Scary as the industry is now, this is the golden age of being able to make a movie. Anyone can do it. The scary part is distribution and profit, both of which are in some ways harder than ever. Still, that shouldn’t deter anyone who really feels like they need to shoot a film from doing so. There are always ways.
These films prove that. Each one of them is different, each showcases different voices and talents, but each one was made for next to nothing. It’s easy now to only think of found footage when we think of horror that proves anyone can go out and make a movie. Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are the first titles that pop into everyone’s heads and they did change everything, albeit ten years apart.
But this leads a lot of people to think that if their idea isn’t found footage, it can’t get made. And that’s not true. The truth is, anything can get made. Just browse around Netflix long enough and you’ll see that. Absolutely everything can and will get made. And that’s a good thing. Here are some microbudget features that prove it.
The Dead Next Door
Essentially an epic home movie, The Dead Next Door deals with a group of soldiers called the “Zombie Squad” who have been tasked by the government to control the growing zombie threat. More interestingly, they come into contact with a religious cult who believe the zombies are a punishment sent down from God and are therefore protective of them. It accomplishes a lot with no budget of any kind and was even ahead of its time in some aspects.
Okay, this one has some found footage aspects in places, but it is not a found footage film. The first two thirds are in documentary format and when things get real, it switches to traditional third-person narrative. Both a love letter and satire of slasher films at the same time, Behind the Mask is one of the best horrors of the previous decade and does wonders with a miniscule budget of $200,000.
The Evil Dead should be a template for all young people who want to put a horror movie together. It was made for very little money, shot at an abandoned cabin actually found by the crew and it looks amateurish. But that’s one of the best things about it. There is a homemade feel to The Evil Dead that is so authentic and so impressive. Even for next to nothing, you can clearly see that there are true filmmakers at work here. As focused as Sam Raimi and the group were on scaring people, there are dozens—maybe too many—of extremely technical shots.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a great example because it is a movie that doesn’t need anything in order to work. It doesn’t look or feel like a film. That’s a strength. The closer something like this feels to real life, the scarier it is. And Henry is one of the scariest ever made. It’s a grim look in the day-to-day life of a serial killer and even though it isn’t shot like a documentary, it feels like one.
When I interviewed director Jorg Buttgereit in 2011, he confirmed for me that any estimated reports of the Nekromantik budget were false. There wasn’t one. The German film board was put in place to stop pictures like Nekromantik from happening, so getting the right documentation and permits were an impossibility. To get this made, they had to do it on their own. Yes, it’s amateurish. It’s pretty much homemade. But it made up for its cheapness by being one of the most out-of-left-field disturbing movies ever made. As such, it gained an audience and was ultimately embraced by hardcore gore fans.
This list would not be complete without a true shot-on-video entry. In the late 1980’s, there was an actual movement of homemade horror movies, many of which were made with budgets of a couple hundred at most. The lack of money showed, but so did the imagination these filmmakers put into the work. Video Violence was one of the best of the shot-on-video era if only because of its concept, in which serial killers Howard and Eli distribute their actual snuff films to a local video store.