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SYFY WIRE horror films

Night Swim and 6 More Horror Movies That Started as Short Films

Night Swim began as a short film, just like plenty of other modern horror classics. We highlight a few of the best. 

By Tara Bennett
Izzy Waller swims in a pool in Night Swim

Anyone who makes a movie is doing the impossible. From shopping the idea around to financing and distribution, every step of that creative road is filled with land mines. Most can't even get a foot in the door. But a tool that can help bypass some of those barriers to entry is the short film, also known as the proof of concept. Especially in the horror genre, filmmakers from Neill Blomkamp to Sam Raimi have figured out that turning their original ideas into short films, replete with standout aesthetics, scares and sometimes monsters, is the best way to get it seen by the industry. And then hopefully funded for a feature film version. 

Such was the case for Night Swim's Bryce McGuire, who wrote and co-directed with Rod Blackhurst the 2014 short of the same name, ostensibly to prove they could make a suburban pool sinister and scary. The short went viral and caught the eye of James Wan's Atomic Monster for possible feature development. It took a few years for McGuire to craft a more expansive story from the premise, but essentially a 4-minute short paved the way for his theatrical directorial debut. 

RELATED: Night Swim Creators Explain Why a Swimming Pool Is the Perfect Setting for a Horror Movie

Unless you're a short film aficionado, it's understandable that you may not know how many great horror films started out as short films, some as senior thesis projects, while others were just passion projects. Here are six more horror shorts that are guaranteed to give you a fright.

Before Night Swim: 6 more short films that turned into horror movies

Lights Out (2013) - Lights Out

Director David F. Sandberg gave us all nightmares with his terrifying short film Lights Out, built around the simple concept that there's something terrifying in the dark as soon as you turn off the lights. The short did so well, Sandberg would go on to adapt the concept into a feature film. It also kickstarted Sandberg's career, as he would go on to direct Annabelle: Creation and the Shazam! films.

Saw 0.5 (2003) - Saw short film

Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell know the value of finding new talent like McGuire for Night Swim via their short films because they started off by doing the very same thing. In 2003, they created a short to specifically show to Lionsgate that their idea for Saw would work as a movie. Having little to no funds, they were able to scrounge up $5,000 to create one scene from their concept and enlisted the help of their friends in the business to help them shoot it on 16mm film. They transferred it to DVD and paired it with their feature script... and the rest is horror history. 

Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan (2006) - Oculus short film

Before writer/director Mike Flanagan became a modern horror genius with his takes on The Haunting of Hill House and The Fall of the House of Usher, he was just an ambitious creative who had to make his own opportunities. In 2005, he made the stripped back short "The Man with the Plan," which had a budget friendly single setting, a lone actor, and a mirror. The effectiveness of what Flanagan accomplished with so little impressed the industry, but it took several years for him to expand the short into what would become the critically acclaimed 2013 film, Oculus, starring Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites.

Monster (2005) - The Babadook short film

Getting a foot in the door of the horror world is even tougher if you're a woman, so Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent decided to make the 2005 short film, Monster, her calling card to get into the genre. The end result became an indie darling at film festivals around the world. She spent several years writing five major drafts to expand the short idea into a feature, The Babadook, which she helped get made via Kickstarter. It became a huge hit and launched her directing career. 

RELATED: Night Swim: Everything to Know About James Wan and Jason Blum's Post-M3GAN Team-Up

Trick 'r Treat Season's GreetingsTrick r Treat short film

Director Mike Dougherty started out as an animator attending Tisch School of Arts at New York University. For his senior project in 1996, he created the animated short, Season's Greetings, which featured the introduction of his original character, Sam. Audiences responded well to the concept, which in turn inspired him to expand the idea into the live-action Halloween inspired anthology, Trick 'r Treat. A cult hit, its success led to him directing the dark Christmas classic, Krampus

Mamá (2008) - Mamá short film

Argentine brother and sister filmmakers Andy and Barbara Muschietti created this very short short about a maternal specter haunting a young girl. It was so impressively made that it eventually found its way to director Guillermo del Toro. He loved it so much that he attached himself as a producer on the theatrical adaptation of Mamá (2013), which would eventually star Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, The success of their first feature film then led to them making their adaptation of Stephen King's It

Night Swim is streaming on Peacock now!