Horror has always been one of the favorite genres of independence filmmaking. Some of the greatest horror films are low-budget indie horror films.
The best example is found footage horror gem The Blair Witch Project, it took 8 days to shoot, and 8 months to edit. The movie cost $22,000 to make, and made over $240 million.
The most recent successful indie horror movie is Paranormal Activity, a 2007 horror film written and directed by Oren Peli, was made for $15,000. Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman gave Paranormal Activity an A- rating (A being the highest mark) and called it “frightening…freaky and terrifying” and noted that “Paranormal Activity scrapes away 30 years of encrusted nightmare clichés.”
Here are 20 best indie horror films which demonstrate the fact that the effect of horror can be achieved with great ideas and little money.
20. The Devil’s Business
The Indie Horror: Genre-bending mood piece from director Sean Hogan. Assassin Pinder (Billy Clarke) tells Cully (Jack Gordon) a story as they sit and wait for their target to return home.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: The film would be an artillery-spewing blow-out from start to finish – that’s what you want from assassins, right?
The Indie Horror: Supremely gory film directed by Pascal Laugier, and now something of a modern cult classic, renowned for its overt violence and brutal twists and turns.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: Laugier could have hired a professional Tear Artist – he says the hardest part of filming was getting the actresses to keep crying the whole time.
The Indie Horror: Nightmarish, um, celluloid nightmare from director David Lynch, in which Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) struggles to deal with his girlfriend and their newborn mutant child.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: Lynch could’ve made the film in one go, rather than to-ing and fro-ing on it over the space of six years.
17. Shaun Of The Dead
The Indie Horror: Spaced trio Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost make the jump to the big screen with one of the funniest, goriest and cleverest Brit horrors we had seen in years. They also created a new genre, the zom-rom-com.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It would’ve contained more Cornettos.
The Indie Horror: A screaming, balls to the wall gore-fest, Braindead is the kind of film Peter Jackson liked making before he got all whimsical with Middle-earth.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: Jackson might have shot a few more scenes of bloody mayhem. When the film came in under budget, he shot the park scene that has gone on to be his favourite scene in the movie.
15. I Saw The Devil
The Indie Horror: South Korean film from director Kim Ji-woon, with a secret agent going after the serial killer that has just murdered his pregnant wife.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It might have been able to find a way around the issues of gore that meant it had to have 80-90 seconds snipped from its cinematic release.
14. Harold’s Going Stiff
The Indie Horror: Remarkably clever zombie film that plays with the idea of dementia, as Harold Gimble (Stan Rowe) descends into zombieism. Shot as a mock doc, it’s one of the most moving horrors you’ll ever see.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It wouldn’t need it – this is an intimate little film that doesn’t rely on tons of cash to tell a cracking yarn.
13. Dawn Of The Dead
The Indie Horror: A sequel to Night Of The Living Dead directed by George A. Romero, and a far more ambitious picture that deals with the larger ramifications of a zombie apocalypse.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It would take the Contagion route and follow the spread of the zombie virus throughout the entire world.
12. Funny Games
The Indie Horror: Home invasion thriller that packs a real emotional punch. The plot revolves around a family taken hostage by two boys, who torture them both physically and mentally. Michael Haneke remade it himself in 2008.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It would have starred people like Naomi Watts and Tim Roth…
11. Kill List
The Indie Horror: Ben Wheatley’s masterful second feature film (after gangster pic Down Terrace), and a twist-filled, bloodstained curio that never reveals its hand.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: The list would’ve been a lot, lot longer.
10. The Devil’s Backbone
The Indie Horror: Gothic thriller from Mexican supremo Guillermo del Toro. Set in 1930s Spain, it was independently produced by Pedro Almodóvar and shot in Madrid. Talk about scratching backs.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It wouldn’t have mattered. With del Toro and Almodóvar involved, this was never going to be anything other than hauntingly beautiful.
9. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer
The Indie Horror: Based on the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, here played by Michael Rooker. It was shot in just a month on 16mm, with a miniscule budget of $110,000. Roger Ebert branded it a “low-budget tour de force”.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: They would have tracked every one of Lucas’ supposed 600 murders.
8. Let The Right One In
The Indie Horror: Swedish adaptation of John Ajvide Linquist’s chilly tome. Director Tomas Alfredson draws fantastic performances from his young leads, and paints a beautifully sinister mood. It was remade two years later.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It would have included a car crash scene like the one in Matt Reeves’ 2010 remake.
7. The Blair Witch Project
The Indie Horror: The little horror that could, The Blair Witch Project became a global phenomenon upon release, when clever marketing led people to believe its found footage was legit.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: We imagine a bigger budget would’ve meant studio involvement – and the studio would probably have insisted we glimpse the witch herself. Cue some expensive CGI…
6. Black Christmas
The Indie Horror: A precursor to Halloween, Bob Clark’s sorority-set slasher established many of the tropes of the sub-genre, including POV killer shots and the ‘rules’ of having sex/drinking/etc meaning you’d die. It also features a stunning turn from Margot Kidder as the spiky and perfectly-monikered Barb.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: They probably would’ve been able to land Bette Davis for the role of Mrs Mac. As it went, Marian Waldman got the part – and killed it dead.
5. The House Of The Devil
The Indie Horror: A glorious return to the horror filmmaking of yesteryear, Ti West’s third feature film is a thoroughly modern horror that feels like it was made in the 1980s. So there’s an effective slow build, well-drawn characters and one heck of a blow-out finale.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It’d be a mess – this film doesn’t need a massive budget, and to throw money at it would’ve diminished its gritty, grubby power.
4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Indie Horror: Tobe Hooper’s terrifying sophomore feature, which introduced the world to a little guy called Leatherface. It was made for just $300,000, and is notable for its lack of gore and fantastic use of sound design.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It’d probably resemble the Jessica Biel remake.
3. Night Of The Living Dead
The Indie Horror: George A. Romero’s genre-defining groan-fest, which has become the godfather of all zombie films and a bona fide cult classic. As well it should be.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: According to producer Hardman, a bigger budget would’ve meant a much bigger film in the same vein as the classic horror films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Romero got his wish when he directed Dawn Of The Dead…
2. The Evil Dead
The Indie Horror: First in Sam Raimi’s trilogy of zombie movies, starring Bruce Campbell as all-American hero Ash, who fends off terrifying creatures of the night. The love for it is still strong – it’s 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It would be more like Evil Dead II, which is essentially a bigger budget replay of the first film – with added chainsaw action. Nice.
The Indie Horror: Made for just $320,000 by director John Carpenter and producing partner Debra Hill, Halloween is the most successful independent film ever made – in today’s money, it grossed $234m worldwide.
If It Had A Bigger Budget: It would’ve looked more like Halloween H20, and included a scene where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) takes on Michael by ramming him with her father’s four-wheeler.