Sometimes, less is more.
This is why, often, we find ourselves laughing way harder at a dumb Vine or Tiktok than we ever do with a feature-length comedy film, no matter how good it may be. Without all the narrative, three-act trappings and structural padding of an hour-long story, a talented filmmaker can distill whatever emotions they want to convey down to their purest, most concentrated form. A single gag can make you laugh until you’re crying.
And likewise, a single, solitary scare can make you toss your laptop across your bedroom.
Every Sunday this month, I’m going to be showcasing some of the best, most terrifying short-form horror videos on the internet. These range from bite-sized jumpscare exhibitions to more narratively complex stories, and even some that would go on to inspire feature-length films. I want to really shine spotlight on the work that amateur, indie filmmakers have done, as much of their material is leagues better than anything to come out of a major Hollywood studio.
Today, as an appetizer, we’re going to take a look at some of the shortest, punchiest, most efficient horror shorts on YouTube. These videos are quick and snappy, all under three minutes or so, but pack a lot of bite into their short runtimes. Buckle up, put in your headphones, and prepare to jump.
Like, a lot.
Tuck Me In
There’s a lot of versions of this story, as it’s a fairly classic setup. Yet this is one of my favorite interpretations, leaning into the ambiguity by not ending on a cheap jumpscare. Again, sometimes less is more.
Dining Room (There is Nothing)
I hate this. I can’t really articulate exactly what’s so unnerving about it; I just know that it’s wrong. It’s a completely primal, inarticulate level of creepy that I refused to watch it again when I was writing this. I saw it once, and have no interest in seeing it again. Enjoy the nightmares.
It Crawled in Through the Window
Two minutes of pure, unrestrained tension. Another twist on the same format used by “Tuck Me In,” only with a bit more flair and a slightly more explosive payoff.
As if I needed any more reasons to never own an Alexa.
The Cop Cam
An eerily realistic little short, shot from first-person perspective as a cop responds to a 911 call. The only thing that takes the edge off of this one is that, realistically, the cop would probably be the most dangerous thing about the situation, given recent events.
One Last Dive
Underwater environments are a tragically underutilized setting for horror. Deep water is scary enough. But deep water at night? No thank you. This one’s an internet classic.
From David F. Sandberg, whose horror short “Lights Out” would eventually make him a major in genuine Hollywood horror features. His channel is a treasure-trove of these short-form nightmares. He also shows a lot of fascinating behind-the-scenes material about how he makes them too!
See You Soon
One more from Sandberg. Apparently 14 seconds is all it takes to make me have a heart attack.
Roommate Alien Prank Goes Bad
This one is about as old as YouTube itself. I remember seeing it in the Wild West days of internet videos, and it scared the living daylights out of me. Now, I appreciate the comedy more than anything, but it’s still an excellent relic of simpler times. Fun fact: The guys that made this short would go on to form the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, who made, among other things, this year’s Scream as well as the excellent Ready or Not.
One final take on the “Tuck Me In” story archetype, this one is hands-down the creepiest. Makes me jump every time. Sadly, the thumbnail kind of ruins this one, but it’s still damn creepy.
Nothing is creepier than silence, and this short takes full advantage of that. We’ve all been home alone and heard a strange noise from another room. Do you ever investigate? Not after watching this, you won’t.
That’s all for this week! Have a favorite snack-sized horror short or creepy internet video? Share it in the comments!
Next week, we’ll be taking a look at Local 58 TV, a super bizarre and inexplicably creepy YouTube channel specializing in public access-style PSAs and broadcast glitches!