The 2009 Los Angeles Shriekfest Film Festival featured several shorts over the course of its 3-day run. I saw five of them, and in a couple of weeks I will be bringing you even more news and reviews on this year's scariest shorts from the Sacramento Horror Film Festival.
A Little Mouth to Feed, directed by Jack Daniel Stanley
An ardently religious Appalachian wife (Michele Seidman) makes a deal with the devil in order to fill her barren womb with oodles of infant in this darkly Gothic tale, which was shot in North Carolina and is thoughtfully decorated and meticulously costumed. It looks properly dense and shadowy, but the acting is a bit dodgy and the bad-baby is just… bad. Still, director Stanley does a nice job at building intensity and paying off on the scares.
Monstrous Nature, directed by Jason Cuadrado
When a nun (Camillia Sanes) is cold-cocked and snatched from the pews of her church, she later awakens to find herself handcuffed to the mad kidnapper (Gary Perez) in the middle of the forest, with nothing in sight but a pup-tent and a freshly-dug grave. But faith is about the things you don't see, and so as captor and captive interact and night falls, their dynamic almost imperceptively shifts. I liked this idea, but the performances were a little off while the music was far too "on" — the dramatic, heavy-handed score overwhelms whatever nuance the story might otherwise have had.
Mr. Gun, directed by Ben Juhl
Sometime in the near future, gruff thug Demetri (Jose Rosete) will enter an abandoned warehouse for an illicit meeting with the smooth, suave and utterly mysterious Mr. Gun (Tommy Mack) to buy a special weapon. But Demetri and his henchmen have no idea just how wrong a seemingly simple transaction can go. This slightly comedic sci-fi noir film features an impressive set and some nice shots by the DP (which unfortunately are not lit properly, so there is no depth whatsoever to the arrangements), but the "surprise" ending isn't.
Next Caller, directed by Patrick Rea
Here's another short with a climax that's no surprise, but the build and the lead-up crackles. I imagine it's hard to make a feature-length DJ-booth movie that's dynamic (some of my faves: Talk Radio, Booth, The Night Listener, and Pontypool), but even so at 10-minutes Next Caller starts to run out of steam towards the end. It is wholly fun while focusing on the cynical jock, haunted callers, mysterious in-studio guest, and plenty of irreverent riffs on the otherworldly and religion. Allan Kayser is tops as the disgruntled DJ who's been roped into hosting this show on the supernatural — he delivers his withering lines with tart, crisp sarcasm that had me snickering throughout. I definitely would rather have seen the filmmakers take the less-is-more approach at the end and made it punchier, but overall Next Caller is solid.
Thirsty, directed by Andrew Kasch
Out of the five shorts I saw at Shriekfest, Thirsty did the best job of delivering on multiple levels. It's witty, suspenseful, sexy, scary, and has a hugely rewarding payoff. The funny fable follows parched motorist Joe (Joe Lynch) on his quest for a sweet cherry Slushy. Everywhere he turns there are teases of that liquid satisfaction he just can't get — in his way are a heartless gas station clerk (David Rosiak) who won't let him run his card to buy the drink; the shameless Slushy Goddess (Tiffany Shepis) who lets him dream but not taste; and the wicked ax-brandishing Thrill Killer (Michael Bailey Smith) who stands between Joe and the beckoning drink dispenser. Thirsty quenches with a catchy theme song and well-placed musical stings, expert editing which ekes out the suspense, nice color and composition, quotable one-liners, and an excellent ending.
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