Before all them internets, short films disappeared into the cinematic ether once their festival runs had ended. Thankfully, this often overlooked and criminally underrated form of filmmaking can now be uploaded onto online platforms, thereby prolonging their shelf life as well as a giving them some much-deserved reappreciation.
These lean, all-killer-no-filler narratives satisfy instant cravings, and what better time to celebrate the joy of horror shorts than now? Having previously waxed lyrical about how the horror genre is the most appropriate indoor viewing considering the scary pandemic times we’re living in, we’ll spare you another lecture. However, we’re treating you to a painstakingly curated list of 18 short films that you can access for free through YouTube, Vimeo and other online platforms. These shorts stand as some of the most exciting, mainstream trope-subverting and inventive horror films out there.
We’ve narrowed it down to recent releases, making sure there’s something for everyone: gore, tension, braiiiiiins, animation, laughs and a merciful lack of cheap jump scares. They’re all available at the click of a mouse, as we’ve even included the links for each one at the bottom of their entries – don’t say we don’t spoil you! And if you don’t like one of them, you can always move on to the next short. Three screams for quick bursts of horror!
So, dim the lights, pour yourself a drink, kick back with your significant other (or a pillow you can clutch in quaking terror), and indulge in the best horror shorts from some of the most talented voices out there.
Screened at 2017’s Down Under Film Festival in Berlin, Feeder is an evocative modern spin on the age-old Faustian legend about blues musician Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil in order to achieve musical mastery. This short film sees a down-on-his-luck musician having to weigh up which lines he’s willing to cross when an unseen entity trades him songwriting inspiration for an increasingly heavy price.
Directed by Christian Rivers – the Kiwi director who’s served as the visual effects supervisor and who’s storyboarded all of Peter Jackson’s films from Braindead to his The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies – Feeder is a twisted, Twilight Zone-riffing gem about the sacrifices one takes for the sake of art. It more than delivers on its premise and boasts a devilish twist that makes it not only a must-see but also a rewarding repeat watch. Just don’t get any ideas when you’re low on inspiration.
Before the Baba dook-dook-dooked
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook was one hell of a calling card and arguably one of last decade’s best horror films. What many don’t know is that Kent’s 2005 short Monster sowed the seeds for that 2014 feature-length debut. It follows a single mother who must protect her overactive son from an entity that haunts their home. Many of The Babadook’s themes are teased, and the short luxuriates in a similar claustrophobic brand of horror, further galvanized by the eerie monochrome and frame composition which beautifully nods to German expressionism.
It’s really worth watching this earlier short, not only to appreciate how The Babadook is the feature this short deserved, but also to witness a promising director at the beginning of her career and how she evolved as a filmmaker. And if you’re looking for other shorts that inspired feature-length films (with less impressive results, it has to be said), we recommend you seek out Andy Muschietti’s Mama (which is infinitely more terrifying than the Guillermo del Toro-produced feature of the same name) and David Sandberg’s excellent Lights Out (another short that outshines its eponymous feature counterpart).
The Devil’s Harmony
Winner of the Raindance Prize for Best UK Short Film and a clear standout at this year’s British Shorts Film Festival, Dylan Holmes Williams’ The Devil’s Harmony is a devilishly playful gem featuring the wonderful Patsy Ferran. Previously seen in Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country and the TV show Jamestown, Ferran plays the captain of an A Cappella club who initially seems like an easy target for school bullies. However, she and her serenading squad are hiding a dark secret…
There are strong shades of Carol Morley’s criminally underseen The Falling here, and as tempting as it may be to cheaply sell The Devil’s Harmony as Pitch Perfect-meets-Carrie or a malevolent twist on High School Musical, it’s so much more. The deft mix of horror, romance and musical is adroitly matched by its dark wit and stunning photography, singling out Homes Williams as a talent to keep a close eye on. Or ear. Whichever.
A mice surprise
Celine Held and Logan George’s Mouse is a darkly grotesque short that you won’t forget in a hurry. Even if you (and your appetite) will want to. It sees a desperate couple who live for the next drug hit attempt to capitalize on an unlikely (and stomach-wrenching) opportunity, which won’t be spoilt here. A word of warning, however: make sure you’re not eating when you watch this one. In fact, no food in your immediate eyesight is best.
Indeed, Mouse manages to simultaneously test your gag reflex and scratch any darkly absurd comedic itches you may have. The claustrophobic setting is not only a physical manifestation of the couple’s doomed relationship and their dysfunctional dynamic, but also lends the viewing experience a palpable sense of sweaty confinement that’ll make you want to bathe in disinfectant afterwards. It’s a well-written and dynamically acted short that’s abrasively tactile and uncomfortable to watch, but it remains one of the most brilliant picks of this list.
