I love a good short horror film. It’s like reading a great short story. All the chills, thrills, and scares of a feature at less than a quarter of the time. Then there are those magic moments when, through the fear, you realize you’re seeing something that would make a fantastic feature film and wonder if it will ever happen.
Luckily for us, that’s exactly how some feature films are born. In fact, no few hits of the last five decades began their life as short films. The trick is finding the film that is more than a gimmick that can carry the feature length. With the breaking news of Mr. Thisforthat getting the feature treatment, I thought it was a good time to take a look at some of my favorites and share them with you!
Take a look below–where possible I’ve included links to the short films–and let us know which short films that became features are on your favorites list.
Short film title/Feature Film Title
The Sitter/When a Stranger Calls
When a Stranger Calls is almost synonymous with the urban legend of the babysitter tormented by phone calls late into the night only to discover they’re coming from inside the house. The feature made its debut in 1979 to mixed reviews with some critics panning it for its meandering plot.
Still, it set a benchmark for that particular type of film. Not since Black Christmas had strange phone calls felt so menacing.
What many people don’t know is that the movie began its life as a short film called The Sitter. It was made two years before the feature’s release in theaters, and is basically comprised of what would become the first 20 minutes of the feature. The film’s director, Fred Walton, after reportedly seeing Halloween and its success, decided to expand his film into something more.
Though the acting in the original short film leaves something to be desired, it still carries some of the trademark tension that Carol Kane would later take to a whole new level as the babysitter, Jill.
Lights Out/Lights Out
This, I think, was one of those shorts that feels like a one-trick pony. Don’t get me wrong, that trick is spectacular and I had no end of delight in making my friends watch it after I discovered David Sandberg’s short film Lights Out on YouTube.
Still, when a feature was announced, I was skeptical, and in some ways I was right. While they managed to create an interesting backstory, there were still elements that, for me, did not work in the feature.
Nothing that happened could take away the glory of that short film however.
When Leigh Whannell and James Wan were trying to get their first film off the ground, they decided the best way to sell Saw was to show Saw, not in its entirety, but in some way that would get the point across to studios what they intended to do.
So, they chose a short excerpt from their script and filmed it as a standalone proof-of-concept film. The scene involved the famed jaw trap aka the “reverse beartrap,” and as you know, it did its job very well. Saw was soon picked up and it debuted in October 2004.
I searched for an official link to the concept film. Sadly, it has only been uploaded to YouTube by channels who don’t actually own the rights to the material. Still, if you’ve seen that first film, you’ll remember the scene with Amanda and the famous trap. In the short film version, Whannell, who would star in the feature film, is the one who wakes up to find himself at Jigsaw’s mercy.
Siblings Andy and Barbara Muschietti have become quite the pair in horror circles in recent years, but some won’t remember they were responsible for one of the creepiest supernatural/ghost films of the early 2010s. It was called Mama, and it was based on a short film they’d previously produced by the same name.
Comprised of basically one scene, the short film was absolutely terrifying. and gave us a glimpse of what was to come in the feature. The tension is real in just under three minutes as two little girls do their very best to hide from Mama.
Take a look at the short with an introduction by the film’s producer Guillermo Del Toro.
Jennifer Kent’s short film Monster was made almost a decade before The Babadook was released, yet some of the elements of the latter film are most definitely there. The beginning of the creature design, the mother/son relationship, and even a creepy pop-up book all make appearances in a short film Kent has come to call “Baby Babadook” in the years since its release.
That original short is most definitely worth a watch and the if you haven’t seen The Babadook, I just don’t know what to tell you except, “Do it! Now. Watch that movie.”
This is a perfect example, however, of how a concept can grow, evolve, and elevate given time.
Oculus Chapter 3: The Man with the Plan/Oculus
Before it made its way to the big screen as Oculus, Mike Flanagan’s film about an evil/haunted mirror and its most basic concepts were presented in the half-hour long short film titled Oculus Chapter 3: The Man with the Plan.
The short beautifully told the story of a man and a mirror without a lot of bells and whistles in a way that was still bone-chilling in its simplicity.
It’s one that I’ve watched numerous times. I love even the lack of color for the most part in the film. It’s so starkly “real” looking from start to finish and it’s no wonder that it was picked up for expansion.
Season’s Greetings/Trick ‘R Treat
A decade before Trick ‘R Treat, the ultimate Halloween anthology film was released, writer/director Michael Dougherty crafted an animated short film that introduced the world to Sam, the masked trick or treater who is far more dangerous than he looks.
Season’s Greetings is a gorgeous film with amazing hand-drawn and colored animation and a soundscape that evokes a spooky Halloween night perfectly.
Of course, Sam is only one part of Trick ‘R Treat, but it is very cool to see where he started.