In the realm of horror, brevity can sometimes intensify a thrill, leaving you clutching your book or clinging to the edge of your seat. Some of literature’s most enduring nightmares are short-form. Neither MR James nor HP Lovecraft have a novel to their name, yet they’re amongst the most famous authors of horror and it could be argued King and Barker’s most successful works are their short stories.
In the world of film, there are numerous examples of directors using shorts as a launchpad to bigger and better things. Huge directors such as Raimi, Wan, Waititi, and Burton all got their start with shorts and newer directors such as Bruckner, Sandberg, Muschietti and Jennifer Kent are all finding similar success with theirs as well. Based on how many there are and how well most of them do on YouTube and other platforms, there’s clearly an appetite for bite-size horror and the market doesn’t look to be drying up anytime soon.
In this list, we’ll delve into some of the greatest horror short films ever created, each possessing the unique ability to send shivers down your spine in mere minutes. So, let’s dim the lights, embrace the darkness, and venture into a world where fear lurks around every corner.
These are the 100 Greatest Horror Shorts of All Time.
30. The Black Hole (2008)
A sleep-deprived office worker photocopies a “Black Hole” late one night. Suddenly, the possibilities seem endless. Directors Philip Sansom and Olly Williams ingeniously took the ACME black hole from numerous Looney Tunes cartoons and decided to turn it into a morality play. What would you do with all that power? Would greed get the best of you? A clever idea with a great ending, The Black Hole is the textbook definition of the perfect short.
29. Fear Wish (2020)
A man is sitting on a couch staring at a large mound of money that materialized by his fireplace. On the telephone, we hear his friend walking him through the steps that he needs to take in order to keep that money. The first wish was something he wants. $50,000 for his sick wife’s treatment. The second wish is something he fears. If he can survive the second wish, he gets to keep the money, if he can’t, well… Fear Wish is one of those shorts you can tell will be turned into a movie. It’s only a matter of time until it’s optioned. But until then, it still works as an effectively creepy little tale.
28. Still (2017)
In the dead of night, a loud thumping knock at the door startles and confuses the woman inside. Who could that be at this kind of hour? From inside the house, the young woman desperately tries to remain calm but everything is telling her the thing outside is insidious. Who is it (or what is it), what do they want, can she prevent it from getting inside and more importantly, will she be able to protect herself or flee if it does. If you’re a fan of the home invasion sub genre, Still should be added to your list immediately.
27. Rakka (2017)
An alien race known as the “Rakka” has taken over the Earth and enslaved humanity and a small group of human resistance fighters (lead by Sigourney Weaver) fight back. More of a sci-fi action story than a horror one, the short is nevertheless a dark and gritty exploration of the invasion and subsequent subjugation of the human race. It delves into the psychological and physical devastation brought upon by the Rakka, highlighting the hopelessness and despair of the remaining humans as they fight to survive. The use of violence and gore in Rakka is unflinching, creating a disturbing and unsettling atmosphere throughout the film. Like every Neill Blomkamp short that made this list, it’s far better than anything else he’s done.
26. Salt (2017)
A ring of salt is the only protection a mother and her daughter have against demonic force. Not a single person who saw this short was surprised to see its director make the jump to Hollywood. Rob Savage (Host, Dashcam, The Boogeyman) showed immediate promise and talent with this fast paced action short. He was able to create a story you understood immediately, with the threat and stakes fleshed out, all under two minutes. The effectiveness of this short should be taught in film schools.
25. Manifold (2013)
Anthony Scott Burns is a visionary director who will eventually knock it out of the park. His first two features were solid (Our House and Come True), his segment in Holidays (Father’s Day) was far and away the best one and his short Lost Boy is slick and ambitious. The man knows how to deliver a good looking movie, it’s just the plots that usually drag him down. At just eight minutes, Manifold doesn’t have that issue. While a small-town sheriff investigates a mysterious multiple murder scene, a brilliant young software engineer is bizarrely linked to the crime and to a much bigger conspiracy. Because of its short run time, it has all of his strengths and none of his weaknesses. It’s the best thing he’s directed until he eventually crafts his inevitable masterpiece.
24. Something In The Garden (2021)
It’s nighttime in the suburbs and the stillness is interrupted by a strange presence, a creeping being that lurks in the dark. There’s definitely something in the garden but what is it? Something In the Garden (also known as Algo en el Jardín) is made by Chilean animation filmmaker Marcos Sánchez and it looks absolutely stunning. He has a unique style that perfectly lends itself to horror.
23. Cerdita (2018)
Overweight teen Sara lives in the shadow of a clique of cool girls holidaying in her village. Not even her childhood friend Claudia defends her when she’s bullied at the local pool in front of an unknown man. Finally, her clothes are stolen and she must get home wearing only her bikini. Her long walk home will mark the rest of her life. Remade in 2022 as Piggy, this short, while lacking the emotional resonance of its feature length counterpart, still packs a helluva punch.
22. Three Kings (2022)
Old wounds and past traumas are met head on when a group metalheads play a paranormal game that turns out to be a dark ritual. Directed by one of the members of the Internet collective known as Sugar Pine 7 (one of which also directed The Woods), Three Kings is a dread filled fantastic occult horror short with excellent writing and powerful performances. I have no idea if Sugar Pine 7 is still together or what they’re doing now but if they keep producing shorts this good, I’ll keep watching.
21. Monster (2005)
Directed by Jennifer Kent, who later gained acclaim for her feature film The Babadook (which was spun off of this), Monster showcases her ability to create an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. The plot revolves around a mother and her young daughter who are terrorized by a mysterious monster lurking in their home. The film effectively builds tension from the very beginning, using atmospheric cinematography and clever editing techniques to keep the audience on edge. The sense of isolation and vulnerability of the characters is palpable, making the viewer feel their escalating fear. It effectively utilizes its limited resources and time to deliver a chilling experience that lingers long after the credits roll.
What are some of your favorite horror shorts? Maybe they will show up later in the list!