He Took His Skin Off For Me
Deeper than the epidermis
Much like Mouse isn’t for the weak-stomached, the award-winning short He Took His Skin Off For Me might push a lot of sensory buttons you didn’t want pushed. The title alone should tell you what to expect, and while the central conceit isn’t for the fainthearted, this short doesn’t play it for gory shocks or cheap thrills. Stick with Ben Aston’s chillingly evocative modern-day fairytale and the initial yuck-factor you’ll feel at the sight of Cronenbergian body-horror (all done with remarkably effective practical effects and no CGI) morphs into a tragic love story with more than a tender touch of melancholy.
Adapted from a short story by award-winning writer Maria Hummer, it’s a relatable allegory that revolves around themes of sacrifice and eagerness to please in a relationship, and how well-meant intentions can backfire. Of all the shorts on this list, He Took His Skin Off For Me might be the one that sparks the most debate, with its purposely elusive commentary allowing for sympathy shifts. Its open ending allows the viewer to interpret the overall parable by drawing on their own relationship experiences, and wherever you end up, you’ll be captivated.
La Noria (Spanish for ‘the Ferris Wheel’) is the only animated film on this list and potentially the least terrifying for the seasoned gorehounds and the ever-so-slightly-jaded horror lifers amongst you. However, Carlos Baena’s overwhelming short is without a doubt the most emotionally resonant of the lot.
La Noria deserves to be seen without too much prior information – the skinny goes along the lines of: grieving boy fends off reject monsters from the Resident Evil auditions. It’s an animation that doesn’t force-feed you all the information and tackles some weighty themes, further quashing the ridiculous notion that animated films are only for littluns. It can’t be overstated how exquisite this short is, not just in its polished animation (Baena has over 20 years of experience in animation, with stints at Pixar and credits on Toy Story and Star Wars) or due to the beautiful original score by Johan Söderqvist, but in the heart-aching way it handles the language of grief and the process of healing. Make sure you’ve got a tissue (or five) nearby – you’ll need them by the end of these 11 minutes.
“Where do children come from?”
Another beautifully twisted fairytale comes courtesy of Irish director Aislinn Clarke, who holds the distinction of being the first Irish woman to write and direct a feature horror film with 2018’s The Devil’s Doorway. Clarke had been making shorts for several years before this deeply-depressing-considering-the-year-of-release accolade, including the remarkable 2016 short Childer. It’s a 19-minute film that merges folk horror elements with a confined mother-son story. We meet a reclusive and compulsively tidy mother whose temper gets the better of her every time her child is in the slightest bit messy. Not making things any easier is the clean freak’s persistent belief that she’s being stalked by the unruly bambinos that seem to populate the woods surrounding her house.
No more shall be revealed here, but safe to say that Childer is a stellar example of how a film’s horrors needn’t be explicit to be impactful. Through an instilled sense of unease, Clarke never lets you off your guard or feel even the slightest bit comfortable with the most mundane of daily situations and interactions.
The timely dangers of self-isolation
Selected to play at this year’s cancelled SXSW festival’s Midnight Shorts competition, Stucco is an eerie psychological horror that speaks to the self-quarantining anxieties of the present moment. Indeed, the confinement at the core of Janina Gavankar and Russo Schelling’s short is impressively up-to-the-minute: it sees an agoraphobic woman cooped up indoors and afraid to go outside. She orders take-out, works from home and it’s suggested she’s still subjected to the death throes of a toxic relationship. One day, she finds a suspicious hollow wall in her house…
Stucco’s claustrophobic setting (beautifully potentialized for maximum strangeness by DoP Quyen Tran and her choice of camera angles) and main disruptive element (that hole in the wall) are sharp representations of depression and anxiety, and lead to a meditation on how our minds are often our own worst enemy and prevent us from moving on. Speaking of the hole, there’s an out-of-the-blue, sexually loaded injection of gross-out surrealism that should delight fans of A Nightmare On Elm Street, as well as a climactic sequence that brings to mind some of the inventively nightmarish creations that populated Bryan Fuller’s TV show Hannibal. These visual components, married with a thought-provoking ending, ensure this entry will linger in your mind for longer than you may like.
For Whom The Bean Tolls
Horror and comedy make wonderful bedfellows and The Barista is further proof. While some others on this list dabble with laughs, this 2013 short from Rebekah McKendry is hands down the funniest and the most deceptively ingenious. A lot of the humour hinges on the wired performance from Morgan Peter Brown, who plays a paranoid customer who strides into his favourite coffee shop with a documented theory about who the titular barista truly is.
