Horror anthologies are a tricky business. Despite the success of recent franchises like V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, there’s always the chance that one (or more) segments can torpedo the whole affair.
Minutes Past Midnight is a slightly different kind of anthology film in that it is a collection of short films curated by filmmaker Justin McConnell in collaboration with Rue Morgue Magazine. It’s also an outgrowth of the Little Terrors Short Film Festival, a monthly event created by McConnell that has been taking place in Toronto, Canada since 2011.
The collection starts off strong with the funny “Never Tear Us Apart,” which features two guys walking through the woods who stumble—literally—across a couple of cannibals. There is an ironic humor derived from the idealization of rustic authenticity and what the reality of that entails.
The narrative in “Awake” is rather enigmatic, which wouldn’t be a problem if the film allowed us to connect with the characters enough to be invested in what happens. It doesn’t help that there is some unnecessary animal cruelty in the film, either. There’s a young boy with some kind of illness and his frustrated parents are having a difficult time dealing with it. That’s about it.
“Crazy For You” is a complete tonal shift, and thus it takes a little while to make sense of what’s going on. However, crisp cinematography and smart production design—along with a clever storyline—combine to make this segment a good one. Horror fans will recognize Hannah Tointon from the 2008 film The Children as well as her role in TV’s Penny Dreadful.
The next film, “The Mill At Calder’s End,” is a stunning piece of animated folk horror that uses dolls to tell the story of a family’s ancient curse. It’s shot like a Hammer Horror production, with impeccable atmosphere, and features the vocal talents of the legendary Barbara Steele. There’s a Lovecraftian element to the film, too, which is greatly benefited by some excellent creature design.
Why “Roid Rage” was placed next in the anthology is a frustrating mystery. This short film feels like it wants to be a parody of pulp novels or white trash comedies but comes across as misogynist and homophobic, not to mention nothing more than a pale imitation of Basket Case or Bad Milo. It also suffers from terrible acting, poor CGI, and a seemingly interminable length. The pun in the film’s title would be clever if it weren’t so badly executed.
Fortunately “Feeder” fares much better. This Australian short film is a twist on the legend of blues musicians meeting the Devil at the crossroads and it’s both gruesome and effective. It achieves a tone of grittiness and despair early on and never relents, making for a particularly disturbing ending.
The Spanish-language “Timothy” is also a dark fable, this one about a young boy obsessed with the giant costumed rabbit of his favorite television show. The colorful mise en scene is a stark contrast to the grisly subject matter, which makes the film an unsettling success.
“Ghost Train” is another standout in Minutes To Midnight, and includes the most terrifying haunted house ride I’ve ever seen. Two old friends revisit the site of a childhood tragedy only to learn that the past refuses to stay buried. The production design is incredible, and the way that the film alternates between the past and present allows the suspense to build up to an undeniably bleak ending.
The last film in the anthology, “Horrific,” highlights exactly how “Roid Rage” went wrong. It also includes a redneck who lives in filth and apart from “normal” society, but the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and is all the more entertaining for it. It also capitalizes on urban legends in a fresh way. The practical effects are well-executed and the main actor is genuinely funny in his role.
Overall, Minutes Past Midnight is an enjoyable selection of horror shorts, ranging from creepy to weird to witty (sometimes all within the same film). With the exception of “Roid Rage,” this anthology is definitely worth checking out.
Minutes Past Midnight will be released in select theaters on October 7 with a VOD release planned for October 18. The anthology will be released on February 7, 2017 on DVD.