Peter the Penguin Image

Writer/director Andrew Rutter’s creepy short Peter the Penguin centers around a child’s love of stuffed animals; the bigger, the better. Nigel (Chris Butler) is driving with his new girlfriend Rachel (Alex Kapila) to her house to meet her daughter, Emily (Mia Hemerling), for the first time. He has gotten Emily a little stuffed lion to win her over.

However, when they arrive, everything is in chaos. Emily is screaming on the floor, cradling this big honking stuffed penguin with its head coming off. There is stuffing everywhere, and Rachel confirms Emily has called an ambulance. Nigel is mystified when two ambulance attendants (Peter Terry and Joe Capella) show up and rush to attend to the giant damaged toy. Nigel offers Emily the little stuffed lion, only to be told it just isn’t big enough. The attendants determine that the stuffed toy will not survive the trip to the hospital, as it is too far gone. They demand to know from Nigel how he plans to take care of the situation. Then things get f****d.

Nigel offers Emily the little stuffed lion, only to be told it just isn’t big enough.”

I would love to see this short as part of a horror anthology, as I love the feel the filmmaker achieves. Obviously, the story hinges upon a humorous premise; it’s called Peter the Penguin, for Pete’s sake. However, the menacing tone comes in so heavy that even the cutesy parts are skin crawling. This ratio of horror to humor provides the perfect balance for the dread achieved.

Additionally, Rutter also pays homage to one of the most famous censored film sequences in British horror history. In 1973, there was a scene so horrific in Vault of Horror that it was removed from all prints for decades. It concerned a party of vampires where an upside-down man has a tap in his neck. What made the scene unacceptable for celluloid was every time the vampires filled a glass from the neck tap, the man would twitch. There is something really revolting about that twitch. Rutter puts that twitch to work in Peter the Penguin, repeatedly and to great effect. Whether intentional or not, it is a wonderful cinematic allusion, and damn, that twitch still creeps one out.

Peter the Penguin (2021)

Directed and Written: Andrew Rutter

Starring: Chris Butler, Alex Kapila, Mia Hemerling, Peter Terry, Joe Capella, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

Peter the Penguin Image

"…this ratio of horror to humor provides the perfect balance for the dread achieved."

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