By Adam Troutt
Short films have always been a relatively unknown medium in the world of film due to there being very little means for commercial success and even fewer outlets to put them on display. Other than the occasional short that would accompany a feature film back in the 70’s and 80’s, shorts were mainly featured in film festivals or used as a calling card for industry bigwigs to see what chops a filmmaker may have, or if a particular story could work visually in a feature length capacity (think Sam Raimi’s “Within the Woods“). The only other means to see them were from word of mouth from a friend of a friend who had a muddy, grainy 5th generation VHS of “this short film that you have to see”. Then sites like YouTube came along and made it possible for filmmakers to express their passions and hone their work. All the while building an audience and establishing notoriety within the business, or at the very least the indie scene. With that potential for a short film to go viral, the world has discovered such gems like David F. Sandberg’s “Lights Out“, “Kung Fury”, and Fede Alvarez’s “Panic Attack.”
While those films broke through the popular culture and helped to establish a few filmmaking careers, there is an almost endless supply of short films out there that are fantastic and beg to be taking in by as many ravenous eyes as possible. I would like to introduce you to a few of these shorts. In all of the shorts I have seen, I compiled a small list of ones that still instantly come to mind, that have repeat value for me. 5 short films to be specific. 5 Unknown short films that you should definitely know.
1) “Night of the Slasher” – NOTS starts out as a paint by numbers slash and kill flick with the proverbial “slut” stereotype stripping off her restricting, uncomfortable blue jeans down to her panties as she dances to a song resurrected from the vinyl ashes of 1985. From the moment the doorbell echoes throughout the house NOTS shifts into a master class of how to turn slasher cliches on their head, as the killers’ fodder 180s into our final girl, embodying Nancy Thompson in her determination to not be another victim. Shot in what appears to be one long take, we follow our heroine as she fights against an unkillable villain using the tropes of the hack and slash subgenre to try and get the upper hand and stand victorious. What NOTS does so well is plays out a story using the structure of slasher films in a way that is reminiscent of Scream. NOTS is as much a slasher flick as it’s a meta parody on the cliches of the subgenre. At only 11 minutes, it’s such a fun, smart commentary on the subgenre, it leaves you wishing that it was just a bit longer and has you reaching to hit the play button once more.
2) “Still Life” – This one is a more subtle and haunting exercise in horror from Trevor Matthews and Jon Knautz, the same masterminds behind The Shrine, Girl House, and the cult creature feature in the making Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. Before Trevor Matthews donned his maintenance belt as Jack Brooks, he embodied Nathan Evans, a young man traveling down back roads and running on fumes (both in regards to his vehicle and his physical and mental capacity to continue pushing along to his destination). The pills start popping as his sunken, bloodshot eyes start getting a bit to heavy. It’s at this moment he arrives in a small town that at first glance appears to be vacant, that is until the mannequin appears in the road. Nathan finds out quickly that something isn’t right in this town, and he better act fast if he wants to get away from there safely. “Still Life” is a creepy and unnerving horror short that evokes something right out of The Twilight Zone. It’s drenched in atmosphere and mounting in dread with an ending that warrants an intro by Rod Serling. Watch with the lights off.
3) “Le Bagman: Profession: Meurtrier” – Before RKSS sent Apple roaming across a dilapidated, apocalyptic 1997 to fight injustice with the kid of all kids, Turbo Kid. A much different battle was fought, albeit with the same gleeful lust for bloodshed. This sweeping epic battle was executed in 2004 in the short film titled “Le Bagman.” Le Bagman’s story is structured in the basic form of a slasher film. A girl wakes up in the hospital disoriented and confused as to where she is and why she’s there. A detective in the room wastes no time in waxing poetically about coffee before turning inquisitive and lobbing questions to our heroine about what exactly happened that has her propped up in this fluorescent infused, sterile room. It doesn’t take long for the flood gates to part and the horrific mind melt to start of the past few days events.
