Scary Storytelling Excels in the Short Film Medium

Lisa Tate

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As more and more feature films seem to stretch out their stories well beyond the two-hour time frame, I am always impressed with the storytelling element of short films.This time of year, short horrors, thrillers, and mysteries can be the video equivalent of a scary bedtime story just before the lights go out, or a quick and chilling tale shared among friends around a campfire or by candlelight.

One filmmaker I follow, actor and director, Andrew Lee Potts, has been creating award winning shorts of different genres through his company Keychain Productions for more than 10 years. His latest project currently making the film festival circuit is the creepy short thriller, Kindred, which was recently named “Best Thriller” at the Festigious International Film Festival in Los Angeles.

It follows two brothers who set off to investigate some haunting, childlike singing coming from the woods in the middle of the night, but what they discover is much more disturbing.

In celebration of this film medium, and its endless world building potential, I’ve picked a few frightening short films to watch as All Hallow’s Eve approaches.

All of these films gained millions of online views, as well as either being named official picks (or award-winners) at one or more film festivals around the world, so I’ll keep the synopsis to a minimum and the suspense level high.

Take a look, if you dare, at some short filmmakers who have taken the art of raising hairs and chilling spines into the fast lane.

Selfie from Hell (2015)

Starting with the shortest of all, this two-minute film was originally planned by filmmaker Erdal Ceylon to promote his book Fck You Zombie*. It has inspired countless copycat and reaction videos, as well as the 2018 full-length horror, also directed by Ceylon, of the same name (later retitled Selfie Man for DVD).

Got a teen or friend who takes too many narcissistic selfies? Here’s a cure:

The Offering (2013)

Here's a friendly lesson on always being prepared and double-checking your sacrificial items list when making a seemingly routine ritualistic offering. Director Ryan Patch relies plenty on what we hear, rather than what we see, and it works terrifyingly well, especially if you’ve got your ear buds in:

Don’t Look Away (2017)

This is probably the least frightening films of the bunch, but I like the way director Christopher Cox does a great job of being able to tell his story with minimal need for special effects or elaborate sets. The theme is familiar, and fans of the later years of Doctor Who might already know very well to NEVER look away at a statue-still creature:

Do You Believe In the Devil? (2013)

A man, dying on the floor of a disgusting bar restroom, meets his old classmate, Danny, who had been dead for 26 years. He is then presented with an offer to save his “life” that is pretty disturbing.

This Alex Grybauskas short is the longest one on this list (18 minutes), but is well worth the watch. It is morbid and unsettling, yet funny at times, and thought-provoking, but above all, it is twisted.

It is one of those stories that could easily “tempt” a feature filmmaker to try and stretch it out into a feature length, but I hope that never happens.

I Heard It Too (2014)

What I love about this one is the idea of it being inspired by one of those two-sentence horror stories:

“A girl heard her mom yell her name from downstairs, so she got up and started to head down. As she got to the stairs, her mom pulled her into her room and said, ‘I heard that, too.’”

I’ll just say one thing about this one by directors Tim Knight and Matt Sears: You know when you get those gooseflesh feelings of not wanting to open your eyes after awakening from a nightmare because “who knows what will be staring back?”

You’re probably right, and the final horrifying image in this one tosses napalm onto flame that notion:

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