The first ever Portland Horror Film Festival hit the historic Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon on June 1-2, 2016. From the perspective of an audience member attending the two-day festival it was a huge success which kind of caught me by surprise. In my experience first year festivals, despite their best efforts, usually don’t go over that well. Any number of problems can occur. You have a bad venue or a poor turnout or the films you get just aren’t great or all of the above. It’s not that the festivals are bad, it’s just there’s a lot of kinks to be worked out in that first year. I’m happy to say I didn’t experience any of this with the Portland Horror Film Festival.
For starters they nailed the location. Hollywood Theatre is a wonderful movie theatre and basically my favorite place in Portland. I’ve been living in Portland for about three years now and Hollywood is definitely the best place to go to see the best movies. So in terms of venue, they crushed it. Then there’s the turnout, which was great. I’m not sure how much of crowd they anticipated, but I have to think they exceeded expectations. It wasn’t a sell out, but the theatre was packed with very good crowd on hand. And the most important thing for an attendee is the films and they were quite good. The two features were so-so, but the shorts were awesome!
Both days of the festival followed the same format – open with a block of shorts, followed by a feature film and close out the night with another block of shorts. Today I’m going to review the short films. I saw all the shorts, except for about four or five of them. The two features, The Dark Tapes and Daylight’s End, I will review in the coming days.
Dir. Carl Shanahan
Eat was a fairly disturbing look at a family enjoying dinner. At least I think it was a family, of some type. Four children, who don’t appear to be related by blood at least, are sitting at a table getting ready for dinner when their “mother” comes in and joins them. This mother figure is way too old to have kids as young as these and she’s wearing an oxygen mask that is attached to a tank. The kids sit in silence, afraid to make a wrong move while the mother watches over them constantly breathing very loudly. Once the food is served you get a sense that it may not be your typical meal. This one leaves a bit to the imagination, but it’s moody and effective.
Dir. Fiona Fright, Stacy Buchanan, Andrea Wolanin
**Winner – Abby Normal Award (Innovation from Rising Filmmakers)
Daddy Dearest is definitely going to be most talked about because the film’s writer, co-director and star Fiona Fright (this is a stage name) is a 10-yeard old girl. That’s certainly worth talking about but I hope it doesn’t overlook the short which is a lot of fun. A young girl’s father dies in war when she’s still a baby. As she gets older she develops a time machine to go back and save him. It’s adorable with a lot of imagination and an ending that may just surprise you.
Dir. Jared Steiner
This short is based off the famous Coast to Coast AM call that Art Bell took on September 11, 1997 in which a former Area 51 employee called in and was extremely upset. At some point during the call the show went off the air briefly due to satellite failure. There are a ton of theories about this call and whether or not it was a government cover up and so forth and that’s basically what Last Caller. A radio host similar to Art Bell has lost his drive and passion for the paranormal but then he gets a strange call from a man who is very panicked. The ideas are good and there are some fun moments, but overall this one missed the mark a bit for me.
Dir. Alessandro Della Villa
This was one of the most ambitious, polished shorts to play at the festival. A couple that appear to be on some sort of vacation get into a fight. We don’t get all the details but basically we know that at some point the boyfriend cheated on his girlfriend. The young lovers make their way to a local bar that is completely empty aside from two attractive waitresses. We get some seriously dark vibes from this place and when the girlfriend goes to use the restroom she’s lured into an underground tunnel where very strange things happen. This gives off some serious Jess Franco vibes.
Dir. Michael Giannantonio
Michael Giannantonio’s Blurred Vision is a like a short segment from an episode of Criminal Minds. A copycat killer is in the process of torturing his latest victim when he gets a visit from a detective who delivers some shocking news. This is a gritty, dark look at the world of a serial killer. Like I said it reminded me of Criminal Minds and that’s a good thing.
