The 2014 short film Dead Hearts is the perfect movie to watch to close out this Halloween season. Stephen Martin wrote and directed the fantasy/horror short film as an ode to his wife, to whom he had just proposed at the time of the script’s development. He combined elements of whimsical timeless love, Kung Fu fighting sequences, and death scenes. As Stephen Martin and his wife both love horror and fantasy, he combined the two genres to make this award-winning Halloween film.
The fifteen-minute movie takes place over 70 years. It begins by introducing 7-year-old Milton Mulberry as a child from a long line of morticians. Milton studies and works with dead bodies, which differentiates him from his classmates and makes him an outcast. Milton has a crush on his classmate, Lola, who saves him from classmate bullies, and they form a relationship. Lola and Milton are separated when she moves across the country after her parents die to live with her uncle. The image at Lola’s parents’ funeral is consistent with the theme of death throughout the entire film, and Milton comforts Lola. Due to supernatural occurrences that prove they are meant to be together, Milton and Lola reconnect in their older age and she continues to help him fight bullies.
As the film is so consistent with its tone and voice, the movie works with its dark yet whimsical scenes. The film can be compared to many styles, particularly Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and Roald Dahl’s dark children’s stories. The recurring theme of death throughout the film and its underlying creepy tone is similar to the Addams Family, and Stephen Martin plays up Halloween by including scenes that take place on the holiday. Don McCokindale serves as the film’s narrator, and does a fantastic job delivering his lines in a way that sounds like a whimsical bedtime story for kids—despite the plot consisting of very disturbing plot points and characters.
The film received such positive feedback because of its well-developed storyline, smart dialogue, and consistency of its tone, but also for its beautiful shots, editing, and sound effect clarity. Even to someone unfamiliar with camera work or audio in film, one can easily pick up on the sharp sound effects, and appreciate the beauty and art in all the shots. In a Kung Fu fighting scene, the sounds are sharp and well timed, and elaborate on the action. The scenes that portray Milton and Lola around the dead bodies are shot from interesting angles, such as looking up under Milton’s chin, and from far back to see how small Milton and Lola are in comparison to the adult dead bodies. It is fitting that Milton’s home looks like a haunted house, with its wooden floors, long hallways, and painted portraits of dead family members on the walls.
Dead Hearts was accepted into 155 film festivals, and won 45 awards. It qualified for the Oscars when it won Best Live Action Short at the St. Louis International Film Festival, and also won Best Horror Comedy at Screamfest LA, Best Short NYC Horror, Best Short Monster Fest, and the Audience Choice Award Toronto After Dark.