This is a nearly complete overview of FrightFest '18's short-films lineup, though technical issues unfortunately prevented us from screening Catcalls, Puppet Master, and Right Place Wrong Tim.-Ed.
by Walter Chaw
SHORT FILM SHOWCASE 1
We Summoned a Demon ***/**** (d. Chris McInroy)
Funny how the coolest '80s throwback film that isn't It happens to be this short by Chris McInroy, which channels the light ethos of that era, with VHS nasties shock-effects scattered across its brisk, five-minute runtime. Idiots Kirk (Kirk Johnson) and Carlos (Carlos Larotta) attempt a little witchcraft by sacrificing a rooster and playing a record backwards on a plastic portable turntable. They're trying to make Kirk cool so he can ask out "Brenda" for tacos, but it doesn't work. Instead, they summon a demon (John Orr) from a neon-smoked Hell portal they can't control. Or can they? With its crackerjack timing, its tight script, and the effortless control and camaraderie of its leads, We Summoned a Demon works wonders in a short span. DP E.J. Enriquez's lighting schemes make the whole thing look like Michael Mann's The Keep, and, sometimes rare for shorts, the movie knows its length and absolutely murders its landing. Listen for composer Bird Peterson's smooth sax riff when Kirk finds his inner cool. Comedy is hard, guys; We Summoned A Demon is butter. (Scroll down to the end of these capsule reviews for an interview with Chris McInroy.)
Secretion *½/**** (d. Sarah Talbot, UK)
A distinct Eraserhead vibe infects Sarah Talbot's metaphor for the distance that grows between some married folks. Here, it takes the form of a seeping wet-spot on the ceiling--something like the peeling paper in Barton Fink--that begins to ooze out chunks of biological matter into, among other things, a couple's nightly meal. "Beef's off," the husband (R.G. Parker) says to the wife (Jordan Hunter), just prior to a chunk of excretia gaining, if not sentience, at least some kind of locomotion. The film walks a fine line, doing its best not to cross over into comedy, I think, when comedy might have served it better. The final shot of the couple, and Secretion's epilogue, seem unintentionally funny, and the whole of it ultimately becomes a parody of an arthouse production, though Lizzie Gilholme's b&w cinematography is impressive indeed. There's a scene in Inland Empire that does very much what I assume Secretion is trying to do--even the sound design has its similarities, but the rule of thumb about David Lynch is that he's the one who should be left to do the Lynch stuff.
Pie **½/**** (d. Adria Tennor)
Carol (Adria Tennor) bakes a cake with a very special ingredient and invites beautiful Annette (Jessica Paré) to share her gruesome repast. Her husband's a philanderer, it seems, and over an extended scene of Annette trying to nail the secret ingredient, the truth comes spilling out. Professional and slick, Pie is less about a Clytemnestra sort of resolution to a domestic squabble than it is about the solidarity women need to find in the face of serial abusers. Where it lacks surprise, it earns points for its craft; and if its message ultimately feels telegraphed and perilously close to trite, it's delivered with verve by a pair of actresses more than equal to the task. They're great. The jokes are better because of Tennor's timing and grasp of the material (of course, she's also the writer-director), and Paré again demonstrates--as she did in her memorable turn as Megan Draper on "Mad Men"--that she can convey the pain of being the object.
Devil Woman **/**** (d. Heidi Lee Douglas, Australia)
An ecological tale in which scientific research takes a turn for the unfortunate when Eddy (Marigold Pazar), who's in the bush tracking the Tasmanian Devil's nocturnal behaviours, is bitten by an infected subject. A closing title card reveals that the animals are in trouble because of a transmittable cancer that's killing off their already-limited population (and people squeamish about animal suffering, like me, should be warned that director Douglas shows a picture of an afflicted Devil)--and what this movie posits is, What if the cancer were transmittable to humans? It's a Cujo type of thing where the researchers, harassed by loggers (who, it's implied, may have stirred something up with their pillaging), find an avatar through which to fight back in the now-feral Eddy. A pity she doesn't, in her state, appear to respect sides. Well-made with something on the mind, the piece alas is defeated by broad strokes in its characterizations--especially the villainous blokes who bully the women--and a certain rote inevitability to its conclusion that the intrusion of reality does little to forgive. The world is a cess and men are the worst, I get it. I agree. But Devil Woman--even that title is saddled with a secondary political wink--is a tough piece to love.
