Either as an attempt to attract investors or just to be screened on their own, filmmakers have often used short films as a platform to kick-start their careers. With Oculus out on Blu-ray and DVD this week we thought we’d take a look back at another five horror movies that started out as short films.
1. Evil Dead
One of the most iconic horror sagas is, without a doubt, the gory and comedic Evil Dead series. The Evil Dead was a larger budget remake of Sam Raimi’s short Within the Woods and very similar in terms of plot pacing and effects. A group of four friends, Bruce (Bruce Campbell), Ellen (Ellen Sandweiss), Shelly (Mary Valenti) and Scotty (Scott Spiegel) rent a cabin in the woods. then they go down to the basement, find the book of the dead and… Well, you know where all this is going, don’t you?
Within The Woods was originally shown as a double bill alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which eventually enabled Sam Raimi and his crew to secure funding for the feature-length version The Evil Dead.
In 2008 Sitges International Film Festival premiered a short film called Mama. The audience loved this very short and intense film (only 3 minutes long). Directed by writer-director Andy Muschietti the film was shot in a single unbroken take and five years later, a feature-length Mama was produced by Guillermo Del Toro which made over $146 million on the box office on a budget of just $15 million. The short was terrifying, but was what about the feature? Not so much.
3. Rare Exports
Heading back to Sitges Film Festival in 2010 and another excellent short film premiered called Rare Exports. The film won the award for best director, best film and best cinematography. The awards were for a film based on not only one, but two short films by writer-director Jalmari Helander (Rare Exports Inc. and Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions). Rare Exports Inc. was a great online success in 2003 and 2 years later the same team produced the sequel. With the success of these two shorts, Helander convinced the Finnish production company Cinet to invest in a feature-length adaptation.
In 2003 James Wan and Leigh Whannell had written a script for a horror film, but they had no money to make it and no investors who trusted them. Not ready to give up, they decided to take a scene from the screenplay and shoot it. With virtually no budget, and with one of them also starring in the short, the film was filmed the same year. Both Wan and Whannell then screened the short for Lionsgate who agreed a deal immediately and approved a $1.2 million budget for a full feature film. Neither Wan nor Whannell were paid for making the film, but they agreed to get a percentage of the royalties from a film that was supposed to be released straight to DVD. After being screened at Sundance, the film was released and made $103 million worldwide. It started a franchise of seven films which has made over $870 million at the box office.
This flick sits between a horror movie and a comedy for kids. Frankenweenie is a black and white short directed by Tim Burton in 1984. The film is both an homage and a parody of the classic horror monster Frankestein. The short was scheduled to premiere worldwide before the film Pinocchio in December 1984 but it never did as Disney thought it wasn’t suitable for young audiences. It was, however, screened in the UK in 1985. Nearly 30 years later, Tim Burton decided to make a feature-length film of his short. Whereas the original was a live action film, the new Frankenweenie was an animation flick. It was the first Black and White, stop-motion film to ever be released on IMAX3D.
The best horror film of the year together with The Babadook, is Mike Flanagan’s Oculus. Back in 2006 Flanagan directed a short film about a creepy mirror which could kill and drive crazy any human being who dared to look into it. It was this tense short that opened doors for Flanagan and he was trusted to direct his first feature film Absentia (2011). After proving his directing skills with Absentia, Flanagan was able to come back to the story of the creepy mirror and Oculus opened earlier this year. The film’s pace and fantastic editing, taking the audience from one time period to another, sometimes mixing both on a single take, brings fresh air to a subgenre (killer mirrors) which was believed to be finished.
Oculus will be available on BluRay and DVD on 20th October. Among the extras, you can find the short film Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, on which the 2014 full-length film is based.