The 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival in Atlanta brought some gorgeous animation offerings for attendees. I’m an artist, and animation history is one of my favorite pet topics, so I figured this was a good place to discuss some of the animated films you’ll find there. If you’re anything like me, you started watching animation early. probably as a kid. I grew up on Disney and Don Bluth movies, alongside Looney Tunes cartoons, Hannah Barbera, and the like. So when I discovered horror animation, it was a welcome surprise. I was already obsessed with the horror genre, but animated horror mixed my favorite genre and my medium for results that are guaranteed surprises.
While traditional film making is restricted by CGI and real-life limitations, animation can create anything you can imagine. It’s why movies like Vampire Hunter D, about humans and vampires in a post-apocalyptic world, work so well in animation but wouldn’t translate as easily to live action. It’s why Junji Ito’s Uzumaki animated adaptation trailer looks so beautiful and eerie while the live action film looks like something on a Syfy budget. I touched on this in my Adventures in Illustration series, but there’s a tradition of masterful horror animations out there that have influenced me and many other horror fans, writers, and artists over the decades. The pieces screened at BAFF this year are in good company. Here are some of my favorites. Check out the links to find them for yourself. They’re all worth watching.
Director: Dan Tabor
Screening day: Thursday, November 14, 2019
The short film Hanako-san opens thusly: “Hanako-san … is a Japanese urban legend about the spirit of a young World War II-era girl who haunts school bathrooms. What happens when Hanako is summoned depends on the wishes in the heart of the one who summoned her.”
The scene then cuts straight to a troubled young girl seeking out Hanako-San for help. This part is live-action and filmed in such a way that it builds tension as we follow the thread of the young girl’s thought processes. Midway, the film turns to animation as the girl confronts Hanako-San. It’s a brutal, thoughtfully animated moment, using the juxtaposition of animation and live action to mark the boundary between normalcy and the supernatural. Even the live-action moments, filmed in grey scale, use varying aspect ratios for each cut to mimic the panels in a manga. The music, very traditionally Japanese in the style of a kabuki performance, puts us in the position of the girl as well by building our own tension and discomfort with, not the ghost, but the world she endures daily. Clocking in at 3 minutes, it’s a tight, creepy meditation on life, death, and our place in the world.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Dir. Carlos Baena
If you want Pixar quality heart and animation with a fairytale horror flavor, this is the short film for you. The story is simple: a young boy obsessed with building model ferris wheels encounters something otherworldly and terrifying. It’s a weird tale in the sense that we never get complete answers, and that’s perfect for me. Animation, because it’s so free form, allows for endless creative opportunities, and this extends to storytelling as well.
Coming in at 12 minutes, Spanish director Carlos Baena doesn’t need dialogue to demonstrate emotional stakes. The atmosphere is absolutely breathtaking in its use of lighting effects and designs. The sound is hauntingly used to evoke not just memory but terror, and the monsters! Oh, the monsters are so creepy, something like a cross between Guillermo del Toro and Todd Macfarlane. The computer animation is smooth and clean, with some fantastic little intricacies that’ll make you want to see it again. The camera work and framing are gorgeous cinema.
My rating: 5/5
Director: Neal O’Bryan and Chad Thurman
The premise sounds like a folktale: a starving young boy finds a toe poking up from a grave. In desperation, he lops the toe off and eats it. Then something comes looking for him.
Toe is a helluva film. It’s beautiful stop motion and doesn’t appear to rely on CGI to fill in anything. It’s bleak and atmospheric. And I’ll be honest: out of all the short films I’ve watched, this one made me wince in horror the most. It’s not the creature that comes for the boy, though that is creepy. No, it’s the toe itself.
Now, the last part is billed as the creepiest. But I have to tell you, the first part is the really upsetting bit. Not upsetting as in I hated it. No, upsetting as in I winced, talked to the screen, and was thoroughly grossed. It’s pretty amazing, because all of this is accomplished with puppetry. That’s the sign of a well-animated film. It got to me. I’ll be seeing that toe in my nightmares.
My rating: 4/5
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