13 Must-See Indie Horror Movies
Article By: Tyler Doupe
I have a lot of respect for filmmakers that are brave enough to venture outside of the studio system and secure independent financing to bring their film to life. Making an independent film allows the director a great deal more creative control than going through the conventional channels but that freedom comes at a cost. There is no guarantee of distribution when one helms an independent film. Even great indie films sometimes kick around the festival circuit and don’t immediately find a distributor. Even after the film does find distribution, it doesn’t typically get the kind of promotion and advertising that would be granted a studio picture.
It takes a high level of commitment and perseverance to see an independent film all the way through to distribution. To go through all that struggle and then not connect with as many viewers as possible has got to be frustrating. To show our gratitude to indie filmmakers and help viewers connect with their work, we are spotlighting 13 independent horror films you may not have seen but definitely should.
1. Dream Home (2010)
Dream Home focuses on Cheng Lai – Sheung, a very ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to secure the keys to her dream home. If she has to murder a few people on the way, well, that’s just how it has to be.
Dream Home is a film that’s been mostly well received by genre film critics and mainstream film journalists alike. However, due to the fact that it didn’t get a great deal of publicity surrounding its release and because it is a foreign language film, it seems that this title slipped through the cracks for some viewers. And that is terribly unfortunate because Ho-Cheung Pang’s Dream Home is an exceptional film with a smart and satirical take on the economic recession. It is brutally violent but not simply for the sake of being violent. The carnage is part of the film’s attempt to satirize the recession. The film is expertly directed and offers brilliant performances from all its leads. Dream Home is filled with relevant subtext on the global economy and amidst that, it is also manages to be quite funny when appropriate.
2. Excision (2012)
AnnaLynne McCord is brilliant in this film. She’s been typecast a bit in the past but director Richard Bates Jr. took a chance on her and it paid off in spades. Her performance as Pauline is extraordinary and she is completely believable as an ugly duckling. She delivers absolutely filthy dialogue with no hint of hesitation and she gets inside Pauline’s head to the point where its clear that she understands her character’s psychosis even better than her character does. Traci Lords turns in an underrated and truly excellent performance as Pauline’s mother and Roger Bart is very convincing as Pauline’s henpecked father. Bates’ direction is extraordinary, especially when stopping to consider that Excision marks his feature film directorial debut.
Excision finds Pauline, a high school outcast, coming of age and coming to terms with her violent and highly sexualized fantasies. She finds it impossible to live up to her mother’s outrageous expectations but desperately wants to discover a cure for her sister’s cystic fibrosis. As the film progresses, Pauline becomes more and more unraveled. All of this leads to a shocking and epic conclusion.
3. Inside (2007)
This tale of a young pregnant woman who is stalked by a ruthless stranger that wants her baby is delightfully terrifying.
It is one of the most darkly frightening and intensely paced films I’ve seen in years. I suspect that this picture may be even more terrifying for anyone who has actually given birth to a child. Inside is co-directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. The pair gels together expertly and elicits smart and thoughtful performances from the film’s small cast. The directorial team plays on lighting and cinematography for maximum scares. All of the elements in this film flow together to create a fantastic feature that is not to be missed.
4. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
Jonathan Levine’s All The Boys Love Mandy Lane kicked around the festival circuit in 2006 and garnered rave reviews. But for some reason, it was more than five years after the film’s festival run before the picture secured stateside distribution. As a result, this film seems to have been missed by a lot of horror fans. And that is unfortunate because Mandy Lane is a smartly constructed slasher film with some fun twists along the way. Levine’s direction is keen and Jacob Forman’s script is right on point! Amber Heard is fantastic in the lead role. She shows a great deal of versatility for a slasher film.
The film follows the titular character as she enjoys a weekend getaway with some friends from high school. The kids get much more than they had bargained for when a deranged killer shows up and spoils their fun by killing them off one by one.
5. The Aggression Scale (2012)
Steven C. Miller’s The Aggression Scale finds Owen and Lauren, a brother sister duo taking on a group of low-level mob hit men when their parents are killed for suspicion of embezzlement.
The film is certainly not perfect but if taken as pure entertainment, it is a lot of fun. The chase scenes are intense and the kills are brutal. The relationship between the brother sister duo appears very natural. And it endears the audience to both of the characters almost immediately. Fabianne Therese and Ryan Hartwig are excellent as Lauren and Owen. Some of the supporting performances in The Aggression Scale are less convincing but none so egregious as to derail the film. If you’ve missed out on this one thus far, it is definitely worth a look.
6. The Revenant (2012)
The Revenant finds Bart (David Anders), a US soldier returning from deployment after falling in battle. Things take a turn for the bizarre when Bart realizes that he’s not actually dead but not quite alive either. To figure out what exactly he is up against, Bart looks to his old friend Joey (Chris Wylde) for guidance and companionship as he tries to figure out exactly what he is and what he needs to do in order to ensure his survival.
This film is a lot of fun for a variety of reasons. It is one of a small handful of films that totally gets the dynamic between horror and comedy and the relationship between Bart and his friend Joey is very authentic. The viewer begins to care about them and becomes way more invested in the pair than is typical for a horror film. Writer/Director D. Kerry Prior really fired on all cylinders. His direction is terrific, the script is sharply written and he leverages his background in effects to deliver FX that defy the film’s extremely limited budget.
