Shorts have arguably suffered the most in the wake of the mass cinema closures over the last year. Almost always relegated to the dim light of a laptop screen anyway, without our live, in-person, in-cinema film festivals, shorts haven’t been seen big and loud in much too long, and when they have been, have only done so in punishingly small numbers.
But with FrightFest’s return, there’s hope, as the fest and its programmers show no sign of taking a step back with its Short Film Showcases, packing three feature-length slots full of the good stuff. The best of which we’ve cobbled together and outlined below:
David J. Ellison’s Familiar is, as it’s title might suggest, nothing sensationally new. But while it ticks a lot of the classic gothic horror boxes, it’s Ellison’s terrific appetite for atmosphere that makes it a must, building and building and building on top of some gnarly sound-design, to one sensational reveal.
On the very opposite end of the spectrum is writer-director Susannah Farrugia’s sumptuously shot Itch, a black and white study of lustful nuns, with a wicked edge and a beautiful command of the horror language. A huge amount of personality, crammed into such a tiny runtime.
Brendan Cleaves’ The Dead Collectors plays a lot like a particularly killer TV pilot, set in a world beyond a certain pandemic, where coroners are a little more – shall we say – active in disposing of bodies. The leads are spot on, and Cleaves weaves razor sharp morbid comedy with some impressive world building, somehow packing it all into an incredibly tight 12 minutes.
Stuck is about as jet black as American comedy gets, and is all the better for it. David Mikalson’s sense of humour isn’t a million miles from a certain Greasy Strangler, but the pure simplicity of his nasty-edged revenge-com – about a gymnastics instructor exacting a very special kind of justice on a trespassing pervert – makes it all the more accessible. A truly wicked treat.
Animation doesn’t always get a look in when it comes to horror, but Conall Pendergast’s Self Actualisation of the Werewolf Woman is one for the ages. A gorgeously unusual 2D animation that digs a little deeper into the Lycan headspace, it’s as stylish as it is effective at pulling all the right genre strings.
Shot on the haunting moors of rural County Durham, Tom Oxenham’s sharply funny The Nicky Nack features not only a spot-on use of Glen Campbell’s Turn Around, Look At Me, but also a killer turn from the legendary Alun Armstrong, as a pub regular who finds himself stalked home by an unearthly being. Oxenham pitches it perfectly on the wobbly tightrope of absurdist humour and troubling horror, delivering something uniquely unsettling, with bags of personality.
Elias Williams’ British gem Voodoo in My Heart opens up the flesh-eater myth cleverly, begging the question, who do you call if you’ve been bitten by a zombie? And what starts as a particularly original zom-com all taking place on a bedroom floor, gradually shifts into something much more academic, tackling an informative and thrilling deep dive into the Haitian origins of the beloved horror staple itself.
From Finland comes Antti Tuominen’s sensationally smart, bare-bones black comedy Hysteria. A quick car ride for the terrific Sari Siikander very suddenly turns into a five minute apocalypse, in an ultra-sharp swipe at COVID disaster politics and the newly balanced scales of our humanity.
Dour Dutch ghost drama The Departure from Nico van den Brink is arguably the most beautifully made of the bunch, taking great care in its highly sensitive decline of a woman in mourning.
And last but far from least is Rob Hayes’s buzzy curtain crasher of a comedy Hiya Janice – a brilliantly dark humoured, brilliantly British update on the classic zombie outbreak, with plenty of straight-up gags and a killer final punchline you almost want Hayes to take further.