TiCK ***/**** (d. Ashlea Wessel, Canada)
A cunning take on the vampire myth that begins with two sisters hiding from an aggressive, invading police force while waiting on a father who's gone out and is delayed in returning. The elder says to "put on your daytime clothes," which involve full body covering including a pink balaclava. A fight, there's blood, the younger one, Nishiime (Ava Close), hides under the bed, and a brilliant white light incapacitates her sister. They're vampires, "ticks" in the film's vernacular, and there's a brilliant moment early on when stuffed animals are used in the best way since E.T.. A photographer by trade, writer-director Wessel serves as her own cinematographer here, finding a dark green palette that's punctuated by occasional bursts of the light weapons the humans use against the ticks. It's a small story, really, about Nishiime walking through the night in search of her lost family, but Wessel sets the mood expertly with an extended sequence in a van that reminds of the first RV set-piece from Near Dark. Moody, claustrophobic, TiCK works as a nice companion piece to Wessel's first short, Ink, a film that played a lot like Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle. TiCK is more narrative and, hence, more accessible, but it remains at its heart a work of expressionism. Wessel is someone to watch.
Milk ***½/**** (d. Santiago Menghini, Canada)
A genuinely frightening, superbly modulated, nasty little short with a lot on its mind in its collection of disturbed, loaded images. A boy (Cameron Brodeur) is chastised for drinking some milk out of the carton in the middle of the night by his mother (Anana Rydvald), who's acting oddly, standing in the dark kitchen with a cigarette. He pours the milk in a glass when his mother calls to him--from her room down a long hall. It's a classic premise played with the added complexity of a mother/son dynamic, augmented by the symbolic aspect of milk, which speaks to a certain sultry maternal relationship. Of course it turns black when the other mother's silhouette across the way begins to giggle, and of course the boy is caught between a mother's instinct to smother and her instinct to nurture. Milk looks great, works like a clockwork, and knows better than to overstay its welcome. It's a poison pill that packs metaphor and implication into a compact package.
The Front Door **½/**** (d. Andrew Rutter, UK)
A minor, but long-running, domestic dispute ends with a few unwanted houseguests in Andrew Rutter's comedy of politesse and boundaries. The idea of checking the doors to find that someone's using your living room for a meeting space is well-taken and well-conceived. At a fleet six minutes, The Front Door also stops just short of overstaying its welcome. Brad Ash plays Steve, the long-suffering husband who can be forgetful about locking the front door, and Chris Butler is Jacob, the leader of the small group of folks invading Steve's space, if only for a few hours. I like the mid-credits punchline quite a lot, while a gag involving the raiding of Steven's refrigerator lands with a truer inventive charge than, ultimately, anything going on in the living room.
42 Counts */**** (d. Jill Gevargizian)
Based on a true story, an end-title tells us, but the rest struggles with tone and pacing. Two roommates (Andrea Dover and Najarra Townsend) hang out, talking about cunnilingus and watching a movie, when they discover their apartment has been packed with hidden cameras. They follow the wires to the basement. And then a title card about how being the victim of a peeper can lead to some of the same fallout as that experienced by rape victims. It's not an insignificant message, but it's one that could've been expressed rather than dictated. Competently shot, though, and the final scene packs the kind of kinetic energy, immediacy, and tension I would have wanted for the rest of it.
