Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet
The Witching Season
Compiled by Michael Ballif; directed by Michael Ballif and James Morris
The Witching Season Films / MVD Entertainment
83 minutes, 2015 / 2019
Witching Season Films is a Utah-based collective, apparently with Michael Ballif at its head. They release short films into the YouTube universe, much in the way of Alter or Screamfest. With Witching Season, however, it’s not just the numerous releases of films that are good, but rather those put out by that collective. Gotta respect that
This release is a compilation of five of their films, each of high quality work. Because it is a somewhat insular group, there are some themes that tend to run though them, but more on that later. However, I will concede early on that the one obvious motif is that all of them take place around or on Halloween.
The first story is called “Killer on the Loose,” directed by Michael Ballif, which lasts for 14:57 minutes. In this tale, a woman is chased through the woods by a mysterious man in – I kid you not – a hockey mask. It is obviously not Jason since this guy has kind of a slim build, but he does carry one of those machetes. She runs into a house where Night of the Living Dead (1968; the last scene of the chase from the cemetery… I love public domain) is on the tube though no one seems to be around. Mirroring NotLD, the woman goes up the stairs of the secluded small house, shot with similar angles. Nice touch. There is an interesting conclusion to this one that may come as a surprise because wisely Ballif does not give us too much information too early. Kudos for that.
The 17:22 minute “Princess,” directed by James Morris, takes some familiar topes and gives us a few surprises. A woman and her young daughter have just moved into a new house. Left behind in the basement from the previous owner is a box of stuffed animals, including the titular Princess, a weird looking rabbit doll. Of course, the cushie has an agenda of its own and puts the mom and the kid through their paces. It’s nice to see a strong, young character here in the daughter, rather than merely a scared little girl. She’s gonna be fierce. But, of course, there is a surprise ending, as these films seem to have, that is both amusing and creepy. It’s well done.
“Not Alone,” directed by Morris, is a 9:25-minute delve into sci-fi horror. A man is home alone at night and after the bright lights through the window that was used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), something shift-changing and wicked this way comes from “somewhere else.” While basically an alien abduction film, it’s definitely filled with horror images, playing with shadows and perceptions. While only a single person is in the short, it nicely builds up tension until the final “ah-ha” moment.
At 31:34, “They Live Inside Us” is by far the longest of the short films, directed by Ballif. The theme is hauntings where recurrence of events plays out over and over. A writer sneaks into a supposedly haunted house to use the energy to write a great horror story. He has a list of “movie monsters” (tropes; including the flying spaghetti monster, which made me laugh). As he tries different scenarios using these stale ideas, we get to see them play out. I’m not sure if this is a commentary on the overuse of these themes, the proliferation of sequels and remakes, or the fact that the audience has been beaten down into not seeing anything new; the possibility of an IT Part 3, is currently in the news, for example. For myself, I’m a bit confused on one of the issues presented here, which I will not delve into too deeply to ruin anything, but I’m not sure about anachronisms (dial phone vs computer, for example), or if this is part of the replay or someone getting caught up in it [as a side note, I write this while home sick, so I may know the answer if I were more healthy…]. Either way, the story ends up being satisfactory.
Last up is “Is That You?” at 11:14 minutes and directed by Morris. I’ve seen lots of similar shorts, and they can be great for a good jump scare. In this one, a teenage daughter is home on Halloween night thanks to a broken foot. Her mom is quite the Halloween buff and really into it, though she has no patience for those who come to her door without really trying in the costume department. The daughter is cell phone-connected to her friend (hence the title) who has no time for her now that she’s dating a guy that makes our heroine crinkle up her face at the thought of it. Again, playing with shadows, there is an evil in the air which comes to a [rec*] (2007) moment.
All these films are consistently well made and rely on what the company dubs as “nostalgia,” meaning they present new version of old tropes. I usually don’t have a problem with that, and the professionalism here really needs to be noted and respected.
Some of the regular themes that crop up is running or walking at night with flashlights. For most of the stories, except the last one, Halloween is more of a background to the events, than the main focus. Most of these tales also have a television blaring at some point. That being said, one of the charming things about these are because they come from the same filming family, as it were, there is some interesting overlaps in minor ways, mostly on television as other stories are mentioned.
Since this is a web series, as well as a compilation, I appreciate that there is no wrap-around story, but the films are presented as individual tidbits. That was enjoyable, as well.