Everyone says thank you to indie horror.
Horror and independent cinema have a deep and intertwined history since the genre often exists outside of the traditional studio system. While promoting his latest film Xsaid Ti West The daily beast that
“Horror and porn, certainly in the 70s, had this sort of symbiotic relationship of being the alien genres that you could create without any permission or any access to the things that Hollywood had to offer, and you could go straight to an audience and you might find a way there.
However, it is not just a tradition; it continues in the present. Filmmakers like John Carpenter, George Romero, Sam Raimi, Ana Lily Amirpour, and Jennifer Kent cut their teeth making independent horror movies. What makes the genre successful within independent cinema is using its low to ultra-low budgets to its advantage, having a built-in audience for distribution, and being prepared to go against current trends in mainstream horror. Independent cinema helps prevent the genre from stagnating and allows creatives to leave their mark on the genre.
Historically, studio horror films have had a much lower budget than other genres like dramas. Already low budgets are squeezed even further for indie horror and force filmmakers to get more scrappy and creative. Classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, diabolical deathand even recent movies like It follows, We all go to the world Fairand The Blair Witch Project have budgets ranging from $315,000 to less than $1 million. Most impressive, however, is how the ultra-low budget often helps the film stand out. Since independent horror filmmakers don’t have the same resources as major studios, they have to adapt and find solutions.
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While indie horror might not have the same level of polish as studio films, the lower budgets allow them to take more risks and let the creatives have that freedom. Because of this, skilled filmmakers can turn these weaknesses into film strengths, like setting a slasher movie in suburban America or having an invisible monster that only those targeted by it can see. The best example has to be the original Chainsaw Massacre, which makes perfect use of the dusty Texas setting, cinematography, and production design to transport the viewer into Leatherface and his family’s world.
Likewise, the success of indie horror can be tied to the genre’s embedded audience. While not all genre fans are interested in the same subgenres, the fandom’s dedication to watching the latest horror flick gives the film an audience. In the past, indie horror often relied on traditional theatrical distribution. But over the years, that has changed due to the rise of home video and streaming.
As soon as VHS became widespread and accessible, it provided another means for independent horror filmmakers to reach their audiences if they could not receive wide theatrical distribution. After VHS, DVDs and Blu-Rays provided another distribution route.
Currently, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Shudder are further expanding the network of potential viewers for movies that might not be readily available due to limited distribution or art house. Shudder has the most impressive collection of indie horror films on any service and works hard to promote them.
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The home delivery market has also changed as companies like The Criterion Collection, vinegar syndrome, and others preserve and redistribute old-school indie horror movies for a wider audience. There are currently more opportunities for audiences to consume indie horror, and the base is only growing. While they may not reach the exact audience numbers of a traditional studio movie, filmmakers and movies can bypass theatrical distribution and find success on home video and streaming.
Indie horror has a habit of hijacking or countering mainstream horror trends at the time of its release. 2007 paranormal activity went against remakes of classic J-horror and the end of the age of torturer porn. It enjoyed remarkable success at the box office.
Before that, night of the living dead not only popularized the modern zombie subgenre, but the gore and violence stood in stark contrast to other horror films of the 60s. A side effect of indie horror is that they often popularize new trends for films mainstream horror and other independent horror films to try to imitate or copy.
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the original Friday 13 was made independently, and its financial success prompted major studios to pump out other masked slashers instead of trying to figure out what made it work. Both paranormal activity and The Blair Witch Project the success led to the rise of found-picture films. Going against the grain also means creating work that may not traditionally be commercial. Amirpour’s A girl walks home alone at night combines the western, romance, and vampire subgenre spoken only in Persian with English subtitles might not be a project a major studio would greenlight. Yet, thanks to crowdfunding, she was able to do it. David Lynch’s Surreal Horror Movie eraser head also fits the bill and has found an audience despite not existing in the genre’s traditional narrative. By not replicating current trends, indie horror creates its niches and can inspire future similar works.
Currently, indie horror is enjoying a resurgence. As a lifelong fan, it’s great to see the versatility of the genre and how different filmmakers explore it. Whether it be The Babadook, Sainte Maudor The Vitch, they breathe fresh air and help push the horror forward. Still, there’s the talk of the “high horror” label being applied to recent indie horror to criticize them for not being “scary” or not fitting into the traditional mould.
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Reviews like this aren’t new, and some beloved older indie horror movies might also fall under this tag. On the bright side, distributors like Neon and A24 strive to promote indie horror and make most of their offerings available in theaters. The other great thing about current indie horror is the sheer variety. There’s a movie for every type of horror fan. Overall, independent cinema and horror propelled themselves to success while pushing the genre forward. Indie cinema and horror will live on and inspire screams for years to come as long as there is an audience.