The 2019 edition of Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest, which focuses on showcasing and celebrating independent horror films from around the world, took place at the S. of Broadway Theater in North Charleston, South Carolina from May 24–26. Among the festival’s engaging entries was the “Creature Shorts Block,” a showcase of short films featuring monsters, creatures, and things that go bump in the night, with plenty of homages, nods, and love letters to cinematic fright fare of the past.
TerrorDactyl is a sci-fi horror offering about three friends (Nathan Hare, Cameron Lee Price, and Raymond Lopez) who go camping together, ignoring a sheriff’s (Jason Connelly) warning about recent bear activity in the area. Things take a deadly turn when one of the men steals what he thinks is a fossil from a nearby abandoned nuclear power plant, causing the titular flying beast to hunt them down. Writer/director E.K. Scarfone does a fine job of building the suspense in an old-school manner, with noises outside of a claustrophobic tent revving up the initial tension. She also knows her budgetary limitations regarding showing a monster, and offers some impressive gore effects. TerrorDactyl is a nifty, well-paced chiller that recalls both 1950s creature features and more modern and graphic outings in that genre, as well.
Black-and-white horror comedy Zombie Bites Werewolf is a 10-minute romp in which a man who thinks he is a werewolf claims to be bitten by a zombie on the day of a full moon. After he indeed transforms into a zombie, one character posits that he will be fine once his lycanthropic turn occurs that night. A running gag about a baby playing with dangerous items adds to the short’s humor. Director and cowriter Charlie Anderson, cowriter Ryan Conrath, and Keith Keal give fun turns as the three leads, as jokes about rural-type folks abound.
In another lycanthropic tale, Natasha Pascetta proves herself to be a stellar filmmaking newcomer as she writes, directs, stars in, and produces Road Trash. Horror icon Heather Langenkamp of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise narrates this tale of a student named Alice (Pascetta) who buries road kill as both a calling and a hobby. When one night she buries the skull of a werewolf, she finds herself being pursued by the same angry beast. An homage to 1980s horror, the short is a blast, looks splendid, and the heavy metal score by James Malone fits the pacing perfectly. Pascetta delivers marvelously in all of her roles, and she will be an exciting talent to watch as she continues her career in fear fare.
Häxan is a four-minute dose of eeriness that features terrific special effects makeup, not surprising considering that writer/director Michael Fontaine has more than 30 makeup department credits to his name, including Green Room (2015) and Jim Jarmusch’s upcoming horror comedy The Dead Don’t Die (2019). The short is dialogue free, with a creepy score and sound design setting the aural mood as the story slowly plays out. A young woman (Dasha Kruchinina), a witch (Eddie Tyler), a glowing orb, and an hourglass are the main elements of the story, and to give anything more away would be doing a disservice to those who have not yet seen the short. Häxan weaves an unsettling spell, and Fontaine shows a strong eye for visuals in this captivating mood piece.
Director Nathan Ruegger’s Trust Me (AKA Trust Me: A Witness Account of the Goatman) is a highly effective horror chiller based on tales of North America’s Goatman cryptid. Becca (Alexandra Bayless) and Jim (Luke Cook) are a young couple who go into the woods for a romantic getaway, but buzzing flies and a horrid stench are early signs that something is amiss near their cabin. Bayless and Cook give fantastic performances, and Ruegger, working from a screenplay by Leslie O’Neill, builds the suspense masterfully. The short imparts a richly gripping, disquieting atmosphere.
The Conduit is a 25-minute crackerjack slice of throwback cinema that is sure to press all the right nostalgia buttons for long-time fans of classic television shows like Tales from the Darkside (1984–1988) and Monsters (1988-1991), and such movies as Re-Animator (1985), Gremlins (1984), Evil Dead (1981), and more, but I’ll leave some surprises for future viewers. A man named Andrew (Jason Turner) conducts sleep experiments by himself and winds up opening a portal to a dimension inhabited by monsters of all shapes and sizes. When he sleeps, the portal opens and creatures pass through. He tries to protect his girlfriend Ashley (Rachel Stefursky) from danger by alienating her, but naturally that tactic doesn’t work. This briskly paced short is chock full of action, engaging characters, winning performances, cool practical effects creatures (mostly mechanical puppets and animatronics), and good old monster POV shots. Director/cowriter John Hale, cowriter Jason Turner, and the cast and crew deliver a valentine to video-store–era horror movies that is superbly satisfying.
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/). He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), and film websites Diabolique Magazine (diaboliquemagazine.com), Gruesome Magazine (gruesomemagazine.com), The Scariest Things (scariesthings.com), Ghastly Grinning (ghastlygrinning.com), and film magazines Phantom of the Movies’ VideoScope (videoscopemag.com) and Drive-In Asylum (etsy.com/shop/GroovyDoom).
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