DISPATCHES FROM THE UNDERGROUND: Revisiting Five Memorable Horror Shorts



*Editor’s note: Justin R. Lafleur put together this list and wrote a bit about five short films that you should check out. Good stuff, so be sure to give them a watch asap! -Jerry

The life of a short horror film can be a thankless existence. It begins its conception removed from the advance buzz and fanfare that frequently accompanies more prestigious titles with greater running lengths. It is created, essentially, in a vacuum. Nobody covers its production, be it pre or post. By and large, we are unaware of its presence until after it has completed its journey throughout film festivals of varying esteem. This is, of course, a short film’s first shot at momentary renown. Sometimes it achieves that glory, or at the very least, a few favorable words written about its merits on the fringes of the internet. Many times it will get lost amongst the overwhelming amount of content going toe to toe against one another, vying for someone’s validation that this, this short film, is indeed a director’s promising calling card, his shot at bigger and better things.

If that approach fails to capture the public’s attention, there is always hope that your abbreviated film will catch on with audiences via media streaming sites such as Youtube, as was the case with last month’s award winning, word-of-mouth viral success, Lights Out (directed by David F. Sandberg). Hell, even the New York Daily News sat up and took notice. Their headline begged the question. “Scariest short film ever?” If I may answer that question, it just might be, in fact, precisely that. Running at only two minutes and forty-two seconds, almost immediately Lights Out’s narrative elicits a gasp of startled horror from you, its spectator, a horror that expertly and quickly develops into mounting dread, sustained right up until the film’s shivery denouement. With over six million views and accompanying viewer comments on the aforementioned media sites that echo such sentiments, Sandberg appears to have struck a nerve with audiences in a way that ninety minute, feature length films only dream of doing. It plays us like a fiddle. It gets in, it gets the job done and leaves an indelible mark on our imagination and a lingering hesitation to dim the lights before we retire to bed. This short film is, unarguably, one of the most potent examples of genre filmmaking so far this year. So with that in mind, what has become of it a month after it hit the internet like an atom bomb?

Presented below are five short films of differing aim, focus, length and date of production (the oldest dating back thirteen years). They range from an emotional procedural set after a zombie outbreak to French Canadian surrealism. From a breathless, action-packed race to remain the last contender standing in a cruel game of survival to a Cronenberg-esque sci-fi yarn where one’s bizarre new lease on life is determined by faceless policymakers and number-crunchers to lastly, an old-school creep-fest about a couple besieged late at night by someone, or something not altogether human. They’re exceptional films and deserving of both revisiting and a new, larger, appreciative audience.


Poster - The City Without WindowsTHE CITY WITHOUT WINDOWS (aka La dernière voix)(2002, Canada, 13 min.)

I know I have already spoken of my deep seated love and admiration for the works of Montreal filmmaker Karim Hussain elsewhere online. It’s just that, well dear readers, I happen to think that he is one of thee most exciting horror movie makers toiling away at the margins of the genre right now. Period. When he isn’t directing gorgeously disturbing cinema as with 2000’s Subconscious Cruelty, whose twisted world of sex, mutilation and sacrilege was like nothing I had ever experienced before (or experienced since), he’s collaborating with the likes of Spain’s Nacho Cerdà on 2006’s Fulci-esque fever dream The Abandoned (which he co-wrote) or Jason Eisener’s recent Hobo With a Shotgun (for which he was the film’s cinematographer) in addition to television’s much-praised, visually arresting Hannibal. His output in feature length material certainly doesn’t match that of his brothers and sisters currently working within the field, but he has managed to make his presence felt almost yearly in other forms of media (namely shorts) with his decidedly unique vision that consistently dares to trespass where the sacred and the profane become one.

The City Without Windows (aka La Dernière Voix), co-directed and written with Hussain’s frequent producer Julien Fonfrede (Ascension, The Beautiful Beast), City’s story unfolds in a dreamlike, bizarre future that has replaced our own. A future where one day, unrelenting acidic rain begins to fall and never stops. But that is just the beginning of the nightmare…


La Dernière Voix/City Without Windows from resinsavia on Vimeo.

Poster - The 3rd LetterTHE 3RD LETTER

(2010, USA, 15 min)

It’s not news to anyone that the very best science fiction tales, whether they been cinematic endeavors, those of literature or any other form of storytelling, present to us, the audience, a world fantastical beyond our wildest dreams and yet wholly recognizable as our own. Which is precisely what award winning director Grzegorz Jonkajtys (The Ark, Official Selection – Cannes Film Festival, Best of Show – SIGGRAPH 2007, and Mantis) has achieved with his beautiful and hauntingly realized short film, The 3rd Letter. Set amidst a distinctive, dystopian backdrop where humans utterly and completely depend upon bio-mechanical alterations to their bodies to withstand our world’s deteriorating climate, The 3rd Letter manages to not only come off as a lost Cronenberg-esque masterpiece (with shades of eXistenZ, especially with its strange creature design), but catches it’s viewer completely unaware with not only it’s dark elegance, but it’s wholly identifiable horror. Class disparities between the haves and the have-nots, unavailable medical treatment for those less financially fortunate and a gray, sickened world slowly decaying from humanity’s very presence in it. It’s a grimly gorgeous 15 minutes and fully deserving of your time.

