As a site whose primary goal is to feature reviews of the most fucked up and grotesque films ever made, it’s long over due that the underground company A Baroque House (whose bread and butter is extremely graphic erotic horror shorts) had some representation. That’s not to say this is a review of the company’s varied output as a whole but since Sadistic Pleasures was a first time watch for me, it seemed a good one to start on for an unbiased and fresh take on the merits of that particular film.
It’s important to meet films on their own terms and understand the goal of a particular production to be able to assess how successful it is at achieving it. Since this film has about as much plot as early Guinea Pig entries, it’s not really fair to judge what is essentially just scenes of erotic titillation followed by graphic mutilation by conventional narrative standards. Instead, you must understand that this is down-n-dirty underground shock cinema meant to deliver a jolt to the more primal parts of your brain by delivering a taboo experience that you won’t be able to find on any conventional streaming service.
The film starts with a nameless young woman (Kaiia Eve) playing to the camera as she starts to put on a progressively more explicit show for the viewer. This continues for a little while until hands come into frame from an off-screen person (Leila Lewis) and things start to get a lot rougher, even escalating into a bit of cutting and knife play (simulated). The woman is soon drugged with a syringe full of a mysterious dark liquid and the real brutality begins.
Given the previously mentioned criteria, my main complaints center around areas that could have been tightened up to make the viewing a more cohesive and satisfying experience. The fact that the footage cuts between handheld POV and set-up shots is disorienting and makes it hard to establish where the characters are in time and space and what the viewers relationship to them is. The film would have been better served either leaning all the way into the handheld POV and framing the whole thing in more of a found footage context or visually distinguishing between the POV and the other shots so it doesn’t completely demolish the fourth wall when she looks right down the barrel of the camera.
It would have also been nice to have a little bit of dialogue to establish the context and maybe some interaction between the girl and the person behind the camera to make the situation she’s in a bit more clear. Regardless, the film has to be judged on what it does have and to that end there are some impressive visual elements that I want to call out. The scene that was particularity noteworthy was the image of the woman lying on the bed, brutalized and covered in bandages except where Eve’s real life tattoo of a demonic face on her lower belly remains perfectly framed by blood soaked gauze. Its a moment of horrific beauty and works excellently with the ominous sound design that accompanies it.
The FX here are also pretty on point, especially in a scene that features the best graphic breast cutting since The House that Jack Built, helped in large part by the attention to detail that went into making the prosthetic match Eve’s actual tattoos. So while Sadistic Pleasures may not have much to offer from a narrative or intellectual standpoint, it gets right down to business by delivering some edgy, uncensored content and at 23 minutes doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Mirror Mirror is a tight, 11 minute film that focuses on a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (David Brown-King) as his personalities Anthony and Tony wrestle for control of his body. Brown-King is a one man show and does an excellent job carrying the entire film on his own, no easy task considering that the bulk of the movie is confined to a single, claustrophobic bathroom. Even within this limited space, writer/director Harmeet Singh Grewal does an effective job keeping the tension and audience engagement up thanks to compelling camera work and an ominous, foreboding soundtrack.
When dealing with the subject of mental health it can be difficult to walk the line of creating a heightened situation while not coming across as exploitative. I’m no mental health expert but from my perspective, the film did a solid job presenting the condition in its most extreme and dangerous form without crossing over into parody territory. The text at the end re-enforces the fact that the short was made with the intention of bringing awareness to the situation and those afflicted by it rather than using it as a cheap tactic to elicit drama. That’s not to say it’s without entertainment value though, as Mirror Mirror delivers its message with a healthy dose of psychological horror and dread.
Regardless of the length, a good film should hook you right from the start, and what better way to do that than an intriguing premise that establishes a mystery that you can’t wait to get to the bottom of. Last Orders does just this with a bartender (Alastair Parker), a gunman, and a mysterious man named Samael (Steven Elder) who knows far more than he’s letting on. The story is brought to life by the excellent, realistic performances from the leads and exquisite, professional production values that make the world feel truly lived in. Throughout most of the runtime it seemed as though Last Orders was on track to hit it out of the park but film is akin to gymnastics in that the flourishes don’t mean much if you can’t stick the landing.
I’m not saying that the incredible amount of talent on display is fully negated by an unsatisfying ending, but it does diminish the overall experience. It’s unfortunate to see such a well made film fall into the same trap that so many other movies (and to a greater extent TV shows) fall into by setting up an amazing premise that it isn’t able to fully deliver on. The film puts forward some very interesting ideas and while I can see where writer/director Jon James Smith was trying to go with it, the pieces simply don’t fit together to get it there. What I’d really like to see is a re-cut version that connects the dots and lets this become the great film it was meant to be.
