Archive for the Short Films Category

Screams Cut Short: SURVIVOR TYPE (2012)

Posted in 2012, Gregory G. Kurczynski Columns, Horror, Screams Cut Short, Short Films, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , on November 20, 2012 by knifefighter

Billy Hanson – Writer and Director
Adapted from the short story by Stephen King
Review by Gregory G. Kurczynski

Imagine you are alone, stranded in a desolate place with few tools, no food and your chances of ever being rescued are somewhere between slim and none. What would you be willing to do to survive? That is the question as we take a look at SURVIVOR TYPE, a powerfully gruesome short from director Billy Hanson that he adapted from Stephen King’s short story of the same name.

For those unfamiliar with King’s original tale, first published in 1982, SURVIVOR TYPE is the story of Richard Pine (Gideon Emery), a surgeon with a shady past who finds himself stranded on a deserted island after the cruise ship he was travelling aboard sinks. Actually, the term “deserted island” is an exaggeration; it’s more like a large, barren rock. With little more than a few gallons of fresh water, a knife, his wits and a will to live, we follow Pine as he documents his challenge to survive until he can be rescued. But with no food source on the island and only the occasional chance of killing a seagull for dinner, Pine finds himself faced with few options to avoid starvation. And he is so very hungry…

Since King’s story was written in first person perspective as a diary, it is perfectly natural for Hanson to adapt it for the screen using the “found footage” concept employed by such films as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). Pine’s pen and paper diary has been replaced by a video camera, and in this case the concept works very well. Hanson goes to great efforts to ensure camera placement and movement are consistent with Pine being alone with the camera, with the exception of only one scene where I would argue that there was a camera operator involved that broke the illusion of solitude.

But taken as a whole, SURVIVOR TYPE is one of the best and most disturbing King adaptations I’ve ever seen.  This is due mainly to Hanson’s direction and Gideon Emery’s performance as Pine. Considering that Emery is the only actor onscreen for nearly the entire 30 minute run time, his descent from confidence to desperation, and finally insanity, is an amazing accomplishment. With a lesser actor, this project would have been a failure.

Gideon Emery as Richard Pine in SURVIVOR TYPE.

In closing, SURVIVOR TYPE is one of the best and most faithful adaptations of Stephen King’s work I’ve seen. It is definitely not for the weak stomached; this movie is every bit as difficult to watch as it is to read the original story. But if you have a high tolerance for cinematic pain and suffering ,you owe it to yourself to check it out while it’s making the festival rounds.

You can check out the trailer here.

© Copyright 2012 by Gregory G. Kurczynski


Screams Cut Short: PRANK (2012)

Posted in 2012, Gregory G. Kurczynski Columns, Practical Jokes Gone Wrong, Revenge!, Screams Cut Short, Short Films with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2012 by knifefighter

PRANK (2012)
Written and Directed by Robert Mearns
Review by Gregory G. Kurczynski

It is often said that every story may not have been written, but every story has already been told. This is especially true of horror, with so many of the basic themes and archetypes being revisited by writers and filmmakers almost daily. The responsibility then becomes not to create something necessarily original, but to shift perspective and examine the themes to tell the same story in a way that gives it an individual voice.

It is with these thoughts in mind we take a look at PRANK, a seven minute tale of bad judgment and its resulting consequences, which either works or fails depending on the context in which it is viewed. But I’ll expand on that later.

The movie opens on a scene reminiscent of any installment of the SAW or HOSTEL franchises. In an isolated section of some industrial facility, Jimmy (Ben Elliott) lies stripped, bound and gagged on the grimy metal floor. He screams and struggles as a winch begins to pull him upward by his feet, suspending him upside down, as we are treated to scenes of a barely glimpsed figure in an adjoining room preparing to do very bad things to Jimmy. We’re not sure what, but it’s clear that they involve an industrial paint sprayer.

From this, we cut to a scene of Beth (Kara Miller) waking with a start as if from a nightmare, but it’s only the phone ringing. It’s a friend of Beth’s calling to tell her that she had a visit from the police. Apparently Jimmy has disappeared, and the cops were asking about Brandon.

