To me a short film programme often offers the audiovisual equivalent of a printed horror story anthology. What you get for your ticket is a step into the unknown with only the programme title to give you a hint of the ecstasies, dread, and if you are unlucky, disappointment that you are about to experience.
The Final Girls Berlin Women in Horror Film Festival’s Phantasmagoria presentation offered ten shorts taking us to some of the wider extremes of the individual filmmakers’ disturbed imaginations. Sadly we only got to see four of them, but each film presented something original and unique either in terms of storytelling or production.
Susan Young’s film The Betrayal (UK, 2016) packs a lot into its five and a half minute runtime. The film charts a young woman’s descent from being the victim of domestic abuse to eventual death via the dismissive sexist attitude of her doctor and over medication of psychoactive drugs. Images flash in tune with the electrocardiogram tracking her heartbeat as snippets of dialogue are overlaid. Bizarrely I found that this shockingly powerful short movie reminded me of the sort of experimental audiovisual passages used during a Hawkwind gig to link dystopian tracks together.
The most conventional of the four movies sampled was Tara Price’s Earworm (USA, 2016). It is pretty much what you’d expect from the title. Late at night a middle-aged man (Ernest L Thomas) is woken up by an annoying tune in his head. The catchy little ditty is ‘The Worst Thing’ by The Skanx, which is so cheerful it sounds like the Kinks on super-strength happy pills. So unable to bear the recurrent song, Thomas heads for the bathroom where the tweezers are waiting for him—I mean what’s a guy got to do to get that irritating song out of his head? Nicely acted with atmospheric lighting and sound design, you will squirm in your seat as Thomas probes the offending orifice in this slice of American body horror. Mind you it could have been worse, it could have been a song by Gilbert O’Sullivan.
Marinah Janello’s Yuletide (USA, 2016) creeped me out from the very moment the film began to roll. Opening with genuine celluloid film scavenged from the 1960’s we are treated to the full horror of an all American family Christmas, including over excited kids and grandparents who really don’t want to be part of the action. This imagery cuts to that good old purveyor of nasty stuff to bad children, our old friend Krampus, who is overlaid by Evan Phennicie’s guitar distortion, before cutting to more vintage cine film. This time of American church confirmation parades from the 1960’s with all the cloned best suit and tucker frenzy that the ritual engendered. I’m not sure which aspect of this film I found the more disturbing.
At just over ten minutes Ji Yeon Choi’s Abjection (South Korea, 2016) clocks in at twice the length of the other films examined here, and is a whole lot more disturbing and weird. A bug scurries over a glass plate to be squashed underfoot by a woman in a red dress. The camera tracks up between her legs and we find a creepy articulated doll in another red dress being played with by a young girl dressed as a angel, complete with halo. Older, bigger girls try to take the creepy doll from her, but are thwarted by an older boy who comes to her rescue. However, creepy doll pays the price, ending up a mangled mess. A brief interlude where Angel marches through the busy city streets to Johann Strauss’s The Radetsky March is followed by an extraordinary sequence of hair-eating and flesh-stitching that leads up to a horrific merging of red dress and white dress girls to Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers. There is a disturbing sexuality about this film that merges disjointed Lynchian narrative with the painful body horror of David Cronenberg and the paintbox of Dario Argento.
The Betrayal ****