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Synapse Films presents
"Your mother. What a heavy cross she is. She won't ever die."
DVD ReviewThere's seemingly a film festival for every type of genre in every city imaginable these days. Whether it's old reliables Cannes and Sundance, or the newer cinematic gatherings like the one in Las Vegas, film buffs could make an entire year out of festival hopping. Celebrating more than 10 years in existence, Montreal's Fantasia International Film Festival is best known for spreading the J-Horror craze and launching the career of Takashi Miike (Audition). While it features its share of full-length features, Synapse's new DVD, Small Gauge Trauma, gathers 13 of the best short films to hit the festival's screens over the years.
While such short film collections are usually a mixed bag, it's clear that this disc's producers spared no expense or time to ensure that only the best of the fest made the cut. We begin in the creepiest of fashions with Abuelitos, a 15-minute film directed by Paco Plaza. The daring, surreal imagery involving a nursing home from hell powers what amounts to a straight-forward, creepy short with a very disturbing twist.
Love From Mother Only is 20 minutes long, and completely spellbinding. From director Dennison Ramalho, and set in the jungles of Brazil, this tale of black magic is a gruesome experience that truly signifies just how great this short film collection is. Great performances by actors of whom much is demanded (including graphic sex scenes) only add to the experience, and it's interesting to note that a real Macumba priest co-wrote, and even more spooky that he is now in prison.
Chambre Jaune is a brief (eight minutes), yet effective piece that blends still photographs with lush visuals in paying homage to the Giallo flicks that Dario Argento popularized. Another short one, Flat-N-Fluffy (seven minutes) is next, and this animated film from director Benoit Boucher follows Guido and Skippy after they kill their neighbor's dog. Their subsequent attempts to get away with the canine murder are darkly funny, and consistently enhanced by some amazingly gory antics.
Gorgonas, by director Salvador Sanz, is another animated piece, this time of the digital variety. This 15-minute masterpiece alone makes a purchase of Small Gauge Trauma a must, as it is the epitome of a visionary achievement. The premise involves a popular music group, the members of which are actually a group of gorgons. Once their true identities are revealed, the story really takes off, but throughout, there are images that will stay in your head for quite some time.
The zombie short I'll See You In My Dreams had the dubious distinction of playing before the disappointing feature film Exorcist: The Beginning in Portuguese theaters. At least those theatergoers had something to tell their friends about after enduring Exorcist, as I'll See You In My Dreams is a great homage to Lucio Fulci. With it's breakneck pace and an impressive amount of gore, this is another example of why the zombie film will never die.
The nine-minute Infini is a solid Canadian effort about a man who can't get enough of an 8mm film that chronicles a drug addict's life, while the one and only slight misstep in the collection is the overly long L'ilya. At nearly 40 minutes, this Japanese film tells the story of a videographer who takes voyeurism to the next level by focusing on people who commit suicide. This is an interesting premise, but the film runs out of steam near the half-way mark. We go from this, the longest segment, to Miss Greeny, the shortest. At only 30 seconds long, all we really get is a virtually indescribable taste of what director Tenkwaku Naniwa has to offer.
After that brief interlude, we get back to business with Ruta Destroy. A 15-minute cornucopia of music video mayhem, director Diego Abad pulls out all the stops to give us a terrifying treat. The Separation is a 10-minute stop-motion-animation piece with an unforgettable ending, while the five-minute Sister Lulu involves a woman named The Novice. She joins a horrifying convent, whose head nun, the title character, can render people unconscious. With shades of The Vanishing, The Novice is buried alive, and later dug up by Sister Lulu. The Novice's post-burial task is what sets this apart from the other films. This amazing collection concludes with Tea Break, from director Sam Walker. A funny, scary seven minutes, the story takes us inside an industrial building with a man who has a very unique job.
What Synapse has done to make this one of the DVD surprises of the year is beyond impressive. Setting aside the fact that it's difficult to track down any of these short films outside of a film festival, every one has its charms, and there are no real clunkers in the lot. Still, the nod for best overall goes to Gorgonas, which haunted me for days after I watched it for the first of many, times. So, take a break from the typical Hollywood fare and catch 13 examples of high-quality horror in Small Gauge Trauma.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: While most of the films appear in their original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format, a handful are full frame. The quality varies from film to film, but the images are detailed and the color schemes are vibrant throughout. There is dirt, grain, and other print blemishes throughout the course of the collection, but each segment looks far more cinematic than expected.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The languages may vary across this disc, but each Dolby Digital 2.0 mix perfectly suits its respective film. There are some standouts, though, as Love From Mother Only benefits from a wide dynamic range and active surrounds, and Gorgonas' essential soundtrack is broadcast almost perfectly. Some of the films also feature aggressive bass, but all of them contain crisp, clear dialogue.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Deleted Scenes
8 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1. Amor Só De Măe (Love From Mother Only) - Director Dennison Ramalho and Special make-up effects artist Andre Kapel.2. Chambre Jaune (Yellow Room) - Filmmakers Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani.3. Flat - N - Fluffy - Director
Packaging: Keep Case
The best of the bonuses are the audio commentary tracks for eight of the films. Each track features participants who were directly involved in those shorts' productions, and they all fit a ton of interesting information into a limited amount of time. The Separation also has a minute-long deleted scene, while Gorgonas gets a two-minute production featurette that gives us some great insight into its animation process. I'll See You In My Dreams features a four-minute music video by Moonspell, and each short also offers a text-based biography on its respective director (I'll See You In My Dreams has a production company biography).
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsAn absolute must-own for horror nuts everywhere, Small Gauge Trauma isn't the typical hit-and-miss short film collection that we usually see on DVD. Not only does Synapse give us the pleasure of owning some modern horror classics, but their DVD features far better audio and video than expected. There's a huge supplemental section as well, with at least one extra per short.
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