My Monster */**** (d. Izzy Lee)
A kind of comedy starring one of my favorite actresses, Brea Grant, as a girl saddled with a brutish boyfriend (Adam Egypt Mortimer) who doesn't listen to her when she tells him there's something at the window visiting her every night. That something wants blood--and also a little Netflix and cuddling. There's not a lot of energy and inventiveness here, the characters are flat and familiar, and it's neither scary nor funny. The creature, once revealed, is shot blandly and looks, you know, cheap. Blame its failure on the pacing and a script that has Grant doing her best with a character that seems to lack a real rudder: why is she with this guy, why is she with the next guy, what is it that drives her, and is it really just someone who won't fall asleep during a movie? Or is it a guy who doesn't leave his gloves on the table...but why does she then drop them on the floor? Anyway, a miss.
BFF Girls *½/**** (d. Brian Lonano)
A sort-of-loving homage that occasionally feels like a devastating parody, Lonano's BFF Girls involves a trio of "dorky" girls of various ethnic backgrounds who sit giggling in their bedroom, talking in theatrical ways about their periods and fending off the attentions of their horny talking cat. When they bond together, they become the titular superhero trio. And Japanese. Though the piece nails the look of Japanese television from a certain time and place ("Power Rangers", "Sailor Moon") with bright graphics and purposefully-stilted acting, I'd say there's something fraught about it all. It's white people packing problematic images about representation and appropriation into a Power Puffs package, then complicating it again by making the central conceit about menstruation and introducing a villain who wants to drink it. The jokes about the cat wanting to fuck the girls takes aim, I think, at the sexualized content of some of these "kid" entertainments, but they also suggest something about their creator and the audience in the United States that's gathered around this product. None of it is dealt with so much as presented, and while it's possible to take the movie at face value to an extent, it's also becoming more difficult to do that.
Who's That At the Back of the Bus */**** (d. Philip Hardy, UK)
A quick joke with a nice jump scare. It's a palate-cleanser after a day of shorts, but it's not much else.
SHORT FILM SHOWCASE 2
Madder Isle ***/**** (d. Laura Spark, UK)
A beautiful, dialogue-free animated piece that details a woman's triumph over a religious cabal punishing her for having had a child and, by extension, having exercised a measure of self-determination. She flees across space and water to find a place of her own. Spark's style is distinct and unusual, falling somewhere between traditional native art and avant-garde watercolour backgrounds, locating the story in a timeless elsewhere in between.
Wrong Number ***/**** (d. Tiago Teixeira, UK)
Shot entirely in the near-total dark of a bedroom, Wrong Number concerns a woman (Ellie Woodruff-Bryant) who wakes every night a few minutes before the time she fears she'll get a phone call telling her that something terrible's happened. The man (Nicholas Anscombe) with whom she shares the bed is no help, taking the opportunity instead to offer sexual attention--an offer she accepts on the second night at the same time, as it happens, she's expecting her call. The film works as an interesting, disturbing metaphor for missed connections and poor communication. The woman isn't having her needs met and so an awful, and disgusting, transformation occurs between the couple.
There Are No Dividends **/**** (d. Joe Haughey, UK)
A guy with an idea (Toby Williams) hijacks a conference room to interview subjects for an experience with some new technology; it goes badly, as you'd expect. What works about the picture is its depiction of the unpleasant desperation of looking for work and, concurrently, the notion that ambition and moxie can carry fools and dreamers past those first few hurdles to corporate success. Unfortunately, the piece is too focused on the stuff that's not interesting (the interviewee's (Marc Pickering) introduction, for instance, proves superfluous), so that when there's a late-game reveal of a previous interviewee still in the meeting room, it raises more bad questions than good rimshots. There's the seed of something meaty here. A few more passes may have teased it out.
Be Uncertain *½/**** (d. Jack Carrivick, UK)
A lot like Timecrimes, this one has JD (Stephen Wright), stuck in a rut with his distracted girlfriend (Aisling Bea), deciding one night to break out of his routine, only to find there may be more than one version of himself out there, trying perhaps to steer him back into his rut. It's a fascinating concept--oft-explored, alas--that boasts a nice, clean execution and strong performances. If Be Uncertain ultimately doesn't have quite enough energy to get itself over the finish line, more's the pity. All the elements are there, it's just looking for a thread to tie everything together.
