The horror genre has been thriving in the past few years, and there seems to be no shortage of creativity when it comes to figuring out new and inventive ways to spook audiences. That said, one of the most efficient ways to experience horror is in its shorter formats. Horror short films have grown increasingly popular in the last ten years, and they have become a true staple of Internet culture. So, with the Halloween season being in full force, let’s celebrate these gems and take a look at those who shocked the world beyond this realm. Here are 10 incredible horror short films that will keep you up at night:
10 Alone Time (2014)
This 2014 horror-thriller directed by Rob Blackhurst tells the story of a young woman named Ann, who is feeling a bit overwhelmed by her busy and fast paced day-to-day life in New York City. Feeling constantly stressed at work and at home, Ann decides to go on an impromptu hiking trip all by herself, in an attempt to get some quiet and recharge her batteries. We watch her go through her peaceful day off in the mountains, before she realizes that something incredibly wrong has been happening the entire time.
The brilliant writing of Alone Time is what makes it so effective in its approach to horror. It is a slow, quiet and intelligent movie that does a fantastic job at luring you into a false sense of security, by using a relatable character to get you through the story. And while it doesn’t use any jump-scares and loud noises to get you, the twist alone will send chills down your spine, manifesting as a disturbingly realistic instance that could happen to anybody in real life.
9 I Heard It Too (2014)
Taking inspiration from the famous two sentence horror story, directors Matt Sears and Tim Knight bring to life one of the most bone-chilling horror shorts ever made. I Heard It Too tells the story of Stephanie, a little girl who is woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of her mother’s voice repeatedly calling her from downstairs. Confused, she gets up to go to her, but as she reaches the stairs, her mother grabs her and takes her into another room. She holds Stephanie tight in her arms and tells her the now famous line: “I heard it too.” What ensues is a tense and terrifying quest to discover who (or what) was calling from downstairs.
Matt Sears has built an incredible body of work when it comes to horror, namely with his shorts The Sky, Give Her Back, or the award winning Charlie Boy. That said, I Heard It Too is without the shadow of a doubt his masterpiece of the genre, and a sign that we can all expect more scares from him in the future. The film keeps you on the edge of your seat from the very start, and it doesn’t let go until it ends.
8 The Sermon (2018)
An isolated church community lead by an extremist preacher captures and tortures one of its own members, a middle-aged lady who was caught having an affair with another woman. The preacher’s daughter, who is the other woman, decides that is time for her to break free from the church’s excessive practices. So, she comes up with a plan.
As far as psychological horror goes, few movies have left a mark in recent memories the way The Sermon has. Director Dean Puckett offers a unique take on the genre with an award winning film reminiscing of Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar, completed with a beautiful vintage aesthetic that immerses the audience in the story’s infinitely dense atmosphere. The Sermon pulls no punches, and the message behind it is just as scary as the film itself.
7 STUCCO (2019)
This weird and unsettling flick was written and directed by Janina Gavankar (Star Wars, True Blood, The Morning Show), and she also stars as the main character J, an agoraphobic and emotionally broken woman who accidentally knocks a hole in the wall of her new home while trying to hang a piece of art. She realizes the wall was hiding what appears to be a secret room, but she doesn’t want to break it further. As she waits to get the original blueprints of the house, strange things start to happen to J, and soon, the possibilities of what might be hiding behind the wall begin to take over her mind.
Gavankar’s impeccable directorial debut won her the SXSW 2020 Special Jury Prize, and an immense amount of praise for both her writing and her performance. STUCCO is raw, unapologetic, and as unusual as a movie can be. Yet another welcomed entry in the realm of modern psychological horror. Don’t miss this one!
6 There Comes A Knocking (2019)
Emma, a lonely and grieving woman trying to navigate the recent loss of her husband John, installs a new antique door in her home. As she finishes, she realizes the door is locked (which she didn’t notice before installing it) and she is unable to open it without a key. She decides to wait for the next day to deal with it, but things don’t quite turn out that way, because that night, Emma is woken up by strange knocks coming from the other side of the door.
There Comes A Knocking was written and directed by Ryan Connolly, creator of the beloved YouTube channel Film Riot, and was meant as a concept blueprint for a feature film. The movie thrives on the emotional value it brings beyond the scares, making you feel for Emma as she tries to process a horrible tragedy. The imagery is just as beautiful as the story, the acting is top notch, and when the film gets to the creepy stuff, it doesn’t miss.
