Panic Fest 2024 Spoiler-Free Short Film Reviews: “Cereal,” “The Curse of the Velvet Vampire,” “We Joined a Cult,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Strange Creatures,” “Howl at the Dead” 

April 12, 2024

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Following is a roundup of six of the short-film shockers that screened at this year’s edition of New Orlean’s Overlook Film Festival.


Canadian short Cereal, from director Shane R. Preston, finds young girl Chelsea (Trinity Kaylani Seiling in a fun performance) receiving a disturbing message from her alphabet-shaped cereal: “Kill.” This evil kid short has a nice retro vibe and looks great, with a fine supporting performance from Shelby Handley as Chelsea’s mother. My only quibble is that the fourth wall gets broken twice, which reduces the effect for me.


The Curse of the Velvet Vampire 

Director Christoffer Schurict’s collaboration with band 802 finds two Chinese horror fans watching a strange film in a video rental store. Soon enough, this slice of cinema intersects with real life. Featuring plenty of female undead and the resulting bloodletting, along with some music video, this short film has cult favorite written all over it.

We Joined a Cult

From Chris McInroy, director of We Summoned a Demon and We Forgot About the Zombies, comes another insane horror comedy filled with gore and guffaws: We Joined a Cult. Two buddies look to play kickball in the park but an invitation from a cult member leads to to humorous carnage. Boasting great-looking practical effects and makeup work, this short is loads of fun.



Up on the Housetop

Christmas-set horror comedy Up on the Housetop boasts a super ensemble cast that includes cowriters (with Laura Herring)/codirectors Michael Fischer and Dakota Millett as brothers Donnie and Todd, respectively. The young men and their sisters Olivia (Kayla Anderson) and Samantha (Dylan Holloway) gather at their family home after the passing of their parents, but the accidental killing of Santa Claus puts a damper on the reunion, to say the least. The short becomes a creature feature and provides plenty of both laughter and slaughter. With good writing, solid direction, and fine production values, Up on the Housetop is a terrific candidate for full-length feature consideration.


Strange Creatures

Director Nicholas Payne Santos combines grief over losing a loved one with “something in the woods” sylvan eeriness in Strange Creatures. Christine Nyland gives a marvelous performance as a young woman who visits the site of her brother’s death, wishing she could see him again. You know how such wishes go in fright fare, and Santos delivers a serious shocker.


Howl at the Dead

Writer/director Gregg Bishop serves up a love letter to pets along with some heartwarming horror and humor in his wonderful short Howl at the Dead. A family’s dog battles supernatural evil, and though the cast members playing the family all give fine performances, it is Delilah Jane Sassafras Nativo as Paws who steals the show. This is feel-good fear fare at its finest.

These shorts screened as part of Panic Fest 2024, which ran April 4–10 in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit


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