Monday, October 21, 2019

BHFF ’19: The Haunted Swordsman (short)

Anyone who knows classic Japanese cinema knows there was more to fear during the Edo era than ronin and ninja. There were also Kwaidan-style ghosts and so-called Onibaba demon-hags. A ronin bent on avenging his shogun master will face the latter as the first challenge of his quest in puppetry-filmmaker Kevin McTurk’s wildly cool short film The Haunted Swordsman, which screens during the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

Technically, the squared jawed samurai failed his lord. That is why he is now a ronin. However, it is hard to blame him, given the powers of the demonic monster that consumed the shogun. The ronin has pledged to avenge him, but he realizes he will need some powerful help, most likely of a supernatural nature, to get the job done. Fortunately, he has a decapitated death’s head that will serve as his reluctant “Navigator” of the spirit-haunted regions. We had better listen to him, because his voice is supplied (quite eerily) by the great James Hong (and Christopher Lloyd provides the sinister speech of one of the truly monstrous figures).

We can’t wait to see a full feature from McTurk, because Haunted Swordsman and his previous film, The Mill at Calder’s End are two of the most amazing genre shorts we have ever seen. Even beyond the puppetry, which puts most live action filmmaking to shame, the attention to detail lavished on the sets and costumes is quite extraordinary. You can see real world-building in Swordsman. Perhaps the greatest endorsement is the imprimatur of Lisa and Heather Henson (as in the Henson Company) serving as executive producers. They would know puppetry world-better than anyone.

Ironically, Haunted Swordsman starts with actual cliff-hanging and ends in a bit of a cliff-hanger. Instead of facing his nemesis, the Swordsman only completes the first encounter in what will probably be a long and perilous campaign. It sure looks like a proof of concept film, so consider the concept proved.

To reiterate, we are eager to see a full feature film from McTurk and Haunted Swordsman would be the perfect vehicle for him to revise and extend. Regardless, the 17-minute film is so wildly macabre and technically accomplished, genre fans should see it now, even though it will leave them hungrily wanting more. Vey highly recommended, The Haunted Swordsman had its New York City premiere at this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.