AFTER MIDNIGHT (2018) BY VARIOUS DIRECTORS

Reviews

Directors: Various
Writers: Various
Year: 2018 [Various]
Starring: Various

Synopsis:
A collection of eight Italian short horror/sci-fi films.

Review:
Coming from Italian production houses ‘Demented Gore Production’ and ‘Moonlight Legacy Production’ is AFTER MIDNIGHT, a collection of eight short films bundled together.

As a result of this there is little thematic or production conformity between the stories, and as expected the quality does vary particularly as a lot of the short films used in this release were recorded for separate purposes.

On to the films and experienced director Daniele Misischia steps up first to the plate with ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ (The last video of Sara) which thematically raises questions about not only our online desire for validation but also the attitude and acts in which online behaviour can elicit.

We watch as vlogger Sara tackles the issue of her own online trolls which has caused her to have to ban or ‘censor’ people on her channel. An act that some seemingly obsessive people did not like and have let her know. However as the vlog continues we begin to realise that she is not alone in her house.

On a superficial level this short film reminded me somewhat of the 2015 American horror film Ratter although arguably with a little more to say while the insertion of subliminal cuts offered a smart piece of variety to the single frame shot utilised throughout the rest of the short running time.

In my opinion ‘L’ultimo video di Sara’ is a solid effort but would work best as a web clip as opposed to being on a home entertainment release. Featuring reasonable Fx, a few nice ideas and a reasonable concept this story is a nice start to the collection but I would not have expected any less from this director.

We follow this with ‘The Taste of Survival’ from director Davide Pesca who has recently contributed to the anthologies A TASTE OF PHOBIA and DEEP WEB XXX (as well as previously contributing to the compilation 17 A MEZZANOTTE) and so he too should know a thing or two about making a short story work.

Set 27 years after an almost apocalyptic event, ‘The Taste of Flesh’ plays somewhat with traditional convention (good) but without committing enough to the required grindhouse style (bad – although the music was spot on) and coming across quite frankly as just a bit too modern and digital.

When one of the highlights is that one of the bad guys is wearing a Wacken festival t-shirt then you know that this segment is not living up to its potential and that is a shame as the concept works a little more than the execution.

Third up is ‘Nyctophobia’ from Francesco Longo. This is a short film that I have reviewed in detail previously on this very blog and so I won’t repeat myself and go into detail here. However it forms one of the strongest stories across the board (direction, acting, story) in this release and provides an entertaining, thoughtful and at times tense watch.

A tough act to follow but Davide Cancila is commendable in his effort which centres around an almost catatonic woman and her seemingly guilt-ridden yet caring brother. 

In its short time ‘Nel buio’ manages to smartly tell the past and show the present with a few twists thrown in along the way. Overall the supernatural horror is about guilt, revenge and penance and is worth a watch.

‘Io non le credo’ from Luca Bertossi is next up and sadly compared to the previous two stories feels a little incomplete. The majority of the short follows the dialogue between a man, afflicted by a demonic nun, and an unconvinced priest to whom he is begging for help.

Possessing all of the right pieces ‘Io non le credo’ just fails to pull it off in part due to some weak performances but perhaps mostly due to lacking any real set up or emotional involvement. That having been said it potentially could be seen as a nice critique on the cowardice and ineffective nature of the church. Either that or it was simply made because evil nuns are relatively popular now.

If ‘Io non le credo’ was attempting to capture what is popular now then ‘Escape from Madness’ from Nicola Pegg is trying capture the essence of a classic.

As a woman is walking through an empty park at night she soon realises that perhaps she is not alone as first thought. From here the viewer might be expecting this short to go one way but what classic influence could I have been previously referred to?

Well this influence bizarrely comes from Tobe Hooper and the seminal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Now to say this is a rip-off would certainly be a bit harsh but ultimately the story descends into a fanboys dream to make.