5 The Jester (2016)
An exhausted young man, coming home from a late night shift on Halloween, stumbles upon a mysterious individual dressed as a jester who wants to perform magic tricks for him. He shows to be quite insistent, so the young man decides to humor him and just goes with it. Unfortunately, the tricks get creepier as they go, and when he tries to get away, the young man begins a horrifying game of cat and mouse as he realizes that the jester is not what he appears to be.
The Jester is a blast. Director and star Colin Crawchuck delivers an insanely entertaining movie, with a terrifying masked antagonist that is so incredibly charismatic (despite the fact that he doesn’t even talk) that you can’t help but kind of love him, even though he does unspeakable things. The jester feels like an unstoppable and mystical force of nature, who’s unpredictable behavior will put you on the edge of your seat as you nervously wait for his next move.
Due to its infinite popularity, The Jester got to have two sequels (from the same director) simply titled The Jester: Chapter 2 and The Jester: Chapter 3, that are just as well executed as the first one. Enjoy!
4 Larry (2017)
This brilliant film, courtesy of director Jacob Chase, tells the story of Joe, a nighttime car-park attendant who is completely bored at his job. Alone in his booth in the middle of the night, Joe finds an old iPad in the Lost and Found box below his desk, and decides to take a peak. There, he comes across the sinister story of Larry, a depressed monster that lives behind a window and is looking for his one true friend. As Joe read through the story, something begins to lurk outside the booth, in the parking lot. It looks like Larry is coming to visit his friend.
What makes Larry so incredibly effective is how claustrophobic it feels. The whole short takes place within the confines of Joe’s tiny booth, which also acts as the only source of light in the scene. Once the light starts flickering, all bets are off. This one is definitely a must. And if you like it, well we’ve got great news for you: Larry has been adapted into a feature film titled Come Play, starring Community star Gillian Jacobs, and is slated to come out in theaters this Halloween.
3 The Smiling Man (2015)
Okay, hold on. There is a good number of horror shorts titled The Smiling Man, so let’s clarify which one we are talking about here: this award winning Smiling Man was directed by A.J. Briones and is about an unnamed little girl who is home alone and suddenly stumbles across a bunch of balloons meticulously displayed around the house. As she follows the balloons and makes her way downstairs, the little girl finds herself face to face with a terrifying being only known as the Smiling Man.
There are no words to describe the anxiety-inducing nightmare the creature in this film is. It is without a doubt one of the scariest horror beings of recent memory, one that could become a new icon of horror cinema if this film is ever given the feature treatment. The Smiling Man definitely leaves an impression, and it will stay with you long after you see it.
2 Behind (2015)
This incredibly clever and creepy Japanese short film was directed by Rick Kawanaka, and follows the night of a young woman working on her computer at home, who grows a bit startled when the door behind her keeps opening by itself. After having to frustratingly get up to close it a few times, she becomes nervous and decides to turn on her webcam to see what exactly is happening behind her.
In classic Japanese Horror fashion, this film is a masterclass of rising tension, and every second feels slightly more uncomfortable than the one that came before. It uses a simple concept and exploits all of its potential and mere minutes. Given its incredible success in Japan back in 2015, Behind became the first in a series known as Alone In The House, that regroups a catalog of short films just as creepy as this one.
1 Lights Out (2013)
There it is. The one, the only, the modern classic. Lights Out follows the petrifying experience of a woman who is about to go to bed, but is stopped dead in her tracks when a silhouette appears in the hallway as she turns off the lights. Alarmed, she flicks the light switch on and off to see who it is, and she comes to the frightening realization that this silhouette only appears in the dark, and moves only when she can’t see it.
This is the short film that broke the internet, back in 2013. Director David F. Sandberg saw his career take a colossal turn after Lights Out, not only by getting to make a feature length version of the film in 2016, but by going on to direct giant Hollywood blockbusters like Annabelle: Creation and Shazam! in the following years. Lights Out is widely considered to be the ultimate horror short, with its brilliant concept still capturing and spooking audiences to this day. If you haven’t seen it yet, do not miss out on it.
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