Some film-fests get all the glory. Cannes has glamour, Sundance has power ... and Toronto? Well, they're the largest North American fest and the most widely attended. But ask diehard sci-fi or horror fans what fest turns their cranks and it's sure to be Montreal's Fantasia. Started in 1996, Fantasia began with screenings of films from Hong Kong and Japan and included anime, but has since expanded its scope to cover a wide selection of unusual genre picks.
Small Gauge Trauma is a globetrotting menagerie of 13 short films that've screened at Fantasia over the last 10 years. This is the type of collection that's rarely seen, not only because of the sometimes bizarre and grotesque subject matter, but because short films rarely earn recognition, much less an audience.
Picking the best here is nearly impossible, but some absolutely stand out. In fact, Tea Break is a gore-hound's wet dream, a British nasty that sees a nameless and bloodstained factory worker going about his tedious job of chopping off the heads of an endless assembly line of naked and restrained human victims. It's a dark and almost comical depiction of human desensitization to violence. The Brazilian short Love from Mother Only is another winner, a twisted and perverse Oedipal yarn of a man who's forced to conceal his secret affair from his devoutly religious mother. With sex, nudity, gore and some freaky voodoo tossed in, Love from Mother Only is quite terrifying on multiple levels.
SMG also has unforgettable animated shorts. Stop-motion is used effectively and eerily in The Separation, about the sad aftermath of conjoined twins who are split. Its haunting images stick and are reminiscent Tool's Fred Stuhr-directed Sober video.
But not all the shorts are dark and gloomy. The crudely animated but hilarious Flat 'n' Fluffy lightens up the collection, about an acid-tripping hippie and his Soviet friend who accidentally kill their neighbor's dog.
Of course, there are a couple clunkers here. Miss Greeny is a head-scratching 30 seconds of pointlessness, while Ruta Destroy! — a would-be druggie musical — would be utterly forgettable if not for the odd misspellings in its subtitles. But hey, the good and the great easily outweigh the couple missteps here. In fact, SGT offers those that stand alongside the best that horror has to offer; no small feat considering that most here do it in 15 minutes or less. —Paul Knoll
Small Gauge Trauma is a double feature with the film Embodiment of Evil; 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, at the Burton Theatre (3420 Cass Ave., Detroit, 313- 473-9238; burtontheatre.com).