The Blue Door ****/**** (d. Paul Taylor, UK)
A wordless masterclass in deep dread tied to an extraordinarily frightening conclusion and enhanced by universal fears of growing old, caretaking, and being taken care of, The Blue Door reminded me a time or two of Stephen King's short story "Gramma," which similarly played with elder discomfort and a sole caretaker left alone with her charge over the course of a difficult day. In this iteration, a nurse (Gemma Whelan) is attending a bed-bound invalid (Janie Booth) when a blue door appears on a wall. She tries to open it before something on the other side starts to help her. Then she blocks the door, but it appears on another wall. And her charge isn't in her bed anymore. The Blue Door is perfectly modulated; its premise is loaded and its resolution is pitch-perfect. It's a terrifying film, perfect for this length and format, that has, as an added benefit, some rather beautiful cinematography. When the younger woman first enters the house, the backlighting suffuses the image with a sort of frosted look, while the remainder is all saturated colours that honour the title. Oh, and the movie is brutal. It's great.
Marta */**** (d. Lucía Forner, Spain)
Technically sound but morally shaky, Marta details the efforts of its titular character (Thais Bloom) to gain infamy as that unicorn: the female serial killer. Her first victim is to be Carlos (Daniel Perez Prada), a snag she tricks into helping her with a broken-down clutch. So far so good, even with the overt Reservoir Dogs aping, but when Carlos wakes up tied to a chair and starts offering Marta advice (like getting a shrink) and diagnoses (like she's having her period), it all goes suddenly wrong. Far from debunking the idea that Marta is nuts, Marta leans into it. And not nuts in an American Psycho delusional way, but nuts in an overly chatty, nervous, flighty way that pushes dangerous stereotypes about how men view ex-girlfriends and wives they don't respect. Director Forner, too, chooses poorly in robbing Marta of agency at the close, making things somehow not her fault while ending on the usual stinger of her going back into the world for victim #2. So what's the ultimate message of the piece? I'm afraid it falls on the wrong side of it. I sorely wish it hadn't.
Reprisal **½/**** (d. Mike Malajalian, Lebanon)
Lean, claustrophobic, Mike Malajalian's film deals with a woman (Lisa Debs) who learns that her husband will return from war one day in the film's only line of dialogue, although it's repeated a couple dozen times. She goes back to her empty home, a picture of her and her husband in happier times hanging on the wall, and then doors start slamming by themselves and lights start flickering on and off. What's not clear, of course, is in what form her husband will return. An end-title reveals statistics for how 17,000 people disappeared during the Lebanese Civil War, with their families held in an eternal limbo until their return. It's an interesting expression of that limbo, making a short film about a violent haunting. Still, I'm having trouble reconciling whether Reprisal is expressing a complexity of emotions or just an inexplicable fear of resolution. It's a technically-proficient piece that muddies its own waters at the end. A shame.
Salt ****/**** (d. Rob Savage, UK)
Clocking in at an impossibly fleet two minutes, Rob Savage's Salt is the beginning and swift end of any argument about whether it's possible to create an entire universe in 120 seconds. Alice Lowe stars as the mother of a grievously-ill child who needs to get to the kitchen for medicine, but there's a demon in her house. Salt provides a barrier, but salt is moved by shifting air and dissolved in rain. Armed with a tube of the stuff, she navigates a stairway, her kitchen, then her driveway while brief shots establish that mounds of the stuff have been arranged in circles around key locations. The suggestion is that the world is beset by demons: this is the new normal for the human survivors, the ones ingenious enough to keep a stockpile and become adroit at pouring barriers and circles. In an impressively short period of time, several possibilities are laid out: how to lay a trap with a salt circle, how to make a line instead of a circle suit your needs, how to make a mistake that could be deadly. The demon is a beautiful construct--the performance, though brief, is full and intriguing. I don't entirely know how Savage and his crew did it, but Salt is one of the best films I've seen all year. It's enough but I want more.
