Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Lauren is currently lusting after that 4K Flash Gordon 5-disc box set. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth
Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Darren is waiting for a doorstop of a book about Andy Milligan to arrive. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell
*** WARNING: THERE A FEW SWEARS AND SOME MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD SO APOLOGIES FOR THE ODD POTTY-MOUTHED MOMENT AND A BIT OF PLOT DISCUSSION ***
Dr. Lauren and Darren travelled all the way to their respective sofas in order to attend the online SoHome Horror Festival on Saturday 9th May 2020. The brainchild of horror hero and Soho Horror Festival programmer Mitch Harrod, this brought four films and nine shorts to a group of genre aficionados around the globe. In this article, we’re going to discuss the short films, which kicked off with…
BOYS CLUB (dir. Troy DeWinne)
Darren: This was about two guys who are holed up in a house. Someone shows up in a vehicle and there follows a discovery of, ahem, something specific inside that vehicle.
[Dr. Lauren remembers what the “something specific” was and starts laughing]
Dr. Lauren: I enjoyed this!
Darren: Yeah, it’s fun. Puerile, maybe, but very funny.
Dr. Lauren: I thought the special effects were quite good as well. It was obviously done on a fairly tight budget but it all looked fine. And it was funny.
Darren: It’s a two-joke thing. I would have said it’s a one-joke thing but that’s not true. There’s a running gag about wanking and there’s another joke about what they find in the vehicle. It’s pretty short, doesn’t outstay its welcome at all.
Dr. Lauren: It was a perfectly judged length. I don’t think it could have sustained the joke for much longer. It came in, did what it did really well and I was happy.
Darren: It was a pretty good way to kick off, it was a bit of a laugh.
Dr. Lauren: It was a good icebreaker.
Darren: Can’t really spoil it too much, you’ve got to go in knowing nothing beyond the fact that you’re introduced to the whole wanking thing straight away and then it goes from there. I won’t blow the second half.
[Honestly, we didn’t realise anything about the innuendo above at the time, we’re both very innocent, honest]
DEAD TEENAGER SEANCE (dir. Dante Vescio)
Darren: So, enough about wanking, let’s talk about Dead Teenager Seance, which was one of the longer shorts.
Dr. Lauren: Again, I really enjoyed this one. It got a more mixed response from what I saw on the SoHome Facebook page comments but overall I thought it worked. The set up is that you have your typical teenagers going to look around a typical spooky house because a murdered supposedly lives there so it’s a bit of a play on a old trope. The serial killer/monster was a bit shit but I guess if you’re playing on tropes I guess it’s gotta be.
Darren: Yeah, it’s a combination of various serial killers. It’s a mish-mash of visual cues from other movies but that was part of it as well, it was playing on clichés. It was fun and it looked very good, really nicely shot.
Dr. Lauren: Other than perhaps the look of the serial killer, which I’m sure was deliberate, I thought it was great. I had a good time with it, the acting was good…
Darren: It’s got a particularly nice payoff, too.
Dr. Lauren: It does have a nice payoff.
Darren: It built pretty well. Yes, it’s a bit longer than most shorts but it set up what it needed to quickly and didn’t drag. It was about twenty minutes, wasn’t it?
Dr. Lauren: Was it that long?
Darren: I think so, yes. It had to spend a little bit of time setting up the premise.
Dr. Lauren: It didn’t feel that long. It rattled along, it had a fair pace to it, I wasn’t bored. It didn’t lose my interest at any point which it what sometimes happens with longer shorts.
Darren: Sometimes the longer shorts try to build too much. You can’t spend too much time world building, you’ve just got to get in there. This had a surprisingly large number of characters but they were recognisable stereotypes so you didn’t need to have ten minutes introducing everyone.
Dr. Lauren: Another solid one with a couple of laughs in it.
EL LLIBRE (dir. Francesca Catala Margarit)
Darren: This was about a librarian that keeps noticing there’s a book on the floor. This was more of a sketch than a short but it is fun.
Dr. Lauren: This was really short. It must have been about, what, three minutes?
Darren: It was three minutes. It’s a nice little set up. It’s the sort of thing that you couldn’t really expand on much once you found out what was going on. It played a sweet little trick.
Dr. Lauren: It looked great as well. There’s not much more you can really say about it.
Darren: You’re right. To say much more about it would be to pretty much tell the whole story.
Dr. Lauren: Again, it worked for me.
Darren: Yep. It was a nice idea. I think the budget was maybe 500 Euro so it was shot for nothing. They’d obviously got access to the location. It didn’t look cheap, though. Worth a look and you only have to set aside three minutes.
MOST STEPS EVER (dir. Nesib Shamah)
Darren: This is a warning and a comment on fitness technology.
