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From the sublime to the silly to the shocking and the soul-stirring, we kick off the year in a big way with a variety of stellar short films.

This month, we decided to kick off a new year of horror by exploring a wide variety of shorts rather than sticking with a singular theme or tone. Our resolution this year is to discover as much new great genre content as possible, and this was a stellar way to work toward that goal. We hope you enjoy this varied selection as much as we did.

PETER’S RECOMMENDATIONS (SHORT HORROR EDITOR)

1. GRAVID (14 minutes)

Gravid

Everyone has secrets.

Written and directed by Laura Jai Smith, Gravid boasts a 90% female creative team, including SFX Prosthetic Designer Ruth Pease, BIFA nominated for her work on the multi-award-winning feature Censor.

Gravid is a semi-autobiographical body horror about the societal pressure facing women to want to start a family and the mounting dread of keeping a secret. The film draws on a fear of something growing inside you, and the inability to articulate your feelings towards it.

It is interesting to see the relationship dynamic on the screen of the excitement of Johann, the partner played by Max Rinehart, matching the build of Amy’s terror at the changes occurring inside her. Because Johann wants children and is overjoyed at the thought of Amy being pregnant, he is blinded to her emotions and everything she is keeping bottled up.

Eleanor Wyld, who plays Amy, does an outstanding job at portraying the range of emotions that Amy is going through, and creates a stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere as she feels trapped in her own relationship, and fears her own body.

Gravid doesn’t just deliver on being an intensely thought-provoking piece, being body horror after all, it also has plenty of grisly visuals for the genre fan to enjoy. One thing in particular that always gets to me is pulling hair from your throat, and there is a truly gross delivery of this in the film that had me squirming.

In all, I’d say that Gravid is an absolute success and definitely worth a watch if you’re looking for something to scratch under the surface and not just take at face value.

The award-winning Gravid premiered in Los Angeles at the Hollyshorts Film Festival in August of 2023. The short is currently on the festival circuit. Check out the trailer below, and be sure to follow Laura on Instagram for screening and release information.

 

2. THE NIGHT JANE WENT INSANE (8 minutes)

Is a woman going insane or are aliens involved?

Written and directed by Zach LorkiewiczThe Night Jane Went Insane is a sci-fi horror short that takes place entirely in one small apartment.

A Count the Clock production (The Ball), the short features three great scream queens: Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, and Linnea Quigley, so it is already poised to become a fan favorite. This trio has appeared together in 80s b-movie cult classics Nightmare Sisters and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. Thus, getting them on screen together is always sure to be a fun time.

The film follows Brinke Stevens as she begins to hear voices communicating with her through her TV and radio, as they are coaxing her to join them.

This is an off-the-wall short that has the feel of the 80s straight-to-video gems that these scream queens are known for.

Although that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is a large cult following for genre fans who will get a kick out of The Night Jane Went Insane!

3. IT CAME FROM BEYOND THE DRAIN (10 minutes)

A man and his dog must defend themselves from a creature that erupts from beneath their kitchen sink.

Directed and animated by Adam Ciolfi (whose previous short Filth first made us take note of this talented filmmaker), It Came From Beyond the Drain is a stop-motion monster movie inspired by the B-movies of the 1950s. The short features no dialogue and is carried entirely by the visual storytelling of the stop-motion animation style.

Stop-motion animation has always been an art style I’ve loved in film. From the work of Harryhausen, Svankmajer, and Jittlov to name just a few of my favorites, to the smaller pieces featured in films like Hellbound: Hellraiser 2. It is a style that can look whimsical and magical but also creepy and horrific, so it works well in the horror genre.

It is used to great effect in this short, as a large, tentacled creature terrorizes a man and his dog through the night.

As well as being a 1950s-style monster movie, It Came From Beyond the Drain is also a buddy movie about a man and his dog, so this is one that I would definitely recommend to the pet lovers in my life.

4. VILLAIN (10 minutes)

An orphaned girl seeks revenge on the creature that destroyed her home but discovers more in its lair than she bargained for.

Written and directed by Sparky Tehnsuko, Villain is a fantasy tale of revenge starring Bella Ramsey who is, as I mentioned in the write-up of the last short they featured in, becoming a firm favorite among genre fans. This is apparent here, with the short getting over 100,000 views in just a month of being released.

Although not strictly horror, this revenge story certainly has horror elements. We watch Ramsey seek out the creature that killed their family so they can avenge their deaths.

Villain tells the story of the lengths that someone will go to in order to get revenge, and the victim becoming the monster. It’s brilliantly acted, with both Bella Ramsey and co-star Isla Gie showing a great range of emotions. This helps invest you during the ten-minute runtime.

This short also features some outstanding special effects work to bring the dragon to life and wouldn’t look out of place in a big-budget feature film.

STEPHANIE’S RECOMMENDATIONS (EDITOR-IN-CHIEF)

5. SAY HI AFTER YOU DIE (17 minutes)

A grieving woman believes her deceased best friend has come back to visit her… as a porta potty.

Making its World Premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Kate Jean Hollowell’s Say Hi After You Die is as profound as it is funny — a captivating short about friendship, loss, grieving, and letting go.

