By David Watson

Horror, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  It’s subjective.  What scares you, what horrifies you, may not necessarily scare me and vice versa.  Unlike other genres (action, gangster, sci-fi) horror is less tangible, less solid.  It’s both more and less.  Horror is a feeling.  Horror is an emotion.  For horror to work it can never be simply a passive exercise.  It must provoke.  It must inspire.  It must induce an emotional, a psychological and often a physical response.  The best horror should get inside us and rattle our cages, stimulate the old dinosaur brain, jumpstart those fuck, fight or flight urges our ancestors lived and died by.  The rush of adrenaline scalding your system, the heartbeat pounding in your ears like a drum, your breath coming in gasps…Horror reminds us who we are, who we were and that the world isn’t always a nice, sunny place, that at any moment something lurking in the primordial sludge could reach for us.

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Boasting 26 short films by 26 directors Shortcuts To Hell: Volume 1 could almost be the horror geek answer to the Dogme 95 Manifesto.  Growing out of a competition (£6666 to the lucky winner) set by Movie Mogul, FrightFest and the Horror Channel, filmmakers were tasked with making a film under six “deadly” restrictions:

  1. A choice of just six titles – Sweet 6teen, 6 Shooter, 6th Sense, 6 Seconds To Die, 6 Degrees Of (Limb) Separation, 6 Feet Under
  2. A maximum length of three minutes
  3. No more than three lines of dialogue
  4. No more than six hours of shooting time
  5. A maximum budget of £666
  6. No more than six cast and six crew

After the success of recent episodic anthology films like The ABCs Of Death, V/H/S and it’s upcoming sequel, as well as Little Deaths, Shortcuts To Hell: Volume 1 must have seemed like a no-brainer.  Don’t bother with name filmmakers, get some diverse, talented up-and-comers, make it a competition (that way we don’t need to pay ‘em) and knock out a bunch of cheap ’n’ nasty little shorts that can be thrown at the FrightFest audience who’ll lap them up.

Slithering onto the home market after being screened at London’s Empire Leicester Square over the course of this year’s FILM4 FrightFest weekend, the resulting films are pretty much exactly what you’d expect to get if you gave 26 Goths and geeky horror fanboys 600 quid and a video camera for the afternoon; a raw, unfocused collection of messy, amateurish, largely unimaginative riffs on their favourite horror flicks (slashers: check, zombies: check, vampires: check, unconvincing gore: check and double check) punctuated by the occasional flash of…not genius or quality exactly but watchable…okayness.

As I mentioned earlier, horror is subjective and what floats my boat might sink yours, so it’s not entirely surprising that of the six finalists chosen from the 26 films compiled here, I only liked two, the sixth segment (and eventual winner), Weronika Tofilska’s 6 Feet Under, and the final segment, Mikel Iriarte Six Degrees of (Limb) Separation.  Playful and subversive, Tofilska’s film is a necromantic little tale of a lovestruck girl alone in a mortuary with the man of her dreams which reminded me a little of Lynne Stopkewich’s 1996 film Kissed and a lot of a 2001 episode of Channel 5’s Urban Gothic titled Necromance I was an extra in (I’m the dour looking guy in a white coat if you ever see it).  Iriarte’s Six Degrees Of (Limb) Separation on the other hand is a shadowy, red and blue gelled homage to Italian horror like Suspiria or Demons.

For me, the second and ninth segments, Dominic Roberts’ 6 Feet Under, a nasty little tale of vengeful dead children, and John Carlin’s 6 Feet Under (6 Feet Under seemed to be about the most popular title), featuring a nightmarish Groundhog Day-inspired karmic punishment, are among the most satisfying while Oliver Nice’s fourteenth segment, Sweet 6Teen’s vigilante vampire flick is crying out for expansion.  My favourite film however was Ben Vokes’ 6 Seconds To Die, a funny Grand Guignol tale of a libertine mad scientist and his guillotine.

It would be wrong to single out a solitary filmmaker for criticism, particularly when their film (for once) was far from the worst on offer but perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Shortcuts To Hell competition was the inclusion of FrightFest favourite Alex Chandon among the finalists who, with directing credits going back to 1991, among them 2011’s cinematic abortion Inbred (a film so bad it played at 2011 AND 2012’s FrightFest before being shoveled up and granted a cursory cinema release last year before going to DVD), can hardly be regarded as a young, up-and-coming, creative force, an undiscovered talent just waiting for his shot.  He’s had his OWN Director’s Night on the Horror Channel for Chrissakes!  His inclusion felt forced, a slap in the face for the 20 filmmakers who didn’t make the final, a cynical contrivance emblematic of the torpic lack of originality Shortcuts To Hell: Volume 1 makes its own.

It’s a shame that the greatest horror Shortcuts To Hell: Volume 1 inspires in me is the dread that someday I may have to sit down and watch a Volume 2.

VERDICT: [rating=2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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