Although competently made it would have certainly been improved with better SFX but with a brief ten minute run time ‘Escape from Madness’ does not overrun its welcome and will hit the mark. Not quite prime meat but enjoyable to digest nonetheless.

Now the penultimate story ‘Che serata di merda!’ (I translate as ‘That evening of shit’) from Roberto Albanesi is perhaps the lightest of all the shorts featured in the collection and the only one that is inherently tied to the release due to it’s self-and release-referential nature.

Considering he was behind NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME and the sequel, as well as being involved in the wraparound of CATACOMBA I had high hopes for ‘Che sedate di merda’ and the short certainly grew on me as it played.

In the short film a missing farmer re-appears blood covered and staggering through the small town while a couple share a glass of wine and a film at home….the NON NUATATE IN QUEL FIUME references are plentiful, I hope the director paid himself royalties!

In a true case of ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER’ revenge it is unsurprising to see that these characters have some sort of prior business but here the narrative is not so straight forward as first the director himself turns up at the house (playing himself) and then through a dialogue with the farmer in which they discuss being the fictional construction of the real Roberto Albanesi.

It is in using this device that the film excels but the final takeaway message of “Let’s drink up” perhaps resonates the most.

We end with perhaps the most ambitious of all of the stories, ‘Haselwurm’, from director Eugenio Villani, which dates back to 2011 making it a strange choice to feature in terms of contemporary work (although thankfully the quality more than makes up for this).

‘Haselwurm’ initially plays as a sci-fi survival adventure as two explorers manage to capture a mythical haselwurm but during their struggle one of the duo was seemingly scratched by the creature with effects of an almost Lovecraftian or Ridley Scott nature.

Not only is the story interesting, and in my opinion should be developed into a feature-length, but along with ‘Nyctophobic’ it is one of the strongest entries in the collection thanks to a strong story, cinematography, Fx and editing. It is a shame that it is the last story but if you get the opportunity to watch this short – do so.

Overall AFTER MIDNIGHT is, as most collections often are, a mixed bag but unfortunately one where the weaker entries outnumber the strong (‘Nyctophobic’,’Nel buio’,’Haselwurm’). That being said these stronger entries are worth checking out but as someone who advocates the (slow) return of the contemporary Italian horror scene, AFTER MIDNIGHT as a holistic collection is perhaps not the best example to put forwards.

You can find out more about the film on the official Facebook page.

UNDERCOVER MISTRESS (2016) BY GIULIO CIANCAMERLA

Reviews

Director: Giulio Ciancamerla
Writers: Giulio Ciancamerla, Lucio Massa
Year: 2016
Starring: Stefania Visconti, Leonardo Pace, Asia Liguori

This review first appeared on my older website Cosi Perversa.

Synopsis:
During a photo show, a man enjoys scaring a girl until she decides to leave the exhibition. The man runs after her along increasingly dark and isolated streets. A man and a woman? Which one is the dominant genre?

Review:
This short film opens in a contemporary art gallery with a handsome man catching a woman’s eye, if only for a second. Shy and retiring she is clearly too nervous to do anything but steal frequent glances. However she has also caught the eye of another, a sexual predator, who carries a look of disgust and lust over his face and the pursuit of only one action on his mind.

The performances of our two leads, Leonardo Pace and the Cinecittà graduate & transgender model Stefania Visconti, are terrific. Working without dialogue both are still able to convey the required complex emotions required allowing the viewer to innately understand their thought processes. The ability of both helps provide an added level of believability to the films set up.

Now with director Giulio Ciancamerla having established these, sadly prevalent, social norms he immediately sets about subverting the role of gender as a discordant soundtrack emphasises both the sadistic and non-conventional approach the film takes to tacking its subject matter. It is this ‘torture’ sequence that is vaguely reminiscent of the way a couple of giallo masters would frame their sexual transgressions as the activity builds up to a disturbing climax that undoubtedly will elicit a reaction from the viewer.

