For our final Sunday of the month, I thought I’d show you guys just exactly why these internet short films are so cool.
Sure, they’re great bits of horror content in their own right, provided quick little jolts of spooky atmosphere to your system like a 5 Hour Energy shot. But the really exciting thing is how they’ve leveled the playing field for filmmakers. Long gone are the days when the only way to break into the film industry was through personal connections. That still plays a factor, of course, but now, thanks to the wide-reach of the internet, talent can be discovered anywhere in the world. Many, many mainstream horror directors in the past decade or so have gotten their start in the industry thanks solely to short films like we’ve been looking at all this month.
So to cap off the showcase, here’s just a few of some shorts that not only launched their creators to commercial success, but that also inspired feature-length films based on their premises.
I briefly mentioned this all the way back in week one, but David F. Sandberg, who would go on to direct Annabelle: Creation and both Shazam! films, got his big break by way of the viral success of this short. Sandberg was chosen to direct the feature length version of Lights Out as well, which was a strong (if watered down) adaptation of what made this original piece so creepy. That final shot haunts me.
Another directorial debut from a now well-established industry mainstay, Mama is a Spanish-language short that launched It director Andy Muschietti to horror stardom. As with Lights Out, the short is light on story, only really serving to highlight Muschietti’s conceptual strength as a visual horror storyteller. It’s tense and atmospheric, and serves as a perfect appetizer for the longer, theatrical version, which effectively preserves the tone and feel of the short. And hey, it’s got Guillermo del Toro’s endorsement, so it must be good.
The Babadook has become a so-called ‘elevated horror’ darling since its release in 2014, and for good reason. It’s a thoughtful, restrained, and complex exploration of the psychology behind grief and loss, as well as a fiercely effective source of scares to boot. And director Jennifer Kent’s short film ‘Monster,’ while clearly being an early version of the story, is similarly effective. You really get a sense for the narrative that Kent wanted to tell, as well as the cinematic tricks she would go to use in the full-length adaptation in order to ramp up the tension and suspense. And, the kid is slightly more tolerable in the short version, which is a welcome difference.
Although he’s more known now for his Tom Holland Spider-Man films, director Jon Watts (like many MCU directors) actually got his start with some shockingly grisly horror. His short film ‘Clown,’ which was made as a fake trailer designed to get the attention of genre mainstay Eli Roth, was an effective method of self-advertisement, allowing a full-length version of the film to ultimately get made. Roth even attached himself as a producer, impressed with the gall Watts had to directly implicate his involvement in the short. Quick, snappy, and to the point, ‘Clown’ shows you everything you need to know about Clown’s eventual release, in one minute-sized chunk.
Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man With the Plan
For many horror fans in the modern age, Mike Flanagan is basically God. Hush, Doctor Sleep, The Haunting of Hill House, Midnight Mass; All certified classics, all from the same genius, masterful mind. And his early film Oculus, while not quite up to par with his later work, is still an excellent, terrifying romp based on a clever, deeply creepy concept. This concept, about evil reflections, would first manifest itself in this short – although calling it a short may be generous – and would attract sufficient attention to have the feature produced in full. Overly long and perhaps not quite up to snuff in the acting department, it’s still an impressive display of technical talent, and would help to establish Flanagan as the icon he is today.
This one is a bit of a cheat, since the short was released well before the YouTube age, but still proves that, even before mass media and internet culture, short films were still a great way to get industry attention for budding horror filmmakers. The inspiration behind Sony’s Darkness Falls ‘The Tooth Fairy’ is also an excellent example of the point I’ve been trying to hammer home all this month: Sometimes, less is more. The short is a great bit of self-contained, conceptually smart gothic fun. The film, on the other hand, is an incomprehensible mess. While I’m glad writer Joe Harris was able to see some mainstream success, the full film is proof that maybe some ideas are better left as shorts.
Horror shorts are great. Sometimes, you want to get a good scare, without sitting through the half hour of exposition you would normally get from a feature-length film. And, as we’ve just seen, they’re great for the filmmakers too, often garnering enough attention to launch them to mainstream success, and get full-sized versions of their concepts produced for theatrical release. In many ways, they’re one of the few remaining ways that a regular person outside of the industry has any shot in getting their big break.
And horror is just about the only genre that this works for!
Keep an eye out as you’re browsing YouTube in the future. You never know what sort of creepy, sinister, snack-sized spooks you might discover!