2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 10: The Devil’s Passenger (2018) and Window Dressing (2019)

Day 10: Plastique Vivant: Manniquins are creepy enough standing still, but what happens when they come to life? (Window Dressing)

I came to my gig as the (chief) grease bit scrubber and dumpster pad washer at the ol’ B&S Bar n’ Grill by way of my screenwriting endeavors, which born out of my acting endeavors (which born out of my radio jock days).

As result, I’ve been to more than my fair share of film festivals, not only for the shorts I worked on, but for the films of others — in support of my fellow thespin’ brethren. And as someone who’s worked in the short film realm, take it from me: most of them are arduous, not only to work on, but to watch. As an actor, nothing is more heartbreaking than to pour your soul into someone’s vision to make it the very best short film it can be — only to see that filmmaker’s industry “calling card” disintegrate into an utter failure. And that’s not even counting the shorts that, through sheer directorial ineptitude and an indifferently staffed and in disarray film school, are never finished. The whole angle of the short filmVerse is that, while you, the actor, do not get paid, “you’ll get a finished film/clips for your reel.” And, as goes my luck, the filmmakers that never “paid” me with a finished film or so much as a clip (even after begging), far outnumbers the ones that did “pay” me. And, very few of those were of a quality to use as demo reel material.

Anyway, I digress . . . bottom line: I’ve seen lots of short films. I’ve long since surpassed my Hollywood-mainstream film attendances with my affection for the new breed cultivated in film festivals: I love going to film festivals, seeing short films, and acting in short films: the camaraderie of the indie environs is pure electric. It’s oxygen. It’s life.

And — in the hands of a knowledgeable and skilled filmmaker, one who checks their ego at the door and respects their actors and crew and realizes that film is a “team” effort — the short film story format works and there are, in fact, filmmakers who do not make you dread film festivals, but look forward to them. There’s nothing more pleasing, more exhilarating than to see all of those years of college and university-level film school classes pay off in spades. I am of the camp that doesn’t want those budding filmmakers to suck at their chosen profession: I want to see them succeed.

And succeed they do, as is the case with my reviews for Colin West’s Pink Plastic Flamingos, Marko Slavanic’s Project Skyborn, and Sara Gorsky’s Cockpit: The Rules of Engagement. Then there’s my recent reviews for Ben Griffin’s stellar sci-fi-on-budget excitement that is Ji, Marc Cartwright’s We Die Alone, Megan Freels Johnson’s Dear Guest, Brando Benetton’s top notch college thesis project, Nightfire, Greece’s Vahagn Karapetyan’s Wicca Book, Travis White’s Why Haven’t They Fixed the Cameras Yet?, and Chun-Ku Lu’s 2018 work, This Life, I am a flower pot (yes, he of 1975’s The Black Dragon’s Revenge).

And as I went down a You Tube rabbit hole, I discovered another Frank Barrone-moment, you know, a “holy crap” moment, with writer and director Dave Bundtzen’s The Devil’s Passengers.

Bundtzen’s been bangin’ at the Final Draft and eyein’ the Cannon Reds since the early ’90s across fifteen shorts, with thirteen of them as a screenwriter, and a seventeen-film mix as a producer of his own shorts and of others. So it’s no secret that Bundtzen is bringing an A-Game to the table. He possesses an expert concept of what a short film should be: short. His films are well-written and edited and fully-character arced in less than five minutes, exactly as a short film should.

Ack! Please don’t delve into a college thesis on the craft of screenwriting, and act structure, R.D.

Don’t worry; I’m pulling back the reins. But take my word for it: Bundtzen’s short film days are numbered. There’s a feature film on the horizon.

His latest short-fiction work, The Devil’s Passenger, concerns a woman (a very good Colleen Kelly, who reminds of Dakota Johnson; I actually thought, at first, it was Australian actress Amanda Woodhams from 2020’s Dark Sister) in a traffic jam that desperately tries to help another woman she sees in the back of a van hold — held by a hand that appears from the dark background of the vehicle.

And that brings us to Dave Bundtzen and Colleen Kelly’s newest film (and the Scarecrow Video Challenge part), along with the expertly creepy Elaine Partnow, in a tale about Danielle (Kelly), a young woman who responds to an innocent “Help Wanted” sign in the window of the Rose Time antique dress shop run by Clara (Partnow), a kindly, senior shop keep. Now, if you know your British Amicus horror anthologies, you know about those little, out-of-the-way shops and their affable clerks. Yeah, this isn’t going to end well for young Danielle. The “Amicus” vibe of Bundtzen’s pen is buoyed by Gavin V. Murray’s stellar cinematography that gives the proceedings a very-Argento vibe.

The Devil’s Passengers and Window Dressing are currently streaming on You Tube, along with Bundtzen’s early efforts Siri (2012) and Tap (2018), courtesy of Flix Horror’s You Tube Platform. And, what I really dig: Bundtzen supports other short-horror purveyors, as his nifty “Great Horror Short Films on You Tube” playlist attests. Watch ’em once, twice, watch three times. Just an awesome day of movie viewing to be had over at Flix Horror’s page.

Colleen Kelly made one foray into network television with an appearance on ABC-TV’s Castle. Here’s to hoping she makes a much deserved transition out of shorts and indies and into more network television (yeah, you know me well: Law & Order: SVU and Blue Bloods) and A-List feature films. In fact, if you’re a Felissa Rose (A Nun’s Curse, Rootwood) fan — and aren’t we all — you’ve also seen Kelly’s work alongside Rose in Clawed (2017).

You can learn more about Dave Bundtzen’s filmmaking endeavors at Flix Digital’s website and Facebook page.

Disclaimer: We were not sent screeners or received a review requests for either of these shorts. We discovered them on our own and truly enjoyed both works.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes on Medium.

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