It begins with two best friends, Ruby (Ruby Caster, the short’s co-writer) and Gloria (writer-director Kate Hollowell), enjoying an intimate conversation in a cafe. Their bond and chemistry are palpable, and it’s clear there is significant affection between the two. While joking about reincarnation, Ruby promises Gloria that if anything ever happened to her she’d visit Gloria from beyond the grave as a port-a-potty, which Gloria insists is just so Ruby.

It’s all playful cheekiness until Ruby exits the cafe and is immediately struck down by a bus.

Gloria is consumed by grief and wallowing in depression until a construction crew mysteriously shows up at a site across from her house, bringing with it a port-a-potty. Having never seen any type of construction anywhere near the area and not getting a clear answer from the crew member in charge about what exactly they are doing there, Gloria starts to believe it’s all just a little too coincidental not to mean something.

She begins to visit the site regularly, chatting with the port-a-potty as if it’s Ruby returned to her, and we watch her regaining some of the vivacity and humor she lost upon the death of her best friend.

One evening, when the construction workers have gone, Gloria finally gets the courage to ask the port-a-potty some stark questions about what happens when you die. In response, the port-a-potty welcomes her inside for the answers she seeks. I won’t ruin what follows, but it’s absolutely joy-inducing and so well executed.

The ending packs quite a punch, emphasizing the universality of pain, and it left me feeling a range of emotions — with the predominant one being utter and complete satisfaction.

Hollowell is a multi-hyphenate director, comedian, and musician, who honed her humor, storytelling, and visual style by making her own music videos, showcased at SXSW in 2022 and 2023.

Her latest short, Say Hi After You Die, is hilarious, heartwarming, infinitely engaging, beautifully acted, and unexpectedly sublime.

It’s currently touring the festival circuit, but I urge you to keep an eye out for it. You can check out the short’s Sundance featurette below.

6. ARE THEY SMILING? (10 minutes)

Are They Smiling

A young woman decides to carry on the family tradition of attending the county fair, this time with her dead parents.

Kate Jean Hollowell’s excellent short Say Hi After You Die may not be readily available for you to watch unless you can catch it on the festival circuit. But you can check out her first award-winning short film right now.

Are They Smiling is another infinitely charming short that tackles themes of loss and recovery. It’s a dark comedy that slowly evolves into a musical dance.

A woman (Kate Hollowell) spends the day at the county fair, carrying a giant urn containing the ashes of her recently deceased parents on every ride while constantly talking to her “parents” and asking them how they’re enjoying the festivities.

It’s a bit silly but also joyful watching her experience all the thrills and fun of the fair — from riding all the rides to getting her portrait drawn holding her urn to watching a monster truck show.

There’s even a brief, almost meet-cute port-a-potty scene that may have helped inspire Hollowell to create her follow-up short Say Hi After You Die.

Eventually, the woman meets a kindred spirit who truly gets her and understands everything she’s feeling. He helps her let go of her heavy burden and embrace the joy of life as well as the heartache.

Inspired by the real-life loss of her parents due to cancer, Hollowell keeps the short wonderfully light and humorous, but it’s also got a poignant message about human connection and how it helps buoy us when we’re drowning in grief. 

In addition to watching this must-see short, I encourage you to check out more from Kate Hollowell, including her infectious music videos (as Number One Popstar), right here.

7. LEGEND OF EL CUCUY (14 minutes)

A modern family is challenging disciplinary parenting norms only to face the wrath of El Cucuy, a demon that comes for the most deviant children in the night.

In this fourteen-minute cautionary tale based on Latin folklore, writer-director Cynthia Garcia Williams explores the intersection of mythology and modern parenting choices.

Legend of El Cucuy begins with striking religious imagery over a haunting Spanish lullaby. A rosary is consumed by flames. It’s a beautiful but ominous hint at the demonic tale to come.

Soon, a teacher is seen arguing with a mom (Diana Sanchez) about her daughter’s problematic behavior in class and disturbing drawings that hint at darkness. Having grown up in a far-too-rigid household, the mom refuses to discipline the child, Isabella, because she doesn’t want her to feel stifled or controlled.

It’s clear, however, that Isabella is in dire need of some stricter parental guidance. Her dad wants to tell her about the myth of El Cucuy to scare her into behaving, but her mom thinks that’s manipulative and wrong.

While the young girl sleeps, the dad tells the mom about the legend’s origins. It’s a haunting and tragic tale that we see through re-enactment about a man whose whose soul is damned as a result of his disastrous life choices.

Soon, however, they learn the sinister story may not just be a monstrous myth conjured by parents to keep their kids in line. The threat may, in fact, be very real.

I love horror films that incorporate regional folklore and cultural beliefs, and it’s especially twisted when those legends involve an entity that preys on children. I could easily see this short being crafted into a compelling feature film. The acting is strong, and the makeup effects, though brief, are outstanding.

It’s an eerie and engrossing tale that left me wanting more, in the best possible way. 

Currently on the festival circuit, Legend of El Cucuy just made its US premiere at Slamdance, where it was screened or this review. Check out the trailer below and eep your eyes peeled for this one!

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