We here at FEARnet pride ourselves in digging through the web’s dark recesses in pursuit of genuine nightmare fodder. Yeah, it’s what we do. Call it a public service.
But as you already know, there’s so much horror-themed content out there that it’s not easy finding dark diamonds among the usual gore-soaked glop. That’s why we sound the alert when a horror site tries something truly unique, and the demented minds at Fewdio have managed to pull this off by targeting a web niche we were surprised to find largely unfilled, at least by anyone in a professional capacity – original horror shorts.
A production team made up of five like-minded industry insiders, Fewdio was created specifically to fill this vacancy, as well as provide a creative playground for filmmakers who were fed up with the big-studio system. “Fewdio started when we threw up our hands at the bureaucracy and the politics and the bullshit of the studio system and said 'Let's just do it ourselves,'” explains Drew Daywalt, one of the “Fewdio Five.”
Daywalt, a writer/director attached to numerous high-profile film and TV projects, co-founded Fewdio with his production partner David Schneider, familiar character actors Paul Hungerford & Kirk Woller, and actor/screenwriter John Crye. Each member of the team also brought other showbiz skills to the table (including marketing and development experience), and together they found the industry muscle to carry off a new venture into anthology-style horror entertainment.
Much like Will Ferrell’s “Funny or Die” site – which hosts original comedy short subjects similar to the interstitials on Saturday Night Live – Fewdio hosts their own dedicated short films, only replacing laughs with frights (except, that is, for that embarrassed giggle that comes out after someone scares the pee-water out of you). Each one is a concentrated terror treat that gets the job done but leaves you hungry for another one… basically the cinematic equivalent of those “fun size” candy bars they hand out to trick-or-treaters.
Daywalt pointed out that throughout the history of storytelling, horror has often been most effective in the short, sharp shock – and says that this concept applies equally to today’s new media. “The short form is where horror has always blossomed,” he elaborates. “Look at the [works] of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Rod Serling, Robert Bloch... they were all short stories… and here we are with the internet now, the ultimate home for short films.”
Fewdio first came on the scene with “The Easter Bunny is Eating My Candy” – a simply presented, single-setup sketch that plays like the horror equivalent of a really good one-liner. It managed to provoke a rare and perfect reaction that every good horror fan cherishes: that perfect cocktail of horror and amusement. You know the one – when your eyes widen, you shudder a bit, shake your head and say, “Okay, now that was good.” And then you watch it again.
Clever in an unassuming way, the shorts set you up for suspense right out of the gate – not just with moody lighting and sound effects, but with the foreknowledge going in that you know something scary is going to happen before the brief clock runs out. If you know your horror stuff, you may already have guessed what’s going to happen, but you’re nervous anyway waiting for the inevitable payoff.
“When we started doing horror,” Daywalt recounts, “we realized that, structurally, it's the same as comedy, or a magic trick: setup, [another] setup… sudden unexpected left-hand turn. It was there that we found the importance of the twist ending, or the 'prestige' as it's known in magic. The twist can be a great tool, especially if you think back to all those great ghost stories told around the campfire."
Now if your idea of horror is more along the lines of the Saw or Hostel films and their various clones, then you may be knocking on the wrong door here. Fewdio’s creators vowed to dispense with the popular no-holds-barred trends in gory, sadistic mayhem in favor of capturing that precious sense of doom – something mostly absent from today’s horror entertainment. Not that Fewdio shies away from the red stuff (it’s safe to say most of these films are not safe for the kiddies), but it’s used more as a seasoning than the main ingredient.
According to Daywalt, the focus on implied horrors is both a creative and budgetary conceit. “For 35 years now, we've been deluged with blood and gore,” he explains. “Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, audiences have had their eyes held open for them while they watched every bit of horror in extreme detail. There's absolutely a place for explicit violence in horror films, don't get us wrong. But we wanted to use the audience's minds against them. Hitchcock did it as a matter of devilish style. Serling did it because his TV shows (Twilight Zone and Night Gallery) had no money. We do it because of both.”
Thanks to their combined production experience, the low budgets don't usually show on the screen... unless, of course, they want them to. “The really scary stuff is usually made on a shoestring budget and feels piratey, seedy... [as if] it comes from the underbelly of mainstream cinema. We wanted that creepy feeling to permeate all of our films... Like when you see it, you've gotten your hands on something you shouldn't have.”
One example if this inherent wrongness can be found in new short DOOR 17 (this one is soooo not safe for work):
The first Fewdio web series “Nightmare House” – 20 episodes produced, one released every 13 days – is based on the idea of bringing specific personal nightmares to life, usually in the mode of “one fear = one film.” The team committed themselves to the philosophy that every script had to originate with something that had frightened the filmmaker personally.
Daywalt unearthed fears from his own childhood, much of which was spent, as he describes, in an actual nightmare house:
“I was a frightened child, the youngest of 6, and we grew up in a massive 160 year old house with back staircases and servants quarters,” he explains. “When my parents moved in, the place was abandoned and well-known as the town's most haunted house.... and some of the stories around it were horrifying."
Thanks to early exposure to horror comics and Friday night creature features on TV, Daywalt soon learned to channel those childhood nightmares into a deep appreciation for horror and a fascination with human beings' attraction to the things that scare them most. As he began to create his own stories, he found that the most effective scares depended on how well the audience can read terror in the characters.
“So many people get horror wrong because they think it's about the monster,” he says. “But it's not. It's about the victim. Good horror is where your actor who's portraying the victim can pull off true, honest-to-god terror within themselves. Bad horror is everything else.”
The secret is in our DNA, he explains.
“Human beings, like other pack or herd animals have evolved to read the expressions of their fellow man as a survival tool... that's why fear and horror films translate so well internationally: Everyone knows instinctively how to save their own ass.”
That herd instinct seems to be working, as hits are piling in by the thousands each day, forcing constant expansion and a plan to move hosting of the videos beyond YouTube. “Initially it was constructed simply to be a home for the Nightmare House anthology, our merchandise shop, and all other things Fewdio,” John Crye says. “The reaction from the YouTube community has been so fervently supportive, though, even at this early stage, that we are considering a redesign that would include forums and community networking aspects."
Now the Fewdio shorts have begun making the rounds at events like Toronto After Dark, Screamfest, Austin's Fantastic Fest and the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, so it seems natural that the team will begin to look beyond the web for wider, higher-profile distribution on DVD, or even a possible TV series (they are currently scripting a proposed series entitled Cursed Earth). But despite some early offers, Crye says they're not actively pursuing those routes just yet. “We prefer to grass-roots it a bit longer to build our audience, the value of the company, and the size of the offers... we don't mind lurking in the dark, biding our time."
While lurking, the Fewdio Five just keep cranking out short-form scares... and intend to do so indefinitely.
“The nice thing about the shorts is that they started from a place of true art,” Daywalt says. “We did them just because we wanted to, with no real financial goal or commercial motivation... we wanted to just take things into our own hands and create for creation's sake. It was a purging act, actually, and all five of us found it so satisfying that we're addicted to it now.”
If the recent buzz is any indication, tens of thousands of horror fans are getting hooked on the fear as well.
"We got into horror to explore the dark side to ourselves,” Daywalt admits. “And if we're totally honest and vulnerable about what scares us, we'll create real fear and dread for our fans.”
We recommend you get yourself over to www.Fewdio.com pronto and start prying open the doors of Nightmare House... but before you click the Play button, you might want to put an old towel or something absorbent under you to protect the upholstery…