The ÉCU horror picture show presents… some of the most blood-curdling and spine-chilling films that indie cinema has to offer – to date! It’s time to revel in low-budget, top quality movies to get your festive fill of gore and dark thrills. These indie movies have succeeded in unsettling viewers without elaborate and costly special effects – and show the importance of using a little imagination to exploit what you have and capture an audience’s attention. It’s worth noting that one of the most profitable independent films ever made was a horror movie – and aptly for our indie horror spotlight, this was Halloween (1978).
The film grossed what would be the 2012 equivalent of almost $240 million at the US box office (and was produced on a budget of $320,000). Halloween is a slasher movie that could be seen as having been spawned in the wake of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and led to a franchise of Halloween films, which feature its archetypal techniques and plot elements. The plot revolves around a boy who is institutionalised at age six in 1963 after butchering his teenage sister, but manages to escape before Halloween 1978 and goes on a bloodthirsty rampage.
The film is now regarded as a classic and yet its budget was so tight that for the killer’s disguise they used the cheapest mask they could find and tweaked the design themselves. The director (John Carpenter) claimed that the power of suggestion is paramount in this movie, as people approached him for years after the film talking about the horror they experienced thinking of the disfigured visage of the protagonist killer. Actually, special effects make-up was only used to create a small knife wound, so when he raised the mask his face was not grotesque at all.
A cult classic in the indie horror film world is The Evil Dead (1981), which is rated as 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes right now. The movie was originally banned in many countries (including Germany, Finland, Britain and Ireland) due to its graphic violence. It is based on five students that take are staying in a wood-cabin and stumble across an audiotape which releases demons. The film gained notoriety and was promoted by the likes of Stephen King, eventually becoming an underground hit and now relishing its unrelenting popularity. The power of word-of-mouth is not to be underestimated in the film industry!
And let’s not forget the godfather of zombie films and indie hit, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Directed by George A. Romero, the movie is said to have revolutionised the horror film genre. Set in a rural farmhouse, 7 characters are unexpectedly sprung upon by flesh-eating zombies. A shoe-string budget resulted in the use of chocolate syrup as fake blood, and chunks of roasted ham (donated from a chain of butchers) as decaying or semi-devoured limbs and flesh. What really seems to have terrified audiences was the unanticipated use of an everyday setting, and playing with people’s idea of what should be safe and familiar. Financial success is clearly not dependent on spending lots of money on effects.
Other major indie horror films include The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007) and Let the Right One In (2008), the Swedish indie version as opposed to its 2010 remake. You don’t need big budgets to captivate or terrify an audience, just some sneaky tactics and good imagination! Why not go indulge in some indie horror classics… Happy Halloween from the ÉCU team!