Dr. Lauren: Again, I liked this one. To be honest, I don’t think there was a bad short all day.
Darren: I don’t think there was. I think that when you put a load of shorts together, the ones that are bigger in scope and more visually impressive tend to overshadow the snappier, one idea, get in/get out shorts but you’re right, the standard was pretty high.
Dr. Lauren: Yes.
Darren: And this one’s got all the jokes you’d expect. A woman’s using her fitness app when she’s suddenly pursued by a killer and as she’s fleeing this app is advising her to do some cardio or that she’s achieved a particular goal. It’s an amusing one.
Dr. Lauren: The app reminds her to breathe and things like that.
Darren: Again, it’s a fairly straighforward premise but they managed to do quite a lot with it. And it’s done in an extremely tongue-in-cheek way.
Dr. Lauren: What film was that before?
Darren: It was before Every Time I Die, which was kind of a weird choice considering how fun Most Steps Ever was and considering how not fun Every Time I Die was. You have to put the shorts in somewhere. It does still have a through line with the associated feature though, if not tonally.
Dr. Lauren: The thing is that this festival has been put together at such short notice and the fact that Mitch [Harrod, the festival programmer] put together such a strong line-up is amazing.
Darren: I’m certainly not going to rip on anyone for not being able to attach a perfectly matching set of short films for every movie. I certainly couldn’t do it and Mitch has done a pretty fucking astonishing job. Also, as regards Every Time I Die, are there that many shorts out there which are so downbeat? And to be honest, El Llibre and Most Steps Ever were a nice lift before the unrelenting turmoil and misery of Every Time I Die.
Dr. Lauren: We’ll be talking about that movie elsewhere*.
Darren: We will.
RATTLE (dir. Patrick Rea)
Darren: Rattle is about a couple who are having problems trying to get their baby to stop crying.
Dr. Lauren: I don’t know if I’ve seen this before. Has Rattle been on another platform?
Darren: I’m with you, I get a weird feeling I’ve seen it before but I couldn’t tell you when.
Dr. Lauren: I definitely feel like I’ve seen it before but not at a festival. Or maybe I’ve seen something that’s slightly similar and it reminded me of that.
Darren: I came out of it thinking I might have seen but not being entirely sure. Regardless, it’s a neat idea. You don’t really know where it’s going until it hits you with the punchline and then it’s out. There you go.
Dr. Lauren: It’s really short but it does everything very well. It’s not overplayed.
Darren: There’s no point it going on further than it does. As soon as you’re given the reveal, it doesn’t need to carry on for another couple of minutes. It gets where it needs to. I thought it was a pretty good little flick. I just can’t say much about it or it’s ruined.
SELFIE STICK (dir. Katie Bonham)
Darren: Selfie Stick, which is Katie Bonham’s latest short. Not the usual territory for Katie, which would normally be realistic, urban horror with a touch of the supernatural thrown in. This one is still quite surreal but it’s definitely a comedy.
Dr. Lauren: I missed this when it was on the BBC so I’d been really looking forward to seeing this. I thought it looked lovely, very bright and colourful.
Darren: Visually, it was the antithesis of Katie’s other shorts. I mean, her films always look great but when I think of Mindless, Midnight and Mab there’s a muted colour palette which matches the fact they’re atmospheric and melancholic whereas Selfie Stick is much more brash and, well, it’s a massive pisstake of selfie culture.
Dr. Lauren: The punchline made me laugh out loud as well.
Darren: Yeah. I’ve seen it twice now and it made me laugh more this time because there’s an expression at the end that I hadn’t really noticed properly the first time round. Even though I knew what was coming it still worked for me on a repeat viewing. It’s another big hit for Katie.
Dr. Lauren: Top drawer film from Katie.
Darren: Is there anything this woman can’t do? What next? Science fiction action movie? I’m here for that.
FINLEY (dir. J. Zachary Thurman)
Darren: Finley, which I fucking loved. It was so good.
Dr. Lauren: I loved Finley! I think it might have been my favourite short of the day.
Darren: I’m with you on that.
Dr. Lauren: It’s a tough choice, though.
Darren: It is. It was a strong field but this is so brilliantly made. It’s pitched perfectly.
Dr. Lauren: So, some people move into a new house. They find a box in the attic which has a ventriloquist’s dummy chained up inside it. Anybody who knows me well would know that if I found something like that in my loft, it would go straight on the fucking fire.
Darren: [goes to speak but can’t because he’s laughing so hard]
Dr. Lauren: No messing about.
Darren: But you wouldn’t get a short out of that. If you went up there and then chucked it on the fire and the credits started rolling, people would be thinking “Well, that’s a bit weird”. Actually, we could probably make that.