Fire in Cardboard City ***/**** (d. Phil Brough, New Zealand)
A clever animation detailing what would happen if a cardboard world were set on fire. Hint: it's not good, made worse by the fact that the water in Cardboard City is just blue cardboard. Funny and scaled large, it ostensibly features a storyline involving a heroic cardboard fireman trying to save as many cardboard people as possible, but really that's the pretext for more sight gags and moments of absurdity. A pity it goes the Lego Movie route at the end, but until it does, the piece lives up to its high concept with brio and imagination.
SHORT FILM SHOWCASE 3
Envy */**** (d. Sam Hoggarth, UK)
Overwritten and over-plotted and, as a consequence, overlong despite a brief runtime. The setting is a high school where one of two friends (Emma Carter and Jess Turner) betrays the other somehow, resulting in accidental murder. There's, arguably, an opportunity at the end to do something interesting with the set-up of participating in a two-man stage drama where, unbeknownst to the audience, one of the men is dead, but alas, there's a twist that makes no sense and serves no purpose. The short well and truly lost me, however, at the moment immediately following the assault, where the assailant has a chat with herself. Envy's technical craft is completely adequate--as a silent film, the movie improves tenfold. It's the rest of it that tries patience.
Special Day **½/**** (d. Teal Greyhavens)
Set at a birthday party for a young woman on the verge of receiving a secret about her life, Special Day is handsomely-crafted stuff with a good build-up of tension that resolves in a way that doesn't make a lot of sense. The big reveal is that this hugely successful family is successful because they know the exact date and time of their deaths. No fair telling how, though the how is genuinely terrifying. The fair question is how it is exactly that knowing the date and time of one's death leads to success and not existential terror and eventual suicide. It's an idea that raises more question than it answers, in other words, and fails, besides, to work as an allegory for something else. Tempting to ascribe a commentary on white or class privilege, but that could simply be an accident of the casting. Still, it's strong enough in key areas--performance, tech, one great jump-scare--to garner a slim recommendation. Nailing down the lore would get it the rest of the way.
The Lady from 406 *½/**** (d. Lee Kyoung-mi, South Korea)
A supernatural riff on Lodge Kerrigan's Keane, Lee's film finds the titular occupant (Lee Yeong-ae) of the titular apartment complaining to her next-door neighbour for smoking since they share a vent. She's the overprotective type and, when hit on by said neighbour, she's also the awkward, frigid type--and a bad liar, to boot. But then her daughter disappears and she blames the strange, cult-like "teachers" she's invited over for a tutoring session. Maybe none of it is real. Maybe the daughter's been gone for a long time now. Maybe a lot of things. It's a short film, though without a more viable concept, it starts to run long. There are no surprises, and if it's a cautionary tale about the dangers of being an obsessive parent, that message seems lost in the fact that the daughter does indeed vanish.
The Cost of Living **½/**** (d. Tom Nicoll, UK)
A brisk social commentary on the difficulties of making it in the modern world economy, wherein a woman (Lorna Nickson Brown), on her way to work, tells her boyrfriend/husband (Liam Harkins) how tired looks. He's unemployed, we glean, and promises to find something soon. The film is most effective in this lead-up, painting a compelling scenario. It turns out the husband has at least figured out a way to pay their creepy landlord (Jonathan Coote). Points for being About Something, yet it seems to end as soon as it starts to take off.
Payment *½/**** (d. Ben Larned)
An Interview with the Vampire-feeling concept that sees a debt collector (Jamal Douglas) finding after some period of time a particularly slippery debtor (Thomas McNamara) and engaging him in what appears to be a romantic dialogue before taking what's his. There's an infernal, supernatural implication, of course, and a final twist that's a lot less interesting than the LGBTQ-sensitive premise and execution. There's danger here in portraying this gay relationship as one-half demonic, perhaps, but aside from there not being much to the piece, it all seems innocuous enough. I wonder if "innocuous enough" is something to which a film should aspire, though.
