Thanks to a refreshing resurgence in indie filmmaking, genre fans are being treated to some of the smartest, most original and truly entertaining horror films in years
$190 million. That’s the estimated budget for 2013’s World War Z. How much did it make? $200 million in North America, $540 million worldwide (a 184.2% increase). 1978’s Halloween, on the other hand, budgeted about $300,000 and brought in $60,000,000 — a 19,900% increase. Let that sink in for a minute.
Over the years, it’s become abundantly apparent that big studios love money. I mean, who doesn’t? If I knew I could make back my investment 100 times over, I wouldn’t think twice about signing my name to a lackluster script and an ending we can see from a mile away. Unfortunately, I think horror fans have been hit the hardest by this. Year after year, we subject ourselves to the 18th installment of camping-gone-wrong or an unnecessary remake, hoping for any inkling of genre loyalty.
But there’s an ever-growing light in the distance. While big studios are releasing the same, tired, teen shockers, smaller studios (and sometimes, just fans on a mission) are creating masterpieces, spreading like wildfire through film festivals and pure word of mouth.
Indie films, those with smaller budgets, lesser-known casts, and released from smaller studios, have always been around. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Phantasm, Re-Animator, The Blair Witch Project, and Saw were all indie films. Back then, we’d be lucky to see a handful of good ones able to make it onto the silver screen. In the last decade or so though, it seems that nearly ALL of them were screen-worthy. 2014 alone gave us indie greats like It Follows, The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Oculus, and one of my favorites, Zombeavers.
You see, there’s something missing from blockbusters: a soul. It’s all about the connection between the movie and the audience. Are the characters relatable? Have I been in a situation like theirs? How does this movie make me feel? Do I care about the people in this movie? Maybe I don’t believe toxic waste can trigger a bunch of beavers to become bloodthirsty vermin, but the characters made me laugh, so I wanted to see them pull through. I don’t have kids, but I can empathize with an exhausted mother managing her sanity and a monster of a bedtime book. I was a teen once; what would I do if an intimate relationship could get me killed?
It’s not just the soul of the characters in the movie, it’s the soul of the setting, the subgenre, and even the production crew. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are transmitting their thoughts and feelings straight through the screen and into your brain. While blockbusters are made to attract the widest possible audience, indie films are oftentimes niche markets. We’ve seen an array of POV and found footage films, dark comedies, and lately, films highlighting societal issues like class and race. Chances are there’s an indie horror movie out there for everyone.
And even still, it’s not just the soul of the people involved in the movie, like the cast or studio. Indie horror is the one genre that truly involves its fans.
As of the time this article was written, there over 1,200 budding horror films waiting to be funded on Kickstarter. These are fans making movies for other fans’ enjoyment. These films interweave sensations and ideas through the fictional movie-verse and our reality, and their ticket sales reflect what impression they continue to make on us.
There was a time when you couldn’t find these films in 9 out of 10 movie stores. Now, they’re a click away. And sure, there are some movies that have outgrown their indie britches and became top-grossing horror fodder. But they have their roots here with the little guys. The little guys with big souls. I don’t know if there’s something in the water, or maybe just fans taking control of something they love, but we’re in the age of Indie films, and they’re back with a vengeance. What a time to be alive.