To put together the ultimate list of scary short films, there is bound to be some subjectivity. One of the great things about the internet and modern filmmaking is that putting a horror short film together can be relatively cheap and distribution can be wide online. So there is a lot to choose from. While I try to represent a lot of different types of horror-lovers who like a lot of types of horror (jump scares, morbid creepiness and dread, blood and guts), where they fall on the list is based on my own take on their quality, effectiveness, and oftentimes how popular they have become amongst the horror-loving crowd.
Also, I tried to choose a number of horror short films that I deem “important”… some of these went “viral” for a time and helped spawn thousands of more to jump into the game. So a sense of internet lore and history is part of the equation.
Some of these scary short films date back to the early days of the internet. Some of them propelled now “big names” in horror onto much larger horror films. And there are at least a few that nearly made the list but didn’t quite make the cut because there could be some debate about what constitutes a “short film”… in some cases something that many would just consider a short scary video, horror meme, or creepypasta but is something I wouldn’t quite constitute a film.
So let’s dive in and read about and WATCH the scariest short films around.
16 – Everything’s Fine – Parental Horror at It’s Finest
This 2020 psychological horror short written by Lisa Cisneros and directed by Danny Rhodes does what a lot of the best of these scary short films will do, and that is tighten the stress gradually as the audience fears for the worst. It proves that there is a lot of amazing and well-produced short horror still be released online, even if this list often delves further back into earlier internet shorts.
15 – Alma – An Animated Scary Short Film for Adults
Written and directed by Rodrigo Blaas, this is a 2009 Spanish fantasy horror short film that delves into something horror often toys with: dolls. From Chucky to Annabelle to Robert the Haunted Doll, it’s a fun starting point for scary tales. In this slice of horror, we have a young girl who is attracted to a creepy doll she finds in the store window. And off we are with one of the best animated scary short films out there. What a treat!
14 – The Maiden – The Horrors of Realty
This 2016 horror short is written and directed by Michael Chavez, who went on to direct Curse of La Lloronaa and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. The premise is that a realtor will do just about anything to sell a house, even cover up some of the spooky stuff that begins to happen. It is well-shot and builds tension in a way that only the best scary short films can do.
13 – Bedfellows: One of the First and Best
Going back to 2008, we have Bedfellows. This is one of the earlier internet scary short films to pick up steam and find a lot of views. It has staples of what has been done and redone in a thousand other (often lesser) short films, and that is a creepy twist and a monster that ends the short with a fun stinger (see #1 on this list). I invite you to explore the scary short films of Drew Daywalt! He is best known as a children’s book author nowadays, authoring The Day the Crayons Quit and others. But he grew popular for years as someone who was known for his horror short films. His Bedfellows is the most watched, often making its way to the top of these lists, but he has a number of other great horror shorts. His Doppelganger is even higher on this list.
12 – Don’t Move: In Medias Res Scary Short
I love this one. Don’t Move jumps right into the action, with an Ouiji board that was apparently used and a lot that has already happened. The little details that we see introduce us to what is going on, which makes this 13-minute film visual candy for the horror lover. This horror short movie was released in 2013 and was directed by Anthony Melton, who also directed The Birch, another great scary short film that later evolved into a series on Facebook Watch.
11 – French Doors – New Zealand Knows Scary Short Films
Here is a New Zealand-made scary short film directed by Steve Ayson. A simple premise of installing a set of French doors becomes a tense, entertaining watch.
10 – Backrooms – A New Viral Scary Short Film
One thing that low budget scary short films can do is take advantage of low-quality found footage as a means to create a creepy atmosphere. Backrooms is one of the best examples of such an effect. There are a ton of bad ones. This is a good one. It’s not just about the effects and how they are presented. It’s creating an atmosphere, mood, and timing. It was released in 2022 by Kane Parsons.
