Horror is always scary stuff — if done right. I’m a big fan of horror fiction and some of my favourite movies are horror movies, and some of my favourite horror movies are short horror movies. In the past I’ve written about some of my favourite horror shorts, including animated films like The Sandman and The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow, and one of my personal favourites The Jigsaw, and I’m back to write about a bunch more.
Naturally, there is a criteria for short horror films to be included on this list. Films have to be: 1) good, 2) scary, or at least inventive or interesting, and most importantly 3) under thirty minutes so you can fit them into your lunch break. If your lunch break is 1 hour long then lucky you.
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1. A Love Story (2018)
Director: Petra Collins
Length: 3 mins
Perhaps the most bizarre movie on this list, A Love Story (ironically( has no story, instead it’s a series of disturbing and downright odd images. But perhaps the weirdest thing about this film is it stars pop singer and former Disney star Selena Gomez.
Directed by Petra Collins, whose other credits include music videos for Selena, Cardi B and Carly Rae Jepsen as well as a starring role in Amazon’s Transparent, the film treats us to such images as a disembodied face floating in a bath, Selena eating an eyeball, and a woman whose face is a bunch of hands, all backed by an unsettling ambient soundtrack.
The strange video first appeared on IGTV, Instagram’s video sharing site that allows for longer videos. As to the purpose of the film? Well I’m sad to say it wasn’t to promote an experimental Selena Gomez album, the film just exists to make you change your underpants.
2. Night Land (2015)
Director: Christian Burnett
Length: 11 mins
Night Land follows a couple, Jake (Christopher Hanvey) and his pregnant wife Sam (Katie Payne), as they drive through the idyllic UK countryside, only to be swallowed into a thick ash cloud that has shrouded the area in darkness.
Of course the biggest mistake they make is getting out of the car. What follows is a Stephen King-esque scenario which sees the couple terrorised by strange black creatures that dwell in the darkness.
The film is backed by a wonderful ambient score that is reminiscent of Brian Eno or Boards of Canada and adds an eerie feel to the already creepy movie. The film was a success too, winning Best Horror Short at the 2016 European Short Film Festival.
3. Deathly (2015)
Director: Mike Williamson
Length: 14 mins
The film starts off hot (no pun intended) as we’re introduced to Richard (Alan Ruck), whose disabled wife died in a house fire. Since then, however, there have been some sinister goings on in the house where Richard now lives alone, and we learn that Richard may not be as innocent as he seems.
Deathly features a clever use of jump scares that adds to the growing tension as well as the smart editing. The film is genuinely scary and makes you question whether the hauntings are real or just in Richard’s head. There aren’t many films that can make an empty wheelchair scary.
The film is stylishly shot too and this, coupled with its music by Clint Mansell, gives Deathly a certain 90s vibe to it, if you ask me. But then again, you didn’t. I have to give a shout out to Jeff Farley for the great makeup effects, but most of my praise has to go to Alan Ruck who makes you feel sorry for him one moment only for you to despise him the next.
4. There Are Monsters (2008)
Director: Jay Dahl
Length: 10 mins
Much like Saw, Lights Out and a whole bunch of others I’ve watched in the past, There Are Monsters is another horror short that was turned into a feature length movie later on. The film follows Maddie (Kristin Langille) and her husband Garth (Stephen Arnold) who are preparing for a party when the former sees a little girl in their backyard. From there, people start noticing those around them acting weird, as if they’re trying too hard to act natural only to seem unnatural.
What I like most about this film is that it doesn’t explain what is happening or why. Often horror films lose their appeal when you find out what’s going on.; When Lights Out explains that the monster is in fact a manifestation of a girl who died by being exposed to sunlight, it makes it less interesting, but in It Follows we never find out exactly what ‘it’ is, or why it’s following. The same goes for There Are Monsters. Who is this little girl? Why are people acting so strangely?
The film has a Dogme 95 feel about it with its handheld camera being shot on location. It frequently uses POV shots to add to the uneasiness, and the opening POV walk through a snowy wood has a slight air of The Evil Dead.
5. The French Doors (2002)
Director: Steve Ayson
Length: 13 mins
A short horror from New Zealand, The French Doors tells the tale of a man (Brett Stewart) who installs French doors on his house while renovating. However, this was his last mistake, as the French doors bring with them an unknown evil.
I’m going to admit that this film isn’t the scariest on this list — it’s not even the most creative — but it is perhaps the most beautiful to look at. The film features some nice cinematography and lighting; there are shots reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick with The Shining coming to mind in particular.
The camerawork, meanwhile, reminds me of other short films from Australasia such as Above The Dust Level, only The French Doors is far more sinister and far less Australian. But for me it’s the lighting that makes this film stand out. Scenes are bathed in beautiful orange sunlight, a sharp contrast to most horror shorts that rely heavily on darkness, which also contrasts to the darkness of the titular doors where the main character is lit by a single light, giving his black silhouette a white outline.
The French Doors is a concept that, I feel, could have offered a lot more than it did. Despite this, it’s still a good film to watch, and at only 13 minutes it’s worth it.
6. The Execution of Mary Stuart (1895)
Director: Alfred Clark
Length: 32 secs
Now on to not only the shortest film on this list, but the oldest, too. The Execution of Mary Stuart from 1895 is perhaps the first film ever made to have a story that goes beyond ‘people walk through a park’ or ‘look a train’. The grainy footage sees Mary Queen of Scots (played by a man called Robert L. Thomae) get beheaded.
While the plot is pretty thin, the film is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it was quite possibly the first film to use trained actors, and is the first film to feature special effects and edits. While they’re laughable by today’s standards, it’s these early innovations that have led film to where it is today.
7. Last Bus Home (2013)
Director: Mark Jackson
Length: 4 mins
A young woman (Alicia Bennett) waits alone on a secluded street for the last bus home after a night out. An intimidating man (Todd Von Joel) waits at the bus stop opposite, but he isn’t exactly what he seems.
The film plays on our fears of being alone at night, it’s something we’ve all experienced at one time or another. By making the main character female, it makes us feel more vulnerable. As a woman alone at night on a secluded street she actually gets off pretty lucky.
There are no big scares here as the Last Bus Home is a lot more subtle, opting for a more chilling, ghostly approach. The film would be perfect for A Ghost Story For Christmas.
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