As it’s halloween, I’ve been getting into the mood by watching some horror films. There are lots of great classics out there, but people are too busy to watch long films these days. Therefore, I’ve put together a list of my favourite short horror films that are under 30 minutes. Enjoy!
1. Saw (2003)
Long before Saw was a tired old concept stretched out to too many films, it was a short film. Directed by James Wan and starring Leigh Whannell (who reprised his role for the 2004 feature film), the story follows David who is telling a police officer the story of how he was kidnapped and forced to kill another man in order to save his own life.
Regardless of how many dreadful Saw films there were, the 2004 feature film, and this short film from a year earlier, still hold up in my opinion. The film’s story is so clever and gruesome that you feel almost uncomfortable, but it leaves you wanting more.
2. Lights Out (2013)
Another short film that was turned into a feature film, 2013’s Lights Out stars Lotta Losten (who, just like the guy from Saw, would reprise her role for the 2016 full length feature) who is getting ready for bed, but upon turning out the light sees a figure at the end of the hall. She tapes the light switch down (in case gravity reverses and is so strong that the switch goes up turning the lights off) but this doesn’t help as whatever was in the hallway just turns the light off themselves. As the thing runs towards Lotta’s room she hides under the covers (the safest place from monsters as any child will tell you) only for her bedside lamp to flicker, and upon poking her out from under the covers she sees the bedroom door is open, and then…
It’s an effective film no doubt, and it does use jump scares regularly (there are three altogether), but it’s done so cleverly you can’t be mad. The film opens with the sound of rain falling, which can make you jump on it’s own, and it builds up to a subtle and creepy scare.
3. The Sandman (1991)
If the animation in this film looks familiar, it’s because it was directed by Paul Berry who worked on films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. The film is a re-telling of the Sandman character who puts people to sleep. A young child is sent to bed in his large and terrifying house, wind howls, floorboards creak, and shadows run across the walls. He manages to get to the safety of his bed… but something is in the house. Enter The Sandman, who looks a bit like the Judderman from the old Metz advert.
The film has a sense of German Expressionism, and brings to mind The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with it’s misshapen walls, doors and windows. It’s also a must see for any Nightmare Before Christmas fans, but don’t go expecting a magical musical romp, The Sandman’s ending is quite frankly shocking. The animation is smooth and seamless, which is lacking in a lot of stop motion films these days.
4. Don’t Move (2013)
Don’t Move opens with a bunch of gut wrenching squelchy noises before we get a shot of a bloody Ouija board and tarot cards. A group of people stand dead still in a bloody house and we get a shot of a dead guy sitting at a table. There’s something in the house, some kind of smoke demon that kills anyone who dares to move.
Don’t Move is a tense and gory affair, so if blood and guts is more your thing, go for this. The film is very moody, the lighting helps create the perfect mood and with the unseen ouija scene, there is a lot to expand on here, Don’t Move is a short film crying out for a full length remake.
5. Skypemare (2013)
The great thing about doing this lest is it meant I got the chance to write about some of my favourite horror shorts, like Lights Out and Crooked Rot, and it also gave me the chance to check out films I’d never seen, and when I read the title “Skypemare” I knew I had to watch this. It’s Halloween, Alison is talking to Jenna over Skype when something terrifying happens, leaving Alison helplessly watching the horror unfold… but there’s a twist.
The film cleverly builds a sickening feeling of dread. We see a news report of an escaped serial killer, a shadow appears behind Jenna that draws ever closer. It’s a tense horror film that will even make you laugh.
6. Peekers (2008)
Larry is about to sit down to a very tasty looking breakfast before his neighbour Zach asks him to come over to his house and take a look at something, but something seems off, he clearly doesn’t want Larry to take a look at his boiler. His wife is upstairs, even though she’s supposed to be in Cleveland, even calling him from Cleveland ten minutes ago, and Zach believes this isn’t his wife, something’s wrong with her, so Larry calls to her, but the only response he gets from her is laughter, and when Zach calls his wife in Cleveland, she’s still there… so who is this imposter?
The film has a creepy vibe to it, the actions and taunting of his elderly neighbours is almost childlike, and, just like all good horror movies, nothing is explained. The film will leave you scratching your head and wondering what happened next.
7. The Little Witch (2013)
For most of these films I just write a brief synopsis and leave it at that so’s not to spoil the ending, but with this film I just have to talk about that ending, so to avoid spoilers be sure the watch the film first.
A man plays with his young daughter before carrying her up to bed. He tucks her in and before he leaves she asks him to check for monsters under the bed. The father obliges, expecting to find nothing… but he does find something. He finds his daughter, distraught and crying, she says “Daddy there’s someone on my bed.” and the credits roll.
The ending is so creepy and chilling that it’ll make the hairs on your neck stand up, and it’s so cleverly done as well. A similar film, Tuck Me In, was made a year later, but I chose this one because the delivery is so much better and, well, this one came first.
8. Crooked Rot (2008)
It was tempting to put Salad Fingers in this list, but while it may be David Firth’s best known creation, he has created so much that it’s unfair to focus on one thing. Crooked Rot is an experimental short that uses stop motion effects to create a creepy atmosphere.
It really is a sight to behold that can confuse, shock, and even disturb the viewer. Nothing makes sense, nothing is clear, it’s a series of bizarre images accompanied by the perfect score by Marcus Fjellström.
9. Human Form (2014)
And now some horror from Korea. A young school girl goes to a plastic surgeon with a drawing of what she wants to look like, but said surgeon turns her down, but before the girl leaves we see the surgeon’s bizarre, pointed doll-like face. At home the girl has dinner her family, all of whom have the same face. She wants to look like everyone else to fit in, and she will do whatever it takes to get the look she wants.
