The Random Acts strand on Channel 4 comes from the notion that in order to find a new/more vibrant approach to arts programming, you need not only television about artists, but also television by artists. The strand started in 2011 and has had six series so far. They incorporate visual art, music, dance, animation and spoken word performance. They feel exactly the kind of short film you’d stumble across by accident at some unearthly hour of the morning on Channel 4. (They are, as we say, ‘on brand’ in this sense.) I first came across this strand by accident while looking for horror movies to watch around Halloween, as it was the strange mini horror films that drew me in, it seems only fair to consider them first. All three films were showing as part of the Film Fear season on Film Four.
In which a young man is trapped in an oppressive dystopia where everyone must wear huge metal stilts.
This is a deeply surreal film where I presume the stilts are intended to be a metaphor for something, but I’ve not the faintest idea what that might be. (Class or caste presumably, because the summary may say that everyone must wear stilts, but evidentially not everyone does. There’s clearly a class of people who don’t and are able to pick and choose who gets to join them.) Nonetheless it’s a beautifully realised dystopia, where everything is sized for people without stilts so all the stilted people are forced into the space between too high table and chairs and too low ceilings. It does a good job of creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia along with the arbitrary and restricted nature of life in a closed society. What does lie down that too short corridor to the outside world?
Satanic Panic ‘87
A short and gory comic horror that involves a satanic aerobics video that encourage two young heavy metal fans to open a portal into hell. I really liked that the hellish aerobic video was fronted by a demonically possessed perky blonde who despite the glowing white eyes really did look like she’d stepped out of an 80s aerobics video. Despite the lashings of blood in this film, it’s not actually that gory, and the decision to shoot through the ajar kitchen door allows the ‘sacrifice’ scene to be played for dark humorous effect. Our grisly duo frantically flapping tea-towels under the beeping smoke alarm as their sacrifice immolates noisily gives the whole thing a delightfully surreal tone.
Sweep Away Hungry Ghosts
Is a ghost story about Chinese filial piety and cross-dressing.
A young Chinese man is clearing out his late father’s house and keeping vigil at his alter through the longest watches of the night. He’s clearly conflicted in his feelings around the task, and struggling to reconcile the outer image his father showed to the world and the other version he has discovered through clearing out all the accoutrements of his cross-dressing. Despite, or perhaps because of, his attempts to burn the evidence, in the night he is visited by the ghost of his father – in genderbent form – and although at first he attempts to banish the ghost, he eventually accepts that he must take care of the ghost and array it as his father would have wished to be, only then can both he and the ghost move on.
(I don’t know a great deal about Chinese funeral traditions, so I’m not entirely sure, given the solidity of the ghost, if he’s supposed to be the ghost of the young man’s father or if he’s some form of walking dead, who objected to being arrayed incorrectly in death?)
It’s a haunting but lovely little film.