3 Reasons Indie Filmmakers Should Make Horror Films

Avoiding creative compromise with a marriage of vision & style.


“The best deal in Hollywood.”

M. Knight Shyamalan redeems his career with The Visit, Guillermo Del Toro paints a Gothic ghost story in Crimson Peak, and a slew of sequels and remakesPoltergeist; Insidious: Chapter 3; Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, to name only a few – comprise 2015’s horror slate so far, sustaining us through the Halloween season.

Long has the horror genre been popular with filmmakers and audiences. From Georges Méliès’ 1896 La Manoir du Diable, arguably the world’s first horror film (below), to today’s proliferation of subgenres (killers and zombies and vampires, oh my!), we continue to tap into fear, our natural survival response to danger.

The trend is clear…. But why?

Why do we make and enjoy scary movies?

From a business perspective, “it is the best deal in Hollywood”.

In fact, NPR recently discovered that since 2010, 13 of the 30 top films by ROI (Return on Investment) are horror films. “Profits can be huge on small investments,” they explain. “The key thing about horror is that it’s relatively inexpensive to produce, and… marketing can have a tremendous impact.”

This sweet spot of (1) popularity, (2) profitability, and (3) affordability makes the horror genre an ideal option for indie filmmakers. Oftentimes, horror stories naturally lend themselves to a low-budget shoot – found footage aesthetic, few actors, limited locations – facilitating a match of narrative and style, so the latter need not compromise the former.

Said differently, you don’t have to have fancy equipment to pull off a successful scarer.

From The Visit | Universal Pictures, 2015

From The Visit | Universal Pictures, 2015

As for why we enjoy scary movies? Science! “It’s all about triggering the amazing fight-or-flight response to experience the flood of adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine,” Dr. Margee Kerr, a university teacher and staff sociologist at a haunted house in Pittsburgh, tells The Atlantic.

The catch? This needs to happen in a safe space – say, at the cinema. A scary moment activates a moviegoer’s fear response on the physical level, but their brain “has time to process the fact that these are not ‘real’ threats.”

Sometimes they feel real, though.

Sometimes we sleep with the lights on. And that, fellow filmmakers, is the power of our craft.

 Michael Koehler, with

Have an idea for a horror film but not sure where to start? Check out our affordable online filmmaking course more guided than a blog, more interactive than a textbook, more flexible than traditional film school.


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