Richard Gale’s latest is a joy for genre fans of many stripes as well as moviegoers in general. Keep reading to learn why, and to find about other small gems of dark humor that are well worth tracking down…

Clearly I can’t claim to have seen everything that’s been released this year—no one can—but I’m guessing I’ve taken in a couple of hundred titles, and so far none of them have provided the highs that Gale’s film has. Its title? The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon.

When I heard that the film had recently won a Special Jury Award at Fantastic Fest for “sheer enjoyability” my expectations ran high—very high, in fact, considering Gale’s previous work. Still, this instant classic blasted through the ceiling of all those expectations: having this much fun in only a few minutes should probably not involve something that can be done in public.

We’ve all seen mock trailers with basso-voiced narrators intoning over-seriously about absurd stories, but writer-director Gale takes the form to new heights—and lengths. Indeed, at around ten minutes, The Horribly Slow Murderer far exceeds any real trailer you’ll ever see, but its runtime actually makes perfect sense given that the film it’s “advertising” runs some nine hours (even just saying the title seems to take about a minute).

Spoofing guns-and-explosions action movies, J-horror, and, unforgettably, Psycho’s shower scene—and really anything else in can get its hands on—the film feels like a brainstorming session brought to life. Yet somehow all these ingredients hold together, even as the story moves across a world stage to a terrifically hyperbolic muscial score. The two leads, downtrodden Paul Clemens and Criticized’s Brian Rohan excel at the physical comedy, but just when things could threaten to get goofy, Gale shifts gears into another mode of parody or, once in a while, throws us a change-up that’s just purely disturbing. Overall, The Horribly Slow Murderer is the kind of movie you just let wash over you because after the first minute or so you really have no choice but to surrender to its pleasures.

I’m sure the other shorts that screened at Fantastic Fest this fall are equally deserving of attention, but I haven’t seen them. In fact, my knowledge of what’s going on in the world of horror shorts is informed through very erratic channels—some films I catch at festivals, some I’m lucky enough to have sent to me by filmmakers, and some I’m indebted to Ted Stanford at Dead Harvey for alerting me to. By the way, if you’re into horror, and aren’t checking out this site, you are missing one of the smartest and straightest-shooting resources in the genre: Stanford’s a true champion of independent film.

So in addition to The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon, here are some other short horror titles that I urge to seek out by whatever means necessary:

Gay Zombie. Instead of trading solely on its potentially gimmicky title/premise, this film proves to be surprisingly thoughtful, even touching at times. Similarly, writer-director Michael Simon avoids many of the obvious sight gags and situations you’d expect and instead uses the notion of “coming out” as one of the undead as a sustained metaphor for tolerance both of, and within, the gay community. At the same time, the film is not as heavy as I just made it sound, and in many scenes plays like a twisted sitcom (which someone should actually develop).

Yes, there’s a certain amount of campy shtick, but not enough to keep Gay Zombie’s originality from shining through. I’m not sure if Simon plans to make a home in horror or in another genre, but this is an impressive effort that makes me look forward to whatever he tackles next.

Mr. Video. The Be Kind Rewind of horror, Alex Masterton's film starts out like an affectionate paen to the endangered neighborhood video rental store. Or perhaps the movie is just one long slow-burn by the proprietor, one that's motivated by a particularly annoying customer...? I can't say much more here without giving away key plot points, but Masterton does a wonderful of evoking true evil nestled right alongside the everyday and cheery. A commentary on issues such as DVD piracy and even horror movies themselves, Mr. Video also boasts an extremely high ideas-per-runtime quotient.

Star Gary Holt outside his storefront. Doesn't seem much like a horror movie, does it? Well, that's the beauty of the film...


Popsicle
. This film isn't trying to be an ironically dark comedy like the others listed here, but is instead an insinuating freakfest that gradually builds into a full-blown horror tone-poem. The narrative is slight and dreamlike, the barest of skeletons on which filmmaker Lucas Amann can hang the horror totems at his disposal—puppets, toys, clown-like figures, and so on (the real star here is the production design). In short, if you like the demented, otherworldly stories of Thomas Ligotti, Popsicle captures their tone perfectly: it’s not about telling a scary story, but about enveloping you in a world of total horror. And while the acting by some of the adults is uneven, young Ally Roeder as the protagonist does everything right. She, and Amann, are talents to watch out for. (Amann's reel is below.)

 

Night of the Hell Hamsters. As with Gay Zombie, the title alone is worth a few chuckles, but the laughs certainly don’t stop there. Hardcore horror fans may make the mistake of judging the suspense and gore as stand-alones, apart from the fact that furry household pets are their vehicles, but that would clearly be a mistake. Filmmaker Paul Campion begins in romcom vein in this U.K.-set tale of demonic possession, but soon enough the tone shifts… and then shifts again, so that by the end we’re left with nothing less than an apocalyptic vision. Ironically, much of the film’s charm is provided by the low-rent and somewhat transparent “creature effects”—ironic because Campion knows full well what looks good on screen as he’s also a masterful painter. In the long view of Campion’s career, which has already included impressive visuals for The Lord of the Rings and which holds the promise of its own full-length features on the horizon, Hell Hamsters may just end up a footnote, but it’s gotta be one of the most fun and good-natured footnotes out there.