Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Gateway Film Center’s premiere of Seven Hells: a collection of lauded horror short films that have made the festival circuit in recent years.
It is a real shame that short films rarely get significant distribution, because they can be a whole lot of fun: particularly in the horror genre. Seven Hells is a showcase of some of the best horror and horror-comedy short films out there, and is at its core an experimental attempt to promote them to a more casual theater-going audience. To say the least, the concept is well-intentioned: the films deserve a wider audience, and audiences deserve these films.
Seven Hells only has a loose frame between the segments, but it doesn’t need to be flashy: its strength is in the existing short films that make up the content, and they have already proved their muster to festival audiences. The connection between the segments is simple: each story is a tale of everything metaphorically (or literally?) going to hell for someone. It is simple, and it works.
The weaknesses, where they exist, are related to the mostly uncharted format of the movie. The short films vary wildly in tone, with some being campy horror-comedies (Killer Karts, Horrific) and others that are dead serious and macabre (Cold Turkey, Black Sugar). This causes a little bit of whiplash, but it doesn’t ultimately damage the collection as a whole. Would it be a better experience if it were solely focused on one style or the other? Probably, but I don’t think it would be dramatically different in the end, and there is something to be said for the collection showcasing the diversity within horror.
The pacing is somewhat hampered by the inclusion of credits within each segment (rather than being bookended on the entire collection), but that’s the extent of the complaints I have with Seven Hells. When it comes down to it, the intention of the movie was to expose some fine films to a more casual audience of horror fans, who would otherwise never have seen them. In that regard, I thought it was quite successful. After all, I’m a horror fan who can’t make it to film festivals, and I would not have seen this shorts without Seven Hells.
Speaking of which, here are the trailers for the seven short films that comprise Seven Hells:
The dialogue in Jack Attack is really snappy, and the effects in this are top-notch. I love the original concept here, and it also features the rarity of a decent child actor.
Incident on Highway 73
This is suspense mastery, and yet another brilliantly original concept. I also thought this had some particularly brilliant sound work and cinematography that fantastically enhanced the tension.
Seeing the trailer for this is what got me in the door to start with. It is a funny short without being overtly humorous, instead relying on the outlandishness of the concept. Killer grocery carts? Yes, thank you. It also manages to be of genuinely good quality, resisting the temptation to drift into Tromatic territory with its off-the-wall premise.
Certainly the darkest film in the collection, this was the only time I felt some real tonal whiplash during Seven Hells. That said, Cold Turkey has some astounding practical effects, and is frankly haunting in its depiction of a self-starving cannibal.
Blac k Sugar
Black Sugar was maybe the coolest stylistically out of the bunch, and is also the only one I recall to extensively use computer-generated special effects. I am typically a bigger fan of practical effects, but the CG here is used brilliantly to depict a hellish alien world. Black Sugar is yet another incredibly original concept, focusing on a group of teenagers experimenting with a mysterious drug.
A clearly Sam Raimi inspired tale of one man’s struggle against a Chupacabra, this is an absolute blast. It is probably the shortest entry, but it might be the one that stuck with me the most. Next to perhaps Killer Karts, it is the funniest of the bunch.
Seven Hells is the brainchild of Jason Tostevin, who contributes the final segment in the collection. Til Death has some great comedic acting and some really fantastic make-up effects, but there were a couple of things that bugged me about it story-wise. Unlike the others, it actually has a happy ending. That alone wouldn’t really bother me, but the characters in the segment are, in my opinion, the most loathsome in the collection (I’m including Cold Turkey in there). The main characters are all in unhappy marriages, and decide that they should all kill their wives to escape their respective hellish matrimonies. They are all childish and cruel, and the karmic system that underlies most horror stories would leave them to their hellish fates, and definitely not allow them to live happily ever after.
There is an implication that the characters mature over the course of murdering their wives and killing themselves, but you don’t really see it happen. The credits roll over happy images of the various married corpses, who have apparently re-found love after their deaths. It just didn’t feel right to me: they should have been doomed to an eternal life with their undead spouses to pay for their heinousness, but instead they learn to enjoy it.
All of that said, Til Death has some really great comedic moments, and it is exceptionally well-crafted. Honestly, I might just be over-thinking it: the film leans more towards comedy than horror, and I may have just wanted it to lean the other way. It also probably wasn’t the best capstone for the collection given the upbeat ending: after all, the theme of Seven Hells is about things going bad.
It is to be seen what sort of distribution Seven Hells will get, but my hope is that it will go far and wide. Even if it doesn’t, I hope that the concept isn’t abandoned: the format of Seven Hells is undoubtedly the best way to publicize short films to a larger audience, but it may some tinkering to make it more marketable overall. In any case, I whole-heartedly recommend checking it out if you can. Who knows, maybe it will pop up on Netflix one of these days?