What happened to Brandon? Cut to a flashback of a deserted, moonlit beach where Jimmy is burying an unconscious Brandon (Mike Armstrong Jr.) up to his neck in the sand ala Ted Danson in CREEPSHOW (1982). Beth, who is clearly Jimmy’s girlfriend, protests, but Jimmy will not be deterred. It’s all harmless fun, a prank at Brandon’s expense that will result in a simply hilarious YouTube video. Well, it’s all fun until Jimmy and Beth fall asleep on the beach after making out and the tide starts to roll in…

So, what we have here are all the elements of a classic “revenge and consequences for bullying and stupid, drunken behavior” tale established in such films as TERROR TRAIN (1980), I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997) and VALENTINE (2001), with a bit of torture porn influence thrown in to spice it up. This is not a criticism. As stated earlier, every story has been told before, but does writer and director Robert Mearns do anything to make his take on the material stand out? Again, it depends on the context in which you view it.

PRANK is a short film that was made based on a feature script that Mearns’ currently has in development. If viewed as an extended trailer to generate interest in the larger project, it works very well. The cinematography by DP Paolo Cascio, especially in the kill room scenes, is extremely accomplished and striking, the editing and sound design are very effective in creating a sense of tension, and the viewer gets just enough of the story to whet the appetite and leave them wanting more. Based on this, I can understand why the movie received a nomination for Best Short Under Ten Minutes at Shriekfest 2012. As the credits rolled, I found myself wanting to see where Mearns is going with this.

And this wanting is precisely why PRANK does not hold up as a stand-alone short. We are given the foundation of a story, but no story arc. We see that Jimmy is a bullying douchebag who does stupid things and Beth is his girlfriend with a heart of gold who knows what they are doing is wrong but is too passive and enamoured of her boyfriend to do anything, but we get no character development. And at the climax, we don’t even get a payoff. The movie does not end so much as just stops.

So the final judgment on PRANK is that Mearns and company show a lot of potential. I look forward to seeing the feature in order to see how he brings his own, fresh voice to an old story.

You can check out the trailer here.

© Copyright 2012 by Gregory G. Kurczynski

Screams Cut Short: THE SLEEPOVER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Gregory G. Kurczynski Columns, Screams Cut Short, Short Films, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2012 by knifefighter

By Gregory G. Kurczynski

I love this time of year. The oppressive heat, humidity and hurricanes of summer give way to the crispness of fall and we begin to turn our attention to the greatest holiday on the calendar, Halloween. More importantly, the weeks leading up to October 31st bring us into the thick of the horror film festival scene and a bumper crop of new independent films to discover. With this in mind, it is only fitting that SCREAMS CUT SHORT takes some time for the next few columns to focus on some of these new efforts, starting with director Chris Cullari’s homage to the slasher genre, THE SLEEPOVER (2012).

The story begins innocently enough with two boys, Tom (Josh Feldman) and his new friend Eric (Gus Kamp), being checked on for a final goodnight by their babysitter, Rachel (Carolyn Jania), as they prepare for bed. Tom actually goes to bed, much to the chagrin of Eric whose idea of a sleepover involves less sleep and more firecrackers and surfing the web for pictures of naked girls. Eric continues to instigate, but Tom will have none of it, simply saying that it’s “not safe.”

Being the new kid in town, Eric is not aware that the town of Derry has been plagued for years by a masked serial killer known as “The Slasher.” This personification of evil can appear at any time and without warning, leading the good people of Derry to take such precautions as checking the closets and under the bed before lights out and requiring babysitters to be licensed and trained in hand-to-hand combat. Of course Eric isn’t buying a word of it, arguing angrily that “The Slasher” is nothing more than an invention of parents devised to scare kids into behaving and going to bed on time.

Who’s right? Is “The Slasher” real? If you’ve seen any number of horror films produced from 1977 onward, those questions aren’t hard to answer. But in its approximately six minute run time, THE SLEEPOVER certainly has a lot of fun doing so.

Tom (Josh Feldman) and Eric (Gus Kamp) get ready for bed in THE SLEEPOVER.

One thing that is clear after seeing this movie is that Cullari has an intimate understanding and knowledge of the slasher film, and he’s not afraid to use every cliché in his arsenal to throw at the audience. From ominous music cues climaxing in shocking stingers to camera setups designed to foreshadow what may or may not be lurking in the shadows, it’s all here. But Cullari turns these elements on their head in such a way that the final product seems fresh. He invites the audience to join him in poking respectful fun of the genre, but it’s never mean-spirited or self-referential. For fans of the genre, this movie is a reminder of why some of the greatest masked killer movies are so much fun.

