepy clown character is complete with a gold kazoo, which immediately gives it more of a background story than Art the Clown. Not sure why this has become an Art bash, but someone had to say it. Knock-Knock is a giallo-looking head spinner that left me grinning ear-to-ear.
Nebula (Written by Borja Ros and Sandra Martinez, directed by Borja Ros)
Horror that surrounds photos, be it digital or polaroid, is not a new concept. In fact, it is a slightly tired concept at this point. Fortunately for Ros and Martinez, they absolutely nailed it. Nebula is a prime example of overused tropes handled well; it is a mini masterclass on psychological horror for filmmakers.
A woman is unpacking books onto her shelf when a polaroid picture of a man holding a snow globe falls out. She quickly discards it, not thinking anything of it. Little does she know it is soon to take over her life. One of the most astounding aspects is there is no spoken character dialogue, which adds so many levels of claustrophobia and loneliness to Nebula. Our main character is thrust into a wildly unfortunate situation and Ros’ direction horrifyingly forces us to go along for the ride.
Rules of the Dead (Written and directed by Isaac Rodriguez)
Rules of the Dead is an interesting concept that Stafford tackles, and it is decently pulled off. One of the turn-offs is some badly inserted CGI bloodstains and some unfortunate-looking space effects. Overall, though, the interesting concept outweighs the few negative aspects of the film, leaving us with a predominately enjoyable piece of horror.
Zombie Walk (Written and directed by Rollyn Stafford)
Rollyn Stafford’s Zombie Walk is an excellent piece of political commentary, which could not have come at a better time, teetering on absurdism. Man (Rollyn Stafford) takes his zombie (Zach Smith) for a walk (again absurdism) and tells his zombie to put his gas mask on or face the glares of onlookers. The zombie refuses the mask and gets stared at by onlookers, just like Man said. Through the thick haze covering Portland, Oregon, they walk.
With the recent turmoil the U.S. has gone through, and the current ongoing trial of the right-wing extremist murderer Kyle Rittenhouse, a wannabe Charles Bronson, Zombie Walk really hits extra hard. The setting is perfect, the script is perfect, and Stafford’s direction (and acting) is perfect.
The Dentist (Written and directed by Christian Nava)
No. Just no. I never want to inherently disregard a short or feature-length film, because at the end of the day someone had an idea, and went through the trouble of executing it. But there is no redeeming quality in The Dentist. If it was purposely made to be like that, Nava’s direction was not strong enough to make it feel like a choice. The idea behind it is fine, but the execution is completely lacking in any positive quality.
What It Feels Like To Be A Girl (Written and directed by Megan Duffy)
I’m not too sure what it feels like to be a girl, but I am pretty sure girls don’t do…that. Still, though, this was an enjoyable cringefest that made me squirm. Duffy’s short is direct, to the point, and elicits a reaction, which makes it a solid piece of horror.
When the House Goes Black (Written and directed by Stas Ivanov)
Bravo. Absolutely bravo.
Whether or not this was filmed in one shot, it absolutely looks like it was. Two actors, Penelope (Ilana Labourene) and Bernard (Thomas Beaumont), are auditioning for a play that is hailed as the “most unbelievable play you’ll ever do.” Well, that’s not an unfair description. They are quickly thrown into a life or death situation that takes method acting to a whole new level.
Labourene and Beaumont’s acting is absolutely wonderful, with Labourene starting good and reserved, and Beaumont consistently staying over the top. Ivanov’s direction of them and the whole short is spot on. The fact that they are auditioning for a play and the short is done in (what appears to be) one-shot is very apt and lends a level of authenticity and fear to it.
There are human puppets, a maniacal director, and a wild stage manager; so it’s basically like community theatre. Ha. When the House Goes Black is insanely meta, well made, and a tour de force that is bound to please all facets of genre fans.
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