Let me preface this with a pro-active apology. The temperature is at least in the high 90s here, and I’ve discovered over the years that for each degree over 80, I lose at least ten IQ points. I’ll be polishing it up later, but if you’re reading this before it cooled down here and I had a chance, that’s my excuse for this piece sounding slow-witted and clunky!
Anyway, if you’ve read my blog in the last 30 days or so, you know I’ve been geeking out about this contest since I discovered it. Unfortunately, I missed the voting deadline for the 26th director in The ABCs of Death competition by oh… almost ten months. Shit. So instead, I decided to get in a little over my head by choosing and compiling a list of what I thought were the best twenty, plus five runners-up. The first I heard about the contest, I dove in fast and watched a few of the top entries; the ones I saw first blew me away, and I loved them so much I needed to do a piece on them and get them up for other horror fans to enjoy that night. I already devoted an entire post on the contest winner, Lee Hardcastle’s T is for Toilet, and Michael Foulke’s flawless, fun entry T is for Temptation.
That was when I decided to watch all of them, without counting the entries first, guessing there were approximately 50, 75 TOPS. I had no goddamned idea what I was getting myself into time-wise, but it ended up being worth it. The plan was to select and post/share the best ones, with five runners-up that I thought were very close but still a hair or two away from making the top twenty, yet good enough to deserve a watch and a recommendation. Turned out we’re talking twenty out of over 170, all short films I watched. I only skipped ones that were marked private, locked, or taken down. I think it roughly evened out to one in ten singled out for recognition.
Some really kick-ass ones didn’t even get what I felt was a fair number of views, let alone votes. I did some formatting and pasting and printed out a list of every single entry, got out a pen and paper, and set in. I figured I’d be able to post my picks in a couple of days, but I REALLY misjudged the amount of time to just watch. I did the math after I watched them all, (rather than, say, before I decided whether this would be a good idea and started, because hey, why plan THAT out in advance)? 170 shorts times four minutes is , rounded DOWN, ten hour’s time just to see them all, let alone the time for note-taking, organization, plus re-watching if they lost me halfway in.
Anyway, seems fair to give you an explanation of how I picked what I thought were the best of the best (if you want to just skip to today’s five entries, you can hit “more”).
- I looked at these as a viewer—more specifically, a horror fan—and not as a film-making expert (which I’m not). I didn’t want to critique or pick the films apart or give the director a detailed list of constructive criticism to apply to the film. I just wanted to be entertained, get caught up in the short during the running time, and hopefully be shocked by a twist (or a really disturbing turn). Naturally, getting in a genuine scare was also important.
- If anything happened that I absolutely didn’t see coming, it was a contender.
- A lesson I learned a day or two into the project: if I got bored and my mind wandered a minute in, it probably wasn’t my ADD, but a usually a red flag that the short could have used a little tightening up or a re-write. Nix.
- I also have an appreciation for shorts that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I know the entrants had a restriction on the duration for four minutes …which is why the ones who did manage this while being a tight, entertaining entry went into my top twenty.
- Some appeared to be ad-libbed, which I had trouble getting behind. It’s four damn minutes, so how long could it take to bother with at least a rudimentary script with dialogue? Maybe some on the ‘best’ list were completely ad-libbed and on the fly, but if any were, they sure as hell didn’t come off like that.
- If I never felt like watching it again (and especially if I didn’t even feel like finishing the short), I crossed it out with a heavy-duty scribble.
Woman hating bullshitThere were some entries (I won’t name names, if you’ve seen most of them, I bet you can guess) that just drip misogyny and what seem to be issues against women that were so deeply seated someone required therapy. Speaking of hatred, I can’t stand it in general (if that’s not an oxymoron somehow). I’m not talking about hateful characters, I’m talking about a hateful tone in general. Just not my cup of tea.* There were, unfortunately, a couple dozen of the short films that were mean-spirited from start to finish, with no redeeming qualities to balance them out.
- Oh, there’s a few pretty nasty entries on my top twenty, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t give me the pervasive feeling that the nastiness, tone, and/or gore were due to deep-seated issues on the filmmaker’s part that probably required therapy. More than one entry came off as if their only drive to make the short was to make everyone feel as shitty as they did.
- I read over the rules, guidelines and suggestions to make the clip what they were looking for. If you’re curious, you can read them yourself here, it’s an entertaining read. Foremost was ‘the holy shit factor”. I was pleasantly surprised by several with a holy fucking shit moment, and even before I read the guidelines, that was what I wanted, too.
- I agree that the films that explained in a really obvious way exactly how the death (which it needed to contain) would happen weren’t as fun unless they were done with some finesse. When I watched “T is for Table” (one of the top vote-getters, and for good reason) I was pretty sure as soon as the film began that I knew how the death by table would happen. You’d think that’d automatically make it anti-climactic, but they were skilled enough to keep it really, really suspenseful, and absolutely nailed it.