Dr. Lauren: I said to Faye [Ellis, who did a fine job of handling the SoHome social media duties] who was moderating the Facebook chat that when we moved into our house and went up into the loft to put some things into storage, the previous owner had left all their shit up there. The first thing we saw up there was a very small, doll-sized, wicker rocking chair.
Dr. Lauren: It was right above our bedroom. Me and Steve looked at each other and Steve said “That’s going in the fucking bin”. It was the first thing out of there. But if I’d found a ventriloquist’s doll up there it would have been on the fire.
Darren: In this case, they don’t throw the ventriloquist’s dummy on the fire, they take the chains off and have it just sitting up there so that it can wreak havoc later on. However, it doesn’t wreak the expected havoc you were waiting for.
Dr. Lauren; No, he’s shit. He’s really ineffectual. He runs at someone with a knife and she just kicks him in the face and runs away.
Darren: That’s the bit where it really took off for me. The fact that it took all the tropes of the killer doll movie, then took a step back and said “Hold on, you’d easily be able to thwart this thing”.
Dr. Lauren: It started off genuinely creepy as well, when you see him running around in the background.
Darren: Oh yeah, it played everything out properly and it’s quite unnerving initially until you find out how fucking useless he is. And from that point on it’s absolutely hilarious.
Dr. Lauren: I loved all of that.
Darren: And even though he is useless you end up getting on his side. You kind of want him to start murdering people.
Dr. Lauren: It’s an underdog story, that’s what it is.
Darren; It is! The fact that the only one that understands him is the cat is great. The fact the Finley loves the cat back is a big positive. At first you see the cat and you think “Oh God, he’s not going to kill the cat, is he?”. And no, Finley loves the cat and the cat’s got an affinity for Finley. When the people in the house tell Finley he’s useless and he’s trudging back up to the attic and the cat’s staring at him and Finley waves to it in a really sad way, that’s so brilliant. I absolutely loved this. I could have watched it again as soon as it finished.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah. It’s one to keep an eye out for so see if it ends up online.
Darren: It’s a terrific idea and it’s done so well. Once they’ve established that it isn’t going to be 25 minutes of terrifying doll action I was laughing from that point until pretty much the end.
Dr. Lauren: It was great.
Darren: But you’ll have to wait to the end to find out whether or not Finley achieves his aims of being a bonafide killer doll.
Dr. Lauren: I’m going to check next time I see anybody drinking eggnog.
THE FOG VS THE MIST (dir. Brennan Gilpatrick & Erin Walsh)
Darren: Two fairly short films from the same filmmakers next, there was The Fog Vs The Mist and Nest. The Fog Vs The Mist, again really, really short, more of a sketch but also a very good idea.
Dr. Lauren: It reminded me of of stuff the Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper would do, like Intermission or the sketches that were on The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Did you see the public information advert for “Don’t Forget To Turn Off Your Poison Sockets?”.
Darren: Yeah! Exactly. It was just like that. So it’s an ad for The Fog Vs The Mist. It’s the John Carpenter movie versus the Stephen King adaptation so you have two weather phenomena clashing in some bloke’s house.
Dr. Lauren: Very much via Garth Marenghi.
Darren: Yes, it was one gag but it was a really, really good gag so I’ve no complaints.
NEST (dir. Brennan Gilpatrick & Erin Walsh)
Darren: Nest was slightly longer than The Fog Vs The Mist, about a couple that go to look at a house for sale. It’s found footage in that one of the people is following the other one in with a camera for a reason which is never fully explained.
Dr. Lauren: I liked this, what was in there was good but I did get the feeling that I’d seen it before.
Darren: Yes. It’s effective but the jump scare does kind of come exactly where you’re expecting it to.
Dr. Lauren; What it does is done well. I don’t want anyone to think that I really didn’t like it.
Darren: No, it’s enjoyable.
Dr. Lauren: It’s just treading very familiar territory.
Darren: If feels like a stepping off point to somewhere else. You’re let into what’s happening there and it stops without giving you any other closure on it other than there’s something bad going on in there.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, something nasty is in there.
Darren: But yeah, it was fine.
Dr. Lauren: Because the thing that happens in it was what I was expecting to happen, it had less impact for me. I wanted it to wrongfoot me, I had this expectation in mind and I wanted it to do something else but it didn’t.
Darren: That’s a pretty good shout. I feel more or less the same about it. There was one point where I thought it was going to be something else in the place and it wasn’t. It was pretty much what I was expecting. As far as it goes it built to a decent little jolt but that’s all you got.
ALLERGIC OVERREACTION (dir. Zachary Eglinton)
Darren: Okay, final short, which was Allergic Overreaction.