At the most simplest, base level this is an empowered and violent role reversal of the sexes but Ciancamerla imbues the film with much more complexity for those willing to delve further down the rabbit hole, beyond the preliminary visual layer as he strips away the social concept of gender roles and masculinity in particular as our male (Leonardo Pace) is emasculated rather than dominant.

What we are left with is the realisation that our identities are a performance piece, sometimes for the admiration of others and sometimes for our own gratification at the expense of others. To paraphrase British playwright Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage… and one man in his time plays many parts” and this is never truer in UNDERCOVER MISTRESS where our projected self may in fact be very different and our capabilities exceed that of even what we expect when pushed.

According to the press release the idea behind Undercover Mistress is a contamination of “gender studies” with “erotic…psychological horror” and as such tackles subjects such as sexual identity, harassment and roles. 

It is a challenging movie that no doubt will alienate many but for a few, it will raise societal questions and realisations as ugly as the violent acts it depicts. The fact that UNDERCOVER MISTRESS will appeal just as much to the arthouse liberal as the horror fan provides verification that the film has succeeded in its objectives perhaps even lending creedence to the subjects it tackles.

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Version Reviewed:
I watched an online screener of the 13-minute short film which was at the time was winning several awards on the festival circuit. The film is nicely shot with clean, modern visuals and clear sound.

VAMP STALKER (2017) BY EROS BOSI

Reviews

Director: Erosi Bosi
Writer: Eros Bosi
Year: 2017
Starring: Eros Bosi, Serena Meloni, Giovanni Tasca, Maurizio Bolli

VAMP STALKER is the latest short film from upcoming Italian writer-director Eros Bosi and continues in the same vein as his previous horror-comedy EVIL SELFIE.

Opening with a young woman, Serena Meloni, going to watch a horror film at a local cinema, it doesn’t take long after sitting down for her to notice a pale-faced guy, played by writer/director Eros Bosi, beginning to watch her rather than the film. Turning to face her admirer she notices not his looks but his sharp fangs and that is enough to cause her to quickly leave.

Panicked she soon realises that she did not leave alone as our young Dracula gives chase but every time it looks as if he is about to catch his prey she manages to avoid his grasp, building the tension until a delightful twist turns what could have been a linear two-dimensional horror into a comedy in the same vein as the the terrific WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS.

This tonal shift and payoff works well thanks to the build-up being played straight, and in doing so allowing the resulting vampiric love triangle to act as a catalyst for the remaining hilarious action. On the subject of comedy this is a genre that often struggles to cross cultural borders but here the comedic dialogue comes across as intentioned thanks to being based in horror lore as opposed to some geographical understanding.

Furthermore this short film also utilises much physical comedy which is borderline splatterstick thanks to action such as an offending finger getting bitten off, an eye getting gouged out and, well, I don’t want to say what is done with a snooker ball. Although where VAMP STALKER does fall down is in regards to the brief physical confrontations which come across as too restrained and fake with the ultimate result being that it takes the viewer out of the whole experience. The humorous violence being unrealistic is one thing, that is all part of the low budget package that we know and love but sadly that does not extend to hand-to-hand combat.

This however is only a minor and brief issue and all is quickly forgotten thanks to the films charm, which is no doubt enhanced thanks to the love of the genre from Eros Bosi, who goes as far as to reference contemporary Italian horrors E.N.D by Domiziano Cristopharo (via a poster) and NON NUOTATE IN QUEL FIUME by Roberto Albanesi (playing in the cinema) within the brief ten minute run time.

Employing a nice level of genre self-awareness and plenty of humour, for what VAMP STALKER lacks in budget it more than makes up for in fun, similar to those VHS amateur pioneers back in the early eighties. The horror-comedy genre is a notoriously hard one to get right and it would be interesting to see if the young writer/director can make that step up when the time comes to make his first feature film as he manages to get the balance spot on here.

Version reviewed:
I watched an Italian language online screener of the film.

