The black-and-white short film Between Hell and a Hard Place is a nifty horror throwback reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone television series and the EC horror comics. Writer/director Jason P. Buterin has crafted an intriguing tale of two criminals and an area said to be haunted by the spirits of those who were killed there.
Older Jack (Patrick G. Keenan) is a superstitious hitman who is having moral misgivings about his line of work. Younger Jack (Michael Ray Williams) — neither of the killers knows the other’s real name because their boss believes if they learn a man’s name, “you get to know his soul” — has no conscience and makes no bones about letting that be known. The two go into the Valley of Shadows for what older Jack hopes is his last job. On the car drive there, he reminds skeptical younger Jack of the possibility that the area might be haunted by the many who have been killed and dumped there over the years by hitmen like themselves. Before their final assignment as a team is completely finished, the men will see which one of them is right.
Jaysen P. Buterin’s script is abundant with dialog that allows viewers to get to know the two Jacks quickly and see their differences in philosophies. Patrick G. Keenan and Michael Ray Williams, both of whom have a good deal of experience in acting for the silver screen, inhabit the two main roles earnestly. Keenan especially shows a wide range as the more outspoken and world weary of the pair; young Jack is more even-keeled in his cynical nature but Williams assesses himself well. If the script falters here and there it is only in its foreshadowing of events with several references to death.
Jesse H. Knight’s black-and-white cinematography is a major contribution to the old-school feel of Between Hell and a Hard Place. I was especially impressed with the film’s framing choices and camera angles, which are widely varied but never felt intrusive to me. Ron Wasserman’s score is a major factor, as well.
Without giving too much away, the makeup effects of Matt Cloude and Bill Mulligan are exceptional and a main reason that I felt an EC comics vibe. What they have produced looks like it could have stepped straight out of a story from Tales from the Crypt or its sister publications.
Well-paced by director Jayson P. Buterin and skillfully rendered by his cast and crew, Between Hell and a Hard Place has picked up film festival awards as a short film and is slated to be part of Beneath the Old Dark House, a full-length anthology film by North Carolina film makers. It’s well worth a viewing in whichever format viewers get a chance to see it.
Between Hell and a Hard Place: (3.5 / 5)