short film

Wicked Wednesday: Monster (2005)

The Babadook has to be one of the best horror movies released this millennium. Let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a modern classic. Director and writer Jennifer Kent handles the themes of fear, trauma and grief all with an intelligence.

So when I first read about her short film Monster, I knew it was another one to watch.

Monster explores many of the same themes that Babadook does. In fact, it’s very much in the same spirit. A mother lives with her young son in their rather unclean home.

The son spends his day fighting off a rather creepy doll. The mother seems to know this doll and doesn’t like it. After she finds the doll ‘trapped’ under some of the boy’s things, she throws the doll into a cupboard.

The boy later tells his mother that he has been trying to kill the monster for her. He also claims that the doll has been threatening to kill him…again.

The mother later returns to the cupboard and sees a face in there in place of the doll. It frightens her, and she then offers to allow the boy to sleep in her bed that night.

While cozying up together, the figure from the cupboard appears to the mother and son. But before the monster can hurt the boy, the mother does what any mother does best: scolding.

The monster is eventually shamed and sent back to her cupboard. The boy and mother are allowed to have some peace together at last. But after the boy goes to sleep, his mother gets up and pours a glass of milk, which she leaves outside the cupboard for the monster.

Like Babadook, this short film carries many of the same messages. We see a parent trying to protect their child’s innocence. In Monster, it’s almost as though the mother welcomes the monster. She wants the monster to stay in her place, but it does mean her child stays by her side as his sole protector.

This little black-and-white piece is only 9 minutes long, and definitely manages to tell its story in that short amount of time. All while creating an eerie, effective ambiance.

Kent has a great eye. It’s excellent to see her growth is a filmmaker between the two stories, which are very comparable. Certainly a must-watch for anyone that loved the terrifying Babadook. But it’s also a great mini-introduction to Kent’s style and themes for those yet to dip in their toes.

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Wicked Wednesday: The Night Dracula Saved the World (1979)

I caved into Halloween mania early this year. I say ‘early’ but really, Halloween season always begins on August 1st. But around the Brits I have to pretend to be sensible when really my whole house is decked out.

It’s been a super manic week, so watching something like The Night That Dracula Saved the World was exactly what I needed.

The made-for TV short film originally aired on ABC as The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t. It’s a much-more apt name than the VHS title, but a name will sell anything these days, right?

The story is a strange mash-up of everything you’d find at a cheesy Halloween party and a lesson about the origins of the holiday. Dracula has called a conference at his castle in Transylvania with all the other monsters. Before they arrive, he and Igor watch the news together, in which a newscaster claims that Dracula wants to end Halloween.

Dracula is offended (“Halloween is my national holiday!”), but he allows the conference to go forward anyway. When all of the guests arrive, they learn that Dracula called them together to warn them that they are no longer scary to children.

The other guests seem pretty offended, but the Witch reveals she simply doesn’t give a crap. She announces to the group that she quits, and will be refusing to fly across the moon on Halloween night – the action that sets off Halloween (apparently). She tells the others that she’s tired of the ugly girl jokes, and she really just wanted to be the leader of the monsters.

Dracula refuses, and the witch flies off to her home. Dracula and the other monsters follow her the next night, and break in believing she doesn’t have any magic.

But she’s a witch, so of course the lady has magic. She sends the others running in circles before locking herself safely in her room. Dracula tries to reason with her, offering to agree to her conditions: her face will be on the monster posters, she’ll have shared leadership of the monsters, and to go disco dancing every night.

Dracula agrees, but the Witch immediately redacts her agreement to fly over the moon. But when a pair of local children arrive, they tug at her heartstrings, reminding her of the true meaning behind Halloween: candy and costumes.

The Witch agrees to the children’s pleas and flies over the moon to mark the start of Halloween. Afterwards, the monsters all have a disco. And why? Because this short is clearly insane.

The Night Dracula Saved the World is a really cute piece of nostalgia. The costumes are a bit hokey, as if they were bought from a costume shop, but it’s all really sweet, weirdly. It’s apparently a holiday staple for a lot of kids who watched it on the original ABC run and later on the Disney Channel during the 80s and early 90s. And I can see why, the random-ass disco in the end might be my favourite thing I’ve ever seen in a Halloween movie.

