Cast: Aleks Paunovic, Lee Majdoub, Lisa Durupt, Richard Harmon, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Kyle Cassie, Geoff Gustafson
While celebrating Christmas at a cabin in the woods, a group of high school students are stalked by a psychotic killer obsessed with horror movie icons. – IMDB
A lot of indie film concepts grow from wanting to make their own take while paying tribute to some great horror film that the team loves. In some ways, Puppet Killer is a film that like. Its script and scene choices put a lot of heart into having a killer that loves horror movies and is using them to execute and chase after this group of teenagers. We’ll be talking about the odd casting choices soon because that’s one of the head-scratchers here. Let’s not let the title mislead you though, Puppet Killer is the literal term that probably would have worked better as “Killer Puppet”, but it does somehow give it a little room for questioning whether the puppet was controlled by an actual human or not.
Just like creepy kids, puppets (or things in the same category like dolls) being alive can also be rather unnerving. As much as this is a horror comedy, there are some serious moments of tension and very effect atmosphere built up to make the scene pretty creepy. Its a bit crazy to think that a pink puppet that looks like The Muppets is scary because of its tiny size and its very catchy color but its the misleading elements of childhood and innocence that makes it even creepier to watch and not to mention the color contrast on screen that also gives it a lot of style. How the puppet moves and the way its revealed one step at a time to give it much more fleshed out kill scenes: all this is done with a lot of care and it all works very well.
Now, we’re at the casting choice. While the acting itself is pretty decent, plus it has The 100‘s Richard Harmon in a supporting role and the Mexican-Canadian director & actress Gigi Saul Guerrero in a acting role, the casting choices are very odd as the characters themselves, especially the main character is a much older actor playing a teenager. There’s a whole inner debate of whether this was deliberate or its just working with what is available within the budget of this film. As much as that is a hurdle to get through in the school scenes at the beginning, the acting was done pretty well and along with the Puppet Killer executing the movie in a way that shifts over to the cabin in the woods rather quickly, its easy to gradually forget that this is a group of teenagers and when the horror hits, the whole set up and atmosphere places the initial “confusion” even more in the background.
Puppet Killer is a fun little horror comedy romp. It has some well-executed scenes and definitely should appeal to those who can catch all its iconic horror movie moments. If you don’t, it might feel a little more random but as this film does build fairly good atmosphere, more and more so after its climax, its easy to overlook a few of its shortcomings. Plus, its an alternate Christmas movie choice and we can never have enough of those.
Puppet Killer has a screening in Blood in the Snow Festival on November 21st at 9:30pm. You can find more info HERE.
Compiled as 8 short films from various international locations, a few of them from the USA and screened as the International Shorts After Dark, here are 6 of the 8 shorts reviewed. One of them called Bar Fight was paired with a feature during Fantasia Festival in July so the review is linked at the bottom.
Maggie May is about a sister who stays back to help out after their mother dies to end up in an accident which leaves her dying but her sister Maggie May simply ignores it. Sometimes, the scariest thing is not what someone does but in some situations, what someone doesn’t do. That is what powers the horror and unsettling feeling in Maggie May.
While the short itself is done fairly well, there’s this over exaggeration (perhaps deliberate) of the character of Maggie May and that makes it too over the top to make it feel as horrifying and more just a loathing in general to watch. What does work for the concept itself is the whole idea of passivity being more dangerous than the other way around in some cases. However, what does balance it out is the whole process of dying with the sister and the both the psychological and physical changes that she goes through hoping for help but also noticing the pieces around her fading away. There’s a decent amount of blood and gore that somehow balance with the psychological elements of the whole story and pulls through a fairly effectively little short.
Director: Vincenzo Aiello
Cast: Marie Wyler
In a fairly concise story, Puzzle is a rather creepy one as it is based on the premise of a woman finding puzzle pieces around her home. As she pieces them together, it reveals something frightening. This one is very well-executed. It keeps its setting confined in a room mostly while using the puzzle pieces to each lead to the next one and it having the final unveil of what and possible who is responsible and yet, it still manages to keep some mysteries, mostly because its less than 5 minutes and the ability to craft something rather unnerving is already very impressive.
Director (and writer): David Yorke
Cast: Elena Saurel
Eject is about a woman that finds her arm has a USB port and proceeds to plug it in and ends up in another place where she can sort through files of her life. There are some fairly horror elements here and yet, characters finding too good to be true situations and using it to their advantage is not a new concept although this one for being a short did leave a fairly precious deeper message (in my mind but I might be overthinking) about the impossibilities of casting everything bad out of life as that isn’t reality. Its the mechanics of how this dimension works that becomes the mystery and the horror all wrapped up together. Its not a long short, less than 10 minutes and yet, long dark tunnels and empty room with a cabinet and a mysterious door leading to who knows is the unknown factors that add to this short film.
La Noria (2019)
Director (and writer): Carlos Baena
La Noria is a Spanish animated short with no dialogue about a grieving boy who sees creatures in his attic who ends up showing him compassion.
La Noria is possibly the best short so far in all of the shorts shown at the festival. The animation is absolutely brilliant. On a visual level, the color palette is beautiful. The creature designs are also incredibly creative. There’s something of a Christmas holidays setting but somehow its the tint of light that works here. What starts off as failing to put together a ferris wheel and remembering his father turns into an intense walk through his home festering with all kinds of creatures, all different in their appearance and having their own characteristics but all takes a surprising turn of events to something very touching. This one shows off the concept of being able to deliver an effective story with the power of visuals and sound effects and score to give it all it needs. Even the ending credits are done fantastically.
The Haunted Swordsman (2019)
Director: Kevin McTurk
Cast: Jason Scott Lee, James Hong, Franka Potente, Christopher Lloyd
In terms of uniqueness, The Haunted Swordsman is a short that definitely fills that criteria. Its a ghost story puppet film that takes a horror adventure following a samurai in a world of witches and creatures. Made with 36 inch tall bunraku puppets and in live action, The Haunted Swordsman is a lot of fun filled with sufficient amount of horror, fantasy and adventure.
The story itself is a lot of fun as it starts with a samurai on a quest with a severed head, The Navigator as his companion guide, whichever it is in search of the The Black Monk, voiced by Christopher Lloyd. The samurai being voiced by Jason Scott Lee and The Navigator voiced by James Hong. The score itself blends well with the samurai tale elements and for a puppet film, the action is incredibly on point. A lot of compliments go to the attention to detail given to the puppets and how great it all looks as well as the puppeteers who make it all come to life convincingly. Its definitely a realm well worth looking at. While this is a short animated film at about 15 minutes or so, the samurai is sent on a quest, giving this concept and story a lot of potential to explore further and hopefully, director Kevin McTurk will do just that in the future.
Director: Jason Gudasz
Cast: Emily Green, Nick Hurley, Stella Edwards, Emmanuelle Roumain, Willy Roberts
Place is a short about a couple the goes into their new home to find the electrician dead in a freak accident to find that something seems to also be inhabiting it.
Place is about a family adjusting to all the ghosts in the place. While the ghosts never quite reveal itself, it does take over the family one by one. It gives them a rather edgy character and each of them change in their own way as they each take on a different oddness to them, whether its their change in how they talk. A lot of it is rather deliberate and possibly in a fairly dark comedy sort of way. Each of them interact with it in a different form as well. The character changes are a bit abrupt for a short, it needs to be paced fairly quickly. However, the daughter in here does bring in those little details of giving out clues of what legends are in the equation, inhabiting their place. Place is quite odd but then its meant to be that way with those little details which adds to the story plus it does have a rather good twist at the end.