The 3rd Letter from grzegorz jonkajtys on Vimeo.

Poster - ProximityPROXIMITY

(2013, USA, 11 min.)

A familiar story gets an impressive, modern day upgrade. Think Richard Connell’sThe Most Dangerous Game with detonating ankle bracelets. Made under the ethos of “just get out there and DO IT”, Proximity is a prime example of run and gun guerilla filmmaking at its finest. Or to hear director Ryan Connolly tell it (who brings the same amount of excitable energy to his short film as he does his breathless, mile-a-minute means of speech), Proximity is what can be accomplished with enough know-how, gumption and willingness to make the best of a bad situation. The production was thrown together at the last minute to capitalize on the temporary availably of out-of-state crew and performers who had initially been gathered together to work on something else entirely. When that originally planned film, Outsiders, fell through, Connolly thought fast and devised a story that could be told quickly and with little fuss. But this is not to say that making Proximity was easy or without its challenges. As Connelly relates, it was “the the most challenging thing that he ever had to shoot.” Made within ten days in the middle of nowhere without access to electricity for the filming equipment, by the time the script was completed the director was planning his days the morning of the shoot. But it doesn’t show and you wouldn’t know, or perhaps it does show, in the very best of ways; in the film’s go-for-broke pacing, sparse dialogue and kinetic violence. After all, the proof is all right there on the screen, that whatever obstacles Connelly was working against, they certainly worked to his film’s benefit. You don’t have take my word for it though, see for yourself below. PROXiMITY (A Short Film by Ryan Connolly) from Ryan Connolly on Vimeo.

Poster - SpoilerSPOILER

(2011, USA, 18 min.)

Emotions first. Zombies later. Therein lies the philosophy behind Spoiler, Daniel’s Thron’s involving, emotionally gripping short film about the undead. It’s budget may be small (reportedly somewhere near $5,000) but this reality is belied by the film’s ideas and scope, which is large and relatable on a universal scale while simultaneously remaining small and intimate. It is the near future. We now live in a post-zombie apocalypse. Humanity fought back against the swarms of infected undead and won. However, the threat of society being overthrown by the zombie hordes still remains, lingering over our attempts to return to some semblance of normality. Thankfully, this peril is manageable through swift, tactical response from our new world’s new hero: the coroner. Spoiler cuts past the typical zombie bullshit and gets right to the heart of the matter, chiefly what is man to do when faced with an unavoidably tragic situation, the outcome of which lies solely in his hands. It tugs at the heartstrings with seemingly no effort at all. It works. The running time says eighteen minutes, but in truth, the experience feels more like eight, so engrossing is the narrative. Enjoy. Spoiler from spoiler movie on Vimeo.

Poster - The WhistlerTHE WHISTLER

(2013, USA, 7 min.)

Here is one unsettling short film that will ensure that you immediately remove your bird feeder from your property the minute after having viewed it. Or maybe it will ensure that your bird feeder is always full for any hungry visitors that may stop by, truth is I’m not exactly sure what the crux of that story detail is. Suffice to say, it doesn’t matter because what short fiction writer /photographer / director Bryce McGuire conjures up in The Whistler is a shockingly creepy time regardless of narrative vagueness.

A young couple Kate (Kate Cobb) and Mark (Joshua Schell) begin experiencing odd occurrences in and around their second story apartment, many of the strange instances seeming to stem from the bird feeder that hangs outside their apartment’s balcony. They blow off the incidents as strange, yet unimportant. That was their first mistake. Something is lurking nearby, waiting and watching from the old oak tree that shades their home. It has already signaled its presence to them in the form of a ceaseless, nearby whistling. It has already warned them with the placement of a single feather where one ought not be. The sun is dimming, night is falling and very soon Kate and Mark will wish wish they heeded the Whistler’s song.

THE WHISTLER from Bryce McGuire on Vimeo.

Like an adult Mayfly, whose lifespan lasts anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, a short film spreads its beautiful wings and flits about the place before succumbing to a premature death as a matter of course. Circumstances, (bereft of privileges like the presumed immortality of physical media and getting released on said format, nostalgic poster art and the like) conspire against it and time quickly buries it in oblivion. If it is lucky, if it achieves as shown in the films discussed above; it briefly flies like that Mayfly across our field of vision and then promptly, sadly fades.

-Justin R. Lafleur

One Response to “DISPATCHES FROM THE UNDERGROUND: Revisiting Five Memorable Horror Shorts”
  1. Kris Anticknap says:

    I have never even heard of these titles, much less have I seen them. I’ll be sure to check them out.

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