Our protagonist quickly regales us with the legend of a murderous maniac that stalks the woods methodically, and that dismembers, maims, and relocates the insides of anyone unsuspecting enough to venture into his vicinity. A local boogeyman that dons a bag over his head and sends a quiver down the spine of neighboring kids that have them high-tailing away from the woods. Flashback quickly ensues and we’re brought along for the ride to see how she manages to get away, with the unlikely help of a group of outlandish wannabe gangsta thugs, after Le Bagman has disposed of her friends.
“Le Bagman” is a slasher through and through, but with an over the top bent that can only be likened to a mix of Troma, 90s shot on video horror, and The Three Stooges. Basically Evil Dead 2 except less demonic possession, even lesser budget, and no sign of Bruce Campbell. “Le Bagman” is an absolute gore filled good time that I can’t recommend more to fans of cheesy splatter movies.
4) “Peekers” – This short definitely starts out unassuming as pleasant music plays to the image of a man making a hearty morning breakfast starting his day before things take a creepy, unsettling turn.
Larry awoke with the sunny disposition that today would be a lovely pleasant day spent enjoying the sunshine and the fact that the day was like the humdrum of any other day. He plants himself in front of a scrumptious breakfast and the morning T.V. news, hellbent on minding his own business, when his elderly neighbor, Zach, comes knocking on Larry’s door and knocking down this saccharine scene like an obnoxious Kool-Aid man barreling through your living room wall just minutes before your parents come home, leaving you to try and talk your way out of being grounded for a whole year. Begrudgingly Larry answers the door to find Zach requesting his presence at Zach’s humble abode across the street. Larry tries to talk his way out of it, but Zach remains persistent and decidedly vague. Reluctantly, he finally agrees and they trek across the street and into Zach’s predicament.
Once the two walk through the doorway, Zach starts relaying to Larry what is going on with him this morning, and why his wife being at the top of their staircase is not just a normal everyday thing. This is where the tale takes an unsettling turn, one that I don’t want to get too descriptive with as the less you know about this one the better. I will let on to the reader that any elderly person acting menacingly, disturbing, or just plain off absolutely petrifies me. Take a peek (pun!) at Peekers and let your Gerontophobia take it’s icy, wrinkly skinned grasp around your spine and chill you to the bone.
5) “Fists of Jesus” – I want to thank you for traveling with me on this adventure through a roller coaster of emotions, and I can’t think of a better parting gift than “Fists of Jesus.” The story is a simple one, and one you may have heard before, but you haven’t quite heard it like this. A young carpenter has recently discovered his gift of being the son of God and his ability to bring the dead back to life. So, along with his ride or die chum, Judas, he travels from land to land preaching his story. We catch up with Mr. Christ as he wanders upon a family grieving over the dead body of a loved one. Jesus being comfortable and confident in his new powers cracks his fingers, shoos the family to the side, and breaks out the big guns in order to stymie the families pain. There is but one issue: Jesus hasn’t exactly honed his biblical powers just yet. The ritual is successful but with the added side effect that the resurrected corpse has an unquenchable taste for flesh. As the reanimated corpse begins devouring his family, Jesus and Judas take off running from the visceral scene. They don’t make it far before the entire village is taken over by the zombie plague. Jesus finds himself with no other choice but to fight off the growing horde of zombie Phariseans, Romans, and cowboys using his wits, and a miraculously endless supply of fish.
“Fists of Jesus” shares a lot in common with “Le Bagman” in that it’s filled to the grotesque brim with over the top violence, and marinated in an abundance of cheesy, gross out grue. You can definitely see the influence and homage of Peter Jackson’s early works spilled out in gleeful, hilarious fashion across the screen. If you’re not religious, or at the very least, not easily offended then laugh out loud with the outlandishly gory, “Fists of Jesus.”
Adam Troutt is an obsessive horror cinephile. He aspires to one day be a filmmaker, but in the meantime he devours more horror films than is healthy for human consumption.