Constructed like a twisted children’s bedtime story, Stephen Martin’s short film Dead Hearts is a charmingly morbid love story about a young mortician who gives away his heart to find true love. An ode to 80’s coming-of-age movies and the twisted likes of Tim Burton, the film is packed with biker werewolves, taxidermy, and Kung fu. Dead Hearts goes beyond the horror genre in both its circumstantial macabre humor and its ironically heart-warming nature. If you’re into gothic fantasy with a pop culture edge, you’re going to love this film!
“I wanted to make the film a combination of all of our favorite things”
A dark, romantic epic in its own right, the film explores themes of lost love, unrequited love, and finally a love that transcends time and death. It’s no wonder that the filmmaker’s inspiration came from someone close to his own heart.
“I had just proposed to my now wife”, says Martin, “I started writing the movie as a sort of love letter to her. I wanted to make the film a combination of all of our favorite things”.
That surely explains the Kung Fu, but it’s the film’s style that really expands upon Martin’s talent as a children’s book author. The aesthetic of Dead Hearts was thus a cinematic representation of that, enhanced by a dry British narration rather than any real dialogue.
Similar to a Wes Anderson film in cinematography, there are many straight-on shots with shallow depth to create even more of a story book vibe. The art direction is also not unlike a Tim Burton film in both color and costume. While Martin may have borrowed many elements from other filmmakers, he’s made it into a unique blend that’s entirely his own.
The music, particularly the low brass, is also very Burton-esque and plays to a dark humor that’s hard to put your finger on. The director’s efforts to ensure he complimented his film’s aesthetic and tone with just the right soundtrack really highlights what a labor of love this was for him.
“For the music I knew I wanted to have an old Eastern European sound”, says Martin, “so I reached out to the Serbian community who pointed me in the direction of an amazing band called Orkestar Šlivovica. Luckily they liked the script and my first film, Dead Friends, so Luke came onboard and started composing an original score for us which we recorded in a 100 years old house on a sleepy fall night”. Can you say spooky?
Martin’s seeming obsession with death and loneliness make this romantic coming-of-age as morbid as ever, but it’s the action that gives it the cool factor. A bunch of Kung Fu sorcery went into this project along with a serious pop rock soundtrack. How did he get a group of 8-year-olds, let alone 78-year-olds, to do all of those crazy fight scenes?
“For the Kung Fu I reached out to the Vancouver Stunt community”, Martin reveals “and was able to get some amazing stunt actors from the CW’s Arrow to come onboard to do some Kung Fu. And for the kids we contacted a small martial arts school in Washington to help us out. They were unbelievably talented for such a young age”.
The clever use of wolf masks hid the stunt doubles well and those patched jean jackets added a kickass 80’s vibe to complete the look.
Dead Hearts won big along the festival circuit, snagging Best Horror Comedy at Screamfest LA, Best Short Film at the New York Horror Film Festival, and 45 other awards having shown in over 150 festivals – pretty impressive stuff! This Halloween season, you can add this short to your own horror favorites!