Many of my favorite horror and fantasy books are short story collections or compact novelettes. Some excellent examples of this include Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, which contains his chilling vampire tale Carmilla among other fright-filled stories or Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray that runs a mere 175 pages (give or take a few depending on what version you may own). I’m also extremely fond of horror film anthologies made up of brief tales of terror that provide a variety of shocks in a short amount of time.
It’s worth pointing out that before 1980 horror films generally clocked in under the two-hour mark but that isn’t the case anymore. Today I frequently find that many modern films tend to run too long and are bogged down by unnecessary filler. As a result, they often lose momentum and fail to maintain suspense so they end up relying on cheap jump scares to excite audiences and keep them in their seats. In my quest for more fulfilling fright films I’ve come across some exceptional shorts that manage to engross, amuse and startle viewers without wearing out their welcome and they rarely rely on jump scares to entertain.
To celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day I thought I would share a collection of outstanding short Irish horror and dark fantasy films that readers can currently view online free of charge. The six films I’ve selected showcase the talents of some up-and-coming Irish filmmakers who frequently incorporate Gaelic folklore and legends into their work. These films also demonstrate how potent a succinct shock to the system can be when it is thoughtfully executed by creative writers and directors. In fact, some of these short films are so accomplished and impactful that you might find yourself wishing that they were full-length features.
LAST NIGHT (Dir. Conor Morrissey; 2006)
This supernatural tale involves an Irish couple (played by Liam Cunningham and Orla Brady) who have just returned home to their isolated country house after a night out. As they exchange tension-filled back and forth banter, it quickly becomes apparent that their marriage is suffering but as the night unravels a much darker mystery begins to envelop them.
Last Night was directed and written by Conor Morrissey who does a wonderful job of creating suspense and makes great use of his location while framing the drama within the constricted rooms and tight hallways of an old Irish estate. The storyline might be recognizable to some seasoned horror fans but it’s still effective and does a nice job of reworking familiar ideas while composer Stephen McKeon provides an evocative score that elevates the production.
You can watch Last Night here.
THE TEN STEPS (Dir. Brendan Muldowney; 2004)
Basements can be scary places, particularly in horror films. The Ten Steps uses this well-worn horror trope to illicit new scares when a teenage girl named Katie (Jill Harding) is faced with a power outage while left home alone to care for her baby brother. After phoning her parents for help, Katie’s father (Gerard Lee) insists that she check the fuse box located in the basement of their new old home. Young Katie is hesitant to do so thanks to local stories about ghosts and devils that may lurk there but her father encourages her to overcome her fears. What follows is a tense few minutes of terror as Katie slowly descends the stairs that lead to the dark and unwelcoming basement.
Relying on aspects of uncanny fiction that authors such as M. R. James and H. P. Lovecraft mined with great success, The Ten Steps is a surprisingly chilling little film that packs a cleverly restrained punch. It’s not surprising that director and writer Brendan Muldowney won a number of awards for this short.
You can watch The Ten Steps here.
THE FAERIES OF BLACKHEATH WOODS (2006)
In America, we tend to think of mythical faeries as colorful, gentle and fragile creatures that frolic in the woods and cause us no harm but in Ireland, faeries are often seen as menacing, mischievous and downright evil. In The Faeries of Blackheath Woods, fairies cheerfully lure a young girl (Katie Keogh) into the woods during a family picnic but the outcome is surprisingly grim.
This 5-minute gem was directed and written by Ciaran Foy who recently helmed Sinister 2 (2015). To see Foy at his best I recommend this effective short as well as his first feature-length film, Citadel (2012) where he was able to really flex his creative muscle. Like The Faeries of Blackheath Woods, Citadel delves into the dark realms of childhood and myth, where mysterious baby snatchers threaten a single father and his infant.
You can watch The Faeries of Blackheath Woods here.
FOXES (Dir. Lorcan Finnegan; 2012)
Ireland, much like America, has suffered the effects of the real-estate boom and crash that left large housing developments abandoned and empty of life. Foxes takes place in one of these dilapidated housing tracks where a financially strapped young couple (Marie Ruane and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) are struggling to maintain their quality of life but their only neighbors appear to be shrieking foxes who survive off garbage. When the isolated couple’s marriage begins to collapse they are drawn to the twilight world inhabited by the foxes where reality and myth collide.
Director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley were inspired by Irish folklore and their film, which transforms a neglected housing estate into an eerie and unworldly landscape, is genuinely haunting.
You can watch Foxes here.
ALL GOD’S CHILDREN (Dir. Tom Cosgrove; 2002)
All God’s Children takes place in 1850’s Ireland among desolate marshland. A prisoner (Michael McCabe) accused of horrific crimes has been asked to show his jailers where he buried the body of his last victim but his reluctance makes the task increasingly difficult as the film builds towards its gruesome finale.
Director and writer Tom Cosgrove has an uncanny knack for creating atmospheric period pieces that really get under your skin. The supernatural elements are subtle but that doesn’t diminish its horrific returns.
You can watch All God’s Children here.
RÓGAIRÍ (Dir. Tom Cosgrove; 2005)
Rógairí (a Celtic term that means ‘rogue’ or ‘villain’) is another impressive period piece directed and written by Tom Cosgrove. This time the setting is Ireland in 1763 where a malicious and conniving landowner (Colm O’Maonlai ) will do anything, no matter how vile, to obtain his properties. His treacherous crimes are witnessed by uncanny forces that lurk in the surrounding woods and they enact a terrible revenge against him.
With Rógairí, Tom Cosgrove confirms that he’s highly skilled at mixing elements of horror and folklore to create a unique and effective Gothic fable. The director is currently a lecturer in film production at Dublin Institute of Technology and doesn’t have any full-length feature films under his belt yet, which is unfortunate. I can only imagine what he could do with a bigger budget and if producers at Universal or Hammer studios knew what was good for them, they’d employee Cosgrove to help improve their current crop of horror ‘reboots.’
You can watch Rógairí here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look at some of my favorite short films made in Ireland in recent years. They make for great Saint Patrick’s Day viewing so pour yourself a pint of something tasty and settle in for some fright-filled fantasy films from the Emerald Isle.
by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally written for Turner Classic Movies and published on TCM.com March 17, 2016