In 2016, I started an annual roundup of the best horror shorts I'd seen that year. The original article, The Most Terrifying Horror Shorts You Can Watch Online Right Now, went viral — possibly because it contains some of the most genuinely scary horror shorts ever made. I highly encourage you to watch all of them. That's not, however, to diminish the quality of 2017 and 2018's lists, both of which feature masterful exercises in tension, the exquisite cinematography that has come to define elevated horror, and jump-scares that had me screaming loud enough to concern my neighbors.
Between these four lists of horror shorts, you have every short horror film worth seeing on the internet. You're welcome. (For the nightmares.)
This year's shorts exploit the genre's greatest strength: expectations. Like all horror auteurs worth their salt, these directors know how to create a narrative and completely upend it. They carefully craft tension by withholding just enough information to keep us on edge. They charge the atmosphere of each scene with a slowly unraveling sense of disquiet.
What's more, their films aren't just cheap scares — they're artful meditations on themes such as trauma (The Mare and The Silent), religious extremism (Duérmete Niño and The Sermon), disturbing historical narratives (Wandering Soul), and the most horrifying thing of all: our fellow humans (Backstroke, Welcome to Bushwick, and The Girl in the Hallway).
With the success of Midsommar, Scandinavia certainly stole the show this year at the horror box office. Now, from the dense woods of Denmark, comes this gorgeous black-and-white short. The chilling story of a young, mute girl who emerges from the forest, this short features one of the most unsettling scenes I've seen in a very long time (hint: It involves sign language). Directed by Casper Rudolf.
The Girl in the Hallway
"Why does Little Red Riding Hood give Jamie nightmares? It's been 15 years, and the girl he saw in the hallway still haunts him."
That's this documentary's synopsis, and it's all that should be said about its subject matter. You should know, however, that this an extremely disturbing true-crime story, and that the director taught herself how to animate in the process of creating this unforgettable film. Directed by Valerie Barnhardt.
Welcome to Bushwick
Dating can be a black hole of anxiety, even without the horror film treatment.
But with the rise of dating apps, horror directors have taken the stranger-danger subgenre to a whole new level. This creepy story of a first date gone wrong contains imagery (especially at the end) that you will never be able to un-see. Directed by Henry Jinings.
Every woman is all too familiar with the fear of being alone with a creepy man. I've often thought that this primal horror is something that cannot be understood unless you identify as a woman. This short, which is directed by a man, just about proves me wrong.
In the beginning, the film seems like it's about to be a cautionary tale about reckless gunplay. Then, it takes a sinister turn into a horrifying and seemingly never-ending encounter between a stranger and a teenage girl who is skinny-dipping alone in the woods. The lead actress, Josefine Christoffersen, gives a fantastically authentic performance. Directed by Robbie Barclay.
It's no secret that the U.S. committed all kinds of unforgivable atrocities during the Vietnam War. One little-known part of that history, though, is the subject of this horror short -- about a Viet Cong soldier stationed in the claustrophobic Cu Chi tunnels, who is haunted by the ghost of a fallen comrade. It's not the scariest short on this list, but it's certainly one of the most unnerving -- especially given the fact that it is based on true events. Directed by Josh Tanner.
Mexican filmmaker Freddy Chavez Olmos has worked with Guillermo del Toro before, and that movie-monster influence clearly crept its way into this short. The final frames of this film, which centers on a mother of twins in the 1940s and the thing making them cry, showcases one of the best creatures I've ever seen in a horror short. Directed by Freddy Chavez Olmos.
It's not hard to turn religious extremism into a horror setting, but it's exceedingly difficult to do so with the style and substance presented in this film. The major draws here are the exquisite 35mm cinematography and the unique angle on a familiar setting: revenge against discrimination. Directed by Dean Puckett.
This film may be nearly inscrutable, but that doesn't detract from the power of its emotional impact.
It's a masterclass in tension, and it leaves you with a haunting feeling that often eludes even the best horror filmmakers. Is it about the trauma of divorce? The feeling of being alienated and isolated as a child? The relationship between nightmares and reality? Any way you slice it, this short is worthy of comparison to Nicolas Roeg. Directed by Toni Kristian Tikkanen.