NYCTOPHOBIA (2017) BY FRANCESCO LONGO

Reviews

Director: Francesco Longo
Writers: Francesco Longo, Paolo Mercandante
Year: 2017
Starring: Roberto Ramon, Michael Segal, Roberto D’Antona

Synopsis:
When the darkness comes at night a man is tormented by visions of the past but are they only visions or something more?

Review:
The third in a trilogy of short films looking at phobias (with SKIZOPHRENIA, 2014, and CLAUSTROPHOBIA, 2015, coming before) from upcoming director Francesco Longo, NYCTOPHOBIA unsurprisingly focuses in on the fear of darkness and wastes no time with preamble, immediately introducing us to our main character, the man, as he returns home and gets ready to go to sleep. While attempting to doze off the film INSANE plays, a nice nod not only to co-star Roberto D’Antona but also perhaps indicative of our man’s mental state and with it perhaps an analogy of what is about to occur – namely a psychological journey in which the darkness may or not be playing tricks.

One of the strengths here is that the setup is surprisingly very normal and grounded in reality, from the mysterious, unspecified creaking in the dark to the lying silently in bed trying to pin down the logical cause of the noise, helping make the situation more relatable and safe to us…that is until Longo introduces a few supernatural flourishes and things start to get a little creepy.

A menacing tone starts to pervade throughout the film, suddenly we are unsure as to what is real or imagined as things start to go south for our man and surreal for us pretty quickly. It is worth noting here in the realisation or rather visualisation of events that things do come across a little like I imagine they would in the mind of Rob Zombie from the crazy blonde chick to the interpretation of the devil and from this it has to be noted that the success of this film on a personal level may depend on your own stylistic preference for this type of horror. Although for my British readers imagine the writers of PSYCHOVILLE and INSIDE NO.9 playing it a little straighter and that would give some indication of what to expect.

In short NYCTOPHOBIA is a decent watch that will entertain and one that ultimately achieves what it sets out to. It is not a mindless dull literal translation of the concept of a ‘scary dark’ à la recent Hollywood hogwash horror but rather a more thoughtful, internalised and dare I say European approach as to the true horrors brought about by the impenetrable mysterious darkness, one’s own mind…and perhaps some supernatural forces too.

Throughout the films brief run time Longo manages to expertly craft a decent amount of tension within a short amount of time thanks to an intelligent use of audio and strong pacing (aided by the editing choices) although perhaps the narrative itself is a little too obvious for the seasoned horror fan with the turn being seen from a mile away nonetheless this minor gripe does not detract to much from the film.

Oh and check out what time the lead character wakes up. Amityville or Italy – evil is the same everywhere (and disregards time zones).

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Version Reviewed:

I watched an online screener of the film.

MORGUE STREET (2012) BY ALBERTO VIAVATTENE

Reviews

Director: Alberto Viavattene
Writers: Emiliano Ranzani, Alberto Viavattene
Year: 2012
Starring: Mario Cellini, Dèsirè Giorgetti, Roberto Nali

Synopsis:
Two prostitutes, mother and daughter, struggle against a mysterious creature who breaks into their house after their john has left.

Review:
After that brief synopsis there really is very little one can add in regards to the story or narrative without giving anything away about this eleven minute film.  Although the film poster and inspiration might hint at it.

Director Alberto Viavattene reinterprets the general theme of the famous story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’  by Edgar Allan Poe but does so with not only a contemporary kick but also added malice and artistic licence.

No doubt with his hand forced by the short running time Viavattene wastes no time in showing the degenerate filth of modern society and the cinematography perfectly captures this mood with its dark shades and grimy tones bathed in neon red light. However this haste to get to the point may also be a hindrance for many viewers as the brutal events that unfold do so almost without any recognisable context meaning that there is a high probability that MORGUE STREET will be taken at face value as a superficial rape horror, one that will be judged on one base sequence that comes to not only dominate but perhaps define it.