McKendry’s impressive resumé includes a PhD in horror and exploitation cinema, a tenure at Fangoria Entertainment, and an Editor-in-Chief spot at Blumhouse.com, so it’s no surprise that her short is original and perfectly executed. What is surprising is how such a talented voice only has one feature film credit to her name (2017’s All The Creatures Were Stirring). As evidenced by this list, the female-directed shorts are among the very best. Sadly, there’s a depressing pattern that sees a disproportionate number of female directors not getting to make their mark on the horror genre compared to their male counterparts, who are granted an overabundance of opportunities to make feature films. It’s about time McKendry’s voice was celebrated, to say nothing of the voices of other female filmmakers struggling to get the recognition they deserve.
Sell Your Body
What’s more terrifying than debt?
The Barista may have some competition with this one when it comes to giggles. Far less silly and with a potent undercurrent of tragedy, Sell Your Body is a perfectly calibrated horror-comedy that follows a med school dropout wrestling with crippling student debt. And let’s face facts – Freddy, Michael and whoever’s Ghostface this time all pale in comparison to the threat of looming financial debt. Thankfully, though, our heroine’s got a plan to make some fast cash: it involves a few right-swipes on a dating app and a portable container.
Written and directed by Jaanelle Yee, this millennial twist on a classic urban legend is disturbingly brilliant. Both Yee and Nadira Foster-Williams (who plays our snack-packing narrator to perfection) strike a faultless tonal balance with their direction and performance. Understanding that the best laughs should have some darkness lurking beneath their surface, they oscillate between bursts of darkness and laugh-out-loud funny beats, with no hint of tonal whiplash. For instance, the spot-on delivery of the loaded line “They’ll be fine… I was fine” is subsequently followed by two far-from-throwaway visual gags that’ll have you cackling all over again. To add to this perfect mix of horror and comedy are some terrific fourth-wall breaks and knowing camera glances which are always sparingly used. If this is what newcomer Jaanelle Yee can do in just 10 minutes for her fresh(wo)man effort, we can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.
Tuck Me In
Who’s under the bed?
Winner of the 2014 Filminute Award, Ignacio F. Rodó’s Tuck Me In is the shortest short on this list. Its masterly simple premise is a perfect example of how the best horror films can transform the mundane into something altogether more sinister. Here, an everyday parental moment – tucking a child in for bedtime – is leveraged for maximum creepiness, all in just under a minute.
From Invasion Of The Body Snatchers to Jordan Peele’s Us, there’s a treasured doppelgänger tradition in horror, and Tuck Me In falls neatly into that category. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it distils the subgenre to its terrifying essence. That’s on top of being an effective testament to what can be accomplished in a minute, and further proof that you don’t need to resort to cheap jump scares in order to deliver an effective fright. Not bad for 60 seconds.
I Want You Inside Me
There’s a first time for everything…
Alice Shindelar’s wild little gem sees a teenage girl lose her virginity to the boy she fancies. So far, so ideal. However, the boy in question suddenly disappears and she’s left with a crackling, unintelligible phone call from the scarpering loverboy, and very few answers. Her friend tells her to move on and that it’s “time to feast”; they go a party, where truth will out…
Abigail Wahl plays the central character CJ and manages to make her both believably brazen yet introverted in a way that keeps the audience guessing as to how much she relishes recent developments once the truth is revealed. Femme fatale? Girl next door? Why not both? As for the final revelation (which is slightly telegraphed), it may register as more funny than frightening, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t impactful. I Want You Inside Me stands as a smart and empowering slow-burn that works as both a wicked tale of all-consuming desire (that would make for an ideal double-bill opener for Mitchell Lichtenstein’s 2007 Teeth) and a feminist subversion of worn-out tropes and gendered codes dealing with the loss of virginity, which is so frequently male-gazed.
Austerity fetish, anyone?
Not a horror short in the strictest sense of the term – even if director Sophie Ansell has gone on to play with the conventions of the horror genre with her darkly comedic fairytale Girl In The Shed – Funemployed is an inventive 2017 short that has enough to make you recoil in abject terror.
Give us graphic bodyhorror and blood-thirsty ghouls over burgeoning psycho-stalkers with Bette Davis-eyed obsessions for gammon-faced ex-Tory leaders any day of the week.