It’s a clever film that makes us ask ourselves if what we and the media perceive as beauty is truly beautiful. And like most of the films on this list, the film is more creepy and isn’t full of scares. We never get to see the girl’s face in the end, we just see her families blank expressions as they look upon their daughter.
10. The Cat With Hands (2001)
We open to see two men drawing water from a well, the older of the two tells the story of a young boy who came face to face with a strange creature, a cat with hands. The man continues as he realises the person he’s talking to isn’t what he seems.
It’s a strange and surreal film with bizarre imagery. Switching between stop motion and live action, the film makes you feel like you’re watching a strange dream, or rather, a nightmare.
11. LOT254 (2012)
A man who collects cameras (played by Adrian Schiller) has an old camera labeled LOT254. The camera seems to be broken, so the man goes about restoring said camera, which he successfully does. However, upon viewing movie inside, he probably wishes he hadn’t bothered.
The film uses jump scares to shock the viewer, but it’s not all about the scares. The camera collector’s room is dark, claustrophobic and full of ancient cameras, giving it a distinctly dead feel. The collector’s fear rubs off on us, leading to a terrifying finale.
12. Mama (2008)
Another short film that was turned into a feature length film here, Mama opens with a girl sleeping, a second girl backs her way into the room and tells her sister that they have to go. Like most of these films, there’s something in the house, a woman who, in a scene that was reshot for the movie, chases them up the stairs. The woman follows them walking right up to the camera before the film ends, leaving the fate of the girls unknown.
A lot of these shorts are set in people’s houses, and there’s a reason for that. Firstly if you’re making an independent short horror film then it’s cheap to film in your own house or a friend’s house. Secondly we feel safe in our own houses, and when something invades that supposed safe place it makes us feel vulnerable. The short Mama, like I said, was remade into a full length film, but in my opinion, the creepy monster flick original is much better than the CGI heavy remake.
13. The Outer Darkness part 1 (2015)
A group of people meet for what seems to be a group therapy session. A young man talks about a voice that lead to his drug addiction. The priest who leads the group introduces Jenny, a new member of the group. She tells the story of how she and her husband attempted to bring back their dead baby girl by playing a spin the wheel type game lead by a strange man. Little do they know the penalty for losing is dire.
It’s a highly polished horror short that looks like it could be part of a weekly series, and quite frankly should be. It’s a cautionary tale with a horrifying twist, it’s cool, it’s sleek, it’s stylish, stop reading and start watching
14. The Smiling Man (2015)
A little girl is home alone watching TV. She follows a trail of balloons (because children are too young to realise when something horrific is up) which lead her to the kitchen where some kind of creature awaits (although he just looks like a guy covered in flour). The creature performs magic for the little girl, who uncharacteristically doesn’t sh*t herself and run away. The creature wipes blood onto his face… and that’s where I’ll leave you for now.
The film combines atmosphere with intrigue, what is this creature? Who are they? Why are they here? None of these are explained, which just racks up the horror.
15. Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Un Chien Andalou, otherwise known as An Andalusian Dog, is silent short film from 1929, making it the oldest film on this list, and when a film is directed by Luis Buñuel and written by Salvador Dali, you know it’s going to be weird. There’s not much plot to write about, more a series of surrealist images. Opening with a woman having her eyeball sliced open by a straight razor, we see such bizarre images like a man with a hole in his hand where ants crawl out of, and a man dragging two grand pianos in which are two dead horses, and two priests (one of which is played by Salvador Dali himself), all of which appears out of nowhere.
While it is it’s images which make it so familiar (especially the opening shot), it is more than a collection of bizarre scenes, there’s a lot more going on. Bunuel wanted to insult the French bourgeoisie, but was disheartened when it was a success amongst the bourgeoisie, stating “What can I do about the people who adore all that is new, even when it goes against their deepest convictions, or about the insincere, corrupt press, and the inane herd that saw beauty or poetry in something which was basically no more than a desperate impassioned call for murder?” Famed film critic Roger Ebert called the film the most famous short film ever made, and he was probably right too.
When I did this list I wanted the films to be under 30 minutes, as most lunch breaks are rarely any shorter than 30 minutes, there were however two horror classics that I wanted to talk about, but since they were over 30 minutes they were too long, so I’ve put them separately from the actual list.
1. Within the Woods (1978)
Sam Raimi’s early short is a precursor to the Evil Dead franchise, even including the same camera work where the camera runs through the woods, the swinging bench swinging by itself, and stars Bruce Campbell. A group of friends go to a remote cabin (where have I heard that before?) where one of them desecrates an Indian burial ground. If you’ve seen The Evil Dead, you’ll know what’s coming next.
It’s an interesting film to watch, and a must see for any horror or Sam Raimi fans. The low quality of the film adds to the creepiness of the film, with the camera even cutting out to static every now and then, and while I’m sure that was done on accident, it is something you’d see a lot in found footage films.
2. La Cabina (1972)
A classic Spanish horror movie here. A middle aged man enters a phone box to make a call, but finds he can’t get out afterwards, the door’s stuck, and no one can open it. Eventually some men come to see to the box but rather than letting him out, they haul the box onto the back of a truck and parade him around the streets… That’s when the horror sets in.
It’s a classic shock ending that you won’t soon forget, and most of the films on this list, nothing is ever clear. Who are these people who are putting these phone boxes down? How many more of them are there? And why are they doing it?