Even though I watch and enjoy horror year round, in light of the Hallowe’en season, I thought I’d share some of my favorite short horror films. Each of these films runs under 15 minutes, so they’re good when you just have a little time and don’t want to sit through a whole feature.
Don’t let their short length lull you into complacency, though—these will haunt you. They are available to watch through You Tube and Vimeo. For better viewing, watch with the lights off. For piece of mind, watch them with the lights on.
The Captured Bird, 2013, 7 minutes
If you like your horror films surreal, this Canadian entry is for you. A young girl wanders into a Gothic house—what could possibly go wrong there? She finds otherworldly beasts and may or may not have unleashed them on the world . . .
The cinematography is gorgeous in this one. The colors are rich but muted, but that in no way detracts from the piece. It inhances the ethereal feel of it all, and sharply contrasts with the horror she discovers. The CGI used is good for a movie with a lower budget than the latest Hollywood drivel.
Directed and written by Jovanka Vuckovic.
The Offering, 2013, 8 minutes
Families. Idyllic or dysfunctional, we can all relate to the fact that each and every family has their own traditions that may seem outlandish or just plain bizarre to outsiders. That’s what binds families together: A common, shared history. When that history, that tradition, is making offerings to an unseen evil being, it helps to be on the same page with what needs to happen. It helps even more to not forget a vital component of the offering.
This is a tightly woven slice of life. It is the only one with dialogue, and the conversation is both familiar irritated banter between a father and son, and unsettling in what they leave unsaid.
Directed by Ryan Patch. Written by Michael Koehler.
Lights Out, 2013, 3 minutes
I believe this short film has been seen more frequently than the others, but it still deserves a mention if you haven’t been exposed to it yet. A primal fear—being afraid of unknown things lurking in the dark—has rarely been so carefully crafted and done as this movie. Its looming sense of horror comes from the fact that we’ve all been in the position the protagonist is in, seeing something not quite right out of the corner of our eye in the dark. As adults, we can rationalize through it, but what if all our reasonings fail, we try to allay our fears with countermeasures, and none of that works? Then we learn there are things that go bump in the night, and we’re right to be fearful of them. Directed by David Sandberg.
Fantasy, 2011, 3 minutes
THIS FILM IS NSFW AND NSFKs. I love Lovecraftian short stories and novels. Lovecraftian movies, however, can leave much to be desired. This short animated film (it is technically a music video) is an excellent example of taking the themes Mr. Lovecraft spouted and making them work visually. No dialogue in this one, it’s just the story of four teenagers who break into an indoor swimming pool for some naughty fun. They’re beset by an unearthly horror that invades and transforms three of them; the fourth, the virginal girl, makes her escape. At least, that’s what is supposed to happen in hackneyed tropes, isn’t it? She makes her escape, yes, but ends up even further into the nightmare than she could ever imagine. This is the most visceral, goriest short film of the ones listed here. That’s not what makes it good horror. There is no explanation as to why any of it is happening, and that’s what makes it so effective. It’s just the wrong place at the wrong time, and exposure to something beyond the comprehension of the frail human mind. It is truly one of the best Lovecraftian short films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.
Directed by Jérémie Périn. Written by Laurent Sarfati & Jérémie Périn.
The Gibbering Horror of Howard Ghormley, 2005, 12 minutes
Hands down, this is my favorite short horror film. Ever. I’m going to throw some buzzwords at you: Atmospheric. Claustrophobic. Relentless. And now some words that aren’t quite as cliqued, but sum it up perfectly: Uncompromising. Sly. Gibbering. (Don’t fault me for using a word in the title as a word to describe this movie. It is, eloquently, gibbering.) No dialogue here; no dialogue needed. The actor in this piece says more with his expressions and his increasingly frantic actions than some actors do with a full range of vocalizations. You can see his frustrations. You can feel his confusion and mounting terror. Watching his descent into madness—or is it simply his daily tribulations?—is a harrowing experience. I’ve watched this film multiple times. The musical score is spot on perfect, driving the tension. The occasional cacophonies are stark and jarring, and fit with the unsettling smash cut edits of bicycle gears and chains. Those shots of bicycle chains fascinated me, because on first viewing I thought they were nothing more than filler bits. I’ve since come to realize those bicycle chains are a visual analogy of Mr. Ghormley: they are endless, repeating loops, just as he is in his situation. To have such an unexpected deepness to a short film puts many commercial, big budget productions to shame. Directed and written by Steve Daniels.
People say there are no original ideas in Hollywood; that everything is simply recycled and overdone. To that I reply that you need to turn your attention away from Hollywood and look for these and other gems done by independent filmmakers not under the pressure to spoon-feed the average audience and make millions and millions of dollars. Original ideas are out there! These short horror films, and many others, are available if you look for them.
Thanks for reading! Sign up for my newsletter to get my Guide to 75 Binge-Worthy TV Shows for free.