We explore the “Recurring Nightmares” short horror blocks at the Nightmares Film Festival and discover a remarkable array of must see mini masterpieces.
We’ve been having an incredible time exploring the vast amount of exceptional genre content at this year’s virtual Nightmare Film Festival: Masquerade. While the festival delivers no shortage of killer feature films, where it really shines is its stellar lineup of diverse horror shorts. By prioritizing a few of the extremely well curated horror blocks at this year’s fest, I got introduced to dozens of up-and-coming genre filmmakers poised to be the next big thing in smart, subversive indie horror. And many of these films, though short on runtime, left a very strong and lasting impression.
After checking out Horror Comedy Shorts Block A and Horror Comedy Shorts Block B, I moved on to the Recurring Nightmares Series (A and B). The “Recurring Nightmares” series refers to shorts by Nightmares Film Festival alums. These filmmakers have screened with the festival before, and their follow up shorts prove they have many more tricks and unforgettable treats up their sleeves.
To celebrate 17 satisfying sophomore efforts, we’re back with more well-deserved GOLDEN DOLL HEAD awards.
THE GOLDEN LYNCH
THE CUT – David Lynch has been an inspiration to filmmakers everywhere, infusing his films with the surreal, emotional narrative of dreams. This narrative is honored in The Cut, a fraught journey of a desperate young woman confronting the fallout of a broken heart. For this reason, we award THE GOLDEN LYNCH to The Cut, for that short which continues the tradition of dark symbolism and psychological turmoil typified by David Lynch and his oeuvre. If there were more GOLDEN LYNCHES and fewer GOLDEN SNYDERS, the world would be a far more interesting place!
WHO WANTS DESSERT? – Annie has it all. A beautiful house, a loving husband, and one of those adorable toddlers with the really big eyeglasses. But her therapist is concerned. Annie’s life may not be as perfect as it seems, yet the aesthetic of this film is. Everything, from the hair to the costuming to the set design and color work together to create just the right tone of ever-so-slightly too good to be true. One of the hardest things in making a film is making sure all of your collaborators — from the actors to the propmaster to the colorist — are all working to tell the same story. In Who Wants Dessert? all these elements come together perfectly, giving just the right hint of surrealness to tip Annie’s life into the uncanny.
BEST OF THE BUNCH
FRAGILE.COM – Of 2020’s list of Recurring Nightmares, my favorite is Fragile.com. The film covers a young teen and aspiring actress. Newly-rejected and broke, she’s approached by mysterious older guy for a new acting job. Fragile.com goes exactly where you expect but in a way that’s disturbing on a whole new level. While Fragile.com may very well be a true kink in a lost corner of the internet, it also elegantly explores the emotional toll of exploitation without ever being exploitative itself. Brilliantly acted with naturalism and grace, Fragile.com and its creators are ones to watch.
KARAOKE NIGHT – A lonely bar and its prized chanteuse have a unique partnership with the local fauna. One of the most graphic of the series, Karaoke Night has a unique prosthetic that suggests a nasty combination of Aliens and Muppet porn. It is… a lot. And honestly, you just have to respect the craftsmanship.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE – Exorcisms get a high-tech upgrade in a strange new world where religious training is weaponized. This entertaining twist is the mashup I never saw coming and never knew I needed. Netflix please take note of my three-season order.
BEST NEW VILLAIN
INFLUENCED – Never meet your heroes. A passionate influencer meets her best friend for brunch only to reveal a tale of lies, scandal, and ambition spinning out of control. Brittany is a villain for these times, one whose fragile sense of self shatters when confronted with the truth behind her idol’s manufactured persona. There is a slippery slope for those who pursue fame, and the cost could be your humanity.
