Scare And Inspire
Since Halloween is just around the corner, and everybody’s been talking about their favorite horror movies, I thought it would be both fun and informative to write something up about the best independently produced horror films out there. Of course, since filmmaking has been happening for over a hundred years in one way or another, and since some of the very first silent films included films like F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and “Faust”, there is a vast multitude of films out there to discuss… However, it’s always fun to highlight one’s favorites, which is exactly what I’m about to do.
Now, to give you a little background on myself, I’m an independent filmmaker who has directed a few feature-length films (along with a handful of short films), and much of my focus has been on the horror and thriller genres. I’ve been fascinated with death and dark subject matter from a young age, and grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Clive Barker, and watching shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. I have many friends in the horror fiction and film community, and have a deep appreciation for suspenseful and imaginative movies. That being said, I wanted to come up with something fun for Halloween that was also potentially inspiring to other filmmakers. This list is by no means comprehensive, and the budgets for these films are very different from one another, but they are all independently financed and realized movies. And not all of them are from North America… But I highly recommend them for different reasons!
10) “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” (1971, John D. Hancock)
This amazing little film is quiet and slow in its build-up of potboiler style suspense. It has little to no violence in it whatsoever… However, the mood of dread and the overall atmosphere in this very low budget and modestly made film is incredible. In many ways, Hancock evokes a mood that only directors like Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick have ever engineered, but he did on a tiny budget with clever staging of actors, a great script, and perfect pacing.
9) “Martyrs” (2008, Pascal Laugier)
A very violent and incredibly disturbing film, “Martyrs”, is also one of the most poignant and beautiful films of its genre. It defies convention with an impeccable script, but more than anything else it shows how important performance is to a film. The lead actors in the film are phenomenal, and the cinematography is breathtaking… Even though this is easily one of the scariest and most mind-blowing horror films of all time.
8) “A Horrible Way To Die” (2010, Adam Wingard)
More of a character study than anything else, the pitch perfect film “A Horrible Way To Die”, takes us into the mind and life of a real serial killer in ways that even Hollywood’s awesome show, “Dexter”, doesn’t. It’s gorgeously shot and uses real locations in ways that will inspire and delight filmmakers. A real gem of a film.
7) “Mother’s Day” (1980, Charles Kaufman)
This is definitely one of those films that you have to hunt down. Make sure to see the original one before you see the remake. This 1980 cult classic lays down a foundation for creepy killer family films that started with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but here the film takes a different turn with a powerful, hilarious, but also genuinely frightening older woman playing the most evil and powerful character in the film. Also of note, it has a roving poolside camera sequence that Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledges lifting for his own famous poolside scene in the film, “Boogie Nights”. Anderson was inspired by “Mother’s Day” for that show.
6) “The Blair Witch Project” (1999, Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez)
In some ways, not enough can be said about this amazing film that mixed Hi 8mm video with black and white 16mm film, and used a forest as its main location. Although it was preceded by the equally excellent and vastly underrated film, “The Last Broadcast”, it still resonates on both a practical filmmaking level and on the level of haunting storytelling it achieves.
5) “Wendigo” (2001, Larry Fessenden)
See this film if you can find it! It’s a monster movie for generations to come. Fessenden crafts a very unique and artful film that uses its natural outdoor locations in amazing ways. Much like “The Blair Witch Project”, a lot of the action takes place in nature. The difference here is that “Wendigo” is a glossy and beautifully shot film with some great special fx, a cool and creepy monster, and a lot of interesting imagery throughout that makes the film feel like it’s bigger budget than it actually is.
4) “Possession” (1980, Andrzej Zulawski)
This is perhaps the most disturbing of all of the films on the list (although it could be a tie with “Martyrs”), and also the only one that hasn’t been out on home video for a very long time, but is finally getting the excellent Blu-Ray DVD treatment it deserves. A demonic possession movie that mixes body horror and sexuality in its premise, “Possession” is both avant garde and lurid in its style and directing. This is a polarizing film, but one that must be seen to be believed.
3) “Tenebre” (1982, Dario Argento)
As any horror film buff will tell you, it’s usually pretty hard to pick a favorite Dario Argento film, and for me, even though I really love both “Deep Red” and “Suspiria” with all of my heart, I’m pretty sure that the raw intensity and sheer audacity of “Tenebre” makes it my favorite of Argento’s canon. A very rough film in more ways than one, “Tenebre” somehow achieves a sense of dream, excitement, arousal, and repulsion that none of Argento’s other films can quite match for me.
2) “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974, Tobe Hooper)
It was a tough call, as I wanted to also mention George Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead”, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, but because of the inventive no budget filmmaking techniques and the spine-tingling suspense portayed in Tobe Hooper’s seminal slasher film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, it has to get the mention above all others. With a documentary film style approach matched with the grainy and ultra creepy cinematography by Daniel Pearl in the film, it’s probably the film that influences more independent horror filmmakers than any other.
1) “Nosferatu” (1922, F.W. Murnau)
The first original horror film! And the one of the first independent films of all time. Although it was a studio that made it (and technically some of the other films on this list are the same way), it was one of the first films ever made period! Utilizing an incredible monster, inventive Expressionistic photography and lighting, and a twist on the Bram Stoker classic, “Dracula”, the film “Nosferatu”, is still to this day perhaps the greatest horror film of all time. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must.
-Ramzi Abed, Director of Marketing & Sales, BIRNS AND SAWYER