Call me old-school but the idea of an A.I servant sitting idle and listening to your every word never sat well with me and I won’t have Alexa, Google Nest, or any of that weird, Big Brother shit in my house. While that no doubt sounds ridiculous to some, I’m clearly not the only one who has felt disquieted by the ubiquitous self-imposed surveillance of our modern world as films like L.U.N.A. deal with this very specific technological anxiety.
In the world of the film, the Alexa surrogate is called L.U.N.A and is a pyramid shaped device that technicians like Lilian (Fernanda Romero) spend a lot of time making house calls to repair. When she is summoned to the creepy old mansion that young couple Jamie and Sarah Cambell (Lauren Bair and Lauren Deshane) recently moved into she soon finds that this is far from an ordinary call.
Even more than the horror elements of this story the strangest thing about this reality is the reliability of the devices themselves. Apparently (according to the film) they break down so frequently and in such great quantity that technicians such as Lillian have to work from 6 in the morning till well after dark just to try and keep up with what must be an unfathomable amount of malfunctioning units. Given that the repair call itself seems to take less than five minutes, the surrounding community must be absolutely lousy with broken L.U.N.As that must be serviced in-person at all hours, from the break of dawn to the dead of night.
It’s just strange that a film that is so careful to logically justify so many aspects of the world would leave such an odd detail hanging. If the L.U.N.As themselves were built into the house or at least larger than a decorative paperweight, then there would have been more justification for Lillian’s job. Despite how much time I’m spending focusing on this particular aspect of the story, what’s most important is how well the overall components of the production work.
To that end, it’s an incredibly well-realized vision that wears its Giallo influences proudly on it’s sleeve (or in Sarah’s case, directly on her Inferno shirt). The creative camerawork, bold stylistic choices, pulsating synth score, and genuine tension all work in concert to deliver a very polished experience. In the end I was left wanting more, which was partly to the credit of the engaging story and partly because the abrupt ending was slightly unsatisfying. While the story did build effectively to its conclusion, it felt a bit more like the opening scene of a feature than a stand-alone short. Regardless, it’s a very well-made and entertaining piece of cinema and if it was to be expanded to a feature length production I’d happily line up to see it.
Coming in at a scant six minutes and forty seconds, The Visitor packs a lot into its short runtime. The story follows an unnamed writer who leaves behind his wife for the weekend to go to their country house and finish his book but encounters something very strange upon his arrival. One thing that immediately pops out about this film is director Mark Palgy’s choice to overlay a pulsating score over the entire runtime in place of any sound effects or audible dialogue. It’s a bold choice, especially since there is a significant amount of dialogue in the film which is instead conveyed through subtitles. This unconventional decision could have easily gone south, but in this case it works wonderfully and imbues the short with a life and energy that complements the visuals.
The 70s-style grain works well to contribute to the subtly surreal quality of the film which sometimes gives way to fully psychedelic imagery and bold color palettes reminiscent of Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. The only minor gripe I have is that it briefly plays into a convention I see entirely too much where a character experiences something that would be utterly mind-shattering but regards it with little more than a mild incredulity. Still, this is an excellent film with high production values in every aspect from the aerial shots and the production company logos to the special effects and the camera work. It very much succeeds as a stand-alone short but could also definitely be expanded into a feature that brings the simple yet chilling story to a global scale.
Horror and comedy so often go hand-in-hand but the key to executing the combination effectively is to ensure that its not just the jokes that land but the scares, too. Sleep Tight portrays a scenario that will no doubt strike a familiar chord with parents of adolescents as a father tries to get his teen son to turn off his video games and go to sleep. The tone is light but there is an inherent truth to the interaction as the father comes to grips with his maturing son, who in turn takes every opportunity to petulantly age-shame his father. When the horror does come, it’s the real deal and writer/director Lewis Taylor does a great job of not only building tension but also following through with well-crafted costume and effects.
There is a great sense of life and movement in the camerawork which is important, especially when confined to a single, small location. The humor isn’t exactly laugh out loud but it mostly works and I appreciated the subtler touches such as the posters in the background for films like Slenderman 2: The Slendering. The only part that really sticks out as a strange inconsistency is a particular shot involving the Necronomicon that feels bizarrely out of place in the world of the story and seems to be little more than a throw-away joke made at the expense of maintaining a cohesive reality. While it may not be perfect, Sleep Tight is still a fun, well-shot film that delivers on the horror and a damn fine way to spend eight minutes.
