For a change of pace from folk music reviews we decided to attend the Celluloid Screams horror festival in Sheffield. We needed to get some horror on while the spirit of Halloween was just around the corner, albeit sadly just for a day.
There were many films, it was delightful blur of memorable pictures.
We wanted to share our thoughts, so in our first post we wanted to talk about the short films we saw:
THE WYRM OF BWLCH PEN BARRAS
Director / Writer: Craig Williams
Release: December 2023
Our first short of the day is a Welsh one drawing on a constructed folklore which will hit the right notes with many people, including those fans of historical tales which might have influenced the story such as the the River Taff Worm or even the Lambton Worm. The main difference here though, is that nobody has a hankering for milk.
There are some delightful rural shots, the terror here is not really from the dark but the wind. Among the confused, slightly reticent sun you get the sense of an early chill; the forcing of unwilling bones to go and do “what has to be done”, and the core of this horror that “to go forward we must look back”.
Like many a good film with Folk Horror at the core, much of the fear is in the mind and the landscape. This is complimented well by the characters on their journey. All the actors represent a different face to what is happening be it the person who has seen too much (Morgan Hopkins), the muscle who has a kind of complicated approval of things (Seán Carlsen), the stalwart yet saddening person in charge (Bryn Fôn), and the resigned pariah (Morgan Llewelyn-Jones). Victoria Pugh sets up the dread and fear early on too as someone else in the know.
This is a slick short that captures the mood. You do believe this hidden community shame; there are little nuances that spark and add quite a bit, i.e. when a character is berated for standing in the road waiting; the secrecy and urgency is there in the character’s eyes.
The terror of the landscape and the old ways is strong in this short. We hope it is a success, it is the kind of thing we hesitantly get out of bed for.
Writer: David Scullion
Director: Emily Greenwood
Release: 12 October 2023
Next up is “Stop Dead”, a bloody crisis that takes part on a country road. Two police officers have pulled over and a dishevelled woman approaches. Then things take a turn for the worst.
For us, “Stop Dead” is a pretty good proof of concept for something bigger. It has the ingredients of a recipe for something really intriguing. There are two main characters at odds with each other, the terrifying visage of a broken, terrified person in the middle of nowhere, and an antagonist with some room for lore to be built around.
As the promotional picture shows, the lighting is especially good and deathly in this film. The makeup effects are top notch (Priya Blackburn’s Jennifer is a pale, scary visage) and the fate of one of characters reminds very much (in the best way) of that in a 1997 Canadian horror.
Prior to seeing the short, we saw no promotional material. If we had seen the tag line, we would have understood the particular rules of this scenario (“not to stop”) but for some inexplicable reason (it is probably mentioned in the film), it did not occur to us that this was the cause of everyone’s problems. As a result the final scenes were initially confusing to us. It might have been glaringly obvious, but we did not notice.
Even this misunderstanding did not take away the potential for an interesting villain take or stop us appreciating the set piece that was there in all it’s moodiness.
ONLY YOURSELF TO BLAME
Director / Writer: Noomi Yates
Release : 14 October 2023
Self-described as a feminist body horror, “Only Yourself to Blame” evokes a strong sense of panic, fear, and signals traumatic memories of assault in an almost ballet-like dance whose central choreographed scene is startling.
Artistic in presentation and strikingly conceptual in setting, the vehicle for this short is undoubtedly the emotions of the main characters (Simone and Pervis), and the menace that is all around. This foundation of acting makes the piece flourish but there are other good choices too.
The makeup and presentation in a particular scene are well selected. With this theme in the wrong hands there is a danger it could be over-the-top and a risk that the real horror could be played for cheap thrills, especially when the film is going for a serious tone. There is never a danger of that here though, and like all good media with an underlying social message, the spirit of hope is also strong and clear.
The film does a lot with the time has and it’s setting is particularly isolating and creepy, a great achievement.
Director / Writer: Jennifer Handorf
Release: August 2022
One of the shortest of the films we see, “Wolf Whistle” is nevertheless an interesting and necessary watch.
There is a runner going to run out at night. Not much can be given away, but this is a blunt instrument of a film, and a necessary one at that. The frustrations and anger of the director/writer are very much felt here, and the tension feels very real.
The manifestations within the film are incredibly well-received at the festival. Along with the other short in their segment, this one seems to elicit the most outward expressions of positivity from the crowd. There is air punching to be sure.
Director: Rodrigue Huart
Writers: Rodrigue Huart / David A. Cassan / Axel Wursten
Release: 22 August 2023
Transylvanie is a French short that captures the soul in a distinctly sweet way. The main character Ewe (Katell Varvat) believes that she is a vampire and is looking to turn someone to stand by her and rule this province of apartment blocks. She calls on her powers to face her lonliness and looks on at her neighbours from on high.
Delightfully cute and quirky, this central premise takes place within a space of play as several of the teenage characters hanging out in the urban space together with Ewe being considered he outsider from every conceivable angle.
Probably the most popular short of the day, Transylvanie’s heart is comedic as Ewe’s seious proclamations, Hugo’s wonder (Lucien Le Ho) and Gwen’s (Emma Gautier) exasperation combine into a quietly charming mystery that with Ewe’s conviction makes hard to know for certain what the truth of the matter is.
Characterful and sharp in filming and dialogue, this is a short that probably resonates with that young wonder of horror that latter blossoms to full on fandom.
Director / Writer: Ellie Stewart
The last short we see for Friday at Celluloid Screams is Canadian short film, “Pool Party”.
We start by seeing a slumber party through the eyes of Freya (Glen Dela-Cruz) and feel her pain as from the beginning she wants to escape the pain that is talking awkwardly about intimate personal grooming and being made to participate in the coming-of-age ritual of getting leathered on cheap spirits.
This short feature surprises though as the awkwardness of growing pains turns into something else together. As the short progresses it becomes like a hazy dream, the bright colours glare and the pastels swirl and blend. Most of all, the piece describes the fears of this transformative time, but also the wonder of it and the self discovery of sexuality.
Warm and rewarding with some excellent prosthetics, this short brings the heat, excitement as well as pain, of young adulthood to the fore.