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Fantasia Film Festival’s “Small Gauge Trauma 2018” offers an eclectic selection of short films from around the world that truly bring the horror.

When I first became a fan of author Stephen King, it wasn’t the novels that I devoured so much but the collection of short stories. There is something about a short story that intrigues me and pulls me in. In simplest terms, a short story has to cut to the chase. In King’s case, there’s not much time to give a back story on the characters in a short story, and many times the incidents that happen within those stories remains unexplained.

My favorite part of King’s paperback short story collections is the foreword by King. In these forewords, King would give some insight into the time he wrote these stories and perhaps some story about being a famous author. One of my favorite stories he told was “The Moving Finger” from his short story collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

King discusses the idea of explaining, or in this instance not explaining, the origin of the finger and why it’s tormenting poor Howard Mitla. The man just wants to quietly watch Jeopardy when a probing finger appears out of the bathroom sink drain. King explained that there are times that no explanation about why or how something is happening is needed. The reader’s imagination can fill in some gaps with their own terrifying ideas.

That same concept is what draws me to short movies. An audience watching a short can be quickly pulled in and experience empathy, anger, horror, shock, sadness, etc. by a well-paced and well-told story. It takes talent to elicit a strong reaction from an audience in a short running time, and I admire creators who can effectively tell their story within the framework of a short.

The Fantasia Film Festival hosts an annual showcase of horror shorts called SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA. The 2018 edition has nine shorts from five countries. The shorts cover different subgenres of horror including thriller, body horror, zombies, and more.

Prepare to be shocked, disgusted, awed, and moved by the following collection of shorts.

THE INVADERS

USA | 7 Min | Dir. Mateo Marquez

I previously reviewed THE INVADERS as a stand-alone short movie, and I was very impressed by director Mateo Marquez’s film. In the 7-minute running time, Marquez was able to ratchet up the tension and mystery of the story very quickly and bring it to its horrifying ending. Read my review at Morbidly Beautiful: http://morbidlybeautiful.com/horror-short-invaders/. 

THE DEAD MAN SPEAKS

Netherlands | 2 Min | Dir. Marcos Mereles

THE DEAD MAN SPEAKS has the shortest running time, but it packs a lot of dread in its two minutes. Playing as a kind of travelogue showing snapshots of a city in the Netherlands, a disembodied voice describes what it’s like to be dead. What starts off as recitation of a man bored of the afterlife soon turns into something more insidious. THE DEAD MAN SPEAKS creeps up on you — and lets your imagination fill in the terrifying blanks.

AURORE

France | 18 Min | Dir. Mael Le Mee

In this short film, a young girl finds that her fingers have the ability to pierce skin and elicit an intense sexual response from her partners and herself. A coming-of-age film through the prism of body horror, AURORE is a powerful look at sexual experimentation and what it means to be unique. AURORE is an emotional and moving experience.

DAMAGE CONTROL

USA | 8 Min | Dir. Ryan Oksenberg

In an unbelievable bit of timing, DAMAGE CONTROL makes its premier at Fantasia at the same time professional athletes and celebrities are being held accountable for their past behavior. In director Ryan Oksenberg’s DAMAGE CONTROL, a couple inspect a recently inherited property. While exploring the property, Drew (Clayton Farris) comes face-to-face with his past, which causes a cascade of events, the consequences of which affect everyone.

Clayton Farris is best known for his comedy skits on Vine, but in this short, Farris puts the comedy aside to play a doting fiancé who has a terrible past. DAMAGE CONTROL asks: what damage do our past actions cost, and when does it come time pay the debt?

DEVIL WOMAN

Australia | 12 Min | Dir. Heidi Lee Douglas

In DEVIL WOMAN, tree activists are confronted by angry loggers deep within an Australian forest. What starts out as a standard corporate loggers vs. activists altercation quickly turns into something more terrifying when activist Eddy (Marigold Pazar) is bitten by an animal endangered by the loggers’ activities. Light on the gore, but heavy on the quickly elevating violence, there is quite a bit of satisfaction watching the loggers get their due. DEVIL WOMAN has a bit of 28 DAYS LATER and RABID in its DNA, and fans of those movies will enjoy DEVIL WOMAN.

ENTROPIA

USA | 15 Min | Dir. Marinah Janello

ENTROPIA from director Marinah Janello is the strangest and most unsettling short movie in the 2018 SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA collection. A lonely, elderly woman who is surrounded by her collection of taxidermy uses a spell book to try and regain her youth. ENTROPIA disturbed and shocked me more than any of the other horror short films shown at Fantasia. Steeped in body horror and evoking imagery from Richard Kern’s infamous short film, SEWING CIRCLE, director Marinah Janello’s short is a visceral journey of one woman’s extreme attempt to recapture her youth.

The look of the film, by cinematographer Amanda McGrady and a score by composer Evan Phennicie, gives ENTROPIA the look and feel of a very graphic episode of Tales From The Darkside. ENTROPIA is must-see short film, but be prepared for an unexpected and disturbing trip.

RILEY WAS HERE

USA | 15 Min | Dir. Jonathon Rhoads, Mike Marrero

From co-directors Jonathon Rhoads and Mike Marrero, RILEY WAS HERE is a stunning and heartbreaking examination of two people dealing with grief and loss in very different ways. This short film is further proof that the apocalyptic-world/zombie genre still has stories to tell, and —dare I say — life in the genre. For fans of The Walking Dead and Romero’s later LIVING DEAD movies, RILEY WAS HERE is the movie for you.

THE DAY MY MOTHER BECAME A MONSTER

France | 23 Min | Dir. Josephine Darcy Hopkins

My screener of THE DAY MY MOTHER BECAME A MONSTER did not come with English subtitles or overdubbing in this French language film. Despite the language barrier, I was moved and terrified by this short film. A single mother is struggling to raise her energetic and somewhat troublesome pre-teen daughter. Mom is a veterinary assistant, and while at work, she is bitten or scratched by a turtle. As her daughter prepares for her own birthday, Mom begins to transform into some kind of monster.

As a child of a single parent, I could empathize with the daughter’s confusion, fear, and anger as she watches her mother transform into something terrible and monstrous. Despite the changes that Mom is going through, the daughter still recognizes something of her mother in this monster. Some may question why the daughter doesn’t run from her mom, but I don’t. I know the feeling of responsibility to care for a parent, even when we’re never prepared for the role of caretaker.

BESOIN DEAD

France | 18 Min | Dir. Aurelien Digard

A bride and groom are preparing for their wedding day with their priest when a zombie outbreak happens. From director Aurelien Digard, BESOIN DEAD is a straightforward, bloody zombie film. While the bride gets dressed in a private church room, and the groom is off screen preparing for the wedding, the priest and the best man have to make their way from the rectory office to the church to save the bride. While the best man is having trouble navigating this new world of zombies, the priest seems all too well-prepared to dish out some violence on the walking dead.

BESOIN DEAD is the perfect short film to finish out this program.  It’s a fun, gore-filled zombie shooter flick. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I always get a kick out of watching priests become supernatural warriors in horror films.  The priest in this film, like Father McGruder in Peter Jackson’s gore classic DEAD ALIVE, kicks ass for the Lord!

If you missed out on the SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA screening at Fantasia, make sure you keep your eye on these nine shorts when they are made available to the public.

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