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.
60. The Alphabet (1969)
The Alphabet is a chilling avant-garde exercise in unease by the master David Lynch. This experimental piece showcases the director’s early fascination with the uncanny and his ability to create nightmare imagery with just a few elements. Featuring Lynch’s then-wife, Peggy Lynch, as the main protagonist, The Alphabet explores disturbing themes relating to childhood fears and unfolds through a series of disjointed and surreal images, accompanied by a haunting soundtrack. The use of stop-motion animation adds to the unsettling atmosphere, leaving viewers disoriented and intrigued. The title refers to the protagonist’s horrifying obsession with reciting the alphabet in her sleep. As the film progresses, the recitation takes on a sinister tone, representing a descent into a nightmarish realm. Through this symbolic narrative, Lynch delves into the psychological depths of the human mind, uncovering buried fears and anxieties. While not exactly horror, it nonetheless offers a unique viewing experience for fans of unconventional cinema.
59. Don’t Look Away (2017)
A woman is staying at her boyfriend’s place while he’s out of town but unfortunately, she’s not alone. An award winning short (which honestly, doesn’t mean much since the vast majority of the shorts on this list have won awards from festivals no one has heard of but in the case of this one, it actually deserves it) that has just a handful of elements to deliver maximum frights. There’s a phone, a closet and a camera. Oh, and of course, whatever is in the closet.
58. Vicious (2015)
A young woman who is getting over the recent death of her sister, comes home one night to find her front door unlocked and suspects she may not be alone in the house. Unless you have multiple roommates with some dogs and/or a ton of weapons scattered around to properly defend yourself, if you come home and find your front door unlocked, don’t go in that house. The police are more than happy to check to see if there’s any ghosts or naked men covered in blood hiding in your closet. Unfortunately the main character in this doesn’t back the blue and ends up covered in red. Because she’s murdered.
57. The Passing (2014)
Two detectives investigate an empty house and encounter a scared woman searching for her missing daughter. It’s one thing to deliver solid jump scares or a creepy vibe but to deliver both as well as a twist, truly sets this short apart from the rest. The Passing could easily be transformed into a full-length film. There’s enough meat on this bone to properly be explored and expanded upon. It has all the elements to make for a great Blumhouse acquisition. Get James Wan on the phone pronto.
56. Beau (2011)
Even if he never made a single feature film, Ari Aster would still be considered one of the most interesting voices in film today. His mind is a fucked up void that sucks you in, chews you up and spits you out. A dry run for Beau Is Afraid, Beau is about a neurotic middle-aged man whose trip to visit his mother becomes delayed indefinitely when his keys are mysteriously taken from his door. He is subsequently haunted by an increasingly sinister chain of upsetting events. Similar to the Phoenix film in plot and tone but wholly different in execution, Beau feels like an alternate reality version of the same story where a different man with the same name is stuck in the same hellscape. The film is not available on YouTube but can be viewed here.
55. On My Way (2016)
A police officer is on his way to a Halloween party when he realizes that everyone in town has gone crazy. Filmed in one continuous shot, On My Way is as ambitious as it alarming. Colin Krawchuk has been making shorts for a long time, with his biggest series being The Jester (which just got adapted into a feature length film this year) and as good as most of them are, On My Way is by far his best. It has a great premise executed flawlessly with an exceptional ratcheting of tension. And like some of the entries on this list, since it’s set on Halloween, it should now be included in your seasonal watchlist.
54. Latch (2017)
A teenage girl is dared by her brother to play a game in the closet. If horror movies have taught me anything, it’s the games, along with dares, are about as foolish as walking in the woods at night by yourself. Especially if that game has multiple steps that results in something horrific happening. Latch is a great example of what happens when insatiable curiosity, the fear of being called a chicken and a bad idea crash into each other. Closets are meant for clothes, storing shit you don’t want to look at and kissing games at parties. They’re not nightmare factories but as this short demonstrates, anywhere and anything can be made frightening.
53. Unedited Footage of a Bear (2014)
Released as part of Adult Swim’s Infomercials series, Unedited Footage of a Bear takes a disturbing and surreal approach to the horror genre. The short starts innocently enough, presenting itself as a nature documentary about a bear. However, it quickly descends into a deeply unsettling experience as it transforms into an eerie and mind-bending exploration of paranoia, fear, and the blurred lines between reality and fiction. As the short progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that there is something deeply wrong with the characters and their surroundings. The narrative takes unexpected turns as the line between reality and delusion blurs, leaving the audience unsure of what is real and what is imagined. This ambiguity contributes to the sense of unease and dread that permeates the entire short.
52. Don’t Move (2013)
Clocking in at just under fifteen minutes, this thrilling and intense short takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride of fear and suspense. A group of friends gather for an innocent game night in an old abandoned house. As the night progresses, they stumble upon an ominous message scrawled on the wall, “Don’t Move.” Ignoring the warning, they unwittingly awaken a powerful and malevolent force that begins to torment them. One of the strengths of this short film is its ability to build tension and suspense effectively within its short runtime. From the moment the group discovers the message on the wall, there is a palpable sense of unease that lingers throughout the entire film. The dark and foreboding atmosphere adds to the overall sense of dread and the whiplash inducing pace helps maximize scares.
51. Doppelganger (2010)
A woman named Sarah becomes haunted by her doppelganger, leading to a series of spine-chilling encounters. One of the strongest aspects of Doppelganger is its atmosphere. Daywalt masterfully creates a sense of unease throughout the film, using dim lighting, eerie sound design, and claustrophobic camera angles to build tension. The setting, a seemingly ordinary suburban home, adds to the psychological horror as the doppelganger infiltrates Sarah’s personal space, blurring the lines between reality and nightmares. It’s crazy that the director would find much more success in the world of children’s novels since his shorts, including the legendary Bedfellows and this, are so pants shittingly terrifying.
What are some of your favorite horror shorts? Maybe they will show up later in the list!