If you need proof that an effective, creepy, squirm-inducing short horror film doesn’t need a huge, Hollywood budget then you need not look any further than the films of Andy Stewart. Andy passed along two of his short films, DYSMORPHIA and SPLIT, a while back and to say I was blown away is an understatement. These short films will get under your skin (quite literally) and you’ll find yourself thinking about these shorts long after you see them. Both films are firmly seated in the “body horror” sub-genre and Mr. David Cronenberg himself would stand up and applause Stewart’s efforts. What he accomplishes with the special effects, all done practically, should have most filmmakers embarrassed when they complain about their budgets. But DYSMORPHIA and SPLIT are more than just special effect gut-punches. In a short amount of time (DYSMORPHIA runs 12 minutes while SPLIT runs 18 minutes) Stewart creates a pretty deep psychological profile of the main character in each film. Not an easy thing to accomplish. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s look at each short film.
First up is DYSMORPHIA. The set up is brilliant. A man sits at a desk in a room contemplating the unthinkable. There’s only one actor, Gordon Holliday, and there’s only that one location in the room. The guy sitting at the desk is given no name, no background, no flashbacks, no nothing. In the credits he’s only known as The Man. Knowing what the title of this short means will tell you everything you need to know about the plot. “Dysmorphia” is a severe mental illness where the afflicted is obsessed with their body image. But this obsession gets manifested into an excessive preoccupation about a perceived defect of their physical appearance. In other words, a person with this illness will be obsessed that their nose is crooked, or that their hips are too boney, or that their ears are too small. Stewart takes this idea and runs it to it’s destructive, gory conclusion. DYSMORPHIA examines what might happen if an individual with dysmorphia, also known as body dysmorphic disorder, is untreated and left alone. What we get is a horrifying glimpse into mental illness. Stewart’s isn’t examining the cause of The Man’s dysmorphia. This short only looks into the devastating results of such a debilitating mental illness. You are going to be shocked by what Stewart accomplishes on a £160 budget (filmed in Scotland). The special effects are top notch and I can see why DYSMORPHIA caused “fainting and vomiting spells” during a few screenings!! But what I think is the sign of a focused and talented filmmaker is the fact that Stewart avoids sinking into exploitation. The goal here is not to see The Man really f**k himself up. Oh don’t worry, we do get to see that but it’s not the reason the short was made. This short 12 minute film is a look into the mind of a mentally ill man. It’s fantastic and I highly recommend DYSMORPHIA.
Stewart’s most recent short film, SPLIT, continues the body horror theme. As Stewart explained to me, “I was really keen to up my game this time and see what I could do with just a little more than the £160 I spent on DYSMORPHIA.” Well I for one love it when Stewart challenges himself. What we get with SPLIT is another glimpse into a mentally ill mind, but this time we get the cause and the effect. In SPLIT we get actor Austin Hayden as “The Man” and Shian Denovan as “The Woman.” We know almost immediately that something happened to this once perfect relationship and we watch as The Man lets guilt and loss affect hi physically. I’ll tell ya, everyone, SPLIT was hard to watch (that’s just about the best compliment I can give a film). The acting by Austin Hayden is amazing as we watch him emotionally and physically fall apart before our very eyes. What you see in SPLIT will make DYSMORPHIA seem like a child’s nighttime book … and that’s exactly what Stewart was going for. He had a bigger budget for SPLIT (estimated at around £2,500) and he also had SFX designer Grant Mason helping him out. Grant Mason has worked on such projects as NIGHTBREED, SLEEPY HOLLOW, HARDWARE, BRIDE OF CHUCKY, and THE WOLFMAN. You will immediately think of Cronenberg’s remake of THE FLY as you watch this one. I don’t know for certain but if I had to guess I’d say that SPLIT was Stewart’s love letter to David Cronenberg!!
As SPLIT opens we see that The Man isn’t doing too well. He’s pale, disheveled, and just generally looks like s**t. As the film progresses and the days go by The Man gets worse and worse. He body is literally falling apart with lesions, rashes, pus-filled boils, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In today’s horror climate you will immediately think The Man has contracted some horrible virus/disease. Nope. Through flashbacks we come to realize that The Man is responsible for his current condition and that guilt and loss can really tear a man up. SPLIT takes all the themes of DYSMORPHIA and moves forward with them. We get the gore and body horror, don’t worry, but Stewart also delves deeper into the psychological causes of The Man’s condition. When I tell ya this one is hard to watch, I mean it!!
I like Stewart’s use of “The Man” in naming his male characters in both these shorts. He doesn’t use this nomenclature to de-humanize his characters but uses it to shift the focus away from the actor. The Man in DYSMORPHIA could be anyone. A mental illness can afflict anyone and by using “The Man” he’s making that character universal. He does the same thing in SPLIT. Everyone’s been involved in a relationship that goes t**s-up. Many of us have been in such a relationship where it was our fault it went t**s-up. “The Man” in SPLIT might as well be called “Any Man”!!
Stewart is currently in pre-production on his third body horror short, INK. Here’s the plot description:
A man takes the path of least resistance (and cost) in an attempt to turn his body into a work of art.
The tagline is, “Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good…” Yikes!! My head is already filling with horrible images of things to come. Better yet is that Stewart has an even bigger budget than he did in SPLIT (estimated at around £5,000). I can’t wait to see what he comes up with. Andy Stewart is a filmmaker I’m going to keep a close eye on. He’s got great instincts, knows how to utilize a budget, and is the best body horror filmmaker I’ve seen since Cronenberg first started grossing out horror fans everywhere. I’ve already emailed Stewart asking if he would allow me to post one or both of these shorts on AnythingHorror.com so you can all see them.
These two short films are huge winners!!
My Summary: DYSMORPHIA
Director: Andy Stewart (& writer & makeup supervisor / prosthetic effects supervisor)
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
My Summary: SPLIT
Director: Andy Stewart (& writer)
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 9 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Both Short Films Reviewed by Scott Shoyer