Dir. Ryan Shovey
Mirrored was one of the most enjoyable entries at the Portland Horror Film Festival. A loser that just sits at home playing video games gets a new bathroom mirror installed. With the new mirror in place he can get back to playing video games and everything seems good and well. Things take a turn for the worse when he turns the light off in the bathroom and we learn this isn’t your normal mirror. Apparently this mirror is a portal to hell and looking back at our slacker is a demon version of himself that looks a lot like Howie Mandel in Little Monsters. This was very funny and the mirror effect was well done. Oh and the production company behind this one is called Carpenter Hill Productions so that’s a quality nod.
Dir. Sean van Leijenhorst
This one was one of the longer shorts, coming in at just about a half hour, and that’s actually a little unfortunate. A writer in the midst of a bit of a writing block begins to get paranoid that his past actions are going to come back to haunt him. There are a couple of good moments, but this just felt a little long and dragged.
Here Be Monsters
Dir. Alexander McKee
A couple of friends get together a summer lunch outdoors when they engage in a conversation about their past. Some dark secrets come out and the two begin to argue about the best way to deal with them. Here Be Monsters tries to take that idea we so often see with vampires where they live amongst regular people and try to do their best to blend in, but instead of vampires we have cannibals. That idea is pretty interesting, but this is basically just two girls talking as they eat. Eh.
Dir. Marc Riordan
In Marc Riordan’s Clear Toxic a woman returns to a strange building in search for her missing glasses that she claims to have left behind. The night watchman, who seems to have some issues of his own, doesn’t fully trust her and does some snooping. The end result spells trouble. This is a very classic film festival short. What I mean by that is that the film has a very polished look and feel but due to time restrictions there isn’t a lot in the way of story, but there is enough of a mystery to keep you engaged and since it is a horror short you get some solid gore. Very solid entry.
The Barber’s Cut
Dir. Mark Brocking
**Winner – Bloody Judge Award (Guest Judge’s Award)
It came as no surprise to me when it was announced that The Barber’s Cut walked away with an award at the Portland Horror Film Festival. This is a short straight out of the world of Re-Animator. Two people wake up next to each other in a refrigerator, the only thing is they’re not really people anymore and just heads. They’re not dead though, but they are just heads. The refrigerator door opens a bit and they see a back chopping their bodies to bits. Once the man lives the room they plan an epic escape. This was easily one of the festival highlights. A very fun film that nailed that 80’s horror-comedy hybrid vibe.
Dir. Jake Hammond
**Winner – Main de Gloire (Special Jury Award)
Pigskin is another award winner that is no shock whatsoever. This one has a strong 80’s film and starts off pretty light hearted. A high school cheerleader has a crush on the star quarterback and when he asks her out things seem perfect. Then things take a turn as the girl begins to struggle with her body image and attempts to fix it with very gory results. Reminded me very much of Xavier Gens entry into The ABCs of Death. Great short film.
Dir. Tony Morales
Hada is absolutely terrifying. This is what of those short films that leads to the director getting a feature gig so I’d expect something to come from Tony Morales soon. A little boy is going to sleep by terrified of what comes in the dark, but little does he know that what comes in the light is worse. This one freaked me out.
Dir. Peter Hearn
A group of scouts are having fun in the woods when someone with a mallet decides to have some fun of his own. This one was just crazy. I can’t even fully tell you what was going on, but it was most certainly interesting.
Larry Gone Demon
Dir. Matthew Lawrence
**Winner – Funny Bone Aware (for Horror Comedy)
Larry Gone Demon takes the classic story of a terrible roommate to new heights. Three friends have a roommate who hasn’t paid his share of the rent in over a month. They also notice that he’s started to act very strange. They finally decide to approach him and realize he’s now a zombie-esque creature. This is hilarious and very messy thanks to some great practical effects. It’s like a Troma short, but better made.
