Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring various international actors
Directed by various international directors
Released by Synapse Films
Ah, the short film. In no other format is a director, writer, producer, or effects artist more able to show their stuff to the world without being bogged down by things like developing characters or following a linear storyline. For years short form horror, be it in film or writing, has always been the most effective and memorable of the genre, but since most fans never get a chance to actually see movies that filmmakers spend months, sometimes years, making a reality, that’s a hard statement to back up.
Enter Mitch Davis and Pierre Corbeil, the creators of North America’s most well respected and groundbreaking festival, Fantasia. Throughout the festival’s ten-year run, numerous amazing short films have been shown to the festival’s dedicated audience, but unfortunately very few of them ever managed to find their way into anything more than obscurity. To help celebrate the tenth year of the festival and the under-seen format of short films, they teamed with Synapse Films to release a collection of 13 of the most mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, or just plain odd short films the festival has shown over the last decade.
The result is Small Gauge Trauma, named after the short film program the festival has every year, a collection of a baker’s dozen films from eight different countries from Portugal to Japan to the UK and everywhere in between. They’re not all horror, they’re not all fantasy, hell some of them make no sense at all, but what they do share is that they’re all interesting in their own unique ways, and it’s easy to understand nearly every inclusion on this DVD.
Since I have limited space, I want to point out some highlights first and foremost. Being the gorehound that I am at heart, Miguel Angel Vivas’ Portuguese zombie film “I’ll See You in My Dreams” was my absolute standout favorite. The narrative follows a man in a quiet village who’s been tasked with taking care of a particularly nasty outbreak of the walking dead. He claims to hate zombies but still keeps his undead wife locked away because he can’t bear to be alone. Just when it looks like he may have found someone else he can shift affections to, things go very wrong and all hell breaks loose. The makeup, the sound, the gore, the editing; all the elements come together perfectly here, and even though it’s one of the longer entries on this disc (clocking in at 20min 35sec), you’ll wish there was much more when it’s all over.
“Love From Mother Only” was one that played at the 2003 Fantasia I attended (the last one before my most recent trip), and it had a lot of hype around it when it first screened. To say I was let down is an understatement, but thankfully the creators of this disc saw the film’s potential and included it here because a second viewing really helped me appreciate its imagery and themes. Essentially the story is of an older man who is told by his longtime girlfriend that she is leaving, and the only way he can come with is to leave his sick and ailing mother behind. Things get much worse when we realize the woman is actually involved in some very bad Satanic practices, and the end is a subtle indication that the man’s actions may have started an irreversible process that could bring about the end of the world. Another of the longer entries (at just over 21 minutes), “Love From Mother Only” is a very creepy and effective piece of horror cinema.
For the strange and unusual, look no further than “Flat and Fluffy”, an animated short that is worth watching with a nice bowl of weed accompanying you. “Miss Greeny” is the shortest of the bunch (just over 30 seconds) but somehow manages to be hilarious, and “Ruta Destroy!” is the film that I will guess most fans will be scratching their heads about when it’s over but still be unable to stop singing the short’s very bizarre songs.
Then there’s the stop-motion masterpiece that is “The Separation” from famed animator Robert Morgan. Using imagery that will likely evoke memories of Tool videos or the works of The Brothers Quay, the story is of conjoined twins who don’t do well when they’re surgically separated relatively late in life. I’ll leave it at that; this one’s all about the journey.
I really could go on; every film in here is worth a mention, but there are some features on this disc you need to know about as well, so I will stop myself before I bore you to tears. Suffice it to say, you won’t be disappointed.
Most of the shorts include commentary, but even those have high (and low) lights. Of the former, I recommend checking out the track over “Flat and Fluffy.” I’m not going to tell you why cause my guess is you’ll laugh that much harder if you go in unaware; just trust me when I say it’s… different.
Then there’s “Tea Break,” another horror/comedy highlight, which features the director and writer of the movie, a guitar, and 7 minutes of sung commentary. It’s a tad annoying after a while, but if you can get past their relatively thick accents, you just might learn something.
One of the most disappointing commentaries was on Morgan’s “The Separation,” which featured the man and his producer literally explaining what was going on in every single scene and only rarely delving into any of the technical aspects of making it, which is the primary reason fans will want to hear it. Sorry to deliver the bad news.
Past the commentary, there is an intro from Coffin Joe, which will also play if you choose the “Play All” feature from the main menu, an option I recommend as it puts them in the kind of order you might expect to see them in at the festival. Festival co-director Mitch Davis does a far more animated introduction, likening the process of making a short film to that of giving birth and throwing your baby in a river in a way only Mitch can. If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the man, this should allow you a momentary glimpse into the mad genius that is Mitch.
A series of trailers for Fantasia from 2005’s festival goes to show how creative they can be when they work in short film themselves, and the trailer for last years’ Small Gauge Trauma programming block utilizes some of the films in this collection but hints at more we might see in future releases as well.
Finally, there is a montage of Fantasia television coverage form the last ten years, which showcases all of the festival’s highlights, honored guests, and groundbreaking moments. From what I understand it still breaks attendance records every year so I expect in another ten years we’ll be celebrating an even bigger milestone.
If you’re a fan of short films or are just in dire need to see something different, damnit, get your ass out there and pick up Small Gauge Trauma. Enough support for this collection means we’ll be seeing more in the future, and short filmmakers the world over will benefit. And of course for more info on Fantasia, the festival behind it all, check out their official site right here!
Audio commentaries on most shorts
Moonspell music video for “I’ll See You in My Dreams”
Deleted scene from “The Separation”
Special video introduction from Coffin Joe
What is Fantasia?
4 1/2 out of 5
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