The short film is fast becoming one of my favorite (dare I say "preferred") formats for independent horror cinema. Ideally, a filmmaker can use the inherent economy (and I don't just mean that financially) of the short film to quickly and vividly present the concepts he/she wants to communicate. This can...and often does result in a particularly intense viewing experience. Of course, there are limitations, too. The short time frame can (and often does) work against the filmmaker, so it's absolutely crucial that he/she has a clear, concise image of what they're trying to say and/or show in their film. When you've only got, say, 15 minutes to get your point across, you'd damned well better know where you're going with your story, because like it or not, your time runs out in the blink of an eye. I'd go so far as to say that, as I understand it, making an effective short horror film is in almost every way more challenging than making a feature-length film. So, when a filmmaker nails it, he/she really nails it, ya' know? Thus, when I get an email from a filmmaker asking me to consider their short film/films for review, I usually get pretty excited about it. That was definitely the case when into my inbox came a message from one Christopher Alan Broadstone. He's an author (of the Barker-meets-Lovecraft novel "Puzzleman", which I'm in the process of reading), and he's a filmmaker. Christopher sent me his collection of short films; My Skin, Scream for Me, and Human No More, as well as a copy of his novel for consideration. I immediately ripped open the DVD packaging and prepared myself for what I hoped would be an excellent, horrifying, and well-made group of short films. And folks, let me tell you that I was not disappointed. These three films are, like most disparate films in a young director's canon, quite different in many ways, but they share a sense of existentialist dread that truly permeates every frame. So, enough gushing...on with the reviews proper.
In a different world, with a slightly different twist, this film could be called "Don't Fuck with Death". In thirteen (13) short minutes, My Skin tells the tale of a literal "Death" figure (Tony Simmons), here attempting to collect the soul of a young woman. Problem is, someone beat Death to the proverbial punch...the young woman was murdered before Death could do his job and harvest her soul. So, Death decides to live by that old maxim "don't get mad...get even", and plays his own twisted little game with the murderer. This is a film where the inherent brevity of the format really works for the story...propelling it forward and never relenting until the chilling final minute or so. It's also worth noting that "Death" here is presented fairly originally...sort of a cross between Ingmar Bergman's vision as seen in The Seventh Seal and a Heironymous Bosch painting. My Skin is an example of a compelling and frightening short horror film done right.
Scream For Me
I've always been fascinated with the idea of two serial killers crossing paths. The concept is just rife with narrative and creative possibilities. In Scream for Me, Broadstone takes the idea to new highs (or depths...depending on your perspective). We join an act of brutality in progress, with a killer torturing a woman in her apartment. He slaps her around, himself wimpering and screaming about his childhood and loves lost, and insists that his victim scream for him (hence the title). She simply refuses to comply with his deeply psychotic needs, much to his chagrin. So, he finally gives up and put her out of her misery. Immediately afterward, the apartment door flies open, and in bursts a character known simply as "The Madman"...played again by Tony Simmons. It seems that "The Madman" had been targeting that very girl in that very apartment to be one of his own victims, and he's none too pleased at having his prey stolen out from under him. So, since his battle cry is "I came here for some fuckin', and I'm damn sure gonna get some!", he decides to make do with what he has. The roles are suddenly reversed...hunter becomes hunted...and the pathetic, simpering killer we first saw is himself usurped and literally made to scream by "The Madman". But it's how he makes the poor dude scream that makes this interesting...and totally unnerving.
Human No More
Easily the most technically accomplished of the three films reviewed here, Broadstone's Human No More is, like his other two films, essentially a nightmarish one-act, one-set play. A world-weary cop (again, played by Tony Simmons) walks into a grimy cellar-like space, makes some grim preparations for some unnameable process or ceremony, and then turns a static video camera on himself to record what may or may not be his last moments on earth. It's as simple as that...or is it? The simplicity of the set-up and story (such as it is) betray a much deeper significance, as Simmons' character expounds on the reasons for his being in this sad state of affairs. Then, of course, it seems he's being watched by something lurking...almost flying...around the room. Human No More can be viewed as a meditation on the nature of grief, an exercise in simplistic horror, a sort of "anti" super-hero origin story, or (as is my opinion) all three. I really can't tell you more than that...to do so would ruin the surprise. But, Human No More is challenging, shocking, and totally engaging short horror filmmaking at its most profound and unsettling.
Christopher Alan Broadstone certainly has talent to spare, but it's his apparent vision that makes his films so interesting. These are films that capture moments...some of them simple, some of them sublimely creepy. Don't expect your typical "boo" scares here, kids. No, we're talking more about concepts and situations that get under your skin and crawl around in there like an infestation. I understand in my conversations with Broadstone that some viewers "just don't get" his films. I guess I can understand that. There's an awful lot of heady and high-falutin' stuff on display, but taken as mere short horror films, they are more than successful. There's so much more going on here than meets the eye...don't just be satisfied with the icky stuff.
A special note about one Mr. Tony Simmons: I'm not sure where Broadstone found this guy (perhaps I'll discover more about that during the course of my in-progress interviews with both Broadstone and Simmons). But, let me tell you, Tony Simmons is an acting force to be reckoned with. Here, he plays three very different roles in three very different movies, but he's able to channel three entirely unique, memorable, and in their own special ways, terrifying characters. I'm sure that's as much a credit to Broadstone's writing and direction, but seriously...Tony Simmons should get huge kudos for this stuff. In particular, his nuanced, subtle work in Human No More left this reviewer feeling both sad and scared at the same time. To paraphrase Travis Bickle, "Here is a man who would not take it anymore..." Simmons is a damned fine actor, is all I'm sayin'.
Christopher Alan Broadstone is a true renegade filmmaker...a guy who's certainly passionate about his work. As adept as he seems to be with the technical craft of micro-budget horror filmmaking, though, his real strength lies in his writing skill. These three films are pretty much wholly original, and while it's impossible to avoid give passing nods to one's influences (Barker and Lovecraft, among others, seem to be on top of that list here), Broadstone's screenwriting style is all his own. He has a prodigious gift for natural dialogue in unnatural settings and situations. Now that I'm about waist deep in his novel "Puzzleman", I'm finding that his aplomb extends to that format, as well. So, he's a triple threat, this guy, and he's one to truly keep your eyes on in the coming years. Somebody's going to give him the "big-time" breaks he deserves.
Scream for Me, My Skin, and Human No More are quality examples of what can be done with solid original scripts, extremely limited budget and resources, and using (for all intents and purposes) one main actor. These are...or should be...required viewing for film students who really want to see what it's like. Ignore all the hyperbole about how passion and love for your art conquer all...sometimes, that's not enough. But, with determination, originality, and patience, Broadstone has given us three short films for the ages. Now, get your butts over to www.blackcabproductions.com and order these movies from Chris right now, and while you're at it, pick up a copy of "Puzzleman", too. Trust me on this one, folks...all of Chris' stuff is totally worth your time and money.
The Atrocities Cinema Scoreboard
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