"What is the best horror story you can come up with in two sentences?"
With the premiere of the Vera Miao's anthology series Two Sentence Horror Stories on the CW on August 8, the genre reaches the next stage in its evolution. Originally an award-winning web series, each half-hour episode of Two Sentence Horror Stories unfurls a different micro-tale.
"It’s the one-two punch that they offer," Christina Davila, a Creative Executive at Stage 13 who helped developed Two Sentence Horror Stories, tells Refinery29 of the genre's appeal. "The first sentence offers an unassuming but vivid painting to bring you in, like: It's dark and chilly in here. The second sentence really subverts it: If I had known that before, I would've been cremated instead."
Davila lost track of the number of two-sentence horror stories she read during the creation of the show. "They're so freaky — and sometimes very elegant. Some just beg for you to unpack them," Davila said.
Ultimately, Miao narrowed down the brainstorm into eight two-sentence stories, which provide the basis for eight episodes. No two episodes are alike in sub-genre, or in how they use the original horror story. Some open with the inspiring lines; others end with them.
Two Sentence Horror Stories enters a TV landscape saturated with horror anthologies. Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story has been steadily poking fun at American society's ugliest tendencies since 2011. Each new season of Black Mirror breaks the internet. Hulu's In the Dark releases a new feature film-length episode timed for each major holiday. CBS All-Access debuted a defanged Twilight Zone reboot in 2019. Out next week, the second season of AMC's The Terror puts a supernatural spin on another moment in history. Finally, much like Two Sentence Horror Stories, Syfy's Channel Zero is inspired by horror stories originally generated on the Internet.
Amid this crowd of horror anthologies, Two Sentence Horror Stories stands out in its perspective. Save for one episode, all of Two Sentence Horror Stories' leads are women of color. Using supernatural plot devices, the episodes all get at the pervasive anxieties that accompany being a woman in the world. Will this first date end dangerously? Does my boss want to control my identity? How do the effects of an abusive partner linger after the relationship ends?
"Vera's premise was, 'Here’s a way to freshen up the genre and update it by featuring people of color.' Horror has been dominated by one single gaze and by opening up the gaze it opens up even more terrifying stories," Davila says.
While Miao and her writers room generated stories used in Two Sentence Horror Stories, the genre originally flourished in the democratic open boards of Reddit. So naturally, the show inspires participation.
"I could see how the audience could enjoy the challenge, especially because it seems so easy. Just two sentences. But there really is an art form," Davila says.
Step right up and try your hand at scaring people in two sentences. For inspiration, here are a few of the most evocative two-sentence stories from that original Reddit thread:
"The doctors told the amputee he might experience a phantom limb from time to time. Nobody prepared him for the moments though, when he felt cold fingers brush across his phantom hand."
"Growing up with cats and dogs, I got used to the sounds of scratching at my door while I slept. Now that I live alone, it is much more unsettling."
And for more inspiration, tune in to the CW on August 8 at 9 p.m for Two Sentence Horror Stories' premiere.