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NIGHTSTREAM 2020: “The Haunted Swordsman” Is a Groundbreaking Animated Short Film

After his award-winning short film “The Mill at Calder’s End”, director, puppeteer and creature effects artist Kevin McTurk is back with “The Haunted Swordsman”, an epic gothic adventure crafted through puppetry and practical effects.

Before hitting play, I only knew what the description told me: This was an animated short film about a samurai. But this is much more than that. Within five minutes I had my jaw on the floor. 

“The Haunted Swordsman” is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

The story is badass. After his master is killed by a demon, a samurai (voiced by Jason Scott Lee) sets out on a quest of revenge aided by his wise guide, a severed head (voiced by James Hong). Throughout his dangerous mission, the samurai encounters a demon, a witch (Franka Potente) and a Black Monk (Christopher Lloyd). 

This feels like an authentic Japanese story. There’s peril, action scenes, mythical creatures and a clear influence from classic Japanese media. You learn about the motivations of the character, feel empathy toward a talking head and the ending leaves you craving for more.

The Kickstarter campaign makes clear that “The Haunted Swordsman” is only the first of many chapters to come. However, McTurk only reached one of the financial goals, and I have no clue what the future holds for the project. I hope this gets the exposure it deserves, because this has the potential to be a successful series or even a full feature film.  

The opening reminded me of the CG cinematic videos you would see in big budget video games. Was it 3D? How could it look so good? Turns out it’s all puppetry, some old-school tricks and a terrific use of special effects. The project is inspired by bunraku, a traditional Japanese puppetry technique in which each puppeteer maneuvers a different limb to produce realistic actions and facial expressions. The final product is incredible. 

From a bonfire highlighting the mysticism of a speech to the creepy feeling of entering a cave, the world is full of detail. Sometimes you are not sure if you’re watching a live-action human or a puppet because your eyes are constantly fooled by the lighting. In fact, everything from the puppets to the production design to the animation and the script is amazing, and you won’t be able to look away from the screen.

“The Haunted Swordsman” is a stunning 16-minute epic that blends horror, fantasy and action through groundbreaking animation. Its only sin is that it’s so good and leaves you wanting more. 

“The Haunted Swordsman” is part of the Nightstream Animation Domination and Far Gone and Out Short Programs. It will be available from October 8 to 15. You can follow our Nightstream coverage right here.

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