This is the perfect little 25-minute movie to put anyone in the Halloween spirit. Watch it, disco, and keep on thinkin’.

Wicked Wednesday: The Hypnotist (2001)

Siblings can be a real pain. My sisters and I like to bicker and judge each other, but at least they never tried to get me committed to an asylum. At least that I know of.

William, Charles and Beatrice Cooke are the children of a wealthy man. On the man’s death bed, he tells his children that they will inherit under one condition: that they live under the same roof to take care of their mother. If they move out, they will be disinherited.

Shortly after their father’s death, Charles begins plotting with a suspicious psychologist, Dr Schadenfreude. He asked for the doctor’s help to get both of his siblings declared insane so that they would be committed to an asylum, and thus would be disinherited by not living in the house.

Dr Schadenfreude goes after Beatrice first. She’s the most difficult target. Charles is convinced that his sister is a “whore” who is also a necrophiliac. It’s up to the doctor to make sure that’s true.

The doctor drugs Beatrice one night, then puts her under hypnosis. The command “open the door” makes her feel an overwhelming sense of dispare. She begins to hate herself and feel sickened. It’s only when he says the command “close the door” that she awakes from her trance to feel herself again.

The next day, Dr Schadenfreude goes after the religious William, who believes his mother is touched by God. The children often debate the state of their mother’s mind, but only William believes that she is completely well. Though one conversation with the doctor makes him uncomfortable (though I’m not really sure how).

Charles later tells his siblings that he wants them claimed mentally incompetent. Beatrice is, understandably, outraged, but William accepts his fate and leaves of his own free will.

Later that night, Beatrice sees her mother for help. The woman is in her bed, and seemingly too unwell to get up. But it’s then that Beatrice is struck that her mother is in fact not mentally insane.

The trial follows, and only Beatrice arrives with the doctor and Charles. William has wandered off alone (supposedly as a confirmation of his ‘condition’). The doctor and Charles try their best to defame the woman. They bring “facts” written only German. They bring “letters” from her gigolos and the men she went to orgies with.

Beatrice tries her best to defend herself, and ultimately announces that Charles murdered two. She tells the judge that all the court records were burned but one. One that she found in her mother’s room.

Dr Schadenfreude quickly tells Beatrice to “open the door” but as she admits she’s deranged, she collapses to the floor. When she awakes, though, she breaks free of the hypnosis. She quickly recalls what happened to her. She tells the judge, then informs her brother that the doctor also put her under hypnosis to steal their money. The doctor flees from the courtroom, rich from his con.

Now completely ruined, Charles begins his (further) descent into madness. He vows to kill Beatrice, but his mother, now out of bed, tries to stop him. Beatrice hears her mother’s cries, and finds Charles standing over their mother’s dead body.

In a rather ghostly ending, Charles runs away. He sees the apparition of his mother, and falls to his death. A rather well-deserved ending, I think.

I love nearly everything Biller touches, but it’s her writing that I love (okay, the visual style certainly doesn’t hurt). And since this wasn’t written by Biller, and you can certainly tell, it doesn’t work as much for me. The script was probably the biggest issue with this short. It’s good, but perhaps a bit confusing in places,  particularly what happens with William. Though I did love the hints of House on Haunted Hill and Douglas Sirk.

Like many of Biller’s films, the main message driven home here is that there are many men willing to weaponise a woman’s sexuality. They’ll use it against her and destroy her for it. It was nice to see that ultimately Beatrice came out on top.

But again, I’m a sucker for Biller’s style. It’s very dramatic and romantic here. And while The Hypnotist isn’t my favourite thing she’s directed, it’s certainly worth the watch.

Wicked Wednesday: 3 Versos (2016)

The internet is sometimes a wonderful, beautiful thing. It was by pure luck and chance that I stumbled upon this Spanish-language short film 3 Versos. This one, kids, is an absolute fucking gem.

