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.
40. Malacostraca (2018)
A failing writer loses his grip on reality as his wife grows pregnant with their child. A surreal short that mixes Lynch with Lovecraft, Malacostra is an arthouse aquatic horror that’s not afraid to be weird. Beautifully shot (seriously, the cinematography in this is next level), with nightmare imagery that’ll stick with you and an ending impossible to forget, Malacostra is as impeccably made as it is impossibly strange.
39. Munchausen (2013)
Named for the phenomenon of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (a behavior pattern in which a caregiver deliberately exaggerates, fabricates, and/or induces physical, psychological, behavioral, and/or mental health problems in those who are in their care), Munchausen is a silent short about a boy (Liam Aiken) about to go off to college, and as his overprotective mother (Bonnie Bedelia) who goes to great lengths to keep him from leaving her. Yet another trip inside the twisted mind of Ari Aster and his uncomfortable mommy issues. It’s not as scary as some of his other shorts or as disturbing but it’s arguably the most artistic.
38. Don’t Look Away (2017)
Sharing the same name with another short on this list, *this* Don’t Look Away is about a brother and sister who see a strange man in their back yard in a tattered suit and a burlap sack over his head and are instructed by their father not to take their eyes off of him. They of course fuck up his instructions and then have to deal with the repercussions. Acting similarly to the Weeping Angels from Dr. Who, the mysterious figure only moves when you take your eyes off of him. What he does when he catches up to you and his the father knows about it, you’re going to have to watch the short to find out.
37. The Stylist (2016)
A lonely hairstylist with an unnerving desire to escape her disappointing reality decides to seize her destiny when her final client of the evening arrives with the request to look perfect. Later expanded into a feature length film with the same plot, The Stylist works equally as well in its original condensed form. The motivation of the main character, the build up to what they’re going to do and the end result, are perfectly conveyed in a short amount of time.
36. Shi (2015)
A down on his luck man decides to try and fix the problems in his life with the help of a witch in the woods. In addition to “all style, no substance”, I think we need to create another category called “all vibes, no story”. I think that’s a better fit for mood pieces that prioritize nailing a feeling over crafting a strong narrative. Shi doesn’t really explain the reporter’s questions of the plot (the who, what, where, why, Etc.) but instead focuses on imagery that will haunt the viewer. And since it nails the vibe its going for, it shows that not everything needs to be well written, they just have to be well crafted and that’s certainly the case with Shi.
35. Saw (2003)
Before it became one of the biggest horror franchises in existence, Saw started as a proof of concept short. The difference between the two is the number of people and traps. The film has two men trapped in a sadistic setup where one has to kill the other to save his family, whereas the short has a survivor of a reverse bear trap (Leigh Whannell) giving his testimonial. It’s a stripped down version of the film we all know and love but all the elements are still there.
34. Bits & Pieces (2013)
Neighbors who are competing for the best Halloween treat take their obsession with victory to extremes and learn why some treats are literally to die for. Just like the treats at the center of the story, Bits & Pieces is short and sweet. Like a kid devouring candy so fast, they’re not even looking at the wrappers they’re opening, this short wastes zero time establishing the premise to get to the punchline. Which, if you’ve seen any story about a secret ingredient, you’re way ahead of but since it’s executed in a fun way, it doesn’t matter how unoriginal it is. Plus, anything with Larry Fessenden is automatically a winner.
33. Night Bus (2022)
If you’ve ever taken the bus during the dead of night, you know how unsettling some of the passengers can be. They shamble in, talk to no one and emit an aura of eerie you can’t quite put your finger on. They might as well be living ghosts that only exist for the short amount of time their ride is. Night Bus presents the question, “what if one of those passengers that feels like a ghost, actually was?” What if we brush up against the supernatural and we don’t even know it or worse yet, what if we immediately know we’re encountering something we shouldn’t.
32. House Call (2014)
A disturbed man shows up at a dentist’s house in the middle of the night, demanding to have his teeth pulled. With a set up that juicy, anything less than an amazing ending would be automatically disappointing. It could be the best produced short on this list with the best looking cinematography, the strongest performances and have a score by John Williams himself but if all it had was that premise, as good as it is, no one would remember it. It had to nail the why behind the man’s desire to have his teeth ripped out at such a late hour and without spoiling it, all I’ll say is, you’ll most definitely be pleased with the reason.
Here’s the link:
31. Dead Hearts (2014)
Outside of the work of Tim Burton, there are very few examples of love stories infused with the macabre. Everyone knows Hollywood only produces love stories involving two of the prettiest and blandest characters imaginable in order to appeal to the widest demographic. Thankfully the director of Dead Hearts didn’t get that memo. This has the gentle whimsy of a young love at the center of most Wes Anderson film mixed with topics and subject matter he would never touch such as taxidermy, biker werewolves and Kung Fu. The end result is a one of a kind love story made for the Hot Topic crowd.
What are some of your favorite horror shorts? Maybe they will show up later in the list!