- If there was a plot, even if it was a fairly simple set-up, and had good scares attached to it, great.
- Good/creative gore is a nice bonus. I didn’t include ones that had no plot to speak of—some w/out even a back-story, no scares, just lots of blood (or in several cases, gross-outs)**. You need two out of three to make a quality horror short. Yeah, I’m a gorehound, but gore for the sake of gore gets old quickly —it needs to be earned a little.
- I crossed out ones that were borderline softcore porn—and at least one hardcore hentai-themed one.
- If the T could easily be “T is for Torture Porn,” out they fucking went. When the screen cap or thumbnail for the entry is a bleeding actor (usually a college-age chick in skimpy clothes) with duct-tape on her face or something shoved in her mouth, and eye-makeup smeared because she’s been crying) I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by atmosphere and ingenious screenwriting.
- Some pieces just didn’t seem like stand-alones, and came across to me as self-indulgent. The rules even state that a director’s work/talent could be “discovered” whether they won or not. Some of the artists, I felt, used that as an excuse to not even try to fit into the guidelines and concept, and it didn’t make for a satisfying experience as a viewer. I take no pleasure in saying this; I totally understand publicity, and how much hard work it takes if you’re going independent. I get wanting to kick-start a trailer for an upcoming film. However, if the only blatant thing on the director’s agenda was getting attention, rather than making the best film for the contest they could, it just didn’t sit right with me.
- They also needed to look like they were trying to the best of their abilities. Anyone who admitted they just did it as film-student exercise and knew they had no chance of winning, or made a contest with themselves to see if they could create and complete the entire thing in less than 4 hours …naahh.
- All the entries I picked had clearly taken a lot of concern and care and craftsmanship and took pride in their work. The ones I gave a second (sometimes a third or even fourth) watch to, went big on my list, even more so if my eye caught a little new detail with each repeat.
Twenty embedded videos or links in a row is overload for you and me, so I’m going to post them in five posts of lists of four of the top twenty, then post listing an additional picked from my list of five I picked as runners-up at the end. Though I marked some in my notes with things like “HELL YEAH!”, “Holy Fuck!” or “DEFINITELY!” prioritizing them would take me a while. Furthermore, my top two still remain Michael Foulke’s “Temptation” and Lee Hardcastle’s “Toilet” (the official winner), though many were pretty close. I’m choosing which ones to include in each post by trying to mix up the themes and tone. I don’t want to put one whole group with nothing but hardcore, disturbing films; instead I’m trying to break them up by including something with dark humor or an amusing twist along with the ones that are …how can I put this delicately …seriously fucked-up. I had one day when I watched way too many intense, unsettling entries in a row and was in for some seriously bad dreams that night. Plus I’ll warn you of any that could never get away with an R-rating without cutting out half the content.
•T is for Tips. Written and directed by Christopher Baker, from Charlotte, N Starring Chris Walters
You’ll dig this one if you’ve ever worked a job where you depended on tips!
•T is for Temptation, by Michael Foulke,and starring Daniel Roebuck and Ashley Lynn Switzer
(I’ve already posted this, but it’s still on my top twenty, so why not post t again?)
T is for Table
Directed by Shane Free, Los Angeles, CA. This is the suspenseful one I mentioned earlier. A pinch of Final Destination and a dash of Tales From the Crypt make for one amazing entry. I was definitely frightened. Definitely click the link, you’ll be very, very glad you did!
This one would definitely fall under the intense (and bloody) category—not recommended if you’re having trouble sleeping, because trust me, it’s unlikely to have a beneficial effect! Click the link and get your mind blown.
Runner Up: T is for Tightrope, by Gault Productions
A stylish, change-of-pace entry that deserves more exposure!
Many more to come–I’ll try to post them in a timely manner, or at least once a week.
*mainly because I don’t like pieces of shit in my tea. That’s Aziz Ansari’s joke, give him full credit.
**we are talking about SERIOUS gross-outs, ones I don’t even feel comfortable repeating, that would cause you to spit out your food/beverage (or worse) if you were unlucky enough to be eating or drinking while watching. The ones I remember just seemed like they were trying too hard, and fell flat. A gross-out alone is not scary, just …well, gross. I want to see something that makes me nauseous, I’ll do a google image/video search for tub girl or watch re-runs of Tosh.0. (image search NOT recommended if you’re not familiar with these).
- Horror Short Film of the Month – T is for Temptation (NON-Claymation) (horrorboom.com)
- Claymation Horror Short of the Month – Lee Hardcastle’s T is for Toilet (horrorboom.com)
- The ABCs of Death – Horror Boom’s Top 20 Picks From the “T” Contest (2/5) (horrorboom.com)
- The ABCs of Death – Horror Boom’s Top 20 Picks From the “T” Contest (3/5) (horrorboom.com)
- Second Wave of FANTASTIC FEST 2012 Line-Up Announced; Includes LOOPER, THE ABCs of DEATH, and SINISTER (collider.com)