SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director Matthew Kister, for allowing me to view an online screener of his Horror Anthology film “Shivers Down Your Spine” prior to its official release. He’s been a lifelong fan of Horror and formed his own production company called Dead Lantern Pictures with a group of his friends. Shivers Down Your Spine is a ten part anthology, that explores a host of different sub-genres including Spirits, Serial Killers and Vampires. An estimated fifty actors/actresses from Nebraska worked on the film, which took over four years to make on a combined $750. This is pure do it yourself indie film making, that saw a collection of people come together and achieve a common goal. It’s difficult to properly critique a film made up of so many segments, so what I’ll do is give you a rundown of what each short entails followed by an overall rating for each, and then a complete total rating.
OUT OF THE LAMP
Out Of The Lamp is the wraparound segment in Shivers Down Your Spine. It cuts back and forth before and after every story, as well as being the opening and closing of the film. Jeff (played by Steve Eaton) is sitting at home getting ready to microwave some pizza, when he finds a gold teapot/gravy boat (I forget which haha). After a quick rub (no pun intended) it unleashes the sexy genie that is Sabihah (the lovely Megan Shepard). Jeff is granted the obligatory three wishes but unlike most people, doesn’t want for the typical possessions. Instead he asks Sabihah to tell him some of her best stories, stories that are what the audience ends up seeing. The genie/Bollywood style score that plays when Sabihah appears and then vanishes was cool. The audio was pretty clear and the camera work simple but smart. On one occasion, Jeff breaks the fourth wall to confirm what the audience already knows, but it was done so in a self-aware style, a device I don’t mind. On top of that the short use of visual effects is well executed. The only let down here was that although some of the dialogue was humorous, some of the language felt unnecessary. Eaton’s delivery was a little scripted for my liking, while on the other hand Megan projected plenty of personality (didn’t hurt that she got partially naked either, and then Jeff had to ruin it haha).
Deadbolt is an 8 minute short about a girl named Cora (Jenny Chambers), whose settling in for a night of watching movies on Halloween. She just broke up with her boyfriend and now someone keeps ringing her doorbell interrupting the movie. Could it be him messing with her? Or something different all together? Deadbolt used its bass orientated score to perfection, it was very neatly edited and well-lit too. The aspects I enjoyed most about it were Jenny’s consistent acting, and Matt’s seemingly intentional nods to Wes Craven’s “Scream”. The movie night, the phone call and of course the popcorn, it’s all there. However I still found the audio levels were inconsistent and I didn’t like the amount of dutch angles that were used (tilting camera side on). Cora’s fall towards the end wasn’t choreographed realistically enough, and the sudden change in tone seemed out-of-place. The visual effects weren’t quite of the same standard as “Out Of The Lamp” either.
Birthday Dinner is a 7 minute short starring Eric Moyer and Michelle Schrage. A husband and wife are sitting down at their dinner table, enjoying a birthday barbecue. The Man has a discussion with his wife about why their daughter wasn’t allowed to attend her own birthday party. Birthday Dinner’s audio levels were better than the previous segment. The camera work was sharp and the transitioning between the two characters dialogue was seamless. It’s really well-edited and Moyer delivers his lines with passion, and in such a way that his true intent remains unclear until the closing stages. Saying that, if you’re like me and have seen similar concepts explored in other films, you’ll probably find this one a little predictable.
I DREAM OF DJINNI
I Dream Of Djinni is a 15 minute short film about Robert (Jesse Hapke), a guy living on a disability pension with nothing to show for himself. He receives a package from a delivery man (Kevin Casey), which turns out to be the same teapot Jeff found in the first segment. It releases Djinni (played by Megan Shepard again), and Robert gets his three wishes. He wishes for the ideal women that can fulfill all of his needs, but he gets a lot more than he bargained for with the “young girl” played by gorgeous Taylor Melone. This one managed a consist audio level and simple but effective camera work. I liked that you could see the DVDs in the lounge room of the house that this was filmed in, as well as the reference to the postal service being a “low-budget” company (showcasing this groups love of films). Djinni’s lines were a bit rough but Megan’s sense of humor shone through. There were some audio issues in between the editing where sound cut out all together. I couldn’t get on board with the Robert character and the end, although darkly comedic was a bit too weird for me.
A BAD HEART
A Bad Heart is a 15 minute short about Jane (played by Christina Olson), who was stabbed in the heart by her boyfriend Ray Foster, aka “The Cupid Killer” on valentine’s day (Mark Popejoy). It’s one year on and Jane decides it’s time to get back into the dating scene. She meets a young guy called Peter (Dailen Cowden). On the surface things seem normal, but suspicions arise that he may have a bad heart so to speak. Once again, it seems Matt managed to improve the consistency in the audio as the filming of this progressed. A Bad Heart had a unique and disturbing concept, and for me that was the best part about it. Unfortunately again there’s an overuse of dutch shots, most notably in the restaurant and I found it off-putting. Majority of the framing is too close as well. Cowden’s line delivery felt a bit stiff and the chemistry between him and Olson wavered at times. I didn’t understand why Ray didn’t just kill Jane. Including an extra scene explaining how she got away, or revealing why he didn’t kill her would have been good.
Last Breath is a 10 minute psychological short about Beth (played by my new crush, the stunning Jazmyne Van Houten), is sitting at home questioning her boyfriend Greg’s (Will Griffey) ability to be faithful. So much time to run through scenarios can’t possibly be good for your health, and for Beth’s it’s not. Aesthetically Last Breath is one of the best shorts of the bunch. The camera work is methodically executed, with a particular attention on panning. There’s many clever focus shots that keep with the story’s psychological analysis theme. I love the complementary piano ballad that’s playing, as well as the unprecedented twists that are revealed later. It’s really Jazmyne that kept me watching though. Not only is she naturally stunning, she puts on an honest and endearing front. Other than executing slightly more realistic choreography that could have involved some timely movements and more of a struggle, this one is great.
