25 Short Films that Dive into the Depths of the Mind’s Darknes

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Fans of horror and intense dramas are always on the lookout for the next movie to rattle them. But what’s often ignored is the vast world of short films that can often pack an incredible amount of catharsis, horror, and joy into short packages. So when one film fan asks what the most disturbing short is that people have seen, there are an overwhelming number of answers. So here I’ve gathered some of my favorites, the most agreed upon, and some I didn't enjoy but are worth highlighting.

1. The Separation (2003)

The Separation 2003
Image Credit: Animus Films.

The Separation is a ten-minute stop-motion short about conjoined brothers who are separated. The film then jumps ahead decades to the brothers working together in a doll factory, and one of them being inspired to attempt a rejoining by dolls that are accidentally stuck together. It’s the rare film that manages to be simultaneously sweet and upsetting.

You can watch it on YouTube.

2. Kitchen Sink (1989)

Kitchen Sink 1989
Image Credit: Hibiscus Films.

Kitchen Sink begins with a woman finding a hair in her (you guessed it) kitchen sink drain. She starts to tug on it, and it grows from one strand to a matted rope, and soon she pulls a small creature, resembling a human, from the sink. And that’s just the first two minutes of this fourteen-minute short that unsettles on a narrative and formal level with a grainy black and white and piercing industrial score. It’s also unsettling with purpose, asking questions about gender, housework, and indigeneity.

You can watch it on YouTube.

3. Portrait (1915)

Portrait 1915
Image Credit: Wladyslaw Starewicz.

1915’s Portrait is not exactly a short film. It was once a feature, but only an eight-minute fragment remains, and those eight minutes are incredibly effective, so I’m including it here. In the fragment, we see a man buy a portrait, bring it home, and slowly begin to feel that it is coming to life and possibly threatening him. But is he going mad, or is the portrait a threat? It’s a classic premise, but the execution here is impeccable and one of the spookiest things you can watch.

You can watch it on YouTube.

4. Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou 1925
Image Credit: Les Grands Films Classiques.

Un Chien Andalou is best known for the image of an eye being slit with a straight razor, and while that would certainly be enough for it to land on this list, there’s even more that makes the film disturbing. Its dreamy form that cuts seemingly randomly from one event and image to another is unnerving alone. But it’s only more troubling given that the images are of things like ants crawling out a hole in a hand, a young woman idly poking a severed hand with a stick and vehicular homicide.

You can watch it on YouTube.

5. Living Dolls (1980)

Living Dolls 1980
Image Credit: Todd Coleman.

There must have been something going on in 1980 because both the feature Maniac and the short Living Dolls released that year feature men who can’t distinguish between mannequins and real women. It’s a frightening premise that takes precise aim at misogyny, and Living Dolls makes the most of it in just nine minutes.

You can watch it on YouTube.

6. Tuck Me In (2014)

Tuck Me In 2014
Image Credit: Ignacio Rodó.

At just one minute, Tuck Me In is the shortest short on this list, but its brevity belies its power. Without spoiling anything, the film tells the story of a young boy who asks his father to tuck him in and then asks his father to check under the bed. It’s an incredible display of talent from filmmaker Ignacio F. Rodó who makes this one-minute short hit hard.

You can watch it on Vimeo.

7. The Fall (2019)

The Fall 2019
Image Credit: A24.

Jonathan Glazer is best known for his unnerving features like Birth and Under the Skin, and he brings that same skill for atmospheric and disconcerting cinema to his short. From the first image of someone in a creepy mask, The Fall is firmly in unsettling territory. When it expands to show a community of masked people hunting another one for a ritual fall, things only get more troubling.

You can watch it on the film’s website.

8. This House Has People in It (2016)

This House Has People In It
Image Credit: Adult Swim.

Many Adult Swim shorts are mentioned in the discussion, from Jack Stauber’s Opal to several of Alan Resnick’s films, including Unedited Footage of a Bear. But the most disturbing in a way that transcends “well, that was creepy” is Resnick’s This House Has People in It.

The short plays out across various security cameras in a home and tells the story of an unhappy family whose daughter begins to move through the floorboards after lying down. It’s simple but effective and includes some trademark Adult Swim strangeness without losing its genuinely upsetting narrative.

You can watch it on YouTube.

9. My Little Goat (2018)

My Little Goat 2018
Image Credit: Tomoki MISATO / Tokyo University of the Arts.

Like the other stop-motion short on this list, My Little Goat manages to include moments of genuine sweetness along with its horror. The short tells the story of a young boy who finds himself among sheep children who fear the return of a wolf. But it’s unclear exactly what’s real and what’s a vision conjured by the boy to hide from the cruelty he experiences in life.

