Looking for something to entertain me horror-wise, I traveled to YouTube. Finally, I found what I was looking for.
Unlike their big budget or low budget longer counterparts, short horror films work very quickly to tell a story. The story doesn’t have to be completely flushed out, but you need to get the gist of what’s happening. Some of the short films are anywhere from three minutes to ten. Some a little longer like twenty minutes.
The movies I’ve listed below are on YouTube. If you decide to click on them, the thumbnail will reveal the scary image of the film. This is to attract viewers to the channel and entice potential subscribers.
The Beauty of Short Horror Films
In the short film titled, Polaroid, which is only three minutes long, we follow a young man who just moved into an apartment. He finds an old polaroid camera. Bemused, he takes a picture with it. And what he sees starts his journey in horror.
Within the first maybe five or ten seconds, without any dialogue, you pick up on these cues. The director staged everything so well that even the most passive viewer can see it.
Plot driven acts.
In these short films, it’s not necessary to know about the characters’ entire personal history. Depending on the type of story it is, we only need to know enough to follow their path. The purpose is to build tension within a short time frame. In She Knows, a five-minute film, we don’t know much about the main character. We only see the results of his actions as he hides the body…and what happens after that.
Sound effects, lighting, and space.
I think sound effects in these short films can really amp up the creepiness. Hearing a maniacal laughter in the background, crying, the creaking and cracking of bones, wind shrieking, a timid voice, a deep growl, all of those bring forth visceral reactions. In Reflection, another three minutes short, we have no idea who the woman is brushing her teeth. We don’t care. All we do care about as she’s doing something completely innocuous, we see the edge of something strange behind her in the mirror. Throughout the short is this weird laugh throughout that adds another level to strange to it.
The lighting and spacing in the movie created a claustrophobic feel. Evoking that sense brought you deep into the film. Tight spaces, darkness, and shadows are a recipe for creepiness.
Jump scares are a stable of horror films. Something jumps out at you when you least expect it. This technique can be overused to the point you no longer feel the impact of the scare.
Due to the limited nature, some shorts have the capacity to craft a well-rounded story that leaves the viewer to guess what it means. This ambiguous aspect adds to the tension but in a more subtle way. “Make Me a Sandwich” explores domestic abuse and its psychological effects on the victim. The special effects weren’t the greatest, but the acting really made the film standout. As we follow our abused wife as she hurriedly answers her husband’s constant calls for another sandwich, we start to wonder at the happenings between this couple. The disgust factor in this three-minute film adds that weirdness to it. the husband chomps, and chomps, and chomps on the sandwich – no matter what’s in it. When we arrive at the end of this film, we find ourselves wondering about our own state of mind.
In “Lili”, an excellent eight minute film, it’s entirely dominated by two people. A man who remains mostly off-camera and a woman, an actress auditioning for a role. Her acting skills are phenomenal to anyone listening and watching her…but the guy behind the camera wants her to do a bit more. Echoing sentiments of the MeToo movement along with feminine empowerment, when we get to the end, it’s not what you think.
These films are predictable – that’s why we like them! We know someone’s going to get it. We know something dreadful is going to happen. We want to be the ones safely ensconced behind our monitors or our TVs in the living room and holler at the screen. “Don’t go in there!” “Don’t open the door!” “Stay away from the ancient demonic artifact!”
When you look in the comment section on YouTube, the commentary can get hilarious. In Lights Out, the not-even-three-minute film that became a full-length feature that grossed 150 million dollars, we’re screaming at the lady to ‘Keep the lights on!’ She does that. Then we heard creaking footsteps and we’re like, “Get out of the room!”
But we know she’s going to stay there. Ultimately, we really don’t want her to get out the room. We need to see the monster, the goblin, the ghost, the alien what have you.
This doesn’t mean that all short horror films are good. Due to the limits some are pretty bad. But why spoil it for you?
Looking through these short horror films, I noticed something a few things about them. There are more knowledgeable people about the film industry than me so please take these below ideas in a general sense of someone on the outside looking in.
- Many of them were amateur movie makers. The makers weren’t well-known directors or had thousands of dollars at their disposal. They had a vision and worked at executing it.
- Many of them used what was available. This means they called in friends, used their own vehicles, houses, borrowed clothes, and other favors. Many of them are scaled back in production design.
- Those moviemakers who continued to make movies got better at making movies. Practice makes perfect. With the kind of technology out there, some of it free to download, use, share, and connect, more people are going at it.
- Movies is an art form, not just entertainment. Most like to tell stories.
- There is a community working together.
The Advantages and Examples of Horror Writing through a Christian worldview.
Mike Duran got into a lot of trouble about advocating for this, but I contend that he’s right. Horror is an excellent vehicle that depicts the human condition, and the need for salvation vs. survival. I am reminded of Frank Peretti’s The Oath, a thoroughly enjoyable book that took a literal and symbolic view of sin and Satan in the form of a dragon and black goo.
Most people think of horror as gore. It’s not. Horror has many sub-genres like any other. Sometimes it’s psychological, mysterious, comical.
I’ve seen Christians bully Christian writers out of exploring in this genre because of their own dislike for it. Well, admittedly, not just this genre but any speculative fiction genre. Folks have a knee-jerk reaction and because they don’t like it, you shouldn’t either.
The best book I’ve read in a long time is Nate Allen’s Death is not the End, Daddy. This psychological thriller explores the story of two men – a young girl’s father and the serial killer who kidnaps his daughter. Through dark storytelling, Nate Allen explores themes of sin, spiritual warfare, forgiveness, and possible redemption through a Christian lens. I told Nate it’s the best book I’ve read. I’ve enjoyed many, many books and it’s hard to pick ‘the best’ but I picked it because it’s a powerful piece of fiction looking at God’s grace through the eyes of someone the rest of us would give up on.
Another dark novel I’ve enjoyed is Jess Hanna’s Bright Lights, Dark Skies. Exploring the nature of alien abductions and speculating if they are extra-terrestrial or something much darker. When you listen to the stories of victims of alien abductions, they’re quite frightening. They aren’t first contact with a Klingon. They aren’t aliens asking for you to ‘Take me to your leader.’
There’s something sinister beneath these incidences.
In Deborah Alten’s Mrs. Shackles, this short collection of flash fiction pieces is reminiscent of the Twilight Zone with the recurring character of Mrs. Shackles. I told Deborah I wanted to see more of this woman who acts as judge, jury, and executioner. By the time you’re finished reading it, you begin to wonder why Mrs. Shackles is the way she is.
I wouldn’t call the book horror, but it does have somber, moodier stories. Hopefully, she continues to write more.
I sense there are those in the community of Christian speculative fiction writers who want to explore topics in this genre. Why not? It’s not always about demonic entities but psychological thrillers, cover-ups, manipulations and so much more. In fact, forget the demonic forces at large. What people do to each other can be quite frightening. Maybe you don’t want to go the spiritual or monster route. You don’t have to. The creep factor is what you make of it.
Horror is an excellent canvas to explore good vs. evil, light vs. dark, survival vs. salvation and a whole host of themes. I think it would be even better written within the context of a Christian worldview.