10 Notable Shorts from Famous Horror Directors

We all know the names: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Guillermo Del Toro. These are just a few directors who defined (and redefined) the horror genre. Now I’m sure you’ve memorized their feature filmography. But have you ever seen their short films? TV episodes? Anthology segments?

Well you should. Short form is deceptively difficult to pull off. After all, you have ninety plus minutes to tell a story in a feature film. Try telling an equally meaningful tale in nineteen minutes. Or nine. It ain’t easy. It is easy, however, to kick your feet up and watch how these directors rose to meet that challenge, each in their own unique way. So recline that chair and join me as I share ten of my favorite shorts directed by horror’s biggest names.

Tobe Hooper – Body Bags Segment – “Eye” (1993)
Tobe Hooper’s style is tough to deconstruct. His shot design is very basic. But good God does the guy have an eye (forgive the pun) for gruesome imagery. “Eye” is the final segment of the anthology flick Body Bags. Mark Hamill plays Brent, a baseball pitcher who, after a gnarly car accident, has his eye replaced with a serial killer’s. Thanks doc. Soon he’s shouting Bible verses, seeing corpses crawl from their graves, and threatening his wife with grass shears. It’s a hoot. Hammil’s hammy accent aside, this is half an hour of madness worth your time.

Stuart Gordon – “Masters of Horror” Episode – “Black Cat” (2007)
Stuart Gordon’s always loved his gothic writers. So it’s no surprise that he chose to write and direct an Edgar Allen Poe inspired yarn. Yes, I’m aware that “Masters of Horror” was an uneven show. At best. But “Black Cat” was a high point for the series. Jeffrey Combs plays Poe with his typical charming lunacy. Which could have been enough to buoy this hour. Gordon’s script, however, doesn’t let him off that easy. Combs is forced to play a wide range of emotions in “Black Cat”, from fawning affection to murderous fury. All of which Combs pulls off, credibly. Really that encapsulates the appeal of this episode: it’s got variety. There’s humor. There’s suspense. There’s a person getting hit in the face with an ax. What more could you ask for? Poignancy maybe? Well Poe and Virginia’s doe-eyed romance ticks that box too. I recommend this television hour without reservation…unless you’re a cat person.

George Romero – Creepshow Segment – “The Crate” (1982)
Romero’s INSERT TIME OF DAY of the Dead franchise casts a long shadow, one that often distracts us from his other neat little films like Creepshow. There’s a lot to love about this dark gem. But my heart belongs to the film’s fourth segment, “The Crate”. It’s adapted from a Stephen King short story, which begins when a college custodian finds a crate hidden beneath a basement stairwell. He and a professor wrench the 147 year old box open to find a pile of treasure! Nah, I’m kidding. They find a nasty little monkey monster that devours the janitor, bones and all. Its hideous. Its hungry. Its designed by Tom Savani. So each time it performs its bloody Jack-in-the-box act, we get a nice helping of gore. In between these heart-exploding moments, there’s plenty of cruel humor on offer from character actors like Adrienne Barbeau and Hal Holbrook. All of whom Romero directs with the just the right level of camp.

John Carpenter – Body Bags Segment – “The Gas Station” (1993)
I pondered whether to go with this or Carpenter’s “Master of Horror” entry “Cigarette Burns”. Ultimately though I think this is the better choice, given the simple concept and relative obscurity of “The Gas Station”. Anne (Alex Datcher) is a college student who signs up to work the night shift at an 24-hour gas station. A career path that makes stripping seem like a conservative choice. Especially since it’s not long before she’s got weirdos like Wes Craven sauntering up to her window. Who manages, somehow, to be creepier than Anne’s worst customer: an escaped mental patient sporting a sledgehammer / machete combo. Yikes. Obviously “The Gas Station” is short on plot. Which I mean as a compliment. The bare-bones story allows Carpenter oodles of time to build tension. And while the build-up might be better than the pay-off here, Carpenter’s knack for pacing makes this a thrilling little slice of cinema.


