This year at FrightFest I attended two of the three Short Film Showcases, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to really quickly work through everything I saw at them. Short Film Showcase One opened with Jason Kupfer’s “Invaders”, a very funny and very bloody parody of the home-invasion genre. Next was Izzy Lee’s “A Favor”, which plays out like observational comedy would in a horror-movie universe. Jarret Blinkhorn’s “They’re Closing In” presents the desperate final moments of some sci-fi apocalypse, but is overwrought even within its short runtime. Tom Marshall’s “Dark_Net”, starring a surprisingly subtle Johnny Vegas, is reminiscent of Edgar Wright with a darker sense of humour. Mark Towers’ “The Alpha Invention” is an AI-themed thriller, making tight use of a single room and a central performance by Billy Boyd. Alex Pachón’s “You Will Fall Again” is the sort of black-and-white, modern-ballet film you might imagine when picturing “Art”, but distinguishes itself with its cruel sense of humour. Amber Benson’s “Shevenge” is funny enough, but seems surprisingly sexist for a short by one of Buffy’s directors. Conor McMahon’s “Strangers in the Night” is a sweetly funny love story between a man and a banshee. Dídac Gimeno’s “Oscillation”, I’m afraid to say, had no effect on me except vague frustration. Chris McInroy’s “BADGUY #2” gets a lot of comedic effect from its ludicrous gore, which is lucky as its actual jokes are largely played out. Mikel Alvariño’s “Óscar Desafinado”/“Tuning Oscar” is sweet, but its characters never seem quite grounded enough for its magic-realism rom-com set-up to work as it should.
The third programme of short films – I missed the second one in order to attend Most Likely to Die – opened with Vincent Smitz’s “Babysitting Story”, whose script never really impressed me but whose visuals absolutely did. After that was Claire Fowler’s “Two Missing”, a Welsh short with a conceit that must have seemed much cleverer in conception than it does upon viewing. James Moran’s “Ghosting” was nothing new with its paranormal-investigation plot, but managed in eight minutes to deliver far more scares than most haunted-house features ever manage. Chris Walsh’s stop-motion short “The Shutterbug Man” came across to me as more than a little pretentious, but then pretension is kind of what I expected, and at least it looks good. Karen Gillan’s first short, “Coward” is very nicely directed, but features one of those scripts – also by Gillan – which tries to cram in a whole feature rather than scale the storytelling appropriately. Alice Waddington’s “Disco Inferno” is a tribute to giallo in which incomprehensibility is the joke. Shant Hamassian’s “Night of the Slasher” is a slasher deconstruction – nothing new, of course, but the killer wearing a Leonard Nimoy mask is its best joke. About the best thing to be said of Nathan Ambrosioni’s “The Lake” is that it was directed by a 15-year-old; and the cruellest thing you can say about it is that it feels like it was directed by a 15-year-old. Brando de Sica’s “L’errore” has only one joke, but it is a good one. Richard Karpala’s sci-fi “Iris” is an excellent short, which perfectly judges the amount of storytelling appropriate to the form. Dan Auty’s “Party 85” is supposed to be a bit of a joke, so you might as well just laugh along with it.
Then there were also Moments of Horror, a series of six horror-themed shorts of about three minutes each, all shown before features and all available through Channel 4’s website. “Night Feed” and “Behind You” are both practically the same, with a suitably creepy buildup followed by a comedy reveal of a rubbish monster. I suppose that the joke as it stands works, but I can’t help but feel I’d like both shorts more if they were straightforwardly scary instead. “Bath Time” was better and more original with its set-up, but again it suffers from a bad monster. “The Doorman” and “Absence”, again, are quite similar in that both have a narrative ambition that rather exceeds what’s possible in a short, but “Absence” is better for starring the consistently high-class Paul McGann. The other short was “What the Dog Saw”, but I’m afraid that, whichever film it played before, I didn’t get the opportunity to see it.
And even after all that, I still wasn’t done with shorts. There were still two whole anthologies to go, the first of which was A Christmas Horror Story, which consisted of four interwoven shorts by four directors, all set over one really shit Christmas. The individual stories do not have individual names, so for my own convenience and amusement, I’ve given them names of my own. “Santa Claus Conquers the Zombie Elves” is the most obvious Christmas-horror concept featured here, and the most openly comedic of the segments. It’s also the one which opens and closes the film, and the most important in terms of the loosely interlinked plot. While the zombie-elf concept didn’t initially appeal to me, it makes good use of comedy gore, even if the foul language gets gratuitous. “Night of the Krampus” gives the strange and frightening German festive demon his long-overdue first film outing (look him up if you have to!), though apparently a gaggle of Krampus movies are all in production right now. “The Christmas Times Are A Changeling” was my favourite of the segments, not playing things for laughs too much, and delivering the only real chills of the four. “Molly Simon’s Sense of Snow” features some high-school student documentarians (why are there so many of those?) trapped in the school basement on Christmas Eve, and yet another demonic pregnancy, but it’s the weakest of the four tales. The segments are held together, just barely, by William Shatner as a radio host getting drunk on eggnog as Christmas falls apart around him. He’s the best thing about the film, but I wish the attempt hadn’t been made to weave the different stories together. They’re shorts, each with its own rhythm and style and level of seriousness, and it feels like a rotten trick to weave them into a feature film with a coherent plot, not to mention that it utterly fucks the pacing of the film.
Tales of Halloween takes a different, more horror-friendly holiday than does A Christmas Horror Story, and gives us not just four but ten segments. The variance in quality here is even greater than in the other anthology, and what’s more, fewer standouts are delivered. Still, as with A Christmas Horror Story one has the suspicion that the film is not to be watched as the closing selection of FrightFest, but rather drunk one evening with friends in spirit of whichever holiday it is.