[Review] Dead Air (Horror-on-Sea Film Festival): Comical Creature-Filled Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Director Geoff Harmer’s U.K. horror comedy short Dead Air is a colorful, playful blast featuring evil creatures sensationally brought to cinematic life by puppetry and practical effects. Monster movie fans are sure to have a super time with this offering. 

Female punk band Monster Kitten and their manager are onboard a plane to the final gig of their tour. It’s no luxury flight, though, because the band manager (Dan Palmer) has bribed the group’s way onto a cargo plane with a bottle of whiskey, which the chief pilot (David Schaal) drinks during the flight. 

Unbeknownst to the manager and the band members — played by Charlie Bond (the singer), Kate Davies-Speak (the bassist; Davies-Speak also gives a terrific starring performance in the U.K. feature film The Barge People, screening at this year’s edition of Horror-on-Sea as well), Johanna Stanton (the guitarist) and Stacy Hart (the drummer) — the craft is transporting boxes containing gremlin-like critters that can be subdued only by a cassette tape of soothing music that is quite different to Monster Kitten’s decidedly heavier, rawer style. When the singer comes on to the copilot (James Hamer-Morton) in the cargo bay and the tape playing is interrupted, creature-feature mayhem ensues. 

Dead Air kicks off nicely with a fun, spirited, animated title sequence that sets up most of the who’s and why’s of this short quite nicely. Harmer (Selfie; 2015) and screenwriter Peter Hearn (Scrawl; 2015) introduce characters’ various personalities, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses succinctly and then get the romp started in a rollicking, fun fashion. Dead Air is chock full of fun puppetry and practical effects that will remind viewers of some of their favorite 1980s creature feature titles, such as Gremlins, Ghoulies, Critters, and the like. 

Harmer winningly finds a successful, delicate balance between suspense and comedy as the band members and flight crew fight to survive, with nifty kills and some side-splitting discoveries as to what makes the monsters hold back on attacking at times. Dead Air is both a fine stand-alone short film and a crackerjack calling card for Harmer and Hearns to hopefully get their project developed into a feature film, because this project certainly calls for that.  

Dead Air screens at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival, which runs January 10th –19th at Park Inn by Raddison Palace, Southend-on-Sea, U.K. For more information, visit https://www.horror-on-sea.com/.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, 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.