Last fall, I discovered a Reddit phenomenon called Two Sentence Horror Stories. The thread was just that, people submitting their best scary stories framed within that diminutive construct. I read pages and pages of them and while many were quite chilling, one by someone calling themselves justAnotherMuffledVO (aka Juan J. Ruiz) stood out among all others;
It totally captured my imagination, and when I was subsequently asked to shoot a bumper for the upcoming Toronto After Dark Film Festival, it immediately sprung to mind. It was perfect! It was totally the kind of story that could be told in less than a minute and had a fantastic punchline. So, with the help of my friends Jeff (whom I'd worked with many times before), Kurt and his daughter Miranda, we shot this in an evening.
Then, just before the festival was to start, Jeff sent me a link to a short that was getting some traction online. It was Ignacio F. Rodó's minute-long short Tuck Me In.
At first I was like, oh shit, now I look like an ass. Ruiz's story had been on Reddit for a while, how could I have not checked to see if it had already been done? Then I came to a pair of realizations. The first was, who really gives a shit? I made a bumper for a film festival based on a story that was on a discussion board. The second was when another friend chimed in with a similar short that predated mine, Rodó's and perhaps even the Reddit story that everyone seemed to think had originated it.
I looked into The Little Witch and the director Alasdiar McBroom mentions on his Vimeo page that the story came from something he heard when he was a little kid. I'm inclined to believe him, but I do find it odd that no one is credited with writing the film, in the credits, or on Imdb. Where did this story come from?!
Then I thought to myself, I wonder how many times this story been adapted? Well, one afternoon I did some Web detective work and found seven, yes SEVEN, more versions of the tale. Most of them were released within a seven-month period in 2014. So, in just two sentences, Ruiz had managed to set the global short film community on fire.
It was interesting to see all the different takes of the same story, but I also learned something. As a collective, these shorts serve as a clinic, not only on short filmmaking, but also what makes effective horror. Take these two for example;
The former by Cuddling & Daemon Wolf is fairly tight and builds a rapport with the mother and child. The punchline is quick and cuts at the just the right moment, as does Jonathan Castillo's entry. While the whispered line of “yes there are” is an unnecessary punctuation, the under the bed moment is one of the better visualizations of the group.
Now, here are two which display a common attribute of contemporary horror.
Showing too much. It can be very hard to resist the urge to go for the jump scare, but I think you'll all agree that the parent looking up over the bed and cutting to black is far more effective. In this case, it is also a disservice to the story, as I believe the intent of the story is that you're not supposed to know which child is the doppelganger. If you show the parent being attacked, you negate that layer. It's why I titled my entry, Monster In The Room.
There were also adaptations that used different formats. There are many YouTube videos that have people narrating the various stories over scary illustrations, but here's a dramatization done by Tito Guillen.
And he almost got out of there without a jump scare. Guillen's video was posted October 2013, which dates Ruiz's story sometime between July (when the Reddit thread started) and then.
Like me, James Alexandrou & Celine Abrahams used the story for a bumper (for Film 4's FrightFest), only modified as a “Turn Your Phone Off” bit.
So, that leaves us with one. I want to preface this by saying it is not my intention to shit on anyone else's work. You are entitled to make your short anyway you like. I am just speaking as someone who has not only seen many, many shorts, but has also now made a handful. I feel I have a decent command of the language of short filmmaking at this point. That said, watch this adaptation by Ilya Haustov.
When dealing with the short film format, it is always best to get your point across as quickly as possible. I can't help but think that three minutes of this five-minute film do not need to exist. The source material is two sentences long; there's a reason that the other nine shorts in this post hover around two minutes or less. But I digress.
Whoever came up with the original story, whether it be Ruiz, McBroom or some ancient wordsmith halfway around the world, I have to think they're pretty chuffed to know their little tale has permeated the Web as it has. A good story will always find a way to be told.