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Directed by Paul Villanova | Review by Helen Wheels

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]aul Villanova’s, “Craniac!” is a story about a young filmmaker who is obsessed with the idea of projecting his film across the sky. Little does he know that there is a tiny Martian living inside his brain which is influencing his every move. Our protagonist is reminiscent of the mad scientist, Dr. Jekyll as he pours over his notes and updates his calculations in his quest to get the perfect image projection. Meanwhile, Villanova makes sure to give the audience a glimpse of the thing inside the young filmmaker’s head that is at least partly causing his obsession. The Martian has his own reasons for wanting the filmmaker’s movie to be blasted into the atmosphere for all to see, and he is determined to make sure the event happens sooner than later.

“Craniac!” is an American short film that is a spoof on old sci-fi, with the flavor of a classic B-flick monster movie. Villanova incorporates handmade props, miniature sets, and a plethora of practical effects, as well as some perfectly cheesy background sci-fi music. There’s no use of Computer Generated Imagery, and that is one of the things that makes this seventeen-minute film such a fun ride. The details in the set and prop construction are admirable. From the Martian’s control panel to the construction of the inside of the filmmaker’s head and his brain, the set and props truly make Villanova’s fictional world come to life.

Harry Aspinwall’s performance as the obsessed or, perhaps more accurately, possessed filmmaker is impeccable. It is easy to buy into the idea that an alien in his head is controlling him because he uses his entire body in his performance. Each time the Martian pokes and prods his brain, there is a reaction from the filmmaker that includes facial expressions and bodily reflexes. Aspinwall’s physical acting carries his performance from beginning to end. This is not slapstick, but rather a deliberate physicality that is humorous and at times reminiscent of the “mad scientist” troupe. Aspinwall’s reaction to the Martian’s emotional manipulation brings to mind Dr. Jekyll after he drinks the potion and wanders the city like a madman.

Though “Craniac!” comes across as a spoof on sci-fi and creature feature genres, its inspiration was anything but comedic. Villanova was screening another of his films, “Octopus” (2013) when he encountered the man who saved his life. A German doctor “spot-diagnosed” the condition related to Villanova’s then-as-yet undiagnosed brain tumor and urged the filmmaker to get checked out. As great artists do, Villanova took this turn of events and used it as inspiration for “Craniac!” He says, ” I began to imagine a film where the protagonist is battling an antagonist inside his own head. During this period, I also began to question what it was that drove this insatiable motivation to create films, to tell stories. I imagined a dystopian artistic fantasy, where unbeknownst to the artist, his creative choices are all being guided by a creature in his head – for nefarious purposes”. One of the most interesting things about any film, in my opinion, is its’ inspiration. “Craniac!” also is a delightful example of how art can be used in the healing process.


Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications.  Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.

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