Outside of film festivals, short films are pretty much ignored these days. Which is a shame because anyone with an ounce of nounce will tell you there are some incredible "briefs" to be enjoyed out there.

Which is why Mitch Davis (co-organiser of Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival) has teamed together with Synapse to produce this compilation DVD, highlighting some of the most impressive shorts of recent years.

Culled from around the globe, SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA (the title of the Festival's annual short films showcase) presents 13 award-winning shorts that can be viewed individually, or by selecting "Play All" - prompting the disc to run the films in an order chosen by Davis, with pacing in mind.

Up for celebration are:

SISTER LULU is a 5-minute black-and-white tale of brutality in a Welsh convent, and one hapless nun's bid to escape. Funny, visually stunning and quietly disturbing, this doesn't waste a single second in getting it's point across. It helps that cute lead Siwan Morris (who you may have seen on TV in the likes of The Bill and Casualty!) can be witnessed in the buff too.

Sticking in the UK, Sam Walker's TEA BREAK has already been well received at the likes of Dead By Dawn, and it's easy to see why. An overweight factory worker plods along at his job, spying the clock eagerly in anticipation of his impending tea break. Oh, but there's much more to it than that. Just watch it and see for yourself. Very witty and rousingly gruesome - not to mention incredibly well edited. Great industrial soundtrack on this one.

Rounding up the offerings from these shores is Robert Morgan's stop-motion animation masterpiece THE SEPARATION, a 10-minute yarn about co-joined twins who are surgically separated and the lifelong effect it has on them. Curiously moving.

GRANDFATHERS is the first of two Spanish entries, and offers a slow, glum view of life inside a clinically clean old folks' home. I'll be honest and say I didn't truly get this one. Nicely shot though.

Spain's second film is RUTA DESTROY! Insane, fast-paced and frequently amusing, Diego Abad's musical ode to the dangers of drug dealing is unlike anything else on this disc. In fact, you'd be hard pushed to find anything that quite compares to this crude yet enjoyable shitfest.

MISS GREENY is the most redundant offering here - a 30-second clip of some jelly sliding across a plate while someone puts on a silly voice in Japanese. Pointless, unless you're using hard drugs at the time.

But Japan has more to bring to the table, in the form of Tomoya Sato's L'ILYA. Sato has crafted a bleak-as-hell mock documentary on suicide, which unsettles with its use of hand-held camera and unflinching scenes of self-harming. Well worth a look, albeit perhaps a little too grim for some. At 39 minutes in length, this is the longest film on the disc.

Belgium's CHAMBRE JAUNE employs a deft mix of still photography and digital images to tell a stylish giallo-type murder story, complete with a killer clad in black gloves and brandishing a cutthroat razor blade. Very impressive, and commendably experimental.

Canada come off the worst with the dark yet ultimately unsatisfying INFINI, which intercuts old home video footage with original film with varying degrees of success. FLAT-N-FLUFFY is a throwaway cartoon which strives to be hilarious but misses the mark. Still, it's colourful to look at.

For animated fun, Argentina's GORGONAS is much more worthwhile. A madcap 15-minute tale of a girl band who turn into Gorgons and threaten to destroy the world - drawn in a graphic novel style, with the added touch of well-employed colour. The only downside of this agreeable romp is the English subtitles - which are laced with grammatical and spelling errors.

I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is a must-see Portugese zombie flick from Miguel Angel Vivas (who gave us the feature-length REFLEJOS). DREAMS is 20 minutes of sharp gags, decent zombie FX, gore, tits, and politically incorrect humour that can't fail to win your heart. Well-shot and edited, Vivas is a name to look out for.

As is Dennison Ramalho, whose LOVE FROM MOTHER ONLY (AMOR SO DE MAE) is the best thing on this disc. A tale of a middle-aged Brazilian man who tends to his elderly mother, much to his nymphomaniac girlfriend's annoyance. When the girlfriend becomes possessed by evil spirits, she commands her lover to bring her his mother's heart by midnight.

Ramalho embraces every dark horror clich´┐Ż and uses them with stunning effect. The end result is a truly creepy affair, with some decent gore and some of the best sound effects in recent memory. Filtered lighting adds atmosphere to some scenes, while the Brazilian scenery holds the key to the eeriness felt in others. An excellent 21-minute descent into a voodoo-tinged Hell.

Each film is presented uncut in it's original aspect ratio, and has been 16x9 enhanced. All titles are shown in their original language with removable subtitles where applicable. Image quality varies, as some films are shot on digital or 16mm, but for the most part visuals are very impressive indeed. Over half of these shorts are shot on 35mm, and look great on this disc.

Extras are impressive too. Most films include a director's commentary (Ramalho's being the one to listen to first, naturally). Also included are director biographies for each film, and odds and sods found attached to various films - a deleted scene from THE SEPARATION, a cringe-inducing music video for I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, etc.

There are two optional onscreen introductions to the disc - one from Jose Mojica Marins which is enjoyable but criminally brief - the other from Davis, who is either on amphetamines or has rabies. Or perhaps both. Either way, you can't fault the lad's enthusiasm.

Finally, Davis provides liner notes in a booklet which also gives us a little background info on each film.

An excellent, affectionately prepared compendium of short films that proves how much the underground horror scene still has to offer. Well worth investing in.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Synapse
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review