15 Second Horror Film Challenge

How short can you – legitimately – make a cinematic scare? There are people who would say that a second is enough, but these people are probably discussing jump-cuts. Jump-cuts aren’t scary; jump-cuts are the equivalent of someone screaming BOO! into your ear to trigger a reflex reaction. Most people need – and expect – rather more than that – but the question remains – how short can a film possibly go?

One possible answer comes with the Troma ’15 Second Horror Film Challenge’, brainchild of Andrew J. D. Robinson, the founder and festival programmer. This international, non-profit open competition challenges filmmakers to come up with something which, although only seconds long, engages the viewer and tells them a short story. Using a celebrity panel (last year the likes of Laurence R Harvey, Barbie Wilde, Geretta Geretta and Tiffany Shepis were judges) the festival has come up with a Top 20, which we can share with you now.

I have to admit, a part of me was a little sceptical about the whole 15 seconds thing. However, I really enjoyed most of these films, and they showed that horror can be distilled down a great deal, yet still be effective. (Take note, rookie filmmakers who feel that only two hours can possibly do.) Could films go lower that 15 seconds? Probably not, but who knows? There’s some neat, versatile thinking going on here; maybe some of these filmmakers could even stand to lose a few seconds more and still come up with something which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end/makes you squirm, or so on. Anyway, onto the films themselves. Enjoy!

Please follow the link to the playlist here…

The Winners – 1st to 5th places

Emma, which won the competition in 2017, successfully takes a few familiar ideas which we have as a culture about hauntings. Firstly, that the ghost wants to tell a tale about what happened to them; secondly, that the deed that did for them will still be visible on them somehow. The presence of a smiling child reflecting all of this back at us is an effectively unseemly thing. In second place, Daddy Daughter Day plays for laughs, but in its own gruesome way reminds us that most accidents occur in the home. Free Fallin’, in third place, has nothing to do with Tom Petty (RIP) but a lot to do with the old belief that, if you dream you are falling, you’d better wake up before you hit the ground or else you’ll die in real life. Here, the aftermath of that becoming a reality gives us a gruesome punchline. Drain, taking fourth place, has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it supernatural spin (geddit?) but shows us, again, an event taking place in a domestic setting which is either frightening or grotesque. So far as there’s any sort of a theme to these Top 20 films, it’s that domestic spaces and little darlings can quickly disrupt normality.

In fifth place, Paradox is, for me, the pick of the bunch. People have reported seeing or hearing things which seem to be out of their proper time, and how unsettling an effect this has. Paradox runs with this idea and creates something claustrophobic and nightmarish. It’s quite brilliant.

6th to 10th places

Good Night! comes in sixth, and plays around with another horror staple – the monster lurking under the bed. Interestingly, here we have another child who is somehow involved in disrupting normality. Goodnight Reader (7th) questions what we see and how we see it, when a chance glance at a bedtime book reveals a message you wouldn’t want to see written there. Night Patrol (8th) felt more like a snippet from a longer feature, but it showcased a number of characters and some effective SFX even during its short timeframe. If You’re Happy and You Know It (9th) is reminiscent of some old horrors like I Don’t Want To Be Born, hinting at metamorphosis and – yep – more demonic young ‘uns. Nail Biter (10th) is more of a gross-out along the lines of ordeal horror, though to be fair, it utilises an approach I’d never seen before and makes a refreshing change from your standard household tool torture.

11th – 20th places

The Sitter successfully reinvigorates the idea of the ‘hex’ or even the voodoo doll, a hex artefact, but does it via a neat idea whereby an annoying babysitter is silenced through a young girl’s arts and crafts hobby. Bad Timing (12th) is a skit which, again, feels like part of a broader narrative, but has fun with the assailant/victim motif in a way which has a lot in common with the Troma sense of humour. The Devil Made Me Do It (13th) again plays for laughs, and did make me laugh – investigating the cliché phrase which gives it its title and coming up with a strong, silly end visual. Yep, I could watch more of this sort of thing. Luckily enough, Showtime (14th) allows me to do just that, with its mad mash-up between Frankenstein and The Muppets. In a different vein altogether, Retina (15th) is visually very slick and laden with symbolism, bringing up ideas about cults and the apocalypse, though perhaps not quite coherently enough for the fifteen second format. VR (16th) breaks the wall between virtual reality and real life, whilst First Spray (17th) turns a first date gone awry into a sinister murder set piece. Possibly, like Retina, there are too many things to keep track of here, though the film is attractive and well-shot. Just Like You (18th) gives us a grisly punchline to some children’s play. Then there’s Making Faces (19th) which, for me, used the fifteen second formula really well, bringing in modern technology (face-swap apps) and having this ‘bit of fun’ rapidly give way to a horrifying vision. Last, but not least, False Scares (20th) shows us that something not being there can be as alarming as something that is.

Keri’s completely unasked-for Top Three:

1 – Paradox

2 – Good Night!

3 – Making Faces

Are you a filmmaker who think they’d like to have a go at this themselves? Well, you can. The competition is now open for 2018, and you are invited to visit the festival website for further information by clicking here.