Baghead ****/**** (d. Alberto Corredor, UK)
Oliver Walker plays Kevin, a recently-widowed young man who goes to a seedy pub in search of a witch. No fair telling what she does, though I want very badly to tell. The witch is scary, frankly, even wearing the titular bag on her head. Her keeper/interpreter (Julian Seeger) helps her to a broken-down table in the basement so Kevin can ask her his questions over the protestations of the Gatekeeper. Undeterred, Kevin gets what he wants and then, when he's done, wants more of it. Irresistibly cool and carried off with a surplus of back-alley style and brutal grace, Baghead works magnificently as its own thing, and also as a proof-of-concept for a feature. Its premise is delightful and somehow familiar, although I've never seen anything quite like it: there is about it the feel of one of those old curio stores that only appears for people who really, desperately need to make a bad decision. The film, shot all in shadows and greens and greys, looks tremendous. I loved, too, the bait-and-switch sleight-of-hand with the witch, who, I think, begins as a puppet before being swapped out for an actor. Corredor demonstrates a strong understanding of film craft all the way through to scoring, and he gets flawless performances from his cast. He even handles a strong tonal shift halfway through with seamless aplomb--in no time flat but with great finesse, Baghead goes from a slow-burner to a vibe akin to early Guy Ritchie. When it was over, I immediately wanted to see it again. It's that kind of movie.
Corvidae **½/**** (d. Tom de Ville, UK)
A lovely piece--sometimes transcendently so--about a girl (Maisie Williams) who loves crows and they her. There's a breathless scene where a murder of them lifts her into the sky as she points out her tormentors, but, alas, there's not enough of that and too many, I think, tantalizing ideas that either are underdeveloped/cast aside or lead to the most mundane resolution. When in doubt, go strange. As it is, Corvidae is a showcase for Tom de Ville's painterly instincts and talent for tableau. Armed with a more developed set of rules for his worlds and, as they say, watch out.
NeckFace **½/**** (d. Sian Harries, UK)
An unofficial tributary from that weird Richard Grant flick How to Get Ahead in Advertising, in which poor Laney (Isy Suttle) wakes on her wedding day with a tiny, tumorous face on her neck. It says things in a piping voice, sings songs, bites, eats, generally makes a nuisance of itself as Laney, her maid of honour, and others seek out the right combination of botox and hairstyling to quiet/hide the thing. Naturally, the countermeasures are only moderately successful. NeckFace is light and funny as far as it goes; the real conflict of the piece is a monstrous mother figure (Di Botcher) who tries to take control of the wedding as it slides off the rails. It's a comedy of family dysfunction, then, with the carbuncle the flesh metaphor for years of filial repression and resentment. If at the end it's only really been a series of skits, well, at least they were decent ones.
FIRST BLOOD SHORTS
Fran & the Moth *½/**** (d. Malcolm Rumbles, UK)
A played-for laughs battle between fussy Fran (Holly Woodhouse) and the moth in her hotel room, using a few camera tricks as monster POV without doing enough to develop the concept beyond 'irritable woman fights irritating pest.' It's not clear, for instance, if Fran is OCD, paranoid, or just kind of a jerk when she crosses the street to avoid another pedestrian, and then has a hissy fit when a disinterested doorman (Jack Bannon) is disinterested in her. The punchline is both overly familiar and nonsense in this context. At least it's short.
The Lonely World **½/**** (d. Anneke Cullen, UK)
I appreciate the silence of The Lonely World in evoking the solitude of its titular protagonist, alone in the wilderness, a long way from help made longer still when he breaks his phone. A fully-realized concept that touches, if only just, on issues of technological detachment and social isolation, it would have actually benefited from a bit more time for us to develop empathy with its hero.
Mannequins **½/**** (d. David Malcolm, UK)
An interesting camera exercise finds a quartet of mannequins playing out the "teens fucking about in a haunted hospital" trope, complete with a Team America moment of inanimate sexy time. Major tropes of the subgenre are covered and given a nice post-modern glow, while the camerawork does a nice job of simulating motion. A shame that its climax includes real-time manipulation of the subjects, yet until it breaks its covenant, it's a fun exercise that doesn't overstay its welcome.
