The Scariest Things Podcast Extra: An Interview with Tim Shechmeister, Director of “Hello?” : The Best Horror Shorts of the Portland Horror Film Festival

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Brian McGuire and Emmy James in Hello? (2021)
The Scariest Things loves its short horror films, and we had the privilege to talk with director Tim Shechmeister who gave us our favorite horror short from the extensive roster of great shorts that played at the Portland Horror Film Festival. Check out an exclusive release of “Hello?” right here in this post!

One of the best things about the Portland Horror Film Festival is its dedication to providing one of the best platforms in the horror festival circuit for independent short horror films. 2021 was no exception, as it had a host of exceptional horror shorts that were alternatingly funny, thrilling, and terrifying packages.

The Scariest Thing’s favorite short film of them all was Tim Scheckmeister’s Hello?, an authentically jarring and scary ghost story that involves the ghost of the very first Hollywood Star, Florence Lawrence. Add into the fact that this movie had to be made during the COVID 19 pandemic, it’s an extra level of trickiness beyond all of the complications for an up-and-coming filmmaker would have under normal circumstances.

The film stars Emmy James as Violet, a young actress who has just arrived in Los Angeles and has found herself a lovely little vintage apartment… with a history. This apartment was once the residence of Florence Lawrence, a star of the silent film era. The FIRST star, in fact. But when movies turned to talkies, the work dried up for the once queen of Hollywood, and she committed suicide in this apartment.

Normally, this would be a clue to get a different apartment, but Violet has just found that elusive cute apartment at a rate she can afford, so she’s not daunted by a potential haunting. But, of course, the apartment is authentically haunted, and Florence’s ghost (Jules Nurrish) is still waiting for that elusive phone call to bring her back to set, and she’s pretty steamed about being forgotten. The audio cues here are really well-executed, and though they are jump-scary, they are earned relative to the plot and do not feel random or forced. Build tension, then release, with no fake-outs. That’s really appreciated.

We also really appreciated the Florence Lawrence tie-in. It’s not lost on us that Lawrence herself is almost a completely forgotten figure in film history. Did you know about her? Yep. Thought so. And, it would be completely understandable to have a moribund ghost of an actress, lost to tragedy, still holding onto old grudges. It’s not your same-old story background, and it has real resonance.

Tim gave The Scariest Things his behind-the-scenes insights on making this terrific 18-minute ghost story, and UCLA film school grad gave us his process of making a shoestring film during a pandemic, and how to do it well. We found Tim to be incredibly engaging and we can’t wait to see more from this emerging director from who we now expect big things!

Tim has been gracious enough to allow The Scariest Things an exclusive release for the film, and you can check out the full short film HELLO? right here:

Hello? wasn’t the only great horror short that we saw at the Portland Horror Film Festival. Festival directors Brian and Gwen Callahan, as many of our long-time readers and listeners would know, do a tremendous job curating hundreds of submissions, and this year there were 78 horror shorts selected for this festival. Here are twelve of the favorites that we saw! We will endeavor to host these short films on our site as soon as they are available for the public.

Abracitos (Spain)

Directed by Tony Morales

Abracitos (translates into “A Little Hug”) is an emotional take on the age-old monster hiding in my room trope. Little Ainara is playing make-believe in her older sister Laura’s room when a mysterious phone call from their recently deceased mother changes the state of play in the room. A heartbreaking and dreadful story that forces the sisters to confront their biggest hopes and fears.

…And Then the Darkness (USA)

Directed by Andrew Huggins

If you didn’t have a fear of either being a hitchhiker or picking up a hitchhiker before this extremely dark revenge tale, you will after you see this short film. The film comes full circle and for a short film manages to disguise the direction of the story really well without spoiling anything. Great script and editing, cloaked in a masterfully moody and grim treatment.

$trip (USA)

Directed by Craig Oullette

Is $trip a sex exploitation short film, or is it a critique of sex as exploitation? Can it be both? Penny is a stripper at a very unusual club where the high-priced clientele is in attendance to see beautiful women do something more than just take their clothes off. It’s visceral body horror with a pretty simple and direct premise. A skin show with a very different twist.

Diabla (Mexico)

Directed by Ashley George

The festival made a red flag announcement before this short film was played, as this is a rape-revenge story, always a touch subject. But this female-directed short managed to cover this material with great sensitivity and without sensationalizing the act. Nayeli (Ruth Ramos) having suffered a sexual assault by the charismatic local street tough Uri (Daniel Fuentes Lobo) turns to a local coven of witches for her retribution. Satisfying poetic justice ensues.

Her Release (USA)

Directed by Valentine Miele

Her Release is potty humor used to peak perfection. It’s a one-trick flatulence pony, but this brought the house down! There is no denying the potency of a well-done fart joke at the expense of a romantic interlude, but have no doubt, this has a strong horror element that completely lands the punch line.