But the most impressive element of THE SLEEPOVER is in the performances of Feldman and Kamp, the two young leads. These boys play against each other in a completely relaxed and funny manner that makes the viewer really believe the friendship. I’m sure that this is due in no small part from the dialogue written by Cullari and co-writer Jennifer Raite, but the actors make it real.

THE SLEEPOVER took the award for best super short film at this year’s Shriekfest Horror Film Festival,as well as being named Runner Up in the “Short Fuse” category at Fantastic Fest. These awards were richly deserved, and as it continues to make the festival rounds, I would highly recommend catching this one.

For additional information and news on upcoming screenings, you can visit the movie’s Facebook page here. Also, check out the trailer here.


© Copyright 2012 by Gregory G. Kurczynski

This week’s spotlight is on:
Directed by Chris Cullari
Written by Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite

Screams Cut Short Presents: AMBIGUOUS FIGURE (2012)

Posted in 2012, Enigmatic Films, Gregory G. Kurczynski Columns, Horror, Indie Horror, Screams Cut Short, Short Films with tags , , , , , , , on August 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Written and directed by Johnna Troxell – Writer and Director (Caisson Films)

Film Review by Gregory G. Kurczynski

Greetings and welcome to SCREAMS CUT SHORT, a new feature here at Cinema Knife Fight that focuses on short horror films. As filmmaking hardware and technology continues to become more accessible and the Internet is providing new avenues for distribution, the good news is we’ve arrived at a point where pretty much anyone can make a movie and be the next Wes Craven or John Carpenter. However, the bad news is that many of them end up being the next Uwe Boll. For good or ill, we are experiencing a renaissance period for the independent short film, especially in the horror genre.

Many of these films are made purely out of love for the craft and the genre with little or no budget. Some are brilliant films that may lead the talent involved to doing bigger and higher profile projects, many are not, but few get any attention or notice. That’s the purpose of this column. To bring attention to the work of passionate filmmakers working in a format that you might otherwise be unaware of, and I am thankful to Cinema Knife Fight for giving me the opportunity to do just that.

So, let’s kick this off with AMBIGUOUS FIGURE (2012), a jarring and highly effective movie dealing with the dark side of a child’s imagination. Foregoing opening credits, we immediately fade in to a scene of The Girl (Jessica Cheek) in her bedroom happily playing with her dolls in a dollhouse. One doll a young girl, the other a woman, it is no coincidence that they bear a striking resemblance to the flesh and blood characters in what comes next. A transition from the dollhouse to the entrance of the home reveals The Woman (Jennifer Faith Ward), who I assume is The Girl’s mother, coming in through the front door. Without warning, she is attacked by The Girl, who viciously bludgeons the woman to death with a meat-tenderizing hammer. Without wanting to give much else away I’ll say the denouement is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.


Although Johnna Troxell has been developing and producing projects with her husband Brian through their company Caisson Films, AMBIGUOUS FIGURE is her first directing effort. I have to wonder what took her so long. Given the extremely short (three and a half minute) run time and minimal dialogue, she has proven to be very adept at telling an engaging, creepy story with very little. She knows how to compose a shot beautifully and is not afraid to revel a bit in the violence. Blood spatters and brains spill onto the tile floor, all in glorious close-up, but in such a way that it doesn’t seem gratuitous.

It also helps that Troxell has solid talent in front of the camera. Given the limitations and brevity of the script, the performances are outstanding. Ward is not given much to do except be terrified and die horribly, but she does it well and with a painful, almost heartbreaking realism. And Jessica Cheek as The Girl is just plain scary. Given the brutality of the murder her character commits, the complete detachment and lack of emotion she exudes as she continues to brutally bring down the hammer is beyond creepy. I can definitely understand why she was nominated for Best Child Actor at this year’s Cobra Film Festival for her performance.

But above all, the key element in this little film is the word “ambiguous”. At the end, I found myself with questions. What would drive a little girl to such murderous thoughts? Was she abused? Was she angry that she was punished for not doing her chores? Is she the reincarnation of Rhoda Penmark from THE BAD SEED (1956)? Frankly, I don’t want these questions answered and am content to consider them on my own. What I do want is for Johnna Troxell to make another movie and follow up with the promise she’s shown on this one. You can judge for yourself and watch it here.

Find out more about Caisson Films and their future projects at:

© Copyright 2012 by Gregory G. Kurczynski