How Are These 1-Minute Horror Shorts So Scary Good?
Axmo Deus is a horror anthology series that is a peek into the worlds of restless spirits, angry children, hungry monsters, demons, and serial killers—all done in under one-minute episodes.
This post was written by Abel Robinson.
The series was created by Abel Robinson and Noel VInson in October of 2020 as a way of combating the loss of work from COVID-19 lockdowns. Since then, the team has never missed a beat, continuing to release a new installment on the first of every month.
Currently, Axmo Deus is on its third season. Below are three films that the creators have found to be the most challenging and memorable.
Having done six one-minute films solely in the horror space before this, ClimaxXx was our first crack at horror/comedy. At this point in the series, we pretty much had it down to a science. We know it takes about 15-20 shots to make an entire film, and if we need anything more, it probably means we’re overthinking, so it’s back to the drawing board.
Released on April 1, we wanted to tailor ClimaxXx’s theme to April Fool’s Day somehow. We found our story, based on an anecdotal re-telling of a real event experienced by one of our crew members. The challenge was in figuring out how to honor each genre trope and not make it feel like a one-off comedy sketch.
We decided the best way forward was to play a sleight-of-hand that turned our horror element into the comedic punchline. We pivoted the concept of a demonic exorcism explored through the eyes of a couple who become more sex-positive because of it (or at least that’s what we told ourselves).
Furthermore, we decided to keep the story open-ended so we could return to the world for future April Fool’s installments, realizing that goal in 2022’s ClimaxXx sequel:Karen.
Mute was a long time in the making, as it took us six months to locate an Auslan (Australian Sign Language) speaking actress. We went through several communities, which only returned dead ends, and ultimately thought that the production would be a wash. It was then we received a message from a hearing-impaired woman who was a big fan of horror films, and nominated her daughter to play the role we needed.
This began the onslaught of challenges to come. The biggest hurdle in doing a one-minute film is the ability to tell a concise story within the timeframe. Realizing that this is always the crux to our storytelling, we have become very good at cutting our darlings and only including the essentials for the narrative.
Oftentimes, we find ourselves at a dead end with no time to include a crucial line of dialogue, so we find a way to creatively place it offscreen. This helps move the film forward without losing any time. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Mute. As sign language is a visual form of communication, it meant that every line of dialogue needed to be shown on screen. This then became a battle of what needed to be cut versus what needed to be kept, and with a few time remapping tricks and speed ramps, we managed to keep the dialogue but change the pace of the performance. As such, this turned out to be another tool for us to use in future one-minute shorts.
Birthday was an absolute curveball, as it was never intended to be made. We tend to stack all productions ahead of time so we can have a few months of post before their release. However, as Murphy's Law would present itself, Sydney went into a strict three-month lockdown. Now, our once-glorious plan of productions had to be realigned.
Moreover, we had to do it as a team that could not meet in the same room, but we found that to be quite fitting, as Axmo Deus began as a means to keep creative during COVID in 2020. Only now, it was testing our ability, again, to see if we could maintain the monthly release schedule we held ourselves to.
So, for Birthday, we took a cue from the 2018 film, Searching, and decided to do our own version of that as a one-minute horror short, focusing on a content creator and her obsessed fan. Thanks to the YouTube Channel “This Guy Edits,” which had interviewed the editors of Searching, we learned how to ground our own approach to this style of computer screen horror.
To pull this off, every asset had to be created and animated, from each desktop icon to the Windows and Mac operating systems. Even our actor had to be directed remotely through a Zoom call while she filmed herself with a phone.
Once these behemoth tasks were finalized, then came the edit. The challenge here was to create tension and give the film some pacing, but there were some hard calls to make as there was no location audio, and adding a simple low-frequency drone tone to the edit did not help to define the proper speed of a text conversation. What it all came down to was trusting the process that we had solidified in all our prior films. Once the one-minute edit was finished, our sound department came in and knocked out every moment that we intended, and Birthday proudly christened our first anniversary as Axmo Deus.
Going forward, the challenge is to find ingenious ways to tell stories that do not feel redundant and still manage them into one minute. Each film is always an exercise in killing your darlings, so we always find ourselves trying to advance ways which push the envelope. Just when we think we have a solid understanding of the format, we’re constantly forced to go back and start again.
The key takeaway from our journey thus far is that story is paramount, and while the time frame may be an Achilles’ heel in our case, it has become the fuel to facilitate a more creative approach to narrative content.