Convention Girl is an 8 minute horror short about David (T.J Roe), whose life has just been thrown into turmoil after killing a prostitute (played by Ali Aguilar), in his hotel room after a horror convention, or has he? The film also stars Steve Eaton as David’s friend Justin. I thought the black and white, flashback sequence showing David’s first interaction with the prostitute was a nice touch. It was great to finally see a practical, latex prosthetic and some decent looking blood. It’s disappointing that once again the over the top language feels like a hindrance. Don’t get me wrong profanity itself doesn’t bother me, but it has to have context in the storytelling. Right off the bat, I couldn’t take Roe’s performance seriously. He played it sounding like Kip from “Napoleon Dynamite”, now I love Kip but not in this environment. I never felt like these guys were in the dire situation they’re supposed to be selling , consequently I found Convention Girl the weakest in the anthology.
Whispering Board is an 11 minute short about three sorority sisters Bryce, Tiffany and Alexis (played by Chianna, Julia Farrell and Jazmyne Van Houten), who use a whispering board to try to contact a recently deceased boyfriend. In the search for answers, secrets come to the surface and threaten to destroy the trio’s friendship. Both the audio and camera work were great here. There’s a lot of gentle zooming, nice shot selection and reactive editing. This is a story in which mood lighting can, and does enhance the desired effect. All the girls are lovely and the dynamic of their friendships feel real. The acting is solid all around but it’s Chianna who hones her character the best, achieving multiple facial reactions that are fitting to her character of Bryce. The only thing I would have liked to see done differently, was some better on-screen impact hits during the action sequences. The aftermath looks nice but practical blood sprays would have been far more rewarding.
SHORTLY AFTER NIGHTFALL
Shortly After Nightfall is where this anthology takes a turn in veering away from the familiar, Horror sub-genres and into a crime short that lasts 12 minutes. Risk for reward sometimes works as is the case here. Josh (played by Justin Milani) is a private eye/hitman who while on a job, gets wrapped up in a mysterious murder investigation at a motel. It also stars Kevin Casey, Danielle Brookshire and Rose Johnson. I knew from the moment Shortly After Nightfall faded in I was going to dig it. With its exquisite black and white photography rain begins to pour, as our private eye drives down the road on-route to his next job. This noir short inspired by the style of “The Maltese Falcon”, looks and sounds amazing. Milani’s narration comes as second nature to him, and his character of Josh more than looks the part. The bass heavy score works like a treat and the screenplay has a hint of “Vacancy” about it. I enjoyed the eventual outcome and sudden turn in action. The climax appeared to have involved practical effects but I can’t be sure. If that was the case, I’m very impressed with that last sequence. The audio in a few places needed editing, mostly in transitioning between frames. Josh’s modern car was the only thing that took me out of what was otherwise a 1940’s, style film.
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY
A Christmas Horror Story is the last and longest segment of the anthology, running 15 minutes. It’s an 80’s inspired, slasher short about a group of stereotypical teenagers who are decorating a theater on Christmas Eve, while a crazed Santa is on the loose. Each of the actors here played their stereotypes perfectly, one of the most memorable being Steve (Dailen Cowden), the douche bag who fancies himself with the ladies. Cowden delivers his lines with great comedic timing and cheesy diction, overall a much improved effort on his work in “A Bad Heart”. Jazmyne Van Houten makes yet another appearance, and personally I thought this was her best. She’s got the 80’s, pop princess Cyndi Lauper look down. Looking sexy as hell, Sporting the tight, bright blue spandex shorts and pink headband. She plays Melissa, the popular girl who chews gum and likes to dance while walking around with her headphones on. A special mention of Ted Perez is in order. He plays Jerry, the boss of the theater and his one liners were pure gold, hilarious stuff.
The clothing and music are clearly representative of the 80’s and 90’s. I think it’s Billy? (Jim Brodhagen), that’s rocking the “Weekend At Bernies” meets Vanilla Ice look, and Lauren (Kerrie Smith) wears one of those holiday sweaters most notably worn by characters in “Home Alone”. The audio is nice and clear and the choice to shoot this in the style of a bad, shot on video film was clever. Not only does Brodhagen act, he also composed the fantastic synth music that can be heard throughout ACHS. Below is a link to the main theme be sure to check it out, it’s so gnarly 80’s!! My only criticism here was that the revelation of the “killer” didn’t have much impact, and I envisioned brutal kills and elaborate effects that I didn’t quite get. Still, on such a micro budget “A Christmas Horror Story” is truly impressive. The film also stars Cody McDowell and Dale Schumacher Jr.
There’s great fun to be had with “Shivers Down Your Spine” (pardon the pun) if you’re a fan of anthology flicks. For a total of less than $1,000, this is low-budget film making at it’s absolute finest. I thought at least six of these ten films ranged from very good to excellent, and we got diversity and experimentation. Even the three or four less memorable parts still have their place and don’t feel to far removed. Keep an open mind, others may enjoy them more than I did. Matthew Kister, his cast, and his crew have created a very even anthology and that’s difficult in of itself, made all the more impressive given the aforementioned budget. “Shortly After Nightfall”, “Last Breath” and “A Christmas Horror Story” take the cake for me hell, they probably take the whole damn bakery. I can’t wait to see Kister’s next film, a full length feature called “The Eyes Of Isabelle”. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of Shivers Down Your Spine as soon as it becomes available, and check out the link to Jim’s music below the review.
My rating for “Shivers Down Your Spine” is 7/10