Category Archives: Short Films

The Sitter (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Please check the children.

This small budget, short film, which was made for $12,000 much of it coming  from the donations of director Fred Walton’s and producer Steve Feke’s friends deals with the urban legend of a babysitter (Lucia Stralser) coming to the home of the Mandrakis (Bill Striglos, Karen Kondazian) to watch over their two children who are asleep upstairs while they go out. Soon after the couple leaves the sitter starts to receive harassing phone calls from a mysterious man asking if she’s ‘checked the children’. At first she dismisses them, but eventually when they continue she notifies the police who decide to trace where the calls are coming from.

The urban legend known as ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’ has been around since the early 60’s and the story was first filmed in 1971 in the 14-minute short entitled Foster’s Release, but this film was the one that caught the attention of mainstream audiences when it got screened at the Mann’s Theater in Westwood, California before a showing of Looking for Mr. Goodbar and the positive response it got convinced Walton that he should expand it into a feature length film, which he did two years later.

This film is alright, but gets hampered by having a weak actress in the role of the babysitter, who has an androgynous look about her and unable to convey emotions effectively.  Not only does she not check on the children, even though you’d think after repeated calls she would get the inkling to do so, but she then states to the police on the phone that she’s ‘all alone’, which isn’t true and makes you wonder if she completely forgot why she was at that home to begin with.

I did like the part where she raids the refrigerator and starts eating a piece of cake from it as I think a lot of babysitters do this. I also found the catty conversation that she has with one of her friends on the phone, before the harassing calls start, to be rather amusing and very teenage girl-like. I even liked the fact that she pours herself a glass of hard liquor and starts to drink it, but this also made me think that the alcohol should’ve had some effect on her, especially with such a thin body, causing her to slur her speech, or possibly emboldening her in her dealings with the caller, which never occurs.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending of course if you’re familiar with the legend has the police tracing the calls to a man who is upstairs in the same house that the sitter is, which forces the girl to run outside before the killer gets her, but the way it ends is not very satisfying. For one thing the girl’s welfare only gets eluded to by the cops even though she is the main character, so the viewer should see that she is alright and not just be told this. It also leaves open way too many questions like: Why did the killer choose this house? How did he know the phone number to the home? How did he get into the house without being detected? and if the children were already killed several hours earlier as the police stated then were they actually killed while the parents were still there and why didn’t anybody hear anything?

End of Spoiler Alert!

These questions get a little better answered in When a Stranger Calls, which was Walton’s follow-up film to this one that expands the story by analyzing the killer and giving him more of a backstory, which will be reviewed next.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1977

Runtime: 22 minutes

Not Rated

Director: Fred Walton

Skaterdater (1965)

A still photo from the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film “Skaterdater.” The 18-minute film was shot on location in the South Bay without dialog and starring a bunch of skateboarding kids.

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: From skateboards to girls.

Director Noel Black, who had just graduated from USC film school, wanted to put together a production reel that he could show to potential producers and studios and  after securing $17,000 for financial backing decided to make a short movie examining the then new craze of skateboarding. The story centers on some neighborhood skateboarders in Torrance, California who enjoy spending their summer afternoons skating around town. One day one of the boys (Michael Mel) spots a pretty girl (Melissa Mallory) and decides she’s more interesting than his friends, so he starts spending all of his time with her, which makes his other friends jealous and one of them (Gregg Carroll) challenges him to a skateboarding ‘duel’ along a steep, hillside street.

Despite the limited production values this still comes off as fresh and original and it’s officially the very first film ever made about skateboarding. In many ways not much has changed. The only real difference is that businesses back them did not have the sway to put up signs banning skaters from using their parking lots or sidewalks and one amusing segment shows the disgruntled look of local business owners having to put up with the distracting skateboarding noise outside although unfortunately director Black over-accentuates the noise for effect making the sound and ultimately the segment annoying to the viewer as well.

Some of the stuntwork though is impressive and the fact that there is no dialogue or names given to the characters is a benefit as it gives the thing a universal appeal knowing that this same type of scenario gets repeated all over the country from one generation to the next. The film was met with strong critical praise and has led to it getting preserved into the Academy Film Archive in 2010 as well as helping to boost director Black’s filmmaking career, which directly  led to him getting a chance to direct Pretty Poison, starring Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, which has since garnered a strong cult following.

As for the cast none of them became famous or found a career in front of the camera, but they’re all still alive and recently got together for a reunion with pics showing them as they were back then and how they look today :

L-R back row Bill McKig, Gary Jennings, Marshal Backlar, producer. L-R front row Michael Mel, Melissa Mosley and Bart Jahn all reunited 50 years after making the 1965 Academy Award-nominated short film “Skaterdater.” The 18-minute film was shot on location in the South Bay without dialog and starring a bunch of skateboarding kids.
Redondo Beach June 27, 2015.
(Photo by Brittany Murray / Daily Breeze)

 

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 11, 1965

Runtime: 17 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Noel Black

Studio: United Artists

Available: YouTube

The Jogger (1988)

Capture 81

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jogging can be deadly.

Jerry (Terry O’Quinn) is a high-strung businessman with a type A personality who has been told by his doctor to take up jogging to help relieve is stress and improve his health. Like with everything else he goes overboard with it. Jogging excessively until it becomes like a second job. One day while out on another one of his morning runs he comes upon another jogger (Tom Morga). Jerry decides to challenge the man to a race and he ends up winning it making him feel quite vindicated, but the other jogger does not take kindly to losing. He begins to chase Jerry around the park while attempting to stab and kill him. When Jerry is finally able to make it back to his house he realizes that the jogger has followed him and he continues with his assault. In fact wherever Jerry goes the jogger follows making him believe that he will not be able to get rid of him unless he fights back.

For a low budget short film this isn’t too bad. The editing and camerawork is crisp and professional. We get a good idea of Jerry’s character in a short amount of time and it’s great seeing O’Quinn in an early role. The action is exciting and there is enough tension to keep it interesting. There are even a few genuine unexpected jolts and a surprise ending.

The story initially seems original, but as it progresses you realize that it is just another retelling of the classic ‘The Twilight Zone’ episode entitled ‘The Hitch-Hiker’ in which the Inger Stevens character is constantly hounded by a mysterious hitch-hiker who turns up wherever she goes. The surreal elements that get thrown into this thing don’t help and I would’ve liked something that had stayed more realistic and been more subtle. Yet it’s still enjoyable enough for its short running time and some may find the scenario to be more creative than I did.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: 1988

Runtime: 25Minutes

Director: Robert Resnikoff

Available: None at this time.