Think about times you’ve been really scared; I don’t mean scared of losing your job or worried about that waste of oxygen that your daughter’s dating…I mean hair-raised, couldn’t-drive-a-ten-penny-nail-up-your-ass-with-a-sledgehammer scared. Was it something that lasted for an hour or two? It’s possible, but for the majority of people, no; outside of combat troops, those moments of real terror usually come to us in mercifully short and infrequent bursts.
Keep that in mind for me for just a bit; there’s a point to it.
It will come as no surprise to those of you that read my reviews regularly that I’m a fan of the short horror film. When done well, a horror short has a power that often a feature can’t equal. When a director has ninety to a hundred and twenty minutes to get his story across to you, it gives them time to appeal to you, to (hopefully) develop a character or two that you care about, to build a structure of layered suspense that cruelly drags you to a nerve-wrenching (or gut-wrenching) climax. The director of a short film has no such luxury; they have to use all their talents, usually with supremely low-budgets, to put you the viewer in a situation, scare you, and (this part is oh so important) leave you thinking about what you’ve seen when the credits begin to roll; all of this typically in twenty minutes or less…sometimes far less.
I’ve just recently had the pleasure of spending a couple hours perusing the video library of Peter Dukes of Dream Seekers Productions, and I gotta tell ya; for a horror short loving, fantasy/sci-fi/cartoon fanatic, overgrown man-child like me, this stuff is gold. I went through eight total shorts, ranging between three and fourteen minutes each, and every one I watched made me look forward to the next one.
From the first one I finished, Little Reaper, I immediately knew I would like this director’s work. The short was a horror-comedy, chronicling the Grim Reaper’s teen daughter on her first “reaping”, and even though it’s not typically what a guy like me thinks of as “horror”, I found myself drawn into the story, amused at the reality of the situation despite the low production values that come with a micro-budget. Dukes definitely knows how to make the most of what he has; clever scripting and camera work, coupled with an obvious love and knowledge of the genre combined to make the film hold my attention from beginning to end.
From there I moved on to The Beast, starring none other than Bill Oberst, Jr., in a very different twist on the old werewolf story. Again, I was impressed by the depth of the tale and my relation to the characters, despite the fact that I spent a total of twelve minutes with them and the movie was essentially three guys in the woods; hell, it coulda been in my backyard. There was such tension and drama created in that short time, and it’s all attributable to talent on both sides of the camera. I continued on to Lanrete, a zombie film with a…er…shall we say different perspective; They Watch, a unique little twist on the old staple of a ghost story; Alone, a tense little tale of a woman trapped in a claustrophobic situation in the wide open outdoors; and lastly, I took in his most recent addition to his portfolio, Daniel, where we’re watching as a young boy cowers in the closet, out of the reach of intruders in his home, his mother lying bloodied as they call to him to come out from hiding…but who is in danger?
In each of these, Dukes and his cast were able to punch the correct buttons in the proper order to elicit feelings of dread and suspense from me as I watched, and each time I was left pondering the situations that the characters were left in. That’s the very soul of a short, in my opinion; I sat there and played out the rest of each story in my head, taking what I had been given and finishing any questions I had on my own; if the story has done it’s job and you have what you need, the real terror is found in what you imagine comes next.
Another great strength of each of these little vignettes was the use of music; in every case, the scores were well composed and placed, carefully building tension, then cranking up the juice when things get really bad. The cues would often turn from serene to sinister in an instant as the story demanded; this was especially noticeable in my favorite of the shorts I watched, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
For those of you keeping count, yes, you’re right; I did say I’d watched eight, and thus far, I’ve mentioned only six. I promise I’ve neither forgotten nor am I trying to cheat you. I’ve saved the last two for a couple of reasons: one, I can see where a lot of folks wouldn’t classify them as horror (which I would adamantly argue, because if you see them to the end, the horror is self-explanatory), and two, because one illustrates a point I want to make really well, and the other is simply my favorite.
Firstly, A Goblin’s Tale, a neat little ditty that postulates the dark side of the fairy tale world and how it relates to us in this world. Well written, acted, and presented, I think this one shows one of Dukes’ greatest strengths as a storyteller; it’s obvious that he has a lot of knowledge, love, and respect for classical folk tales, legends and fables, and after seeing how he wove that expertise into this story, indeed crafting a modern fairy tale of his own, it was apparent to me how this element affected each of the other films I’d enjoyed.
Finally, my personal favorite (thus far, anyways), The Scarecrow and the Princess.
Like A Goblin’s Tale, this borrows from the fantasy world of fairy tales to an extent, but also plays out as a remarkable children’s tale of friendship and loyalty, all learned from a lonely scarecrow, trying to make friends during his short time as a Halloween decoration.
I can hear you out there, you know? “Awwww…Mouse’s gone all warm and fuzzy about the sweety scarecrow“….well lemme tell ya, Fellow Fans; you gotta see this one for yourself to understand why I like it so much, so I’ll throw that one out there for you to do just that; check the bottom of the page…and while you’re at it, do yourself a favor and check out some more of these at the Dream Seekers Productions YouTube Channel.
As I mentioned at the top, spine-tingling, sphincter-clenching fear typically comes at us quick and leaves just as quickly, leaving us to ponder what may have been; much the same as with a well done short film…and Peter Dukes does them well. I’m told he has a feature in the works, with an actual budget…
…and I gotta say, after what he’s shown me with his short film skills, I’m looking forward to that with great interest.