The short alludes (fairly obviously) to child abuse without being entirely explicit but also injects humor and hope in places, making it very special.

You can watch it on YouTube.

10. The Big Shave (1967)

The Big Shave 1967
Image Credit: Janus Films.

Before he was one of the most celebrated directors of all time, Martin Scorsese made several shorts that showed off his filmmaking skills. The Big Shave begins by introducing viewers to a pristine white bathroom where the silver nozzles and levers shine. Soon a man comes in to shave; at first, things go normally, but soon he starts to draw blood, and then he keeps drawing blood. It’s a simple idea, but the execution makes one of the most mundane activities into something horrifying.

You can watch it on YouTube.

11. Fauve (2018)

Fauve 2018
Image Credit: H264 Distribution.

Fauve is the only short included here that was nominated for an Academy Award. The 2018 short film didn’t win the Oscar, but it won several other awards, and it’s easy to see why. The film follows two tween boys as they wander around a mostly unattended open pit mine and play a power struggle game with each other. But when one of the boys gets stuck in what appears to be wet cement, things take a dark turn.

You can watch it on Vimeo.

12. The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011)

The Strange Thing About the Johnsons 2011
Image Credit: American Film Institute.

I usually wouldn’t include something I strongly disagreed with, but many people cite Ari Aster’s short film The Strange Thing About the Johnsons as the most disturbing short they’ve seen. Several are aggressively emphatic about it, too.

I’ve seen it, and its story of a son who abuses his father while his mother allows it to happen doesn’t feel disturbing, so much as a weak attempt at being edgy.

You can watch it on Youtube.

13. The Telephone Box (1972)

The Telephone Box
Image Credit: Televisión Española.

Short films are incredibly well-suited to high-concept premises, and The Telephone Box does a fantastic job introducing an idea and wringing every ounce of dread and thematic power out of it. The short begins with four men installing a bright red phone booth in the middle of a park and a man shortly after entering the booth to make a call. But when the door closes on him, he can’t get out.

People gather and try to get him out, but to no avail, and soon it becomes a gathering place for spectators. I won’t spoil the short, but things take an even scarier turn about halfway through.

You can watch it on YouTube.

14. Possibly in Michigan (1983)

Possibly in Michigan
Image Credit: Cecelia Condit.

Possibly in Michigan is one of the most iconic works of 20th-century avant-garde cinema and feminist art, and it also recently became a TikTok sensation when some of its audio was used as a sound. The strange musical short about two women stalked by a man through a mall falls into a strange place that’s sort of funny because of how odd it is but is simultaneously unnerving because of how off everything on screen feels.

You can watch it on YouTube.

15. The Water Slide (2018)

The Water Slide
Image Credit: Nathan Truesdell.

The Water Slide is the only documentary short I’m including here because of how affecting it is on several levels. The short tells the story of the world’s tallest waterslide made in Kansas that closed after a boy was decapitated on the ride. It’s not just that horrific moment of violence, though, the aftermath of which is shown in local news footage, but the uncertainty and difficulty of building the slide.

We see tests where inner tubes filled with sandbags fly off the ride and hear the slide’s creators talk about how every engineer and mathematician they’ve spoken with has been wrong. It’s chilling stuff that may make you never want to step foot on any ride again.

You can watch it on YouTube.

16. Asparagus (1979)

Asparagus Suzan Pitt
Image Credit: Suzan Pitt.

Asparagus is a surreal, mixed-media animation short that explores issues of femininity, female bodies, sexuality, and more. It’s a film that’s impossible to synopsize because there’s not exactly a straightforward plot so much as several events that occur, including a jaw-dropping scene of two-dimensional creatures let loose in a three-dimensional stop-motion theater.

It’s a film that I find simply stunning and not precisely disturbing. But one of the cinephiles in the thread names it as one of the most disturbing shorts they’ve ever seen, and that variety of response is exactly what makes it so great.

You can watch it on YouTube.

17. Curve (2016)

Curve Short Film
Image Credit: Tim Egan.

Curve is a single location short that begins more viscerally thrilling than disturbing but slowly grows increasingly unsettling as it goes on. We see a young woman stuck on a curved cement structure with an empty black void below her. She tries to move up the wall but struggles. As she does so, leaving blood from her bleeding hands on the cement, she spots matching blood marks on the symmetrically curved wall opposite her. It’s an incredibly simple short made genuinely troubling by its execution.

You can watch it on YouTube.

18. Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared 5 (2015)

Don't Hug Me I'm Scared 5
Image Credit: Blink Industries.