9 – This House Has People In It – Found Some Scary Footage
Ah, Adult Swim. This is one of three scary short films on this list that surprised a lot of people when they appeared late at night on Adult Swim. And all of them are simply great, with a mix of parody, humor, and horror. In This House Has People In It we have a precursor for films like V/H/S and others that use security and found footage to create an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Airing originally in 2016 at 4AM, it quickly became popular among many looking for such insanity in their short horror films.
8 – The Strange Thing About the Johnsons – Here Comes Ari Aster
Wow. This is Ari Aster long before he made Hereditary and Midsommar. He actually made it as a graduate student, if you believe that. It has come with its own controversy, but it’s often mentioned on message boards for being well-made and an intense watch. I debated including this on the list, since it is nearly half an hour long and its debatable whether it is horror. But with the topic of sexual assault and the way it was shot, I think horror isn’t an entirely incorrect label. It’s a tough watch for some, but its addressing of taboos and familiar relationships is bold and interesting.
7 – Doppelganger – Drew Daywalt’s Best Horror Short
Here is another short film by Drew Daywalt, who made a large number of horror shorts around 2008-2012 when I would argue the horror short genre was exploding online. In Bedfellows (above) and The Closet you had his more viral short films, but I contend that Doppelganger is his best, and so it is highest on this list.
6 – Too Many Cooks – A Fever Dream of a Scary Short Film
Here is another Adult Swim entry, and a lot of people’s favorites. In both this and Unedited Footage of a Bear (below), you had the opportunity to surprise someone just scrolling through their cable stations late at night, stumbling across something that perhaps starts out as “real” and then it becomes parody, and then it goes really off the walls. In Too Many Cooks, it’s a generic sitcom intro that becomes increasingly insane and absurd and eventually the stuff of nightmares. The internet was obsessed with this back in 2013-14, but it remains a fantastic horror short on its own. Make sure to check out the oral history of it to see just how it came together.
5 – The Ten Steps – A Simple Phone Call
This Irish scary short film is the oldest on our list, dating back to 2004. No jump scares. No gore. Just a simple phone call that juxtaposes a fancy restaurant and a child left home alone. Perfection. Written and directed by Brendan Muldowney, it’s a great addition to this list that I only hope more filmmakers will replicate in its effectiveness.
4 – Mama – Andy Muschietti’s Scary Big Break
Here we have Mama, introduced by Guillermo Del Toro himself. Mama came out in 2008 and become a viral hit partially because of Del Toro and his love for it. And it’s easy to see why. It is tense, well-done, and with great practical effects. It was written and directed by Andy Muschietti, who went on to direct the new IT adaptation as well as become one of the biggest budding Hollywood directors.
3 – Still Life – A Haunting Low Budget Scary Short Film
This amazing scary short film dates back to 2005, and is another one that was important to the spread of all horror shorts online. It is like some of the best Twilight Zone episodes, while the skill, editing, and effectiveness done with a low budget encouraged so many others to try for something similarly effective. Directed by Jon Knautz and written by Charles Johnston, it always makes it near the top of my list of horror short films that everyone should see.
2 – Unedited Footage of a Bear – Adult Swim Goes Insane
While many might argue Too Many Cooks is Adult Swim’s best, Unedited Footage of a Bear is slightly more psychological and story-wise a bit more impressive and surreal. Like Too Many Cooks, it starts with something else entirely and reels you in slowly, in this case browsing late night TV or an unskippable infomercial ad, and the turn halfway through catapults this short into something twisted and insane and really quite fantastic. Adult Swim’s run of horror shorts that appeared at 4AM for a time is really something that should be noted for all those attempting to make unique scary short films going forward.
1 – Lights Out – The Definitive Scary Short Film
Lights Out has become one of the definitive examples of horror short films. It was released in 2013 from Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg, who went on to direct the film adaptation of the same name, Annabelle: Creation, Shazam!, and more. It encapsulates a lot of what scary short films have become since, but it was the one that did it early and really well. The simple idea of seeing creepy silhouettes when the lights are turned out builds to a satisfying ending. It’s short and sweet and gets the job done incredibly well.
Last Updated on December 23, 2022.
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