Dr. Lauren: Oh, I did love this!
Darren: I did as well. After the festival, I was on a Zoom chat where someone was questioning the allergic reaction. “How would he be going that long?” if it was such a severe reaction. I mean, it’s a movie, man!
Dr. Lauren: Ah, I can answer this!
Darren: Good, because I was tired and struggling to answer this and thought there must have been something I was missing.
Dr. Lauren: My very good friend [name redacted] works in the same office as me and is allergic to peanuts. Some time ago she didn’t come into work one day because she’d had an allergic reaction and what happened was she had accidentally eaten crunchy nut corn flakes which had been baked into a dessert. Someone hadn’t realised she couldn’t eat nuts and they’d used them in a pie. She started having an allergic reaction several hours after having this dessert so it does depend on the severity of your allergy and how much you’ve eaten. Also, she’d had that at the end of a meal so it took a while for her to digest that and she didn’t start having the allergic reaction until much later on. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying all of this.
Darren: We won’t mention her name.
Dr. Lauren: She started with a scratchy throat and realised she was having a reaction. She’d had antihistamines, I think she was sick, she might have had an epipen at this point as well. She was fine and didn’t have to go to hospital but then she went to bed and woke up in the middle of then night, started having another allergic reaction and she actually blacked out in the hallway trying to get to the bathroom. Her husband had to call for an ambulance, she had another epipen and had to spend the night in hospital. It was because there was a nut that she hadn’t thrown up and it was only when that started getting digested that she had another allergic reaction.
Darren: Bloody Hell, that’s not funny.
Dr. Lauren: Don’t worry, she’s fine.
Darren: I’m glad she’s okay. I guess we were looking to clear that up. Not in terms of entertainment value, fuck no, but in terms of factual accuracy. Having said that, why I’m looking for factual accuracy in a crazy horror short called Allergic Overreaction I’m not entirely sure. I’m glad you shed some light on it though. It was bugging me because someone was saying “Well, that guy would have been dead in two minutes” and I was thinking “Are you sure?”.
Dr. Lauren: It depends on the severity. For some people it makes them red and hivey but some will have a fatal allergy, like literally the second it touches their lips they’ll start.
Darren: I mean, the guy in Allergic Overreaction says his allergy is deadly but he might have been bullshitting.
Dr. Lauren: And they’d been snacking all night, right? They’d been watching films for hours. If you’ve eaten a load of other stuff and there’s not many nuts in what he ate and he’s over-exaggerating his allergy that’s perfectly possible.
Darren: So, what was the film again?
[Dr. Lauren laughs]
Darren: Now we’ve gone into the depths of peanut allergies, which I’m sure is a valuable public service to anyone who is reading this…
Dr. Lauren: Yes.
Darren: …we actually come to the short itself in which four friends have a Freddy and Jason movie marathon. One of them eats a lot of cookies, not realising there were nuts in them and this leads not only to them having an allergic reaction but a total overreaction to the situation. It all goes batshit insane.
Dr. Lauren: Blaming the person who’s fault it is for bringing the cookies.
Darren: Things get worse, unsurprisingly. The guy who brings the cookies maybe doesn’t handle things in the best way possible, which just escalates matters.
Dr. Lauren: Really funny.
Darren: It is very funny. And quite gruesome as well.
Dr. Lauren; I didn’t really know what direction it was going to go. It made me laugh a lot.
Darren: It is in unapologetically bad taste. Hey, that’s totally fine with me. You probably don’t come into these festivals thinking “You know what? I’m looking for something life-affirming and uplifting”. I certainly wouldn’t be expecting that kind of thing. You want people fighting each other, eyeballs hanging out, things like that. Which you definitely get here.
Dr. Lauren: Considering it played before Chestersberg it was a good match.
Darren: Absolutely. This really set you up for what was coming with Chestersberg. This was an excellent short and extremely entertaining. Good performances, a few genre references for the fans and plenty of over the top, darkly comic violence which is always fun.
And as to our favourite…
Dr. Lauren: Overall a very strong block of shorts. If you had to pick a favourite one, what would it be?
Darren: That’s really difficult. Allergic Overreaction was great but if I had to pick just one then it would probably have to be Finley because I absolutely bloody loved it. It was so brilliantly put together and clever in the way it wrongfooted you about ten minutes in. If you look at killer doll movies from even the slightest distance, you get to wondering how they’d cause all of this mayhem and Finley plays off that incredibly well.
Dr. Lauren; Yeah, Finley would be my pick as well.
* And we do. Check our companion piece on the feature films which played the SoHome Horror Festival at this very link here: http://thehorrorcist.com/dr-lauren-darrens-sohome-horror-festival-the-features/