7. Home Movie (2008)
This lower-budget film follows the sociopathic exploits of twin siblings Emily and Jack. Their transgressions are chronicled through a series of very disturbing home movies. The pair starts small by killing the family pets but before long they seem to have set their sight on their parents. What happens from there is as unpredictable as it is entertaining.
Real life twin siblings Austin Williams and Amber Joy Williams are excellent as Jack and Emily in Home Movie. They are creepy and entirely convincing as blossoming young sociopaths. My only complaint with this flick is that Jack and Emily’s parents who are played by Adrian Pasdar and Cady McClain are too over the top at times and also come off as completely clueless. Ultimately, though, this is an enjoyable ‘found footage’ style film that left me feeling extremely uncomfortable after watching it. It made a lasting impression on me and that is not something I can say about the majority of ‘found footage’ films released over the past several years.
8. Alone with Her (2006)
Alone With Her is a stalker film for the 21st century. It finds Doug (Colin Hanks), a voyeur and a bit of a pervert, setting his sites on a beautiful young woman named Amy (Ana Claudia Talancon). Rather than going about things the old fashioned way, Doug bugs Amy’s apartment and hides cameras throughout her home to allow for constant monitoring. After he knows nearly everything about her, Doug approaches Amy and attempts to begin a romantic relationship with her. Things start out ok but before long, Amy starts to realize that something is not right with Doug and that her life may be in danger.
Alone with Her is very creepy and very interestingly constructed. It’s like a ‘found footage’ film but without all of the excessively choppy camerawork since many of the cameras are mounted in place. It blurs lines between right and wrong by telling the story from the perspective of the stalker and getting the audience to identify with Doug on some level and even dislike Amy at times. The film is slow burn but it doesn’t take excessively long to rise to a boil and the wait is worth the payoff.
9. Botched (2007)
After a botched heist in Russia, Ritchie (Stephen Dorff) is given one final job to pull off before his debt is repaid to the Russian Mob. Things start out routinely but after Ritchie and his crew are stranded on the 13th floor of a high rise, they are introduced to a group of religious zealots that are all kinds of crazy about the devil.
Botched isn’t a perfect film. It’s got its flaws but ultimately, if you can accept it for what it is, it’s a lot of fun. The banter between Ritchie and his crew is often quite amusing and the primary antagonist in the film is laughably ridiculous – but intentionally so. Kit Ryan is effective as the film’s director. He keeps the pace on point and is able to recognize and play upon the inherent humor in the situation Ritchie ends up in.
10. Grace (2009)
The Adam Green produced horror film Grace is a very well made flick. It features some interesting commentary on just how far a mother will go to protect the life of her child. Even though the film was made on a nearly nonexistent budget, it still has the feel of a much more expensive production. The performances, direction, and effects are all excellent.
Paul Solet’s Grace finds Madeline (Jordan Ladd), a young mother who has been desperate to conceive, experiencing a stillborn birth. Naturally, she is devastated but when her child begins to show signs of life, Madeline is willing to do whatever she must to ensure that her baby has everything she needs to live a normal and happy life. Even if that means having to do things she had previously deemed unimaginable.
11. The Skin I Live In (2011)
I don’t want to give away too much because the less you know about this film going into it, the better your experience is likely to be. Antonio Banderas plays a doctor named Robert who doesn’t like to see bad things befall those that he loves. When something happens that does not sit well with him, Robert decides to do something about it.
Wow. This is such a profound and simultaneously enjoyable film. It makes a powerful feminist statement. But it still functions brilliantly even if the viewer doesn’t take the time to focus on any of the film’s ample subtext. Antonio Banderas turns in an excellent performance as Robert and Pedro Almodóvar is at the top of his directorial game with this picture. It stayed with me for days after watching when I took it in for the first time and is a title that I have revisited repeatedly.
12. Babysitter Wanted (2008)
Jonas Barnes and Michael Manasseri’s Babysitter Wanted focuses on a young woman who takes a babysitting job to earn some extra cash. After arriving at the home where she is sitting, she discovers that there is a madman on the loose but she doesn’t know why he is tormenting her or what he is after.
Babysitter Wanted is very much a popcorn horror film. It’s not exceptional and it doesn’t do anything revolutionary. It draws a lot of its ideas from classic horror but putting that aside, it’s fun to watch and definitely has its moments. The ending is a little unexpected but it’s a big part of what makes the film worthwhile. The performances are all reasonable and the picture definitely isn’t without some good scares.
13. Cold Sweat (2010)
Cold Sweat finds Román trying to track down his girlfriend Jackie who seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. When he finally does get a lead as to where Jackie might be, Román discovers that she has been lured to the home of two geriatric men that get their kicks playing with nitroglycerin. The elderly gents, it seems, are holding Jackie against her will.
Cold Sweat is a very intense horror-thriller. The tension begins right from the get go and does not let up until the end credits role. Adrián García Bogliano provides keen direction and proves to be an expert at establishing atmosphere and invoking a sense of dread in his audience. The amazing thing is that in addition to being an intense horror film Cold Sweat is also ridiculously funny. The elderly men that kidnap Jackie are incredibly amusing and had me in stitches at times. They provide perfectly timed comedic relief but it’s not over the top nor is it done as filler.