If you spent last Tuesday night anywhere other than the inaugural Vancouver Horror Show Festival at the Cinematheque, I sincerely feel bad for you. On October 23rd, VHS debuted a carefully-curated evening of short horror films from around the globe. For this first iteration of the festival, organizers David Taylor and Meghan Hemingway received more than a hundred submissions, and selected their favourite twelve to present to a packed theatre of horror enthusiasts. It was an impressive collection that offered a diverse array of content, suggesting VHS is off to a very strong start.
Couched in a sweet spot between VIFF and Halloween, VHS could not have come at a better time. And, while Vancouver already plays host to two other small horror film fests, the popularity of VHS in attendance as well as submission numbers clearly evidences the need for more platforms for horror cinema in the city. Short film is perhaps the best medium for horror stories; often, horror plays with standard narrative constructs: time becomes non-linear, authority of perspective is put into question, slippages between dreams and reality allow for suspended disbelief. The medium of short film is a potent vehicle for these and other perversions of traditional narrative form. While full-length films have to work hard to maintain a pervasive sense of foreboding for an hour and a half, the short film can hone in on one horrific note and carry it until its breaking point.
At VHS each short film possessed a unique interpretation of the genre with diverse concepts fully fleshed out in an average of fifteen minutes. And, with multiple titles on the playbill, the organizers were careful to splice lighter, comedic projects with decidedly more intense pieces like The Desecrated, a film about a mortician and her not-so-dead clients. This is an important curatorial choice for audience members who may not be able to stomach two straight hours of terror. I am not one of these people, but I have been told that they do, in fact, exist.
Standout titles at this year’s festival included Gigi Saul Guerero’s grotesque El Gigante and Marian, a haunting story of maternal love, death, and abuse from director Brian Patrick Lim. A Canadian submission, The Whistler, was also noteworthy, telling the story of two sisters preyed upon by a mysterious entity said to roam their small town in search of virgin children. A personal favorite, The Whistler dealt in themes of burgeoning sexuality and the burdens of adulthood—a fresh take on the cautionary tale of what can go wrong when children are left home alone. Meanwhile, Nosferatu Rising from Australian duo Sean Genders and Jason Baird demonstrated a masterful use of audio engineering, providing terrifying sound effects that had more than one audience member literally jumping out of their seat.
The first run of Vancouver Horror Show was an undeniable success. Truly, the only criticism I can offer here is that I wish it were longer. But then, there’s always next year.