Have you ever dreamed of making your own horror film? For many of us, this dream becomes sidetracked by a job, money issues, or just life in general. I wanted to post this article to inspire possible film makers into understanding that this dream is obtainable, and your vision does not have to die before in gets started. Most of us probably know that movies like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street had relatively small budgets when compared to other genres in film. I wanted to dig deeper, and go way cheaper for this project. Many hours of research went into this article, but I think the following is important information. I delved into my memory banks for films that I found to be simple, yet entertaining. I proceeded to write them all down, and began my research. The following ten films are all relevant to this article for varying reasons, and the list composed covers the last five decades.
10. Hayride (2012); Budget: $60,000
I remember when I was in high school, I participated in a "self class" that required that we make our own movie. Considering my love for horror, my first instinct was to get a group of friends together and shoot a short horror film. Granted this was my first experience trying to make a movie, it proved to be a lot of fun and definitely a learning experience. Hayride (2012), reminded me of this time in my life, and showed me how much you could really accomplish with a small group of dedicated horror fans.
9. Amateur Porn Star Killer (2007); Budget: $45
This is obviously a "highly independent" film, but there are two huge reasons why I needed Shane Ryan's film on my list. First of all, this film was shot in one day. If you're working on a tight budget, I don't think I need to stress how much this helped Ryan keep his costs down. Secondly, even though this movie had an estimated budget of forty five dollars, the realism and originality of the film surpass many big budget films. This has helped this small production gain notoriety, and become a bit of a cult classic among horror hipsters. If you market a film correctly, it is possible to create an underground following that helps produce profit.
8. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986); Budget: $110,000 (242,000 adjusted for inflation). Gross: $609,939 USA (1.15 million dollars adjusted for inflation).
Michael Rooker, a.k.a. Merle from The Walking Dead, scampers around Chicago picking off random victims one by one. This movie received excellent reviews for its edgy approach to personalizing a serial killer. It also gets five stars for its "creepiness" factor. I may be reaching here, but it is also possible that this film inspired a few "found footage" films in later decades. The two main characters in this movie, Otis and Henry, come across a video camera on their escapades and use it to enhance their morbid amusement. The horror this movie creates is mostly psychological in nature, which helped in keeping the cost of production smaller. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, is also a great example of how using gifted actors can enhance a story, rather than expensive imagery.
7. Breathing Room (2008); Budget: $25,000
Despite the fact that by the year 2008 came around this movie had already entered into the realm of cliche, it is hard to deny the fact that it was done so professionally. Rumor has it that this movie came in under the twenty five thousand dollar budget that the filmmakers had to work with. There is plenty of suspense, drama, and thrills throughout this movie to make it worth your while. The main character goes through the different stages of acceptance that a newly jailed inmate most likely suffers through. In this manner, she is taken out of "pre-class," or in other words a holding cell, and thrust into her new world of general population in this sick puppeteer's game. I was surprised that the budget for this film was so small.
6. The Signal (2007); Budget: $50,000 Gross: $600,000 USA (estimated)
This is a very important film on this list. This movie predates The Crazies by three years, and comes in at a staggering 19,950,000 below the 2010's film budget. The Signal is as brutally violent as it is original. David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Genry combine three Acts that add up to one hell of a horror flick. If you haven't had a chance to watch this movie, as a horror fan I highly recommend watching it. Because of it's minuscule budget, it is highly relevant to this list. The Signal also incorporates plenty of dark humor to satisfy fans of dark comedy within the horror genre. Dark humor is cheap, and so was the cost of financing this film. Think back to the days of The Evil Dead, when Sam Raimi took us down the rabbit hole of his vision. There is a definite pattern in horror movies. They are artistic, they are inventive, and they usually turn a profit. The Evil Dead would have made this list but the budget, despite being small, was too high for this list.
