7 short horror films to watch with the lights out

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Michael Chaves’s “The Maiden” is a classic haunted-house story beginning with a real-estate agent readying a grand white mansion she can't just seem to sell. Photo from THE MAIDEN/VIMEO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — While there are people who enjoy the heart-pounding, hair-raising thrill that the horror genre gives them, others prefer to stick to tamer movies that allow them to sleep at night. This goes to show that the horror genre is doing exactly what it’s supposed to: It has people worrying about the mysteries that quietly surround the everyday. Why would one be afraid of something that supposedly doesn’t exist?

A new horror film premieres in cinemas all over the country today, and it’s bound to make viewers search for the night-lights of their childhood. Directed by David Sandberg, “Lights Out” was originally a short film with a quiet tale. The protagonist is on her way to bed, turning off the lights one by one, when she encounters a demon hiding in her home. Viewers watch the original “Lights Out” through their fingers, knowing very well that later on, they, too, will be in the same situation as the protagonist was.

CNN Philippines Life has compiled a list of short horror films — all available online — that give terrible images to the things that go bump in the night.


Erik Matti’s “Vesuvius” finds an ordinary man whose life spirals out of control when he begins experiencing surreal, eerie visions of the Virgin Mary. It’s a unique horror concept that’s also very close to the Filipino consciousness. There is hardly any dialogue; instead, Matti plays up the sound factor through creepy slowed-down versions of church songs, the buzzing sound a fly makes when it’s right in your ear, and indistinct whispering. The actor Gio Alvarez’s portrayal of an everyman slowly going insane brings Anthony Perkins’s Norman Bates to mind — and when the inevitable happens, viewers themselves will never be the same.

                                                                   “The Birch”

“The Birch” has a feel that resembles the simpler supernatural horror of the 70s. It combines all the telltale archetypes: glum youth in dark uniforms, the woods, ritualistic symbols, and, of course, a terrifying otherworldly creature to tie it all together. Opening in medias res — bloody knife, rotting corpse, disoriented screaming — it tells the story of a schoolboy being bullied by a classmate, whose grandmother gives him a mysterious book with a stick figure and tells him these items are all the help he needs. It feels more like a movie trailer than a short film, but that it leaves its audience wanting more is a good thing.

                                                            “A Date with Jao Mapa”

Released in 2000, “A Date with Jao Mapa” introduces the viewer to Alexa Lindo, the 90s teen heartthrob Jao Mapa’s biggest fan, and follows her attempts to catch her idol’s attention. These attempts soon prove fruitful when she follows his work week closely and orchestrates her very own meet-cute with the actor (Mapa starring as himself). Thus begins the titular date, which goes well, until they take it to the bedroom — and Alexa’s stalker-esque delusions get the best of her. Quark Henares’s early venture combines a self-awareness from meta-comedy, clever commentary on fan culture, and Bateman-flavored psychological horror to create a whip-smart, subversive narrative that continues to drop jaws over a decade on.

                                                                 “The Maiden”

Michael Chaves’s “The Maiden” is a classic haunted-house story with a modern twist. On a bright, sunny day, a real-estate agent finds herself challenged by a grand white mansion that she just can’t seem to sell. As she pushes up her sleeves and brings out her gear to spruce up the place, she slowly discovers that the house’s history did not end when the original owners passed away. Playing with the horror genre’s tropes, “The Maiden” will make its viewers wonder why that old house at the end of their street was never sold.

                                                                         “Still Life”

A young man, all hopped up on pills and coffee, accidentally hits a person on a long drive. Except, when he goes to check the damage he’s done, he finds that what he’s hit is actually a mannequin. As he walks around in a panic, he notices that the citizens of the town he has stumbled upon are all glassy-eyed and unmoving — but when he turns his gaze away and looks back, they all seem to have changed position. Operating on unsettling feelings from the uncanny-valley nature of mannequins and the idea of being alone and being watched, “Still Life” is a simple yet thoroughly creepy piece of work with an unnerving twist ending.

                                                            “2AM: The Smiling Man”

Based on a true story, “2AM: The Smiling Man” opens with a man taking a late-night walk around town to clear his mind, when he encounters another man in an old suit, looking skyward with wild eyes and a big, unwavering grin, and making waltz-like movements that seem to advance closer and closer to him. Thinking nothing of it, he crosses the street, only to realize that the man has followed him to that side of the road. The real encounter never results in any real danger, and the short film never gets gory or employs truly nightmarish images. But it’s still the kind of scary that keeps you up at night, wishing it never happens to you. “I’m not afraid of ghosts, devils or monsters,” said the man who wrote about his experience. “It’s people that frighten me.”


“Conventional” stars Karen Gillan, best known for her roles in “Doctor Who,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Selfie,” as a washed-up slasher-movie actress with overly plumped lips and eyes gone dull from jadedness. At a horror fan convention, Rachel Milligan (Gillan, who is also the writer and director) attempts to promote her new movie, “Axe Wound 2,” but grows more and more frustrated by the lack of interest from fans — all dressed up as the killer from “Axe Wound” — at her autograph signings, talks, and picture sessions. A person’s fall from stardom is surprisingly a common enough theme in horror. But Gillan is able to turn it on its head with a point of view that’s as funny as it is sad and full of dread.