YouTube is a wonderful and sometimes terrifying place. The same site that holds countless supplies of cat videos is also home to a surprisingly large assortment of horror content – most of it trailers, some of it bootlegged videos (what do you mean I can watch all of Eight-Legged Freaks right now?!), but YouTube also contains a vast array of short films, all of which you can watch for free. There’s literally hundreds of them out there, but here we’ll get you started with nine of YouTube’s hidden horror gems.
Author’s Note: It was very, very hard to not spoil these fantastic short films, as many of them work best when you don’t know anything about them previously going in. Therefore, I’ve put all the witty descriptions below the video links, so if you want to watch the videos before reading more (which, honestly, you should) then you can. On to YouTube!
- The Black Hole
To start, let’s ease into this list with a fun little short called The Black Hole. The premise is straightforward, the main character’s intentions are (often hilariously) relatable, and the moral quandary it poses will make you question if you would’ve done the same given the circumstances. Of course, maybe not as hastily planned as our protagonist, but…
You may have seen the feature-length film that came out in 2013, but the short film that inspired it is, in my honest opinion, far more frightening than the film itself. If you’re familiar with the movie already then you’ll know the premise, but even if you do it’s worth checking out this little gem – it has the distinction of scaring Guillermo del Toro in under three minutes!
What makes this short film so great is the way it quickly sets up and executes its premise and builds suspense with almost no dialogue. The field of wheat, the ominous crow, the building soundtrack – it all combines to create a very real setting and weight of what you see unfold in its 5:29 running time. It’s a worthy study of what a good director can do, regardless of the length of their film.
This one serves to be the opposite of the previous entry: a patient in a psychiatric hospital is living with over five different split personalities, each played by a different actor or actress. As he is assessed by a psychiatrist, each personality talks through him like a medium channeling spirits, creating a nearly suffocating sense of claustrophobia as the doctor tries to reason with his scattered mind. The question is: will he be able to get all of his personalities in line in order to get out?
- Unedited Footage of a Bear
When I first saw this short film – actually one of a number of bizarre and oftentimes horrifying Adult Swim “Infomercials” – I thought I knew what was coming. Oh hey, it’s a jab at the YouTube ads you always see! Those idyllic kids with their stereotypical mom character are totally hilarious! But then I looked down. Holy shit, this thing is ten and a half minutes long?! And that’s around the time when things started to get really, really cerebral. I’m not going to spoil a single thing that I haven’t already mentioned about Unedited Footage of a Bear, but it’s something that you really have to see to experience. It will get in your head.
A short film that proves to be pretty comical while also being extremely bloody (or maybe it’s one that causes the other?) Invaders brings to life two of your average, run-of-the-mill home invaders, in this case trying to figure out what kind of personalities they’re going to play for their soon-to-be-in-progress home invasion. Of course, as these sorts of affairs often go, things aren’t always as easy as they first appear to be…
- Lights Out
Another on this list that is soon getting its own feature film adaptation, Lights Out has been featured in a number of “Best Of” lists, and with good reason. The premise, although simple enough – a creepy demon appears only when the lights are turned out – is executed with fantastic form here and terrifying results. It’s definitely one of the shorts on this list that will make that long-neglected night light seem much more welcoming.
In a world where zombie movies have been beaten to death (pun completely intended), it’s refreshing to see a short film like Cargo come along and change up the game. Again, it’s a short film that’s best if you know nothing about it going in, but don’t worry; the direction is excellent, the pacing is strong, and if it doesn’t make you shed a tear then you may be dead already.
- The Cat With Hands
To me, this is, and will always be, the classic online horror movie short. I saw this back when I was in high school, and some of the images that it creates still stick with me to this day. Maybe it’s because I was an impressionable kid; maybe it’s because it was 2001; but I believe it’s because this film encapsulates the perfect idea of a captivating narrative, an amazing setting and execution, and an absolutely unsettling story. Often imitated but never equaled, The Cat With Hands is a masterpiece of modern horror. Also, I just realized that this also counts as a cat video, so take that, circular narrative!
How many of these have you seen? All? None? Let us know in the comments and be sure to share this with anyone who you’d like to scare the living hell out of!