Day three of the Atlanta Horror Festival provided the deepest block of short films with four separate categories (“Last Woman Standing,” “Die Laughing,” “Go To Hell” and Biohazard”). As a result, there was lots of fun gore to unpack over the 7 plus hours of mayhem.
LAST WOMAN STANDING
To date, the ratio hasn’t been good regarding survivors in these short films. That didn’t exactly change in this category, but we did get an abundance of badass women who wouldn’t go down easily.
“Cabin 11” (Brad Rego) featured a woman determined to break an ancient curse. When she gets trapped in a cabin surrounded by eye-glowing monsters, she relies only on her wits and an ax to get out alive. The director was in attendance and disclosed an even cooler concept had his budget been bigger — the main character would have been fighting with one arm.
Women have unique challenges in this patriarchal world, so it’s only right there were films to smartly built on this reality. “Life Saver” (Pierre Amstutz Roch) played with the idea of two women’s disgust at a man’s unwanted sexual advances, but failing to see his warnings about a much more dangerous threat — interloper in the back of their truck.
“Others Like Me,” from Italy’s Eugenio Villani, tackles the mental anguish of not being able to have children. We discover the main character can conceive, but it’s her vengeful, barren doctor who seeks to sterlize her.
“Red-Handed” (Tony Tilse) deals with the all-too familiar and frustrating reality of stalking. Women are repeatedly told there’s little the police can do until the perpetrator actually harms them. Our protagonist therefore makes the horrific decision to slit her own throat to ensare her attacker “red-handed.”
The comedy was provided by “Blood Sisters” (Caitlin Koller & Lachlan Smith), which focuses how a girls night can go awry…when you mix in amateur witchcraft. Now trapped by a spell that keeps the house locked and their seance knife wounds continously bleeding, the girls must work together to reverse the spell and escape. The two actresses had great chemistry in creating the bickering and banter unique to life-long friends.
The most disturbing from psychological standpoint was Chris Anthony Hamilton’s “Something Bigger.” The setting is simple enough: two women talking at home in the middle of the day. But there is an unspeakable terror and dread building between them. One speaks vaguely about the hopelessness of her life and how she feels the worst is yet to come, while the other woman looks on in abject fear. What is coming is never fully explained, but the figure shrouded in black that enters the room let’s us know it’s nothing good.
Even if you’re not big on horror comedy, you couldn’t help but laugh at some of these films. My favorite from this block was “Lunch Ladies” (J.M. Logan), which tells the tale of two Johnny Deep-obsessed cafeteria ladies trying to keep their jobs and save up enough money to meet their beloved idol. Turns out, the secret recipe the ladies needed was human flesh (provided by the school’s stuck-up cheerleader). The ladies (Donna Pieroni, Mary Manofsky) were hilarious and played off each other perfectly.
“Pizza Face” provides some social commentary on our vanity obsession via apps like Instagram and Snapchat. It wasn’t lost on me that the terror began once our stuck up protagonist “synced” the app with all her devices. She was turned into a pizza, forced to live in seculsion, and eventually devoured herself. #DontSyncToYourProfile
Matt Barrett’s “Croak” follows a frog-torturing slacker who gets his comeuppance when the animals mutate to human-size beasts. The frog costumes were very impressive considering they were made from mattress foam. The way it moved and attacked reminded me somewhat of Rae Dawn Chong’s gargoyle from Tales From the Darkside. Loved the 80s-style soundtrack, too.
What happens when you mix Metaloaclypse and Phantasm? You get Chris McInroy’s “Death Metal.” The story revolves around a supbar musician who receives a guitar infused with the power of Satan. What ensues is a killer (and hilarious) guitar solo.
GO TO HELL
This block was from top to bottom the strongest collection. “Secretions” (Goran Spoljaric) put a twist on human trafficking by having the captor be a mutant sprays deadly toxins from her body. This would be the main tool for her escape. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t possess a mutant healing factor and had to make her getaway sans a foot.
“Studded Nightmare” (Jean-Claude Leblanc) was another standout that featured the story of a possessed chair (a man committed suicide in it). Anyone who sits there is suddenly overcome with the urge to kill themselves. The death images were striking and build to a finale which sees one of the main characters suspended mid-air while slicing her flesh with scissors.
For the most part, the motivation of movie monsters is to kill and devour victims. What happens when the monster simply wants breast milk? Yes, you heard right. In “Latched” (Justin Harding, Rob Brunner), a dead monster is mistakenly revived by a woman’s breast milk. Now the mother must save her young son from a monster that wants to replace him. There’s some genuinely creepy moments due to the monster’s appearance, but the absurdity of a creature feining for breast milk makes it an overall fun theme.
“The Last of Her” will be the one that stays with you for some time. Inspired by experiences with his own grandmother, creator Brian Golding’s story is about a woman who suddenly loses track of her child. From there, we’re taken on a journey that speaks to the tragedy of mental illness as seen from the victim’s lenses. Well-made with a harrowing ending scene.
Consider this block the ones for films that are ready to be adapted for the big screen. The 33-minute “Bloodyback” (Lars Damoiseaux) tells the story of an English and French soldier who must put aside their differences on the battlefield once a zombie plague breaks out. The makeup was great and the danger heightend since these are the “running” undead. With big studio backing this good be a real gem.
Ever wonder if a mime can outwit flesh-eating zombies? That’s the premise of “Still” (Carl Timms), where a gold-painted mime is trying to “wait out” a zombie hord while fighting off nature calling and cramping.
My final two picks are “Tethered” (Daniel Robinette) and “Eat Your Heart Out” (Adam Gambrel). “Tethered” follows a blind boy abandoned in the woods except for a final recording from his mother. It instructs him on how to survive and emphasizes to not venture beyond the length of rope he has tied around his waist. Of course, strange sounds gets the best of his curiosity and he goes beyond the rope to disasterous results.
“Eat Your Heart Out” initially comes off as an comedy, but you begin to feel a deeper meaning as the caretaker (Kayla Gibson) talks more about her guilt over letting her lover turn. You start to realize this preverted “normalcy” she’s set up is nothing more than a smoke screen to prevent letting the past go. And in the end, it proves to be her undoing.
Ruin Me: Alexandra and her boyfriend have signed up for Slasher Sleepout, an event that specializes in mixing the scares of a camping trip, escape room and haunted house. But what happens when the scares become real and people start dying? And Alexandra is facing her own internal demons from drug abuse.
Unwittingly, I was sitting behind the lead actress Marcienne Dwyer, who later explained how she relished playing such a layered and complicated character. The depth comes from her trying to figure out what’s real, who to trust and how to make it out alive. If enjoyed movies like The Game and April Fool’s Day, this one is right up your alley with a twist (but believable) ending. The film releases on October 26.