Animated Horror Shorts
Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Outside of Tim Burton’s feature films, animation probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of horror. However, horror and animation have enjoyed a long relationship through the years, both in mainstream and in indie productions. Today, I’ve put together some of my favorite animated horror shorts for you to check out! Please note that this list is in alphabetical order by short title and not ranked in any other way.
Rich Zim’s Claymation short “Birdhouse” first appeared on the scene in October 1996. It’s a subtle, creepy tale. A man is building a birdhouse when he’s interrupted by the delivery of a mysterious package containing a cute little creature. They bond, they have a lovely time… But the man does want to finish the birdhouse he was working on before the little guy entered his life. The creature doesn’t handle this well and acts out in the worst way it can. The end of the short implies that the viewer might be witnessing a short moment in an endless cycle. Here is a list of animated horror shorts.
Gahan Wilson’s “Diner” from 1992 follows a health inspector in training on his first field outing. At a nondescript side-of-the-highway greasy spoon, he finds that things can get much worse than a fly in your soup. Wilson is probably better known for his work as a cartoonist, and his art style adapts well to animation for a frightening world that still has room for some sight gags. The seemingly strange choice of jaunty music gives the short an off-kilter comedic angle to the gruesome sights.
“Everyone Wants to Direct,” Courage the Cowardly Dog
What sort of list would this be without a Courage the Cowardly Dog short? In this, the hapless Muriel and greedy Eustace take in Benton Tarentella, a reanimated Indie movie director who promises to make them stars. Of course, only Courage can tell that things are not right with Tarentella, who plans to wake his former partner for a bite to eat. It wasn’t unusual for Courage to delve into some scary imagery and ideas, but this story is genuinely gruesome. Don’t let the fact that it was a kids’ show fool you! Fortunately, at the end of the day, zombies are idiots.
“A Night on Bald Mountain,” Fantasia
A classic from the Disney vault! “A Night on Bald Mountain” is the second to last segment from Disney’s 1940 cult classic film Fantasia. On Walpurgis night, the Chernabog raises the dead and revs up his demonic followers to celebrate. There’s some impressive animation in this piece that creates the perfect mood—maybe a little too perfect. Since Fantasia’s initial release, parents have been writing to the Disney studio to complain about this short terrifying their children, or so the story goes. “A Night on Bald Mountain” passes seamlessly into “Ave Maria,” meant to remind viewers of the triumph of goodness over evil and light over dark, but the Chernabog leaves everybody too shellshocked to really remember any of that.
Phil Tippet’s 1984 “Prehistoric Beast” follows the last day of a monoclonius’ life. Yet it plays out in a way that might be considered old hat if the cast was human. A monoclonius wanders deeper and deeper into a forest until he is well into the lair of a tyrannosaurus rex. The camera begins wavering, as if we’re watching the doomed dinosaur from someone else’s point of view, we see the T. Rex in the periphery, and finally, the monoclonius find the remains of the t. rex’s last meal. It ramps up the tension effectively, and the climactic struggle between the two dinosaurs is exciting and convincing. The short even ends in true slasher fashion, suggesting that our killer will be back for more victims.
This 1991 stop-motion short follows a boy who doesn’t want to sleep. The Sandman in this tale is not benevolent and has a tendency of taking things from children that won’t go to sleep. As if the story itself wasn’t scary enough, the visuals seem to borrow much from German expressionism, which distorts reality in order to get a visceral or emotional response from the viewer. Everything in this world is already a little off to begin with, never mind the vicious creature looking to feed his brood. We would recommend watching this short through the credits for the full horror effect.
“A Touch of Deceit”
This short was a student project for animator Michel Gagne in 1986. It’s extremely short but effective. A Disney-cute bunny is captivated by a Disney-cute butterfly that isn’t quite what it appears to be.
“Treehouse of Horror IV,” The Simpsons
Every year from season 2 on, The Simpsons have put out a special Halloween episode. These are usually parodies of movies or TV shows done with the Simpsons cast. I admit I’ve cheated a little with this one by picking out a whole episode made up of independent shorts instead of just one short, but it really is too hard to pick just one short out of the entire “Treehouse of Horror” series. I decided to consider the episodes as wholes, and although there are a ton of good ones, the fourth episode won out.
In the season five installment, Homer contends with the devil for his soul (and a forbidden donut), Bart tries to avoid certain death at the claws of a much more threatening gremlin than the one in the episode of The Twilight Zone it parodies, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and finally, the whole family has to avoid doom at the hands of C. Montgomery Dracula. It’s a strong episode through and through, and mostly funny, though the middle segment terrified me as a kid.
Though these are some horror short favorites, there are many, many more out there just waiting to be discovered. If I have missed any you feel deserve a spot on the list, please let me know in the comments below! I’d love to check them out.
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