Dir. Christoff Molesworth & Bryan Hiltner
A single father is having dinner with his late teens-twenty-something daughter who surprises him by inviting her new boyfriend over. The daughter seems very wholesome while her boyfriends seems quite sinister, so naturally the father doesn’t approve. Things begin to take a dark turn and her father’s past is brought into question. This short was part of a 72-hour film competition and you wouldn’t know it. It’s incredibly well done and a pretty dark story.
An Affair of 7 Nights
Dir. Orphee Yang
This short was incredibly ambitious which in the end was it’s downfall. The story is about a boy going to some type of night school. After he begins doodling on the desk he begins to communicate and connect with the girl that uses the desk during the day. I didn’t quite understand how this worked. I think they’re just leaving each other notes. This goes on for a week until it ends terribly. Shot well and has some interesting ideas at play, but overall a really tough one to take in and fully understand in the short format.
Dir. Zahara Jafari
This is a super short coming in at just about two minutes. A woman has her camera set up looking outside her window and takes pictures of those passing by outside. One day she notices someone she’s taking pictures of is taking pictures back. Not a lot here, but intriguing and gets you thinking about what you “hunt” for.
Dir. Victoria Howell
This is brilliant, just brilliant. A young couple, Tom and Anya, is getting ready to go to a costume party when Tom’s ugly sweater begins to attack him. Then things get crazy! This is a nice mix of live-action and animation and gets pretty gory and silly.
Dir. Jesse Larson
In Count a costume party is going down – lots of great costumes, people getting drunk and high – when Nosferatu shows up. No one knows he’s Nosferatu because it’s a costume party and Nosferatu has no idea what is going on. He heads to the party searching for blood but because entranced by what he sees. This is a very stylish and cool play on Nosferatu.
Eternal Coma, 1994
Dir. Riley Leggin
This is a short made for Jonathan Barkan. A young kid, probably about 10, with a very strict, religious mother gets a cassette tape of a black metal band from his best friend. Soon they discover that this tape made have dreaded consequences and they must destroy tape! This is the silly fun I love to get during a short block at a film festival. So, so good.
Dir. Ignacio F. Rodo
A woman is developing photos of what appears to have been a very sexy photo-shoot. As she develops more and more photos she begins to notice something strange about each one and before too long she realizes she’s not alone. This is a nice, clever little short, but the twist is spotted pretty quickly.
Dir. Justin Harding
**Winner – Goule D’or (Director’s Award)
**Winner – Horde Award (Audience Choice Award)
In Kookie a little girl has a cookie addiction. Her mother tells her to stay out of the cookie jar but she just can’t help herself. In an effort to deter the little girl from eating all the cookies she gets a new cookie jar – this one in the shape of a clown’s head. And this isn’t a happy clown either, if there is such a thing. This clown is extra disturbing. The girl does not approve so much so that she goes to great efforts to destroy the cookie jar but this don’t go quite as she planned. This wasn’t my favorite but it was the only entry to win to awards and I totally get it. There’s strong audience appeal. Everyone hates clowns and everyone likes little kids. It is funny, charming and creepy but just not my favorite.
Dir. Maxence Rapp
A lady is in her apartment when she hears a knocking that appears to be coming from the front door. She opens the door and there’s just a package. Then she hears knocking coming from a dresser and a closet and so on. Every time she checks there’s nothing but then she hears knocking coming from the package. This is someone funny but really creepy. It had me on edge the whole time. Nice and suspenseful.
Dir. Scott Johnson
This is a bizarre, weirdly animated short. I’m not sure what it was about, but it was fascinating to watch. Felt like it should have been an 80’s music video.
At that concludes the shorts I saw at the Portland Horror Film Festival. A really great collection of shorts. Usually at these festivals I come across at least a handful of shorts that I just can’t stand but that wasn’t the case here. I liked some least than others but I didn’t hate any. I’ve been to a lot of film festivals and I can tell you that is rare and considering this was a first year festival that’s all the more impressive. Year 2 of the Portland Horror Film Festival can’t get here soon enough!