BACKWARD CREEP – With a unique addition to the camera trope — using the minivan cam — Backward Creep features a horrifying practical creature that is relevant and disturbing. The end credits suggest that this will be expanded to a feature film, and if so, please send me the link to their donation page. #EYEMONSTER4LYFE
THE GOLDEN TOWEL
DON’T SNEEZE – Death proves as bureaucratic as life in the delightful Don’t Sneeze, a helpful short (and piece of advice) that comes from Ryan LaPlante whose wit reads like a slightly pervier Douglas Adams. For these reasons, (and other story-related ones) Don’t Sneeze is awarded THE GOLDEN TOWEL.
GODSPEED – In one of those delightful tales that could only be realized as a short film, a mother drives through the night to come to her son’s aid while musing on the many flaws of his ne’er do well girlfriend. It takes a lot of star power to maintain what is very much a one-woman show, and Godspeed knew how to cast. The twist is the perfect cherry on top of this powerhouse performance, and this nasty little tale deserves to be the audition monologue for a whole new generation of aspiring actors.
BEST EXCUSE NOT TO TRAVEL
THORNS – In these times (that have gone on so long that even saying “in these times” has become trite), it’s hard not to miss that experience of the weekend road trip and the cheap motel. Fortunately for us, Thorns is a chilling, satisfying reminder of why it’s sometimes better to stay home.
BY SUNRISE – A mother and her partner steal back her daughter during a horrifying global phenomenon. In a world where people are randomly disappearing, the mother is one more casualty. The partner is left to explain the inexplicable to the baffled child. While most of these bleak apocalyptic tales leave you feeling hopeless, this sunrise dawns on a girl strangely well-prepared. The partner proves a strangely effective babysitter, imbuing her charge with a sense of adventure and innocence within a hopeless situation.
MOST ACCURATE NEAR FUTURE
FINDER – This dystopia is set in 2022, and the line it draws between the current political climate and an unthinkable future is an unsettling one. Further, it coyly flips its twist on our classic assumptions that the protagonist and the victim are on the same side.
MOURN – A sweet, elderly grief counselor is confronted by a widower with a mysterious connection to her past. This short has you constantly questioning the truth in this unnerving meditation on reinvention and revenge.
PERFECT – An enterprising young woman attempts to build the perfect man… one part at a time. This horrifying tale of patchwork passion features a gleefully insane protagonist and some seriously gullible young men. While the lead is clearly charming, her intense focus is a delicious testament to our willingness to ignore any number of glaring red flags in favor of a pretty face.
THE SQUIRRELS IN THE ATTIC – In this short, a clever public defender seeks to interview a mysterious ex-con. Generally, a story that’s this tight-lipped about an ex-con’s atrocities is prepping for a big reveal. Squirrels sidesteps this expectation while elegantly questioning the nature of good and evil. While we never know what that ex-con has done, we know the grief in his housekeeper’s eyes. We wonder if such evidence can ever be justified. The mystery of the ex-con’s crimes allows us to stop snap-judgement in its tracks, making a frustrating but profound rejection of all our preconceptions. Well played.
THE GOLDEN SERLING
THE GIRL IN THE WOODS – A woman hits something while driving on a lonely road. As she investigates, she finds herself tormented by a mysterious figure that may hold the key to her ultimate fate. If Twilight Zone episodes lasted 6 minutes, The Girl in the Woods would be a perfect example. It’s both scary and intriguing with an ending that springs like a mousetrap. For a smart, spooky concept with a neat twist, The Girl in the Woods gets the Rod Serling award and has entered the annals of inspired new folklore.
BEST NEW CULT
SHINY DIAMONDS – A pretty young woman attempts to teach a lustful stranger the tenets of her faith. A cute concept and adept execution, this comedy would be a little too out-there — that is until you read about literally any other cult. At least this one makes pretty jewelry!
That’s a wrap for the Morbidly Beautiful Golden Doll Awards, celebrating the incredible array of short horror content out of Nightmares Film Festival: Masquerade. Please comment on YOUR favorite horror shorts, and new ideas for future awards!