In case you haven’t kept track of my comings and goings, I was on a horror based panel at the Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015. Amongst my co-panelists was director and general creative force Prano Bailey-Bond. During (and after the discussion) there was mention of her next project, which at that point was in post production: a short film simply called NASTY. Not only was it in the genre close to my putrid heart, it focused on something we’re no strangers to at Hammered Horror: Video Nasties.
My interest was piqued.
Time passed, post production continued and the film made its festival debut at the BFI London Film Festival in October. I promptly missed it for reasons beyond my control. It continued to make waves on the festival circuit and won a duo of awards from the Maverick Movie Awards for best film and best director. And now, finally, I have seen it.
It is good. No, really. It is GOOD.
But let’s sidetrack a bit. Short films are hard, especially horror. You’re trying to fit a self contained story into a grossly reduced runtime. In that time you need to introduce characters, themes, settings and not only introduce them but do so at a level which gives the audience a reason to care. If you choose to inject jumps and scares into your piece then you need to build up to them without it feeling rushed. How do you provide a resolution without it feeling contrived or stereotypical? Do you actually provide a resolution or do you leave the ending ambiguous and open ended? It’s a difficult balancing act, and made even more difficult when operating on a limited budget with finite resources. It’s not a job I envy, nor one I feel I would particularly want. Thankfully, in this case, my job is to merely review and armchair critique.
Back on track, let’s take a look at the synopsis:
It’s 1982. 12-year-old Doug is drawn into the lurid world of VHS horror as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of his father…
It’s a basic premise, and the disappearance of a loved one is something we can all empathise with. To give you a feel of the tone of the film, and in a time-honoured tradition on Hammered Horror, here is a bit (in fact this time all) of the trailer:
WARNING: From this point on, there are mild spoilers.
The film runs at a tight 16 minutes, including opening and end credits, and the first and easiest thing to say about this film is that it looks gorgeous. Shot on a mixture of 16mm and Super 8mm film, it evokes the subset of the horror genre that acts as a catalyst for the film’s events. The mixture of film formats isn’t just an effect, it’s an integral part of how you recognise what is happening and which plane of existence you are experiencing. In scenes that are the stuff of nightmares (well, my nightmares at least) the lighting and composition takes you back to those violent and oversaturated VHS tapes of old. Clever use of distortion and tracking noise took me right back to my youth, huddled around a portable TV with the volume at a whisper above 0 watching EVIL DEAD and its ilk. Speaking of other films, special mention should go to the films that Doug discovers. Whilst fictional constructs, a careful mixture of homage and joke makes them not only entirely believable but films that I want to see.
Doug is played by Albie Marber, and has an unenviable role. Children in films are often problematic, and very few are easy to empathise with, with most of them falling firmly into the ‘Bob’ category (Link to House by the Cemetery Episode). They often come across as unlikable, whiny or worst of all; bad actors. Thankfully, Marber (whose previous roles include a young Tommy Cooper in the 2014 TV movie NOT LIKE THAT, LIKE THIS) steps up to the plate and doesn’t really falter. This is not a talk-heavy piece, with much of the storytelling taking place via snippets of dialog, and extremely clever use of radio broadcast and newspapers. As a result the majority of the emotional drive of our characters is played out by actions rather than words. This is never more evident than with Doug’s mother Carol (Madeleine Hutchins), who is coping with the mysterious disappearance of her husband and trying to protect her confused and inquisitive son from the horrors of the NASTY. She wears the burden of the situation in her tone, her body language and eyes that show a constant level of panic. The pair gel well as essentially good people existing in a stressful situation, and the photos that are shown of happier times for the family remind us of how quickly a suburban family can fall apart.
The shock and outrage over the video nasties featured is the natural progression of what was experienced in the 1980s. This film is the realisation of what Mary Whitehouse saw as the inevitable; sick violence and gore consuming the upright citizens of our civilisation.
The film is full of homages to the sub-genre it draws its existence to: some of them are subtle, others are not, but all are placed with care. The film is scored with a mixture of electronic noise and minimalist instrumentation that fits the piece perfectly and drives up the tension of the piece. It’s at this point that I hit my only real criticism of the piece. From start to finish NASTY feels perfectly balanced, yet as the end credits roll we’re met with something that I can’t help but feel is the bane of modern horror: the death metal song over the end credits.
Admittedly the song used is not without its own level of importance or history. ‘Leprosy’, by DEATH, is from an album of the same title that was released in 1988, which is widely regarded as one of the most important death metal albums of all time by a band who were heavily influential in both death and extreme metal. Lyrically, with its themes of corruption and decay, the song fits as well. However it is so stylistically different from everything else in the film it acts as the only detractor from what is otherwise one of the most effective horror shorts I have seen in recent years.
NASTY is not currently available to view online, but can continue to be seen on the festival circuit; follow their Facebook page for more information.