Two sisters, Catalina and Gretta, seek the help of a seer, Margery, after being haunted by sounds and voices in their house. They go to the old woman’s home where she is wearing a mask. Gretta explains that Catalina was attacked by the spirit in their kitchen. Knowing that they were in danger, they sought Margery’s help.

Using a circular spirit board, the three woman, plus the rather-quiet Regina, begin to contact the angry spirit be reciting the three verses. But the seance seemingly goes wrong when Catalina breaks the circle, unleashing half a dozen spirits around them.

Suddenly, Margery is hit with by the spirit Perla, and falls to the table, her mask tumbling off. When the seer raises her head, the girls see that her face is disfigured and they flee.

Only after they leave, Margery reveals her true face – that of a con artist. She enjoys her takings and revels in her successful trick. But later, she receives another call from Gretta, thanking her for getting rid of the spirit. Margery, believing the girl is just silly and superstitious, tries to get more money out of the girl by “cleansing the house.” She demands that the three girls return. Only Gretta is confused. Regina? Who the hell is Regina?

And with that, 3 Versos offers up a deliciously twisty ending to what is certainly a very atmospheric 10 minutes. The costumes are fantastic, the acting is solid (Edvan Galván deserves all the stars for the vaudevillian Margery), and the subtle hints of trickery are also excellent. While many of the elements feel familiar (the board, the haunted sisters), this short-film does with with such style that it feels full enthralling to watch.

Director and writer Antonio Yee also performs as Vander Von Odd, winner of the reality show The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula. 3 Versos uses all the glamour, theatrics and art of drag to create a fantastically heightened mood and unique aesthetic. Luck has found me an artist I’m head-over-heels for, but I’ll be staying of my own free will.

Wicked Wednesday: The Grey Matter (2014)

It’s been a long, long time since I watched a zombie film. The zombie fad had been (still is?) violent and big. The genre certainly feels tired. But the 2014 short film The Grey Matter offers up a funny sort of parasitic worms and office romance what-ifs (like is The Office decided to go full on Shaun of the Dead).

Simon is known to be a bit of a loser at his office. But one night changes all of that. He wakes up in the street, covered in blood. And since he opted-out of medical coverage, he has no choice but to deal with the ‘gash’ in the back of his head by himself.

But the ‘gash’ (really a massive hole) proves to do wonders. He becomes more confident and all of his co-workers begin to take notice. One co-worker in particular, actually. Emily.

Despite the fact that Simon repeatedly introduced himself to Emily, she constantly forgets his existence. But the change in him catches the girl’s eye. She gives him her phone number, hoping he’ll call her.

That night, Simon begins to hear a voice talking to him. A voice in his head promising to help him with Emily. He reaches into the hole in his head and pulls out a sarcastic worm-looking parasite. Simon panics and blacks out. When he wakes up in the morning, his irritating co-worker Mitch is wandering around Simon’s apartment.

Mitch tells Simon that the two of them have had a wild night out together, a part of Simon’s new personality. Mitch also reminds him that Emily agreed to go on a date with Simon. On the news, a breaking news report claims that a man had been a victim of a “cannibalistic attack”. A sketch of the attacker looks rather like Simon, including the ridiculous hat he wears to cover his bandaged head.

Simon has a chat with the parasite before going out. The worm actually gives Simon some helpful tips for the date, and Simon eventually gets the confidence to go on the date with Emily.

When Emily and Simon return to his place that night, they begin to get cozy. Simon panics when he begins to get the urge to bite Emily. So he brings out the wine instead. But the wine causes him to relax a little too much.

Simon goes to work the following day with a pep in his step sans hat and bandage. His head seemingly healed. Emily arrives to talk to him, saying she didn’t remember anything that happened the other night. She’s wearing a bandage around her head, and explains that she must have hit her head.

As she walks away, it’s revealed that Simon is holding a chunk of bloody hair with one of Emily’s hair clips in it.

I was slightly confused by the world of the movie. It’s hard to build a story in under 20 minutes, but I still felt slightly lost. At the end of the viewing, I thought ‘Ah. It’s like It Follows where we pass the disease on like an STD!’ Only it’s not, right? Because if it was, surely it would have been passed on to Simon’s first victim (assuming he was the actual attacker on the news report).

