Houston horror is the gift that keeps on giving, and there’s an excellent new offering coming to the Short Film Showcase courtesy of Amanda Dianne and Joe Grisaffi. Warning in advance: it is not an easy watch.
The Cabin is a simple tale about two young lovers who wander off the beaten path looking for a good place to take their clothes off together. Unfortunately, they end up angering a witch. Written and produced by Dianne and directed by Grisaffi, it’s not the most original idea to ever be filmed. Also, the titular cabin is actually a horse stall and the climax happens at an outside bonfire, so there’s those nitpicks to deal with.
However, it’s a rather incredibly shot film that deftly shows off Grisaffi’s eye for sinister camera work honed over the decades as one of the city’s best movie insiders. The Cabin moves easily from idyllic countryside scenes to a heart-pounding black mass with headlong speed, and while the gore is in short supply what little there is used to great effect.
Dianne plays the witch with incredible gravity. The character is stock and her motivations even more so, but Dianne does a fantastic job lending real menace to the hag with her gruesome agenda. There’s something eerily medical about her portrayal. That her witch is evil is not in doubt, but it’s the matter-of-fact way that she goes about even her cruelty that is haunting.
There is a lot of body horror going on, and I’d recommend skipping the film if you have triggers related to pregnancy. Steffany Velasquez stars as the hapless victim, and what the witch puts her through will make your skin crawl. Dianne and Grisaffi do in ten minutes what Rob Zombie couldn’t do in a hundred with Lords of Salem.
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If I could compare it to anything it would be to the Hearts of Animals music video for “Sea Babies” directed by Jeromy Barber and James Templeton. There was another local terror centered around the loss of a child that managed to outdo most of what Hollywood attempts on the subject. Childrearing is frightening, and it’s made even worse when fears are manifested in cruel monsters like the witches who covet children as in “Sea Babies” and The Cabin.
There are corny moments in the film. Dianne’s witch doesn’t rhyme (praise Satan), but even she stumbles over the mawkish incantations during the horrific birth. The sex scene is fumbling. Also, I admit I cheered when JD Karpicke’s bumbling Romeo character was killed for admittedly contrived reasons. Writing horror protagonists you want to survive is harder than you think. It’s what you would expect from the man who made Conjoined and Dead of Knight. The Cabin lacks the dark humor undertones of Grisaffi’s other flicks, and maybe that’s why a few of the performances come across hokier than they should.
On the other hand, where the scares come they hit hard. For an indie short the effects are top-notch. Dianne’s witch toys mercilessly with her victims in a way that avoids needless torture porn money shots and keeps things honestly scary. The force field scene alone is terrifying, and I did not see the twist coming at all. Witches are back in the mainstream these days, and no one in Texas has done a better job with them than Dianne and Grisaffi have with The Cabin. It’s definitely not one to miss at the Short Film Showcase, though it might ruin your taste for drumsticks if you make it to the end.
The Cabin is part of the Short Film Showcase at Alamo Drafthouse, 2707 Commercial Center Boulevard, which plays on Wednesday November 28 at 7 p.m.