Incarnation (Japan)

Directed by Noboru Suzuki

Incarnation mixes the sweet and the menacing, the adorable and the abominable, and it comes in the form of an unassuming little old woman (Mayumi Amano) attending to an agitated young businessman (Shinsuke Kato) on a ransom mission. The old lady rebuffs his questions and dismisses any notion of a deal by incongruously insisting, that she is a vampire and that she is awaiting the arrival of her minions. A perfect conclusion for this amusing dark tale.

Koreatown Ghost Story (USA)

Directed by Minsun Park & Teddy Tenenbaum

Featuring the talents of comedienne Margaret Cho (where has she been?) that channels the decidedly Asian American fears of acceptance and parental expectations, this short film oozes style and careful composition. Those with fears of needles will be in for a treat, as the setting is a moody acupuncture clinic, with the victims of the needles and cups haunting the corners of the frame. Traditional ritual collides with modern expectations and it sure is great to see an older Margaret Cho get to chew the scenery as a stern practitioner of dark medicine.

Poor Glenna (USA)

Directed by Jean-Paul DiSciscio

It’s a classic freak in the basement story, executed simply and powerfully. Glenna is a mousy old woman with a mutant son, Alex, in the basement who has a ravenous appetite, and the desperate mother is unsure what to do. When Alex demands fresh meat, Glenna lures Alex’s awkward childhood friend, Frankie to her home, and things come to a ghastly head. A tried and true trope: Don’t go into a basement when you hear squishy and flopping sounds. One of the great things about a short film is you don’t have to try and explain everything, just let it play out. How did Alex become this freak? It doesn’t matter, just let the scene play out!

Solution for Sadness (Spain)

Directed by Marc Martínez Jordán

Friend of the Scariest Things, Marc Martínez Jordán continues his hot streak of whimsical short films. Last year he won us over with the odd dark fantasy short Your Last Day on Earth, and in 2018 he astounded us with the gory and savage home invasion film, Framed. He’s back to dark fantasy with the quirky Solution for Sadness. Tuixén is a morose young woman, looking for a way to break her melancholy. When a mysterious package bearing a creepy gorilla mask arrives, promising a cure for her sadness, she obliges, and lo and behold, it works! Sort of. There is a cost for wearing this mask, and it clarifies the whole world around Tuixén.

The 1st of November (USA)

Directed by Daniel Degnan

A laugh-out-loud crowd-pleasing entry to the festival was the 1st of November. Young Max (Maximums T.G. Stifter) warns his father (Daniel Degnan), the day after Halloween, to remember to properly dispose of the Halloween pumpkins, lest the spirits of the pumpkins spread their evil influence after the holiday has been completed. When Max and his mom go out to take care of some errands, the dad waves off his son’s warnings as Max being an eccentric child. But no, the pumpkins will have their revenge! The animated pumpkins are a thing to behold as they wreak havoc in the house and they spread their evil. Loads of fun!

The Relic (USA)

Directed by J.M. Logan

WOW. The Relic drops the viewer in media res, right in the thick of a desperate sequence of events. At a remote and wintry Alaskan cabin, a group of adventurers is caught with a babbling and bloody ancient man, and a mask of untold power. This frantic short film was so powerful that it was shown again at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, which was entirely appropriate, as the story involves the great old one, Nyarlathotep, and the destruction of life on the planet, and this short film successfully conveys some mind-blowing horror.

Tinder Tango (USA)

Directed by Cecilia Robles

When a lonely woman looking for love finally swipes to the right suitor, it turns out that her date is a master of the tango, and it’s time to dance with the devil! The director, Robles, plays the female lead and her partner Jordi Caballero is a renowned master of the tango, and it SHOWS. One of the highlights of the Q&A panels at the festival, Robles was an inspirational figure whose amazing efforts resulted in a stunning-looking and thoroughly entertaining composition. Getting to hear how Robles managed to spin technical gaffes into brilliant thematic elements was remarkable.

Weirdo (Canada)

Directed by Ashlea Wessel

For my money, Weirdo was the darkest, hardest-to-watch short film of the whole festival. It also serves as a warning about the dangers of bullying. The young weirdo (Sencer Hanson) in question is doing his best to try and avoid situations where he can be tormented on his way home by his bully (Shawn Vincent). It doesn’t work, as the bully catches up and embarrasses and brutalizes the poor boy in front of a pretty young girl, (Shannon Lao). Normally in these films, the protagonist gets poetic justice. Instead, we get to see the realities of bullying abuse. The victims instead are those perceived to be in a weaker position that allows the abuse to flow downstream. A hard and uncomfortable truth.

Zombie Walk (USA)

Directed by Rollyn Stafford

For those of you not from Portland, the summer pandemic was not just the spread of the deadly disease but was also accompanied by a suffocating cloud of brown smoke from forest fires, which managed to quell the famed protest and rioting in the City. It was an awful year. Enter Zombie Walk, a day in the life of a domesticated zombie flick, which was planned on shooting in the already largely abandoned city center, but now had a post-apocalyptic hue cast upon it. This film brought a tear to my eye, forcing me to recall perhaps the worst moment of this City, and by proxy, this Country. No need to have a 28 days later coordination for clearing the city… the city cleared itself. This is a time capsule of a movie and makes an amusing turn of an awful situation.

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