Or maybe I really missed something.

Or maybe the worm is a skeeze-ball who just wanted to inhabit a head with great blonde hair?

The Grey Matter is certainly entertaining and is a great way to spend 20 minutes. It’s certainly not my favourite short, but it definitely didn’t feel like I was meant to be the intended audience anyway. Bonus points for the sarcastic worm.

Wicked Wednesday: The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope (1972)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of rewatching John Carpenter’s Christine, a movie I haven’t seen in some years. One of the most pleasant surprises I had while watching the movie was seeing the incredible Roberts Blossom on screen again. The man always has a way of getting under my skin, no matter his role.

So went I spotted The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope on his IMDB page, I knew I had to give it a watch.

This 35-minute short film was meant to be shown in school as a sort of supplement to the study of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s by no means meant to be a horror movie, but the odd camera angles and eerie hymns certainly make it feel that way.

The Witches of Salem is based primarily on the court records and testimonies from the trials. In the village of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, the Puritans rule. The United States of America won’t exist for nearly another 100 years. Meaning that the king still rules over the colonies.

The Puritans had their document of self-rule removed, potentially putting their religious freedom at risk. In the village, people begin to become afraid. They’re a hypocritical lot anyway: wanting freedom to live their lives the way they want while demanding that other people in the village adhere the same way.

One day, a gaggle of young girls speak to a slave, Tituba (Madge Sinclair), who tells them stories about the Devil in Barbados. The story shocks the girls, but makes one girl in particular distressed. The girl, Betty, becomes hysterical. She sits in bed for days afterwards without speaking.

Her father is, of course, the local minister and believes that his daughter and the other girls have become bewitched. They begin to behave strangely: laughing hysterically, choking during prayers, spinning (that last one being particularly terrifying).

Eventually, a couple ministers try to discover who has been tormenting the girls. They begin to shout names of the locals including Tituba, the local tavern woman Bridget, a minister and a poor woman.

A court is gathered to try the witches, and the ministers agree that the witches can only be convicted with “scientific tests” only. None of that water test nonsense!

And thus each of the accused are found guilty. It’s difficult to tell of the young girls are hysterical or a part of a big joke to get half their village killed. Either way, they behave like a group of mean girls that make the Heathers look like the Baby-Sitters Club. They’re quite eerie to watch (or at least I got a kick out of it).

Unfortunately, Blossom only makes an appearance right at the end as Governor Phips, the man who eventually disbanded the court involved with the trials. A voice over tells the viewers the aftermath of the trials, about how all the “witches” were released (that is, if they hadn’t already been killed) and a literal translation of the Bible could no longer be considered civil law.

As someone who never studied the Salem Witch Trials in school, I thought it was an interesting little short. The age of the short helps enhance the mood. It’s a bit silly, yes, but I certainly wouldn’t have complained if I was forced to watch this in a class.

Wicked Wednesday: Venefica (2016)

Nearly every post I write about short films begins the same way: what makes a good short film? For me, they have to strike that oh-so-difficult balance between being intriguing and satisfactory. All too rarely writers only nail one and not the other.

Venefica is one of most successful at managing to do both…in under 8 minutes.

A young witch in the mountains of New York spends her day chopping wood and keeping an eye on a boy tied up in the nearby cabin. The day is particularly important to her, as the Fates will decide whether her magic will be used for light or darkness. It’s her witch’s coming-of-age, and she must do it on her own (with insistence from mom).

It’s certainly a simple premise, but loaded with fantastic stuff. Writer, director and star Mara Wilson has got a good touch. Within just these short few minutes, she conveys magic and realism at the same time. Little touches like her argument with her mother on the phone are just perfect.

Venefica manages to be so beautiful, interesting and intriguing in less than 8 minutes. It’s some seriously good work. I might have liked a little more context and world-building, I was intruged by her references to Roman and Greek witches. But on the other hand, I’m glad the story is shrouded in its mystery.

I’ll be sure to keep an eye and ear our for Wilson’s future work. She’s got my full attention.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/177479424″>Venefica Trailer</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/mariawilson”>Maria Wilson</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>