5. I Didn't Come Here to Die (2010); Budget: $100,000
In my opinion, this movie should have grossed $60 million minimum. The numbers for some of these film's profit margins are unavailable, but I think it is safe to say that they are moderate in nature. The horror community should be ashamed that this movie was not pushed to the forefront. This film incorporates the humor of Tremors, the darkness of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and paranoia/creativity of The Thing. Maybe by itself, the film is not as great as these three classics, but when you add it up you have an awesome b horror movie. Bradley Scott Sullivan unleashed this dark humanitarian's adventure with one hundred thousand dollars to spend, and this horror fan was very happy he decided to make this film. There is a scene in this movie that involves removing a chainsaw from a young girls face, that will go down in my memory as one of the most macabre visuals I will recall on film. Once again, this film is an excellent example of how dark humor can be used to benefit a film's budget.
4. Housebound (2014); Budget: $350,000 NZD ($257,705 USA)
Let's change things up a bit. This is a brilliant foreign film that hails from New Zealand and is classified as a comedy/horror. Sure, the quarter of a million dollar budget is the highest on the list, but we are talking about a real gem here. Classic horror franchises, when adjusted for inflation, are still mostly multimillion dollar investments. Somehow, this movie was made with a cool quarter million U.S.D. When I give accolades to this film I am not simply speaking from a horror genre perspective. You can find the film on Netflix if you are interested, but I have to tell you; If you don't find this movie entertaining on some level, then don't bother making a movie because you probably won't succeed. The lead actress in this movie has the rare capacity to make you hate her in the beginning, and eventually grow to love her, and eventually root for her as the film evolves. This movie would most likely be the only film on this list that even liberal parents would consider viewing with their preteens. If you are a fan of Shaun of the Dead, then Housebound is definitely a must see.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Budget: $85,532 ($410,000 adjusted for inflation). Gross: $30,000,000 ($144,000,000) adjusted for inflation
Although this list is in no particular order, I have decided to reserve the final three spots for the "big hitters" in the horror industry. We are talking about profit margins that are so unfathomable, that they could make a stock broker's head explode like the guy in Scanners. In 1974, Tobe Hooper released his masterpiece of the macabre upon us, leaving the squeamish running for the exits. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is credited with spurning the slasher genre in horror, and influencing the golden generation of terror. Sure, I'm sure that the sweaty cast had their complaints during a red hot summer in Austin, Texas, but I highly doubt that they are ashamed that they participated in one of the highest grossing independent films of all time. (The independent film was only surpassed by John Carpenter's Halloween four years later.) If I ever make another horror film, this is what I will use for ammunition to keep my cast motivated!
2. The Blair Witch Project (1999); Budget: $60,000 Gross: $248,639,099 Worldwide
The top two films on this list demonstrate the power of an original film in the horror genre. It also demonstrates how a little folklore, such as "based on a true story," can influence the masses. Not unlike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Blair Witch Project used this type of technique to it's advantage. Just in case you're not a numbers person, I want you to go back and look at the top of this promotional poster. Are you kidding me? I was working in a cinema when this film hit theaters and me and my degenerate friends frequented screening of this film in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Sure we were in our experimental phase of our lives, but I think the concept still sunk in. I do not recall a "found footage" film before this movie, at least not to the extent that this film was portrayed. It really doesn't matter if spoofs were created as a result of a "snot scene," or that this movie was mimicked countless times over the course of the next two decades. I have worked in the gaming industry for fifteen years, and I cannot tell you any stories about somebody turning sixty thousand dollars into a quarter of a billion dollars. This was, and will continue to be a cultural phenomenon.
1. Paranormal Activity (2007); Budget: $15,000 Gross: $193,355,800 Worldwide
Paranormal Activity is the final film on this passionately created list. I am absolutely enchanted with the concept of turning a small amount of money into a bunch of money, using film as my medium. Take this film for example. Fifteen thousand dollars is less than people spend on a car these days. That is precisely why it is placed in the number one position on this list. This film catapulted Oren Peli into stardom, and he has since brought us multiple sequels to this particular film, along with the Insidious films. Let's face it, ghosts scare people, and Peli delivers a special touch to his "ghost story" franchise. What will be the next film on this list? All I can tell you is there is plenty of room at the top, and plenty of room for expansion. The horror genre will still be making money for people long after anybody who reads this is still alive.
The Box Office numbers for this blog were taken from IMDb's home page. The inflation numbers were calculated using the MeasuringWorth home page. Copyright 2015.