A successful story is one that develops as it progresses, bringing new twists and revelations as it builds upon itself. When the story in question is a short, then it’s important that the movement occurs quickly and meaningfully. Director/co-writer Chris Guzzo finds that balance with Family Bond which starts out on a tense but innocuous domestic scene and develops into something far more menacing before long. Its difficult to really talk about the short’s plot without giving spoilers but there are other things to discuss. The acting for one is good, it’s not the best I’ve ever seen but it still manages to bring the characters to life and gets the job done. Within its brief run time the film is able to throw in some major twists and surprising revelations which is difficult to do within such a limited space. Those twists however do rely heavily on the acceptance of a certain fact that, while possible, is unlikely enough to remain dangerously close to implausible. Still, an overall interesting story that efficiently sets up the characters and the world and will take you on an engaging ride that builds to a fittingly dark climax.
“Show, don’t tell”, an old adage that rings especially true for the visual medium of film and one that writer/director Anthony Cally has fully embraced with his dialogue-free short, Waiting. It’s a credit to Cally and everyone involved that his story about a group of people waiting in a bar was so engaging that I wasn’t even cognizant of the fact that no one had spoken a word until after the film finished. It’s a bold move to try and communicate a concept without words, but the brilliant acting, gorgeous, professional production design, and the exquisite use of sound to guide the narrative all work in concert to create a stunning final product.
The story itself is very clever and while it might take viewers a couple of watches to pick up on exactly what is happening, all the clues are provided if you look carefully. As more information is revealed the tension becomes palpable as this seemingly innocuous location is clearly anything but normal. While it does function perfectly as a self-contained story, the world was so engaging that I would love to see it as a springboard into a feature-length continuation. At just about six minutes, this bite-sized short left me hungry for more and as soon as it was finished I immediately had to watch it again. Here’s hoping we see a lot more of Anthony Cally in the future, and that we’re not left waiting too long for his feature debut.
It’s always a bold move to try adapting a piece of classic literature, especially one that has been done numerous times before. A director has to be very confident that their particular take on the subject matter has the chops to stand out from the other iterations and prove that there’s a reason for the story to be told yet again. Even though Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 short story has already been adapted to film over a dozen times, director McClain Lindquist still felt that there was something unique that his take could offer and frankly, I’m damn glad he did.
The story of a caretaker (Sonny Grimsley, credited here as “The Narrator”) who is driven to murder because of his hatred for his elderly employer’s one blind eye is told within a modern setting but with some novel tweaks. The Narrator himself seems to be a man out of time (the cops themselves note that he “talks like he’s in an old movie”) but this eccentricity works wonderfully well and justifies the preservation of much of the original language from the story. Despite its modern setting Lindquist adheres to the soul of the source material and although the violence is significantly more graphic than what is merely hinted at in the original text, it perfectly fits within the style of this adaptation.
The film is exquisitely executed with incredible camera work and special effects that visually guide The Narrator’s rapid descent into madness. There is also some excellent practical effects work and the judicious use of occasional graphic violence further enhances the horror elements of the story. Speaking of effects, I did find Lindquist’s choice to use prosthetics to age-up the actor playing the old man by about fifty years rather than hiring someone age appropriate a bit confusing but this may have simply been an issue of actor availability. Don’t get me wrong, the prosthetics themselves are excellent and very convincing but like pretty much every aged-up actor they end up ultimately residing in the uncanny valley.
Of course effects are only one ingredient here and it’s Grimsley’s mesmerizing performance that really steals the show. Although the performances of the officers opposite him fall a bit flat by comparison, they are still serviceable and Grimsley’s bombastic character is sure to draw the viewers’ attention regardless. Minor issues aside, this is an excellent adaptation that really leans into the horror and creates a unique experience that fully justifies the retelling of this classic tale. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this should be considered the definitive take on the material and certainly the first place any fan of the story should look.
Clocking in at under ten minutes total (only about seven of which is the actual film) Duérmete Niño (Rock-a-bye Baby) is an interesting little slice of horror. Inspired by a real, sleep deprived nightmare that director Freddy Chávez experienced after the birth of his daughter, this short captures the horror and anxiety of being a new parent in a very creative and unusual way.
In the film Piercey Dalton plays a single mother of twins (a terrifying enough prospect in and of itself) who begins to hear strange noises through the baby monitor that connects to her children’s room. Text in the beginning lets us know that the use of baby monitors can actually be traced back to 1937, an interesting fact that also properly justifies the 1940’s setting. The retro feel adds an extra layer of creepiness to the film as technology from that era was so inherently clunky and prone to dangerous malfunctions. It also allows for the inclusion of an animated faux commercial for the monitor that serves as a fun bonus during the credits.
When viewing this film it is clear that a lot of care and effort went into crafting not just the atmospheric setting but also the tense, well paced story that leads to a horrific and immensely satisfying conclusion. Dalton is essentially a one woman show and does an excellent job in conveying real pathos and emotion through a dialogue-free performance. The skillful use of special effects really seals the deal and makes this one short that is well worth your modest time investment. A must-see film that was inspired by nightmares and will certainly go on to inspire quite a few more.