Listen, all the fresh talent these days are making short films. When you’re just out of film school, or striking out on your own, it’s often best to dive into the film community by circulating your short and generating word of mouth on the film festival circuit. You’re much more likely to wind up First A.D. on the next Nickelback video if you shoot some hedonistic, visually rich short film about god knows what than if you pick up a series of P.A. gigs on webisodes of some shitty sitcom starring Judge Reinhold. Since many filmmakers consider their short films to be their calling card and you don’t have some investor or studio breathing down your neck to make something accessible for the largest possible audience, you’re often left to your own devices to make something as creative and off-beat as possible, evidenced by the short films in Provocateur’s latest entry into their ongoing Experiments In Terror series.
But there’s a problem, you see. There’s an awful lot of short films out there because there is an awful lot of film making talent, all vying for their shot but if you’re like me and you live, more or less, out in the sticks, most of these shorts pass you by. You have to make it out to film festivals to see them and that can often be a humongous pain in the ass. Very few companies are compiling the good stuff on discs by genre and most of the time, the only way to see these shorts is if one of these directors breaks out of the Hollywood slum and kicks out a DVD with a series of extras showcasing the director in their creative infancy. Provocateur remedies this problem by supplying the horror hungry masses with a series of horror shorts that either easily fall into the genre or are horror films filtered through avant garde sensibilities. Their latest offering, the third in the Experiments In Terror series is a mixed bag of results but when it’s good, it’s good!
You get six short films to watch. Each one an off beat attempt at setting you ill at ease with your surroundings. The disc kicks off with Carey Burtt’s bizarre retelling of the story of Richard Trenton Chase, The Vampire of Sacramento, a severely mentally ill young man who, in the 70’s, murdered and cannibalized six people as well as a countless number of animals because he was under the delusions that aliens and Nazis were poisoning him via the soap in his shower, among a number of other bat-shit insane claims. Burtt tells the story, The Psychotic Oddyssey of Richard Chase, with Barbie dolls, paper cutouts, stuffed animals and a warped narration. For a taste I have included Burtt’s short at the bottom of this review. Following this short is Satan Claus, a Christmas themed fairytale made entirely from recut and recontextualized footage of 60’s Christmas movies and some footage of a guy dressed up like the devil. Next up is The Red Door from director Jason Bognacki, an extremely unpleasant revenge scenario told through the eyes of a fractured Hollywood prostitute. Bognacki submits this ambitious short as a smaller piece of a forthcoming feature (which I’m told at this time is making solo runs at film festivals). Following that is Terror! by Ben Rivers, a montage of classic slasher, giallo and splatter that Rivers describes as a love letter to the horror genre. It’s easily the best short on the disc and showcases the similarities that many of the classic films of the genre from the 70’s and 80’s share, starting with exteriors, introducing victims and building to a gory crescendo in a quick cut editorial of films such as Friday the 13th, The Beyond, Prince of Darkness, Suspiria, Trauma, etc. It’s a fun piece that every horror fan should be in love with. Mike Kuchar’s Born of the Wind is up next, a cheap-looking silent that tells the story of an archaeologist, his object of obsession, a mummified woman resurrected and the burglar that she falls in love with. Rounding out the package is the Guy Maddin/Marie Losier collaboration, Manuelle Labor, a typically stunted silent tale of a woman who gives birth to a pair of severed hands.
I certainly have an appreciation for the avant but the fact that the final two films are both silents is irksom. Also, at least one of these pictures ends with a title card reading Fin. Just so you know what you’re getting yourself into. Highlights on this edition of Experiments In Terror are easily Terror! and The Red Door, both being great entries for their own reasons. Bognacki could have submitted a trailer for The Red Door, but what you get in its stead is a full bodied taste of things to come. For the most part, it’s a uncomfortably close close-up shot of a scumbag John, threatening Lynda, the protagonist hooker via POV shot before diving on top of her for a roll in the hay. Of course, she gets the upper hand and a doppleganger stabs the shit out of him before suffocating him with a bag over his head. Bognacki is describing it as a giallo but the look of the short is a lot like a David Lynch film, somewhere between Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet complete with a warped record song playing over the action. Rivers’ Terror! is an altogether different experience, though. It flows like a piece of music, beginning softly with exterior shots from movies that you’re probably familiar with, easing in to characters we know inching through the darkness toward their deaths until it explodes into a festival of carnage before easing out with false scare scenes from The Burning and A Nightmare On Elm Street. There’s isn’t a single frame of original footage in it, but it shows off Rivers’ expertise with editing.
There are, of course, some shortcomings on the disc, notably Mike Kuchar’s exceedingly boring Born of the Wind which alleges that it has been preserved by some avant garde film society, but it looks like a cheap Jess Franco flick sans nudity and spoken dialog. To its credit, Born of the Wind was produced in 1961 and plays out like a short from an EC comic book but it hasn’t age particularly well. It’s loaded with the type of overacting that you’d expect from a silent, but it’s also shot in faded color, which betrays the silent nature of the film. The end result looks like a damaged 8mm print of some Mexi-horror melodrama. J.X. Williams’ short, Satan Claus has a much more interesting back story than the end product. A piece made to screw a cheap theater owner who owed Williams a good deal of back pay. The idea of taking Christmas movie footage and changing the context of it all is interesting but it serves no purpose in the here and now. In the end, it’s the shortest piece on the disc and most tolerable, where Born of the Wind seems to take forever to get anywhere. I realize that I’m picking on the two oldest entries on the disc, but they are both genuinely out of place in the face of cutting edge merchandise like The Red Door.
The gems on the disc are solid and you don’t have to watch the bad ones since you can pick and choose. The remaining two items are strictly middle of the road, good short films and wind up rounding out a solid package of short films for horror fans who like a little crazy in their horror film diet. Provocateur has gathered together a mostly hit pack and I look forward to Experiments In Terror 4, if there even is a fourth part.