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{Portland H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon} The Shorts!

This article is part of Signal Horizon’s coverage of Portland, OR’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon. Stay tuned for more coverage as the weekend goes on and my fingers get to typin’!

Short film, like short fiction, is a woefully underrated artform, especially in the mainstream. I’m thankful that, for whatever reason, both of these are intrinsic to the horror genre. What would the literary scene be without Laird Barron, T.E.D Klein, and Thomas Ligotti? Or worse, and more critically, Poe and Lovecraft? All of these celebrated voices worked for long periods of their career in the world of short fiction. For horror, they are not an afterthought, they’re the main course. And while film doesn’t have the same celebrated delivery method (although streaming may change that as anthology shows become more popular), Portland’s Lovecraft Festival gleefully celebrates the short film, screening them in blocks of six. 

I caught one of these blocks on my first night before seeing Color Out of Space (read about that here) and was overall impressed with the quality of the films. 

The first was perhaps the most on the nose for the festival. The Music of Erich Zann is of course a straight Lovecraft adaptation with an updated setting. Director Jesse Keller paints a surreal picture of the mad musician with very little dialogue. Sound largely drives the short, appropriately for its subject matter. The titular performance is perhaps the highlight, but the production design comes in at a close second. While the film obviously suffers for a budget, Keller leans into the artifice, using green screen for backdrop that becomes another layer of unreality. 

Corpse is the familiar tale of a dinner party gone totally wrong. While it was not my favorite of the block, due to its uneven acting, it did felt the most like a story made in a Lovecraftian vein, rather than a straight adaptation or a pastiche. 

Before this point, both the films shown were obviously low budget productions. Night Crawl, however, is an incredibly polished film. It’s well shot, well lit, and it’s setting is tremendous. It’s follows two prisoners, gunning for a prison break. When night falls, one starts burrowing through rock. Well, of course, we know where we are—there be monsters. Everything about this one was fun and thrilling, and the audience was in enthusiastic agreement. When the shit hit the fan, I found myself among an audience roaring in adulation. 

The strangest film of the night was Ens Rationis—the story of a woman on the run. While I thought it could have used some tightening, it was still interesting and distinctly ethereal in comparison to the other shorts, but could have benefitted from a budget and some honing of its performances. 

Tome Alone was one of the shortest shorts, but judging from the audience’s reaction, one of the biggest hits of the night. Here we have the classic story of two young kids left alone…with their father’s copy of the Necronomicon. Chaos, as you would presume, ensues. It’s a funny short that made for some serious crowd pleasing, and a good example of how diverse the sampling in the blocks can be. 

The final film of the block was perhaps my favorite. Aurora depicts a fictionalized (?) account of the first American UFO encounter. Shot in black and white, the film perfectly mimics a Serling-era Twilight Zone episode. And when I say perfectly, it is no hyperbole. Aurora is incredibly on-point as a stylistic pastiche, from the filming all the way to the performances. And it’s truly the latter that sells the feel. The cast are uniformly excellent, mastering the period idiosyncrasies of the performances. There’s a comic vein that runs through the short, of deftly applied ironic humor that also lightly comments on the style its aping. This is all in good fun though, and if there’s one thing that comes across, it’s that the filmmakers carry with them a deep and abiding love of these genre films. 

More from the Lovecraft Fest is coming! If you liked this, like Signal Horizon to keep up to date on all the latest horror and sci-fi news. Check out my review on Color Out of Space here!