A combination of increasingly cheaper film making supplies and the magic of the Internet has given the short film a wider audience than it ever has had before. When you throw in our annual Splatterfest horror short film festival every year Houston ends up producing a startling amount of excellent and terrifying short films. The best part is ten of the best ones are available for free online, so if you've been wanting to dive into the Houston film scene but were unsure where to start today we've made it as easy as possible.
9. Ramon Medina, "C is For Cthulhu" Technically it's a music video for Medina's band Linus Pauling Quartet, but it's still a tremendous take on the classic H.P. Lovecraft story "The Call of Cthulhu". Medina condenses the tale down nicely into a single musical interlude and adds in a much needed female presence to the story in the form of the impossibly badass Makana Clemons. The Elder God himself is rendered through puppetry in a way that is actually pretty disturbing all things said and done.
8. John Johnson, Hadisville Inn" Here's an older one that started making the rounds about seven years ago. It's a possession story involving an adulterous preacher and a young mother he seduced who now appears to be inhabited by Satan. The female lead is Anita Star, once Houston's top goth model long since gone to God knows where. Even for an indie horror short it's a little low budget, but James Coate plays his preacher role with a refreshing straightness that keeps everything solidly on track.
7. Ibis Fernandez, "Death^7" Calling "Death^7" horror is a little inaccurate. The film is an exploration of the balance of death, and much of it is focused on fourth wall-breaking monologues. It's more touching than spooky, but the visual effects, while simple, do capture the haunted atmosphere perfectly for decent chills. As a commentary on dying and the concept of death personified it's not as good as, say, Christopher Alan Broadstone's "My Skin!", but it's definitely one of Houston's darker pieces of short film magic.
6. Jerry Ochoa, "Ninth Level" Jerry Ochoa is making a name for himself doing music videos as well as regular shorts and films. This haunted house story showcases his band Two Star Symphony as spectral musicians tormenting a group of teenagers. It's not a terribly original idea, more of a PG version of Night of the Demons than anything else, but there are some really first rate animated sequences that make it stand out as a powerful work.
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5. D Grant Carr, "Rusalka" Written by our own John Seaborn Grey for Splatterfest 2013, "Rusalka" is more of a black comedy short than true horror. There's some great gore effects and Patricia Sanchez is a knockout in her fish monster costume, but it's hard not to laugh as Drew Brown is dragged toward the sea by the rusalka crowing about how he's totally going to bang her before she kills him. It's weird as hell, but unforgettable.
4. Kerry Beyer, "Castle of the Damned" Easily the most visually impressive short on this list is Beyer's "Castle of the Damned". Scream queen Roxy Vandiver plays an evil queen who magically imprisons a princess a lone knight must rescue. Of all the parts I've seen Vandiver perform over the years I honestly think this one shows her skill as a physical actor as she infuses every gesture with menace and cruelty. Combined with special effects at least worthy of a better Syfy film it makes for a memorable short.
3. Chuck Norfolk, "Harvester of Terror 2: Redneck's Revenge" No one in Houston has horror dialogue like Chuck Norfolk. It's not every filmmaker that can open a movie with "This abandoned dildo factory is the best place to have a bachelorette party", but that's Norfolk for you. Things just get sillier and more bloody from there, and everything ends on the most hilarious wrong note ever. In a just world someone would turn over the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise to Norfolk and his team, resulting in the ultimate rebirth of murderous hilarity.
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2. Jeremy Sumrall, "In Extremis" A simple bit of torture porn, but an extremely well-shot one. Sumrall has a penchant for lingering camera shots following the curve of human bodies that makes the audience a sickeningly active participant in the breaking down of his on-screen victims. The standout is Christina Stroup as the bitter ex-convict looking to revenge herself on her lawyer with voodoo. Her portrayal is unnervingly dead inside. The expression on her face and the rotted tone of her mockery is worse than any hockey mask. She's just scary as hell looking at you.
1. Bernadette Arrington, "Daddy's Girl" Easily my favorite Splatterfest submission of all time is "Daddy's Girl". The whole thing is shot in a nightmarish wash of color that makes it hard to get a grip on what's going on. Nominally it's the story of a young girl who murders people in a ritual designed to find her father in Hell, but it's very easy to see the whole thing as an analogy for the destruction of familes by divorce and separations. Arrington taps deep into childhood fears of abandonment and their belief in their own faults for their parents' deeds to rub your nerves raw and that emotional connection is what makes it the best horror short in Houston... so far.