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.
70. Still Life (2005)
Sleep-deprived, low on gas and anxious to get home, a pill-popping driver high on caffeine, passes through a wintry small town but he gets distracted for only a second, and as a result, he hits what appears to be a china mannequin. Much to his surprise, the whole town is populated by inanimate mannequins, strangely, however, a set of eyes seems to be glued on his back, watching his every move. While not as scary as clowns, mannequins still trigger that uncanny valley part of our brain that made them slightly unsettling. Multiply the number of mannequins by their location (a mannequin in a department store is nowhere near as scary as a random mannequin in a forest) and they become that much more unsettling.
69. Firebase (2017)
Set during the Vietnam War, Firebase follows a group of American soldiers who encounter a otherworldly force in the jungle. One of the strengths of Firebase is its unique blend of horror and war genres. It effectively combines the tense and gritty atmosphere of a war film with the eerie and supernatural elements of a horror story. The setting of the Vietnam War provides a backdrop of chaos and violence, which adds an extra layer of intensity to the narrative. The special effects are particularly impressive, showcasing Blomkamp’s skill in creating visually stunning and realistic CGI. The film’s use of CGI is seamless, enhancing the supernatural elements of the story without feeling overdone or distracting. The creatures and otherworldly phenomena depicted in the film are genuinely unsettling and visually striking. This short is proof positive that District 9 wasn’t a fluke, Blomkamp can pull it together when he wants to.
68. The Ten Steps (2004)
Caught in a power outage while the parents are out to dinner, their young daughter is told to go down into the basement to fix the fuse. Just ten steps to the fuse. When they first moved into their house, she had a panic attack in the basement, brought on by stories that the devil once appeared down there. She needed her father’s help to get up those ten steps but her father isn’t there now to guide her through the impossible darkness of the basement. It’s just her and those ten steps. Just ten steps to turn on the power. But what if there really is something down there? The Ten Steps is a masterclass in suspense and feels like the blueprint most directors have used to craft the perfect bite-sized horror masterpiece.
67. Alma (2009)
A young girl named Alma ventures into an eerie toy store and is drawn to a doll that bears a striking resemblance to herself. One of the notable aspects of Alma is its impeccable animation. The attention to detail and the overall visual aesthetics are truly stunning. The textures, lighting, and character designs are beautifully executed, creating a dark and atmospheric tone. The storytelling in Alma is done without any dialogue, relying solely on visual cues and sound design to convey the narrative. This is a testament to the film’s ability to engage without traditional dialogue, as it successfully evokes emotions and feelings through its visuals. But as good as the animation and storytelling is, it’s the ending that’ll grab the viewer. Without giving away too much, Alma’s encounter with the doll ultimately reveals a chilling discovery about the toy store and her own fate. The twist is unexpected, leaving viewers with a sense of unease and lingering questions long after the film ends.
66. Play Time (2013)
A woman is asleep in bed when her television turns on in the living room. There are slow burn shorts that prioritize mood over scares, humorous shorts that take what is seemingly a terrifying idea and twist it to make it funny and there are shorts that hit the ground running and never stop. Play Time is definitely the latter. It wastes zero time delivering pulse pounding spooks. Make sure you have something to hold on to while you watch it, you’ll definitely need to clutch it tight.
65. Geometria (1987)
As well known as he is, I bet you had no idea Guillermo del Toro had a couple of horror shorts and a couple of episodes of a Mexican horror anthology show under his belt before making The Devil’s Backbone. In Geometria (or Geometry for those of you that failed Spanish), a kid summons a demon to help him do his math homework and it predictably doesn’t go as planned. Filled with his trademark love of monster effects and humor, the short offers a glimpse into the genius he’ll become in just a few years.
64. The Backwater Gospel (2011)
This dark and atmospheric piece takes place in a small, desolate town plagued by death and despair. It tells the story of a town haunted by a sinister preacher, who prophesies the death of the next person to enter the church. The townspeople are consumed by fear and paranoia as they await their inevitable fate. The film explores themes of religion, morality, and the human condition, shedding light on the destructive power of blind faith. The Backwater Gospel combines elements of Western and horror genres, creating a haunting and thought-provoking experience while also providing visually striking animation.
63. Is That You? (2017)
Extremes are always scary. Something massive in scale, like a Cthulhu, is just as spine-chilling as a murderous doll with a knife. The same can be said about the speed in which a killer is after you. Something running at you at full speed is petrifying because it forces you to confront danger immediately but something just standing there, looking at you? That’s a whole different level of hair raising because you don’t know what they want. Whitney is at home on Halloween night when she sees someone outside her house. Since it’s set on Halloween, Is That You? should be added to your seasonal rotation of yearly rewatchables.
62. Behind the Door (2013)
Created as part of the “Who’s There Film Challenge,” Behind the Door is simple as it is effective. A young man hears a knock at his door with a voice asking to come in. Knowing it’s a supernatural entity trying to kill him, the man refuses to let it in but the creature is clever and tenacious. A clever take on the vampire mythos, Behind the Door gets by on its great sound design (few things are as creepy as persistent knocking at night coupled with the pleas of a desperate stranger) and moody atmosphere.
61. Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared (2011)
Before it became an Internet phenomenon that spawned multiple entries and even a TV show, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared was an unsettling short that explored themes of creativity, conformity, and the dangers of blindly accepting societal norms. It’s a surreal and thought-provoking piece that quickly gained a cult following for its unconventional approach to storytelling. Directed by Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, the film combines live-action and puppetry to create a visually stunning and disturbing world. The story revolves around a group of colorful and seemingly innocent puppets who start off engaged in cheerful activities, only to descend into a nightmarish and surreal experience. Furthermore, the film’s use of dark humor and grotesque imagery creates an uncanny and unsettling atmosphere. Each puppet character has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies, adding an element of unpredictability and discomfort. The film’s unconventional narrative structure and the unexpected twists keep the audience engaged throughout, leaving them with lingering questions and a profound impact.
What are some of your favorite horror shorts? Maybe they will show up later in the list!