A Love Letter to Independent Horror – 5 Films that Give Me Hope

Let’s face it. Horror has always been a vital part of the film industry, and a controversial part as well. As fans of this genre, we know and cherish this fact.

But, as a filmmaker who is afraid of studios, I think it’s important to point out where we get the best of our genre – the stuff that energizes and changes the industry. That stuff comes from independent filmmakers. Classics like “Night of the Living Dead,” “Halloween,” “Eraserhead,” “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” and “The Evil Dead” – I could go on – come from young, passionate, subversive filmmakers who do something crazy: they produce films all by themselves. Where would we be without these films? They pushed censorship boundaries, gave young talent louder voices, and set guidelines for how horror can – should – be made.

Not to say that the studios haven’t produced brilliant horror – “The Shining,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Psycho,” etc. – but these indies are all the more remarkable for their innovation and persistence against all odds. And in a time when studios are producing far less films, and usually remakes/sequels that are sure to make money, indies have become our only hope in what otherwise would be a dying genre.

So, I wanted to highlight five of these modern indies that are bringing intelligence, vision, and fear to audiences who are still looking for their next classic. I’m sure these won’t be everyone’s choices, but hey, horror is subjective. Here are the films that give me hope:

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HONEYMOON 
Director: Leigh Janiak

This film is a classic slow-burn with some really, really, really gross moments of horror. As Janiak’s first feature, it does suffer from some over-exposition, but her control over pace and the slow way she drops poison breadcrumbs is masterful. When the ‘reveal’ comes about, I was genuinely shocked and disturbed. There is also a human side, too, as there always is in the best horror – questioning this married couple’s ability to really know each other. It left me in a daze, because of its implications.

HONEYMOON premiered at Tribeca, not often known for its horror offerings, and is available on Netflix.

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STARRY EYES
Director: Kevin KolschDennis Widmyer

While certainly not my favorite of last year, this film did a remarkable thing for me – it harkened back to the classics, but also remained rooted in our current culture, which most ‘retro’ horror is not able to do. It has all the satire, and ALL the gore, of early Cronenberg; and it isn’t afraid to be hilarious. The lead actress, Alex Essoe, belongs next to other current genre stars like Essie Davis and Sharni Vinson. Don’t expect fireworks from this one, but watch it for its ballsy Hollywood farce, and ballsier moments of utterly shocking violence.

STARRY EYES premiered at SXSW, one of the best genre platforms next to Park City at Midnight. It is available on Netflix.

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BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO
Director: Peter Strickland

Here is a perfect example of a horror-not-horror film. Because nothing happens, except a man constructs a series of horrifying sounds for a film we don’t see, and goes insane in the process. Yet, I left this one completely disturbed. It’s a beautiful testament to the power of sound, especially in horror. Visuals are nothing compared to the sound and score – what would Halloween be without that piano riff? Strickland reminds us of this, in a gorgeously crafted love letter to the great tradition of Giallo horror. Don’t expect a ‘real’ scarefest, but the film still frightens. There are various types of horror, and we can’t forget that.

BARBARIAN SOUND STUDIO premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to universal acclaim, and is available on Netflix.

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A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Another example of horror-not-horror. This film is not designed to scare (though, I’ll admit, at some moments it did frighten me). It is a poetic meditation on loneliness, and the loneliest of monsters, the vampire. The titular Girl is not a blood-and-guts chomper or a moody Cullen – she is a quirky, awkward, and pretty damn vicious character. Amirpour places this unique vampire in a beautiful Western-esque world in which the humans and vampires alike just want to be loved. The vision behind this film is sturdy and wholly original. It shows how much you can express with so little shown – it’s not a flashy movie, but it works, works really well. This is the type of indie that inspires me to make films.
This film is also produced by SpectreVision, one of the most exciting new companies out there.

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT premiered in the ‘Next’ section at Sundance, and is available on Netflix.

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OCULUS
Director: Mike Flanagan

Okay, no, this isn’t really an indie. The production company behind it, Blumhouse, is pretty mainstream. But Flanagan himself rose up from the indie ranks to make this film, and he did not sacrifice his vision. His previous effort, “Absentia,” is a wonderful and pitch-dark horror about loss that was made for NO MONEY. This one has money, but that did not extinguish Flanagan’s deeply human preoccupations. Here we have what looks like a haunted house tale, but it’s really about memory, and the damaging obsessions that come with it. Full of weird imagery, great character development and one hell of a dark ending, this one gives me hope that a filmmaker can go mainstream and not lose his authenticity.

OCULUS was a box office success for Blumhouse, attached Flanagan to several more exciting horror projects, and is available on Netflix.

NOTE: I left out “The Babadook” and “It Follows” not because they aren’t amazing – because I think they are – but because everyone already knows they’re great.

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