PRECEDING HE'S OUT THERE:
Sybil **/**** (d. Joanne Mitchell, UK)
Sybil (Tracey Sheals) is a mortician's assistant given the keys to the proverbial kingdom one night and the assignment to make a horribly-mangled corpse presentable for a viewing the next morning. Alone, she does things she shouldn't with the corpse of a philanderer, then more things she shouldn't with said mangled corpse, who, as it happens, has a beautiful face. At times feeling like Lucky McKee's gorgeous May, Sybil is ostensibly a portrait of madness and loneliness (with a little necrophilia to stir the pot) that overstays its welcome a touch before descending into a series of stings that are ultimately more familiar than much of what came before. For a while, though, director Mitchell maintains a pleasant absurdity. I liked, especially, Sybil's stoicism through the screaming grief of an angry widow. The picture looks great, its colours pop, and there's a nice gory flourish in the middle. There might be a feature in this premise, or a short of shorter length. In the end, the irony of Sybil is that a film about a woman who arranges bodies wants for a bit of organized snipping itself.
PRECEDING DEMENTIA PART II:
The Good Samaritans ***/**** (d. Christopher Goodman, UK)
A handsomely-mounted period piece concerning two highwaymen (Abe Buckoke and Dominic Kinnaird) who come upon a comely lass (Sophia Eleni) whose coach has broken an axle, marooning her under the arch of a ruined castle in the middle of nowhere. The ironically-dubbed Good Samaritans proceed to menace and thieve when the contents of one of the lady's chests changes the course of the conversation. Goodman does a nice job of setting up the resolution to the piece, shooting a bat in a window during the opening credits and lingering on the wagon wheel and its shorn axle. It all comes together in the end, and then there's a stinger that's smart and satisfying. The picture is cleanly shot, well-performed, and features smooth action choreography. Keep an eye out for Goodman: there's "there" there.
Chris McInroy makes short films--hilarious ones. Disgusting, too. He's found that mythical sweet spot in the horror-comedy world by never overstaying his welcome, demonstrating exquisite timing, indulging in gleefully questionable taste, and invariably sticking his landings. McInroy's first short, Bad Guy #2, finds a schlub played by longtime collaborator Kirk Johnson trying to climb the corporate ladder, such as it exists in the criminal organization of a psychopath. His second, Death Metal, casts Johnson as an asipiring headbanger-cum-busker who discovers a satanic axe with which he shreds most righteously. Now, with We Summoned a Demon, McInroy presents a pair of idiots doing their best to be cool in an easy six minutes that lands more solid laughs than most feature-length productions. In the middle of a busy festival week, Mr. McInroy was good enough to submit to a quick seven questions:
1. What's the connection between comedy and horror?
I think a connection is how they make an audience feel. They seem to be the genres that can cause a full-body, audible reaction. When something is scary an audience will scream or jump and when something is funny they will laugh. Or both can happen, a lot of times something scary happens and right after that people will laugh it off like everything is okay. So I think it's how we feel watching both genres, the emotions you get are similar. I know when I watch something intense I feel pretty drained after from being scared, and when I watch a good comedy I also feel pretty drained after from laughing and smiling so much. There's also a lot of anticipation in both genres. Watching something unfold when you know it's gonna be scary pretty soon or you know it's gonna be funny after some set-up. I could just be talking out of my ass! I know I love both genres, especially together.
2. Is there a thread that ties all of your shorts together?
Probably the most obvious thread is that Kirk Johnson plays the lead in all three. He's a funny dude. I met him when I was in grad school at University of Texas, Austin. I was his TA in a comedy filmmaking class. The other obvious thing would be the use of gory practical effects. I love practical, there's something about being able to shoot it live and see it in front of you that puts such a smile on my face and such a great vibe on set. People want to gather around and watch a head explode. I also love all the prep it takes. When I get to see tests from the special-effects teams it gets me so excited for the shoot days.