This is a shame because on subsequent watches and analysis MORGUE STREET is much more than this and is in fact a competent (technical) piece of work, particularly its opening act. Sure it completely eschews the traditional mystery element (something that is extremely tricky to replicate in a short film format) and perhaps rather than being seen as an adaption of Poe’s classic it should be taken as a harsh look at the reality of our animal instinct as well as addiction. One in which there very often is no redemption for those who are it’s victims.

Viavattene clearly has talent (which is unsurprising considering he has worked with Paolo Sorrentino and Dario Argento) and is certainly a director to look out for should he ever get his  big break into feature films and although MORGUE STREET no doubt made a good calling card for him it is perhaps the most unconventional, anti-commercial show reel for the cast – all of which put in strong performances, English speaking aside.

Undoubtedly this is a short film that will divide, even for myself on the initial watch I was impressed with the technical abilities but left wondering if certain scenes had to be shown the way they were. However the film stayed with me, there is more going on underneath the surface and one has to give the director the benefit of the doubt.

A grim and stark take on an aspect of modern humanity framed around a brutal and bizarre adaption of a Poe penned story. You can make up your own mind and watch the film here.

Version Reviewed:
I watched a free to watch version hosted by the director on Vimeo. This short film is also accessible via the FilmDoo streaming platform and rather surprisingly it looks fantastic not just for a short film but one that is streamed online. It has English audio.

EVIL SELFIE (2016) BY EROS BOSI

Reviews

Alternative Titles: N/A
Director: Eros Bosi with support by Luca Alessandro
Writer: Eros Bosi
Year: 2016
Starring: Gene Gnocchi, Chiara Palombi, Eros Bosi, Diletta Vedovelli

Synopsis:
Isabella is a young girl who lives in a small town. Through a strange series of events, caused by a broken mirror, she meets Fabiano and Mara, mad like her for “selfies”. But all new encounters hide something, and sometimes a mobile phone can show the truth…

Review:
EVIL SELFIE is the debut short film for upcoming Italian rookie Eros Bosi who was mentored during this process by the more experienced Luca Alessandro (E.N.D THE MOVIE; THE PYRAMID). It begins with the lovely Isabella (Chiara Palombi) doing what many of her peers do constantly, that’s right take a selfie. However when the mirror in front of her breaks she knows she is due some bad luck. Isabella’s a smart cookie however and looks up ways to break this curse or so she thought.

Seven days later (almost like THE RING here) while out finishing the steps to ensure no misfortune befalls her she collapses and dies. Her father obviously worried when she doesn’t return home begins to search for her only to find a bloody piece of mirror and visions of his dead daughter. This opening act certainly has a bit of the J-Horror genre about it and is played pretty straight but once established it allows Alessandro and Bosi  to develop the story into new territory and inject a sly sense of humour to the proceedings.

A little while later, an amorous couple (Bosi appearing in front of the camera alongside Diletta Vedovelli – both of whom put in good performances) pull into the field looking for a bit of alone time but before the guy is allowed to have his way his girlfriend insists on a selfie but her pictures end up  showing more than just our couple.

Although EVIL SELFIE is slightly lacking in the effective scares department it more than compensates for this through its humour and take on contemporary society with the concept almost (but certainly the trailer) channelling Carpenter’s THEY LIVE  but almost ironically despite the almost blind compulsion of using it the only thing that can save you is your phone…although then it might just be your girlfriend that kills you!

EVIL SELFIE is a fun watch thanks to a decent story that has the potential to be expanded into a much more serious piece of work or even go the other way into a parody of modern culture and even the J-Horror genre films (THE RING, SHUTTER etc.) which are not a million miles away.

Furthermore the entire crew do themselves justice with competent direction and strong editing underpinning some decent performances from a largely inexperienced cast. Eros Bosi is certainly one for horror fans to keep an eye on and if he continues to learn from the likes of Alessandro then we look forward to him appearing both behind and in front of another camera soon.

Finally of note the short film features Gene Gnocchi in a cameo role, and although not familiar to audiences outside of Italy, they may recognise him from roles in several TV series as well as a handful of feature films.

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