As this year’s Fantastic Fest draws to a close, I just want to say that this was a really fun experience! From the bonkers pre-shows to the array of talented filmmakers on display, this year gave me yet another reason to visit the fest in person when it’s finally safe to do so. And the final night brought an amazing collection of horror shorts that you should check out when they’re made available. Let’s get into the “Short Fuse” program!
Director: Alexander Lemus Gadea
News reports ring throughout the apartment that a virus called the Lassa Fever is airborne and to take precautions with any open spaces. Paranoia sets in when a young child discovers a small hole in his bedroom wall. He stands guard, frightened of what may or may not come of this. Gadea imbues this simple short with a great deal of mounting anticipation. The consistent dread that comes with constant news reports — for as much as it’s important to stay informed — has the power to keep you on edge even when you’re not actively thinking about it. And when you combine said reports with the child’s heavy breathing, you get a short that’s bound to make you anxious from the get-go.
Director: Felipe Vargas
Wow, oh wow, did I love this one! “Milk Teeth” starts off viciously as a child (Aaron Bradhsaw) forces a tooth out by using a piece of dental floss like a saw, a la “Hereditary.” A creepy disembodied voice emanates from the bathroom sink, telling him that if he gives it his tooth, she’ll provide him with riches. Word gets around the orphanage as the other children start to “feed” the voice in the drain, only to learn what dire consequences of dark temptation await them.
With shades of Guillermo del Toro, Vargas and his creative team craft an impressive horror fairy tale that creeped me the hell out. My jaw hit the floor when I saw that this was a student film. The level of craftsmanship on display is astounding! Bradshaw turns in a very engaging performance so full of empathy in his desire to pay a painful price to “look the part” and secure a family. This creative team, especially Meredith “Kat” Wells, with her unsettling design of the demented tooth fairy, is going places. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this was optioned down the line for a feature adaptation.
Three young girls, Grace (Rebecca Chan), Agnes (Juliet Di Gioacchino) and Hannah (Holly Macintyre), walk past a dead catfish lying on the ground. Hannah instinctually smashes it with a rock; she doesn’t really know why she did it. Later, Hannah comes across a cottage in the woods where she witnesses the violent aftermath of something she shouldn’t have seen, eliciting a dark, unexpected reaction. “Fish Whiskers” starts off promising, with the potential of exploring the darkness within the recesses of a child’s mind, yet fizzles out with an abrupt ending that leaves you in the dust before it can expand on its setup.
Director: Beck Kitsis
Jess (Stella Baker) is walking home alone at night on a dimly lit street after leaving a party, only to have a whistling man in his truck start to follow her. She breathes a sigh of relief when he drives off. The night isn’t over for her, however, as two other men of the darkness emerge to make things even more harrowing for Jess. “The Three Men You Meet at Night” wrings a great deal of suspense out of the pervading primal threat that men face to women, especially in the dark. Kitsis’s assured direction, coupled with Baker’s anxious performance, weaponizes the unpredictable patriarchal menace of the dark, ensuring that you’re just as on edge as Jess amid her nighttime odyssey.
Director: Joanna Tsanis
Lynne Griffin (“Black Christmas” 1974) plays a grief counselor who is about to head home for the night, when a mysterious man named Arthur (Julian Robino) walks in. He claims to be a recent widower and begs her for help. She obliges him, only to have Arthur make some bold claims about who the counselor really is, building to a repressed revelation of sorts. Griffin is great here as she plays with Robino’s mind games, denying every allegation he throws her way. The conclusion is a bit silly, but the verbal cat-and-mouse confrontation is a tense experience nonetheless.
Director: Paolo Ossa
A hospital psychiatrist (Ryan Ruby) gets an alarming call in the middle of the night that Ottie (Brandon deSpain), one of his most prolific patients, has escaped. He gets up to swing by the hospital, leaving his wife (Jenita Spirtovic) alone in bed. And you can probably see where this goes. “Ottie” even takes that extra gruesome step when you learn something about his spouse. It’s effective even if it is based upon the foundation of shocks for shocks’ sake.
Director: Tony Morales
Panic sets in when Laura (Beatriz Salas) discovers that her younger sister Ainara (Carmen Salas) receives a frightening phone call that warns her that Abracitos (Virginia Gómez) is in her room. Laura’s attempt to keep Ainara safe from the terrifying spirit proves to be more difficult than she expected. Morales builds upon the uncomfortable dead silence with a level of palpable tension to the point where, when an expertly timed jump scare does happen, it’s absolutely startling. And Carmen Salas’s reading of “she doesn’t stop smiling” totally didn’t give me nightmares.
Director: Thessa Meijer
A woman (Famke Louise) walks into an ice cream shop on the hottest day of the year, and things get really weird when she starts to melt. I love just how abrasive “Heat” is with its surreal, blindly vibrant color palette. Before you can even think about what’s happening, Meijer’s surrealist short, as indicated in the above photo, relishes in the goopy mess it’s made for itself. It’s so gross, and I’ve got to commend Meijer for just rolling with this nasty little premise that could easily double for one of those bizarre mid-2000s PS2 commercials that have nothing to do with the product itself.
Director: Ruwan Heggelman
An innocent-looking street mime (Jop Gorris) quietly sits in the park — that is, until his silence is interrupted by a sudden hazing ritual. When provoked by the ringleaders, this reality-bending super mime turns everything on its head with appropriately gory results. He’s also looking for love and can’t quite get the words out. In addition to Gorris’s original mime makeup, I loved his precise, calculated performance when demonstrating his “Doctor Strange”-like abilities with a simple wave of his hands. Should Heggelman want to do so, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this character, actually.
Director: David Mikalson
Sitting outside in her car, the coach (Nicola Lambo) of a girls gymnastics team notices a creepy guy (Davey Johnson) in the parking lot. Hours later, his car is still there but he’s not inside it. When the coach notices him hiding inside one of the mats, she decides she’s going to give the pervert the gory performance he deserves. You initially think “Stuck” is going to center on the suspense of where the pervert could be hiding, but Mikalson ensures that, no, this is about bone-crunching cathartic justice. And by god is it amazing to watch it unfold as Lambo wields her gymnasts as little weapons against him.
Director: Robin Comisar
Did you know that you can get 30 shrimp for only $10.99 at Red Lobster?! Well, this grainy ’90s commercial is here to tell you about the deal; that is, until it’s participants, notably the customer (Carrie Coon), begin to have a reality-bending meltdown. “Great Choice” would fit in perfectly within Adult Swim’s “experimental shorts to spring on people at 3 a.m.” catalogue, alongside “Too Many Cooks.” It’s no wonder Comisar’s outlandishly bizarre short became a festival favorite when it premiered in 2017. In addition to being primed for so many in-jokes, “Great Choice” is guaranteed to make you shiver a little the next time you pass a Red Lobster.
Featured Image: Aaron Bradshaw in “Milk Teeth”
Matt graduated from Keene State College in 2017 with a Bachelor’s in Critical Film Studies. A few of his favorite films include “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Army of Darkness,” “Before Sunrise” and “Certain Women.” Having already contributed to Bloody Disgusting, ELF Magazine and The Simple Cinephile, Matt aspires to expand and continue writing with various outlets. If there’s any chance to talk about horror films and/or Twin Peaks, he’ll very much jump at the opportunity.