“Pigskin” (2015): Horrors of the Mind and Body Haunt a Troubled Cheerleader


Demons of the mind can drive people to unspeakably horrific acts, as high school cheerleader Laurie Vernon (Isadora Leiva) finds out in director Jake Hammond’s riveting short film Pigskin. He and cowriter Nicola Newton examine the psychology behind body image while delivering a memorable horror experience.

As the short opens, we see Laurie forcing herself to vomit and wrapping her abdomen in gauze, with her skeletal ribs driving home the fact that she has an eating disorder that she tries her best to hide. Her friend and fellow cheerleader Trish (Isabella Groff) notices that football player Glenn Brody (Pablo Gonzalez) and Laurie have some chemistry going on between them. Glenn asks Laurie for some alone time later that evening. This is when viewers get our first glimpse of someone or something that seems to slowly stalk Laurie.

Laurie Vernon (Isadora Leiva, left) gets grilled by her friend  Trish (Isabella Groff) about her relationship with a football player in the horror short Pigskin.

Laurie’s self-consciousness about her body continues as she waits for all of the other cheerleaders to leave before showering. Jake Hammond and Nicola Newton start ratcheting up the suspense and the body horror more from this point onward, leading to a gory, brutal climax.

Pigskin shows elements of homage to 1970s and 1980s horror films without crossing the line into overdoing it. Hammond wisely keeps the setting of his short timeless so that it feels fresh and current, while paying tribute to masters of the past. The short’s characters feel authentic and believable, thanks to good writing and direction, along with solid performances from the cast. Anyone who has ever harbored a high school crush can relate to Laurie’s insecurities about self image, though she takes her self doubt to terrifying levels.  

Glenn Brody (Pablo Gonzalez) asks Laurie for some alone time but her mind is troubled by something that seems to draw ever closer to her.

The actors are adept, with Isadora Leiva in a stand-out turn as the haunted Laurie. She shows a wide range of emotions – from giddy to anguished, and beyond – and a great deal of promise in her cinematic debut.

Nicola Newton’s cinematography is exceptional, with a variety of techniques that complement Jake Hammond’s splendid direction wonderfully. A thrilling, pulsating synthesizer score from Charles Spears, songs by The Chromatics and Desire, and a sound design that knows when silence can serve as dramatically as music make for a terrific  aural landscape.

Whatever is haunting Laurie seems to have the ability to follow her anywhere, including the high school pool.

Jake Hammond and Nicola Newton made Pigskin as their thesis film at Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. The short is currently making the festival rounds, and I recommend it is a must-see. For festival dates and more information, visit www.pigskinshortfilm.com.

Pigskin: 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.