Sam Raimi – “Ash vs Evil Dead” – “El Jefe” (2015)
Ready for some heresy?! Okay here goes…I think “Ash vs Evil Dead”, for the most part, has been a missed opportunity. The episodes are too formulaic, the plot spins its wheels, and the characters are so thin you can almost see through them. Problems made all the more glaring since the series’ first episode, “El Jefe”, was pure magic. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. Raimi was at the helm (and behind the pen) after all. The result is a hyper-visual roller coaster propelling us from one clever joke to the next gory kill. It’s the perfect blend of Evil Dead 1 and 2 done, finally, with enough of a budget to elevate the effects above absurdity. If you’re an Evil Dead fan and somehow you haven’t seen this, treat yourself.

Mario Bava – Black Sabbath Segment – “I Wurdalak” (1963)
Bava, like many of his giallo counterparts, used color to great effect in his films. But the story’s the standout here. “I Wurdalak” is the last segment of Bava’s anthology Black Sabbath. It stars Boris Karloff as Gorca, a Russian man turned Wurdalak. Besides having the world’s worst name, a Wurdalak is a vampire that feeds on the blood of its loved ones. Which makes for an awkward family reunion. In all seriousness, there’s some smart writing here. Technicalities are used to steer the plot in unexpected directions. Moreover, there’s something so tragic about watching a family literally and figuratively devour itself. That sounded melodramatic. Let me just end on this picture of a severed head hanging from a post. All better.


Joe Dante – Twilight Zone: The Movie – “It’s a Good Life” (1983)
From the man who brought you The Howling and Gremlins (okay it’s KIND of a horror movie), I present “It’s a Good Life”. Like the aforementioned shorts, Dante’s Twilight Zone: The Movie segment sports some spiffy practical effects. There’s a giant ghoulish rabbit. A Tasmanian Devil-Thing. A kid who can make anything appear with his mind. Can I just say what a brilliant idea that is? I know this is a remake of an old “Twilight Zone” episode, so it’s no reflection of Dante’s talent. Regardless, there’s something so fundamentally weird about watching a bunch of adults cowering before a child. Or the inherent conflict of what to do with an infinitely powerful brat. Do you lock him up? Teach him? Kill Him? Well I know one thing: Steven Spielberg and John Landis both directed portions of Twilight Zone: The Movie. And their contributions don’t hold a candle to Dante’s fantastic little fable.

James Wan – Saw Short (2003)
Before torture porn was a thing and Saw had more sequels than there are numbers in pi, there was Saw…the short film! It’s basically a nine minute long Nine Inch Nails music video with a plot. But a good plot. The short starts halfway through a police interrogation. A neat little trick that piques our interest and establishes the stakes. The suspect / witness David (Leigh Whannell) doles out the exposition piecemeal, which strings our attention along well enough. This all leads into the inevitable set-piece (an ACTUAL ticking-clock scenario) and pays off with a decent twist. Wan tells his story in less than ten minutes, effectively, with nothing much more than a few DYI props and a silly doll on a bike. Humble beginnings for one of today’s top-flight directors.

Guillermo Del Toro – Geometria Short (1987)
This is more of an oddity. Guillermo Del Toro made this short in 1987, long before he was the face of modern horror. So this is, by all accounts, is the work of a student filmmaker. That said, signs of Del Toro’s talent still flash through here. There’s a use of contrasting colors (blue and magenta) that echo Mario Bava’s palette. Del Toro uses subtle sound effects to establish atmosphere too. He even nails the tone of the short, making sure it plays comedically enough to offset the story’s cruel irony. Del Toro might cringe watching this today. Me though? I’ve seen my fair share of student films. Most are reeking garbage. Geometria, on the other hand, is evidence that even from a young age, Del Toro had game.

Wes Craven – Paris, je t’aime Segment – “Père-Lachaise” (2006)
Wes Craven knew how to make a hit. He also knew how to make a terrible movie. The segment “Pere-Lachaise”, however, is neither. So why include it? Well because it’s so unlike most of Craven’s other films. And there’s a value to that. It’s also a fine example of a short with an appropriate scope. An engaged couple visit Oscar Wilde’s grave. The guy says something stupid, the girl calls off wedding. Oscar Wilde’s ghost appears with choice advice re: life. There’s not a ton of backstory or set-up. There’s just two lovers (and a ghost) working out their differences, one snarky barb at a time. A conflict perfectly suited for six minutes of your time.

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Kyle Adams

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