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In the world of cinema, a low budget is often a huge detriment, but these 10 genre films prove you can make a masterpiece on a micro-budget.

Horror is built on low-budget filmmaking. Necessity is truly the mother of invention when it comes to making horror films. Many writers, directors, and actors cut their creative teeth on films that were made for impressively low budgets. It seems that some of our best films and filmmakers are born out of this tradition.

In an age where multi-million dollar blockbuster fare has become the norm, independent and low-budget projects still manage to stand out and create an important amount of variety.

Innovation typically comes from those who have the will to create, despite the lack of studio funding. Celebrating low-budget horror is what aids creatives. Word of mouth is important for smaller projects and often opens up more opportunities for the creators to keep scaring us repeatedly.

Here are ten low-budget horror films from the past decade or so that might have gone under your personal horror radar. 

(Note: These movies were made for 1 million or under. However, some of the budgets are unknown and are estimated to be under the 1 million dollar mark.)

1. Absentia (2011) dir. Mike Flanagan 

Budget – $70,000

Absentia was the film that launched the feature film career of director and writer Mike Flanagan.

This is the sort of film that encompasses the indie horror filmmaking spirit. Anchored by an emotionally affecting story, Flanagan makes the audience embark on a creepy and involving journey. The film stars frequent Flanagan collaborators Katie Parker and Courtney Bell as sisters who are grappling with the long-term disappearance of Bell’s character’s husband.

Go into Absentia knowing nothing, and reap the rewards of this early Flanagan masterpiece. 

2. Prevenge (2016) dir. Alice Lowe

Budget – £80,000 (around USD $91,400)

Alice Lowe created the deeply funny and disturbing Prevenge.

Prevenge looks at loss and motherhood in a unique and, yes, hilarious way. Lowe makes an impact with this little British stunner, again showing that horror doesn’t have to have a massive budget. She even uses her previous creative ties to land actors like Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, and Kayvan Novak for her pregnancy-themed slasher.

Lowe pulls triple duty and stars as a woman who believes her fetus is speaking to her, urging her to kill those responsible for her husband’s death. 

3. Jug Face (2013) dir. Chad Crawford Kinkle

Budget – Unknown microbudget

Jug Face should be a staple of folk horror.

Chad Crawford Kinkle uses plot and atmosphere to make this film sincerely creepy. Not to mention he uses the charismatic and engrossing talent of horror darling Lauren Ashley Carter to ground the story’s fantastical plot. It’s truly a little triumph that explores a backwoods community that prays to an eldritch pit that demands blood sacrifices. It’s gross, heartfelt, and hypnotic.

There’s also low-budget horror king Larry Fessenden, so what more could you want? 

4. Darling (2015) dir. Mickey Keating

Budget – Unknown microbudget

Lauren Ashley Carter truly is the Northern Star of small-budgeted horror films. Follow her, and you’ll get a great performance.

Mickey Keating’s Darling is a beautiful little riff off of the psycho-thrillers of the 1960s with a side of Satanic Panic where Carter stars as a woman who might be losing her mind in a Manhattan Mansion. This film oozes atmosphere and has some seriously gorgeous shots as it lets Carter run amok.

And yes, Larry Fessenden is also there, too! 

5. One Cut of the Dead (2017) dir. Shinichirou Ueda

Budget – ¥3 million (USD$25,000)

One Cut of the Dead might just be one of the most brilliant films in existence.

It’s an homage to low-budget horror filmmaking and a movie inside a movie. There’s a gleeful sweetness to this Japanese offering from director Shinichirou Ueda. This feels like Japan’s answer to American film phenomena, including Night of the Living Dead and The Blair Witch Project.

Go into this viewing knowing as little as possible about this baby; it’s a winner. 

6. Hush (2016) dir. Mike Flanagan

Budget – 1 million

Mike Flanagan needs no introduction — I mean, he’s already on this list.

Hush is his nasty take on a home invasion film that stars the imitable Kate Siegel, who also serves as the film’s co-writer, as a deaf writer fighting for her life against a sadistic experienced murderer.

This is a movie that thrives on the premise of less is more. 

7. Unfriended (2014) dir. Levan Gabriadze

Budget – 1 million

Unfriended helped revolutionize the found footage genre, so jot that one down.

Along with films like The Den (another modern low-budget gem), you wouldn’t have films like the ever-so-popular Host. Unfriended is a supernatural revenge thriller with plenty of cool kills and lots of tension. Bullied Laura Barnes gets back at those that drove her to suicide via Skype, and yes, it is glorious.

This example of the ever-evolving nature of found footage horror is a fun one that shows you don’t need a large budget. Not to mention, the film made $62.9 million.

8. Cam (2018) dir. Daniel Goldhaber

Budget – 1 million

Cam is a tense film that oozes talent, and it didn’t have a huge budget.

Daniel Goldhaber directs Cam with the surety of a seasoned genre director as the narrative follows cam girl Alice whose cam identity is bizarrely stolen by someone—or something — that looks just like her. 

It was difficult for me to believe that this movie was made for only a cool million because it has the look and feel of a multi-million dollar project on what these days is considered a modest budget.

9. The Invitation (2015) dir. Karyn Kusama

Budget – 1 million

The genius behind Jennifer’s Body, Karyn Kusama, made one of the most harrowing tales of grief, loss, and cults known to man.

The Invitation is the sort of film that coils around your bones and finds a home in your belly. It’s a contained film about a dinner party gone wrong, but it is also much more than that.

Kusama flexes her skills once again in this masterpiece, reminding us that she’s still here and she can direct like no other. 

10. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020) dir. Jonathan Cuartas

Budget – Unknown low budget

Vampires have always been a good storytelling device when it comes to small-budget horror. Just ask Larry Fessenden and Kathryn Bigelow.

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a haunting film that follows a family whose boundaries are tested by the youngest sibling’s vampirism.

Stark, bleak, and surprisingly beautiful, director Jonathan Cuartas plumbs the depths of devotion and looks at how hollow and lonely family ties can leave a person.

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