2AM: The Smiling Man
Let’s put a smile on that face
There’s something deeply unnerving about a smile: prolonged for too long and one of the most beautiful things a person can share can turn unnervingly creepy in a matter of seconds. Director Michael Evans understands the anxiety-drenched potential of an inexplicable rictus grin: his 4-minute film follows a young man being stalked by a smiling, dancing figure on his walk home.
Inspired by a CreepyPasta, this 2013 short trusts the potential of its barebones idea without weaving in any unnecessary plot: the bog-standard encounter is made brilliantly sinister, and the oddly disjointed movements of the Smiling Man will make you grateful for social confinement. Make no mistake: there’s every chance this short will have you reconsidering the merits of a late-night stroll.
Nose Nose Nose Eyes!
Keeping it in the family
Having played at the 2019 Overlook Film Festival and Final Girls Film Festival Berlin, Jiwon Moon’s Nose Nose Nose EYES! is now online and not worth ignoring. It’s the beautifully shot and distinctively disturbing tale of Ji-hyo (Jayeong Kim), a young girl who witnesses her mother (Jayeong Kim) caring for her sick father (Jungse Oh). But nursing someone back to health shouldn’t look like this…
This Korean gem takes many of its cinematic cues from Takashi Miike’s Audition but also draws inspiration from the story of an existing criminal known as ‘Lady Uhm’, who blinded her family in order to get insurance money. The film tackles the layered and hallowed theme of motherhood, as well as putting the central character (and by implication, the audience) in a lose-lose situation that asks the following question: What are you willing to sacrifice for someone you love? Add some ingenious photography and lingering shots and you’ve got a masterclass in how suggestion is more powerful than explicit violence. Kudos to those who make it through the intense 13-minute runtime without wincing.
Less interested in tightening your sphincters and keener to tickle your funny bones, Chris McInroy’s schlocky Death Metal is a hoot. Written and directed by McInroy, this horror-comedy short is definitely more cartoonishly gory than it is scary. It revolves around a metalhead who is given a family heirloom in the form of a comically Satanic-looking guitar. The snag is that he doesn’t pay attention to the rules that come with the powerful instrument, and proceeds to break every dark commandment. Mayhem ensues.
Hilariously bloody, this is the comedic flipside to this list’s Feeder, and the practical effects combined with some canny editing choices make it a laugh riot. Crank it up to 11 and let it shred!
A violent addiction to social media
The dangers of technology and the anxiety-inducing ill of our time that is social media continues to fuel the imagination of filmmakers. From Back Mirror to Unfriended via Ingrid Goes West, there’s no shortage of satirical and thought-provoking work that addresses the lengths to which people will go to in order get “likes” and to appear to be seen in today’s screen-obsessed world. MJ deals with this subject and stands out in its portrayal of how social media has cleft reality in two, creating a distorted mirrored dynamic: the pressure of performative online existence versus the reality far removed from vacantly dished-out morsels of approval.
Director Jamie Delaney collaborates with writer and lead actress Coral Amiga for this ingenious satirical thriller, which plays with the conventions of the slasher genre – chiefly the gender of the assailant. It deals with yearning for acceptance and purpose, as well as the feelings of inadequacy that decry from our digitally sclerosed lives. Granted, the commentary never goes beyond the surface level that shows how being constantly logged-in allows alienation to thrive in a seemingly connected postmillennial world (to ask any more in the space of 13 minutes would be churlish), but MJ’s chillingly intimate atmospherics will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.
Curl up and dye
We finish with this impactful 2016 short written, directed and edited by Jill Gevargizian. It follows Claire (Najarra Townsend), a hairstylist who is waiting for her last customer, an uppity careerist who needs to look perfect for a potential promotion because “that glass ceiling is a real bitch”. And that’s all you’re getting, plot-wise.
This short’s central strength is the balancing act achieved so brilliantly by both Gevargizian and Townsend: they toy with your sympathies, and by the end of the 13 minutes, they’ll genuinely make you hesitate whether to a) book an appointment once the hairdressers open in a post-confinement world, and b) side with the horrific, Buffalo Bill-echoing crimes of the central protagonist. Indeed, the gut-punch climax will make you seesaw and leaves the viewer with a lot to think about: it provides some insight as to the nature of the bloody deeds, and reveals The Stylist to be both an unnerving look at loneliness and an astute commentary on the conformist pressures women are systematically subjected to.
That’s it from us this week. Happy horror viewing, careful with that axe Eugene, be kind to each other, make sure to catch up on our previous Home Kino entries (Best Docs; Pandemic Watches; the merits of Disney+; Best Film Podcasts; YouTube channels for film fans) and stay tuned to exberliner.com during the coming weeks for exclusive content and more Home Kino recommendations.