The six videos that make up the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared series are all troubling in various ways. The series introduces us to puppets on a children’s show, and nearly every episode starts fun and bright before taking a dark turn. What makes Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared 5 exceptional is that it begins with the darkness. One of the three usual cast members is missing, and the other two know something is wrong but can’t quite figure out what it is. Things only get more unsettling and upsetting from there, making it the best of the series.

You can watch it on YouTube.

19. Carne (1991)

Philippe Nahon in Carne
Image Credit: Action Gitanes.

Gaspar Noé is well known as a provocateur, and that’s been part of his art since the beginning. Carne is one of his earliest films and includes real images of horse slaughter and human birth in its opening moments before turning into a character study of a butcher who is overly protective of the daughter he may also be attracted to. It’s bleak stuff and only gets bleaker as the short goes on, but it’s also impossible to look away from.

You can watch it on YouTube.

20. Cutting Moments (1996)

Cutting Moments 1997
Image Credit: Douglas Buck.

One of the most agreed upon disturbing short films in the thread, Cutting Moments is seriously not for the faint of heart. The film almost made me throw up and pass out, and I like to think I can handle pretty much anything. The short centers on a family of three (a mother, father, and son) torn apart by the father’s abuse of the son.

That abuse is never shown on screen, but we learn that the mother is aware of it. When she attempts to redirect her husband’s desire toward her, she fails and then takes up steel wool against her lips. That’s just the beginning of the body mutilation that goes on to involve garden shears. As I said, it’s not for the faint of heart.

You can watch it as the first part of an anthology on Tubi.

21. Scorpio Rising (1963)

Scorpio Rising Kenneth Anger
Image Credit: Kenneth Anger.

Scorpio Rising, by the late great gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger, isn’t necessarily disturbing for any of the images on screen but more for how it draws the viewer in and then turns things on them. The short has no dialogue and essentially plays out like a jukebox music video of fifties bubblegum pop songs over images of handsome men working on motorcycles, lounging in bed, and donning leather jackets.

It draws you into this world of attractive men and their aesthetic hypermasculinity before slowly introducing terrible imagery and other fascist markers. It’s a short that’s not shocking or jarring so much as it asks us uncomfortable questions.

You can watch it on YouTube.

22. The Grandmother (1970)

The Grandmother 1970 David Lynch
Image Credit: Janus Films.

Several film fans mention the short films of David Lynch, and for me, The Grandmother is the most unsettling of his short works. The film mixes two-dimensional animation with a strange live-action world to create an uncomfortable sense of a world unlike ours.

A boy lives in an entirely black home, save for some white chalk lines to mark the places where walls meet, with his cruel father and mother. So he decides to grow a grandmother. He discovers some seeds and plants them on a bed, where a plant soon grows and eventually gives birth to a grandmother. It’s another short that’s not disturbing for any violence or brutality but for the unnerving atmosphere, it creates that envelopes the viewer.

You can stream it on The Criterion Channel.

23. My House Walk-Through (2016)

My House Walk-Through
Image Credit: PiroPito.

My House Walk-Through is exactly what its title says: a walk-through of a home. That walk-through just so happens to defy the laws of physics and grow increasingly scary. It’s a found footage short that repeats the same walk down two hallways in a home. The film frequently repeats the on-screen descriptions of what we are seeing or about to see in a way that becomes almost mantra-like and creates a strange sense of intertwined comfort and horror. But as the film moves into its final stretch, things become anything but comforting.

You can watch it on YouTube.

24. Flora (1989)

Flora 1989 Jan Švankmajer
Image Credit: Jan Švankmajer.

Jan Švankmajer is one of the most beloved stop-motion animators of all time, and many of his short films could feature on this list, but his just over 30-second 1989 short Flora remains my favorite and the one that makes me feel the most queasy. The film shows the rapid decomposition of a humanoid body made entirely out of plants, fruits, and vegetables in a way that forces us to think about our own bodies and their inevitable returns to the Earth.

You can watch it on Vimeo.

25. Safety (2019)

Safety 2019
Image Credit: Easter Moon Films / Composite Films.

One film fan highlights Safety as a powerfully disturbing short, and while I agree, I also have some issues with the film. It opens with a group of grade school children during physical education class who are shepherded into a locker room and then office by their teacher when they hear gunshots.

The early scenes are incredibly tense, but when the film expands to the world beyond the classroom and introduces the shooter, I can’t help but feel that it falls apart a bit. Either way, school shootings are a bold topic to tackle in a short film, and Safety does its best to do justice to the horrors of that experience.

You can watch it on YouTube.

Source: Reddit

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Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer

  • Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
  • Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
  • Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
  • Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites

Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.