Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc. was an American company best known for a series of stop-motion animated holiday specials, the most famous being RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER; released in 1964 it became a staple of popular culture for several decades and spawned scores of imitators. Stop-motion threatened to become a lost art when computer animation became the normative, but the surging popularity of short-films has inspired intrepid producers to revisit this somewhat antiquated style—with shocking results!
While kids seem to love it, there’s something inherently creepy about stop-motion animation. The use of dolls and clay figures can send a person to the depth of the “Uncanny Valley”, a psychological concept positing that the more human an inanimate object appears, the more repulsive it becomes. Horror practitioners have been keen to capitalize on this dreadful sensation, producing stories that are uniquely unnerving with visceral impact.
Below, in no particular order, are 5 of the most haunting and engaging stop-motion horror shorts I’ve ever come across. Enjoy!
HEART OF DUST, Directed by Louise Keay Bell
Official Synopsis: In an abandoned and decaying asylum, a former patient reflects upon his memories and struggles to set himself free. Based on true patients’ stories and using photographs taken in real abandoned asylums. Graduation film studying BA (Hons) Animation at Edinburgh College of Art.
Released online back in March, HEART OF DUST has yet to garner the accolades it most certainly deserves. Director Louise Keay Bell is an animator of unusual promise and clearly has a bright future ahead.
ONE OF TWO EVILS, directed by Christoph Younes
ONE OF TWO EVILS is a study of pre-adolescence at its most disturbing; it follows a young boy’s struggle to understand the extreme dysfunction that exists between his parents. Sickness and sorrow, sex and violence are alien concepts; the mind, ill-equipped to process these complexities creates a landscape of terror where reality and nightmares are, eventually, indistinguishable. While Younes’ film is often nauseating and pulls no punches, the conclusion is unexpectedly serene.
THE SHUTTERBUG MAN, Directed by Chris Walsh
Official Press Release: THE SHUTTERBUG MAN is a Canadian short stop motion horror film. Its thousands of frames were created one click at a time, and it features one-of-a-kind, handmade sets, props, and puppets. It also features a highly original story that introduces audiences to a (miniature!) addition to the ranks of cinematic ghouls- THE SHUTTERBUG MAN. He wants nothing more than to take your picture.
Gothic horror icon Barbara Steele, star of BLACK SUNDAY (1960), is a captivating narrator who produces truly chilling atmosphere—seductive and haunting.
THE SEPARATION, Directed by Robert Morgan
THE SEPARATION is an exercise in surrealist grotesquery. The story of androgynous conjoined twins, separated in their youths, is filled with the kind of nightmarish imagery you’d expect from extreme examples of arthouse horror, like ERASERHEAD or BEGOTTEN. It dissects themes of individuality and identity in a manner reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s twin-centric psychological horror, DEAD RINGERS. Still, there’s something poignant and endearing (dare I say, beautiful) about THE SEPARATION that will leave a lasting impact.
FOXED!, Directed by James Stewart
Official Synopsis: Emily has been FOXED! This stop-motion tale is about fighting for what’s right. Director James Stewart crafts a cautionary adventure about growing up in an environment of parental control, how children are often misunderstood, and what their indomitable spirits can achieve. When Emily is kidnapped by foxes and forced to work in the secret underground mine, she must use her determination to get back home only to uncover the foxes’ mysterious plan. Be astonished by what lurks in plain sight.
Back in December 2014, The Hollywood Reporter announced that long-time David Cronenberg collaborator Martin Katz would be giving FOXED! the feature-film treatment:
“Katz compares the look and mood of the upcoming Foxed! feature to Tim Burton’s dark fantasy animation, or Henry Selick’s 2009 stop-motion film CORALINE. Foxed! is set for a 2017 release, and will include a full Oculus Rift VR experience written and designed to run alongside the theatrical release.”
What are some of your favorite stop-motion horror shorts? Let me know in the Comments Section!