Maybe a deeper meaning [to my three shorts] that I may have done subconsciously is that they are about outsiders trying to accomplish their dreams. I get super emotional when I see people accomplish their dream or make steps towards it. Like when people win Oscars, or like [when] my daughter watches "America's Got Talent", and sometimes I'll catch some of it and when someone does really well and the judges love them and the person is all happy and crying, it's almost too much for me. Almost. So whether its a bad guy who just wants to climb the ladder one promotion at a time to reach his dream of being a Kingpin, or a metalhead who wants to become the best guitar player ever by using a satanic guitar, or just a couple of dudes who use a ritual to become cool so he can get a date with Brenda, they are all going after something.
3. There's a strong '80s vibe in your films. Can you talk about that decade and what it means to you?
I grew up in the '80s. I lived in a very small town that had a gas station that had VHS rentals. They would swap out every week. There wasn't a lot to do so I watched a lot of movies. My love for horror films definitely came from me scanning the shelves and picking things based on box art. I'm influenced heavily by things I watched in that decade for sure and their styles. Especially their use of effects in horror films. And the use of "outsiders" in comedies, like Weird Science, or any of those competition films where some underdog had to overcome odds and beat the front runner, like Teen Wolf. Also, it could just be because I was a kid and things didn't matter as much, but man it was a fun decade for me. I didn't have to worry about a job or money or see the awful shit in the news. Just lived life.
4. Tell me a little about your background: not previous works, but how you got to this place--your day job, your upbringing, anything you want to share.
I feel like I got a late start in life going after my dream of making movies, mostly because I was a drug addict and drinker. But I got sober in 1999 and haven't looked back. When I got sober I kicked life into gear, I went to film school at UNLV--David Schmoeller was a professor of mine, he directed Tourist Trap and Puppet Master--and then got into the grad program at University of Texas. I've lived in Austin for 15 years. I work as a director and sometimes editor for commercials. None of it is broadcast, most of it is for brand's social channels. I took a seven-year break from making shorts and picked back up with Bad Guy #2 in 2014. I have a 10-year-old daughter. She is actually the girl on the monkey bars in Death Metal. No, I haven't shown her any of my movies yet. Maybe when she's older. Like 30.
5. Your shorts work the way they do a little because they don't overstay their welcome. Are you looking to make a feature? What are your concerns around transitioning from this format to the next and can you talk about the difference?
I am looking to make a feature next. I just finished shooting a segment for a horror anthology called Scare Package. Once I'm done with post on my segment I'll get going on it. I've been writing it for awhile now. It's a horror-comedy with werewolves. I do have a concern with the transition, one is obviously finding the money. I'll need a lot more than crowd-funding $8k. The other is the pacing. I tend to throw a lot in a short very fast and don't leave a lot of breathing room. When writing the feature I feel like I want to go at a balls-out pace as well, but I may need to slow it down a bit sometimes. We'll see. I'm gonna try and go crazy with it. But I'll need more character development and longer scenes of conversations. That's just what features have, ya know? So I'm trying to find the right balance of exposition and action but still keep the pacing fast and fun.
6. I've read about a few of your fave films (Evil Dead 2, in particular). What are some recent faves and why?
My favourite movie is An American Werewolf in London but that's not recent. Let's see. This year I've really liked Upgrade, I dug the fighting and how it was shot. Loved Mom and Dad because it was insane in the best way. Really liked Summer of 84 and It because they did the '80s right. It felt like me when I was growing up in the '80s as a kid. It felt right. Wolfman's Got Nards is awesome. Another '80s tie, being about one of my favourite '80s movies, Monster Squad. The Ritual was creepy as fuck and had a great monster.
7. What are your chief influences in horror and comedy that are not films?
Man, it's mostly all films. I do read horror books sometimes though. I like Joe Hill but I usually will just research top lists of best horror books and pick from there. I'm reading one now called Kill Creek. I've also been watching "Castle Rock", which I love. For comedy I've been watching a lot of Tim and Eric stuff again and always rewatch "Rick and Morty".