Horror movies get to us through the accumulation of dread and the punctuation of terror.
While this usually stretches over the course of a feature film, a well-crafted short can achieve the same effect in a few minutes. These five short films will whet your appetite when paired alongside a horror-canon classic. Think of them as an amuse bouche, if you will, to a late-night Halloween feast.
Carrie / Slut, dir. Chloe Okuno (2017), 18:31 min
An awkward teen girl who spends her days at home with her shut-in mother must reckon with social ostracization and violence in her pained pursuit of sexual awakening. This description applies both to Brian De Palma’s Carrie and Chloe Okuno’s award-winning 2014 short, Slut. Whereas Carrie uses telekinesis as metaphor for the assertion of female identity and power, Okuno (who recently signed on to an A24-backed horror project) grounds her lead’s cathartic violence in brutal realism. Naive rural “nice girl” Maddy inadvertently sets out on a collision course with a brutal predator after pursuing the affections of boys at the local roller rink with increasing self-possession and success. Okuno’s short is as emotionally affecting as it is viscerally gripping, signaling a promising new talent among women in horror.
Scream / Night of the Slasher, dir. Shant Hamassian (2016), 10:30 min
An enduring pleasure of Wes Craven’s Scream is the wry delight it takes in endowing its characters with an awareness of the horror genre “rules” dictating the murder-mystery around them. The mainstream success of this self-reflexiveness became hugely influential within both genre films and pop culture writ large. Shant Hamassian’s Night of the Slasher is a clear descendent of this approach. A young woman home alone at night ticks off a literal list of slasher-flick tropes—dance half-naked; do drugs; have sex—to set a revenge trap against a Spock-masked, knife-wielding assailant. Shot in a single kinetic and thrilling steadicam take, it’s a no-fluff wallop of meta mayhem.
Pan’s Labyrinth / The Cat With Hands, dir. Robert Morgan (2001), 3:31 min
A cat. With hands? Yes, a cat with hands. That sort of grotesque whimsy is reminiscent of the works of Guillermo del Toro, whose seminal Pan’s Labyrinth brought children’s nightmare creatures to life. Earlier this year, del Toro implored his Twitter followers to watch British animator Robert Morgan’s compact, propulsive creepfest from 2001. Dressed in the musty fashions of a Grimm’s fairy tale, The Cat with Hands is a stomach-souring, stop-motion tall-tale that erases the line between man and beast.
Coraline / Alma, dir. Rodrigo Blaas (2009), 4:55 min
Dolls endure as a horror staple for straddling the line between friendly companion and sinister imposter. Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) exploited this uncanny discomfort in Coraline, in which a ragdoll bearing her likeness lures a young girl into an alternate world of doppelgängers. Similarly, in Rodrigo Blaas’ Alma, a child spots an identical doll in a toy store window and cannot resist its draw. The short’s Pixar-esque animation and playful Michael Giacchino-inspired score form a disarming patina of familiar innocence as a picturesque toy store reveals itself to be something more morbid entirely.
Eraserhead / Possibly in Michigan, dir. Cecilia Condit (1983), 11:45 min
Chances are, if you’re set to watch David Lynch’s iconic psych freak-out Eraserhead, you have a hardy tolerance for discomfiting artsy horror. You’re also likely well-primed for this surreal 1983 work by feminist avant-garde artist Cecelia Condit, who describes Possibly in Michigan as “a diarist protest against the violence thrust on women that is woven into the very air we breathe.” Thanks to the internet’s inner workings, this one-time NYC gallery curio was resurrected by TikTok teens enamored of its bizarro charms and earworm song, “Animal Cannibal.” Traces of the prescient lo-fi VHS aesthetic and macabre humor can be spotted today in 3 a.m. Adult Swim-type shorts, but nothing beats the genuine article to put you in a singularly strange headspace.