Every so often I come across a horror short that scares the living daylights out of me long after I’ve finished watching it. Found via Shortoftheweek’s excellent horror channel, Special Day is the most bastarding slice of terrifying hell since David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (the original 2013 short).
For variety (and sanity), I try to include a short film every horror-thon, but it’s mostly to remind myself that the short film format has the potential to produce the strongest scares. They’re mostly single scenes, with no character build-up, are often wordless (good for global reach), and zip by in a few minutes. All of that cooks up some delicious and terrifying unpredictability.
For this October’s short, I chose Reverse, directed by Josh Tanner and co-written with Jade Van Der Lei. In it, an everyman (Joel Stanton) is just trying to get into his car and drive out of a dark underground car park. The setting itself is creepy enough, but an unseen force seems determined to prevent him from leaving…
Well…there’s a lot packed into these less than 4 minutes, and it somehow does it with some unsettling dark humour. In director Charlene Bagcal‘s moody short Neighbors, there’s gore, decadence, bizarre creature design, and a cautionary kicker of an ending. It’s like a modern-day, campfire Wicker Man tale squeezed into the below.
This wordless, slow-burn student-made slasher makes memorable use of Cigarettes After Sex’s Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby. It’s a simple 6 minutes: a young woman makes her date some pretty decent-looking stakes, they gaze at each other over red wine, and then the inevitable Plot Thing happens.
While pretty to look at, it’s all a bit overwrought, with its obtuse angles, jump cuts and a puddle of an ending that asks more questions than it answers. Still, points for the song.
Two years before fellow short Lights Out, there was another little horror preying on our fear of being alone in the dark. Ben Franklin’s eerie office slice Lock Up is a tense, fun 3 minutes, in which an everyman pencil-pusher realises that, under cover of mostly darkness, an empty office looks nightmarishly different.
Well-acted with some great makeup and some efficient editing, this is cautionary tale against all of you schlubs working late. Unless you get overtime or time off in lieu, don’t. They can’t make you!
I can safely say I’ve seen and/or heard every type of human be slaughtered in this naughtily gruesome comedy short.
More enjoyable to me than the mildly similar Deathgasm, Chris McInroy‘s SFX-laden Death Metal is a devilish treat for gorehounds. An adult slacker and musician is gifted an impressive guitar (literally fashioned from an axe), a cursed-object heirloom that promises its wielder infinite death-metalling power.
Unfortunately, our protagonist is too excited to stick around to hear the 3 simple rules [don’t play in daylight, don’t use it for money, don’t play it like you’re wanking], and bolts down to the park to start some mid-afternoon busking. No sooner does he do said penis-strumming move, than the axe flies out of his hands and literally shreds everything in sight in a gloriously gruesome never-ending POV shot.
Memorable, and not just for metalheads. But the music’s not half-bad, either.
I’m not sure how to spell the name of this film. The actual short has it listed as ‘The Copy-Writer’. The trailer says it’s ‘The Copy Writer’. It’s actually spelled ‘Copywriter’. I know, because I used to be a fucking copywriter.
In hindsight, that should have been a clue. But I don’t like to form an opinion until I’m done with a short (even a 9-minute one), and I can safely say this was, to put it kindly, lacking.
The story is simple enough: a young horror novelist holes himself up in rented room to prep for a non-fiction project. But soon he’s plagued by nightmarish visions of weird figures and something something losing his mind.
It claims to be Lovecraftian but I see no evidence of it here. My friend pointed out the possibly deliberate The Shiningreference in both this short’s set-up and the pattern of the wallpaper (a dead ringer for the carpets). The final scene has distractingly awful sound quality and hammy, unconvincing acting from a detective type, making the rather stilted acting from the lead seem more tolerable. The short’s Facebook page has some stunning graphic design, but this is less than the sum of its faults and awkward to watch.
I saw this 2-minute short seemingly repeatedly pop up in my news feed in a post from Horror Society and thought, ‘nobody can’t spare 2 fucking minutes’.
Glad I did. Much like Lights Out, 12AM it uses its simplicity to great effect: one actor, zero dialogue, trim edits in a single scene, played out in real time, revolving around a relatable fear: that groggy, half-waking state between sleep and awake.
Right. As penance for missing a single day on year 4 of my Hallowe’en marathon, I’ve decided to ‘punish’ myself by trying, for the second time, to consume one horror thing per day for the next year. It’s probably too much pressure, but I have a friend who regularly watches this kind of crap with me, so perhaps he’ll spot me or something.
Last night’s entry was the perfect antidote to a Hallowe’en hangover (both literal and emotional): the sumptuously designed Treaters. Boasting production design and props that would rival most feature-length films, this perfectly encapsulates the spooky, colourful, indulgent wickedness of the season (and makes me sad that it’s over for another year).
Set in England, two teens meet up with a third kid they met online, a clown-costumed little shit who promises them the candy heist of their lives. Borrowing some of its tension-setting from both Don’t Breathe and every snacking kid ever, the trio must sneak into the odd setup of a woman’s lounge (where she’s watching some fairly fucked-up animation) to get to her wonderfully impressive sweet shop. Naturally, the gang go nuts – literally like kids in a candy store – but the plot thickens thereafter. No spoilers, but it toes just the right line between gruesome and magically Burton/Selick-y. A trick and a treat.
On second viewing, I liked Kasey LaRose‘s short After Hours a bit more. For horror shorts, I’m a bit of a sucker for simple creature design, mostly because it’s cheaper to do (and harder to mess up), but also because it skirts the unsettlingly ambiguous line between demonic and real-life threat.
It also helps if you have a decent score (check), tight camerawork (check), and an actress that is easy to watch and root for (Shiloh Nyce Despain) (check). For a short though, it is incredibly short, yet there are moments that could have been chopped since it stuck with a single, in-the-moment strand of tension that so many early shorts go for.