The Atlanta Horror Film Festival kicked off its 2021 season with a full day of projects ranging from stop-motion blood and guts to abstract tales of sexual taboos and even food-inspired gore. With five blocks of films beginning before noon and going near 10 p.m., fans were treated to a literal full day of the best in international horror.
Make sure to click the links at the bottom of each page to see all 5 pages of reviews from Day 1.
Tickets for all in-person (October 8-10) and online screenings (October 8-18) are available HERE.
BLOCK #1 ANIMATED SHORTS: DRAWN TO BLOOD
The kickoff block for 2021 focused on animated gore that included the playful, contemplative and the terrifying.
Monster Encounters (James Smith, Germany)
At only one minute, the short focuses on monster kills from random encounters over any type of storyline. The stop-motion gives it a humorous edge and the abbreviated run time prevents any dragging despite some of the kills being similar in style.
Spoopies (Ian Stewart, USA)
Described as telling the “lamest ghost stories ever,” this animated story lives up to its billing over first few minutes. You ever have a friend build up a story, only for the eventual telling to be completely underwhelming? That’s exactly what you get from this group of friends. What’s funny is their retelling of their supposed ghost encounters leaves enough room where you can easily see a logical explanation.
That’s until the ghosts show up and they’re an interesting bunch (Indian chief, evil twin girls with a dead cat etc.), leading to an appropriately brutal yet satisfying end to this lame group of friends.
The Exortwist (Loren Baskin Almazan, Laura Koval, USA)
This was a riot. As indicative from the title, this is a spoof on The Exorcist with the priest being a pious Twix bar attempting to save a possessed Twizzler child. And what is the Twizzler child possessed by? The demon of vegetables, specifically broccoli.
Considering that the priest uses the massively unhealthy high fructose syrup instead of holy water, I started getting the impression the writers were poking fun at the idea of religion being the “candy/opium” of the masses. A fun ride that breezes by in 4 minutes.
The Creatures in My House (Ilena Finocchi, USA)
We are creatures of habit. And when that routine is disrupted, when are not ourselves. Maybe not to the level of becoming zombies, but let’s not prevent that from getting in the way of a good horror story. Taking roughly 3 years to finish, this project ties in the healing prowess of coffee to change your worldview and perhaps even reverse the undead. The work has a plodding pace which is off-putting at first, but it begins to make sense over the second half when you realize this likely takes place in the morning waking hours.
Haunt (Dongkeun Lee, Korea)
An old Korean folklore tale about a face-stealing demon comes to life. It’s a cat and mouse game early on with the demon first chasing then seducing her victim. The stop-motion animation isn’t as clean as the other offerings, but the cultural uniqueness of this tale will hold your attention.
The Mechanical Dancer (Jenna Jaillet, USA)
This was amazing. Combining the haunting imagery of the Silent Film era with elements of Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein, The Mechanical Dancer is a masterful ride that presents the story of an eccentric theater owner who uses robotic dancers as spectacles. His young apprentice makes a shocking discovery about the dancers that leads him to redemption. You can see metaphors that apply to our current times in regards to how we consume and eventually dispose of art and even women as they age. Well worth the effort to track down and watch.
Warnival (Joke Desmaele, Belgium)
There are few things more unsettling than child soldiers. This short uses an amusement park setting to display how violence is indoctrinated into unsuspecting children. Killing is applauded and when resistance is attempted, the kids are forced to turn their weapons on each other. The animation is ugly, using gloomy colors which serve to heighten the bleak setting. And that’s exactly how it should be when a child’s innocence is destroyed and the killing machine rolls on.
The Dark Odyssey (Michael Lavine, USA)
Our first sci-fi heavy offering of the festival takes an abstract approach to questions on the limits of the mind and time. A captain and his assistant are transporting a mysterious prisoner who holds the secrets to the equally mysterious Inventory of the Mind. At first, we take the captain and assistant as the heroes before lines get blurred, making the viewer question if the prisoner is a chaos agent or liberator seeking to free everyone from the mental blocks we put on our own realities.
Considering there’s an unseen character referenced as the Guardian, this feels like the introduction to a bigger story and has potential as a live-action feature.
When the Storm Passes (Luke Sarabacha, Benjamin Sarabacha, USA)
On occasion, it pays to have majored in English. This short doesn’t give you much going in outside of some prose from Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, specifically the section on Merlin and Vivien (Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm of woven paces and of waving hands, and in the hollow oak he lays dead…). But that’s enough to establish sufficient dread as we find a bearded man living in a large, isolated home. His skin tone is ashen, we hear voices of those unseen and visual proof of a potential murder.
Considering the Merlin-Vivien story, it leads me to believe our character may be haunted by guilt in how he handled a departed lover he views now as a seductress. However, the ending is open enough to offer varying interpretations.
Ellipsis (Jorge Carpi, Mexico)
In a dystopian world, opposing forces clash for the power to destroy or uphold the present life cycle. The majority of the film takes on a spy vs. spy approach as two robots clash to control a portable power source. We don’t know initially why it’s so important as the robots fight all over the ship. Later, we find out that the object can bend time, and we get a flashback to what caused this conflict — the emergence of robots becoming self-aware then discriminated against by the humans who created them. This gives the director an opportunity to offer some quick social commentary on how this ties into our current relationships with technology and nature.
This film looks beautiful and is arguably the best-looking in this block. Some might find the ending social commentary too heavy-handed, but I thought it was effective in closing the film on a hopeful note.
Bobby Pinwheel – The Movie (Robert Kleinschmidt, USA)
Haven’t we learned not to trust clowns yet?! Bobby Pinwheel in the latest one but unlike the sadistic Pennywise, he seems indifferent to the murder and mayhem he inflicts on hapless victim. He gets invited to a child’s birthday party and the entire family quickly regrets is. Lots of gross-out gore kills in this one, but claymation makes it all in good fun.