3 Short Horror Films to Get You Thinking this Halloween

Why making a scary movie may be a really good idea.

“Affordability, popularity, profitability.”

So who’s going to a Halloween party this year as a clown with a red balloon?

Director Andy Muschietti’s It, about a group of bullied kids who band together to take on a shapeshifting demon that appears as a clown, plays like a throwback to the great Stephen King adaptations of yore. It’s a critical success and box office sensation, having made more than $635 million on a $35 million budget.

Let those numbers sink in for a moment.

It | Warner Bros. Pictures, 2017

Also representing the horror genre this year, we have Split – M. Night Shyamalan’s latest that earned more than $138 million on a $9 million budget – and Get Out, first-time director Jordan Peele’s debut, an R-rated horror-comedy that made $175.5 million on a $4.5 million budget. Oh, and it may be a serious Oscar contender.

It’s no wonder that horror films have been called “the best deal in Hollywood”, thanks to their combination of affordability, popularity, and profitability that’s led time and again to impressive returns on investment.

As an independent filmmaker, there are plenty of practical reasons to consider making a horror film. For starters, you could do it on a low budget. You might go for a cheap “found footage” aesthetic using a home video camera, and/or write a story with just one or two characters in a single location… The point is that it’s totally possible to develop an affordable film concept that leverages or even subverts the tropes of the horror genre! Statistically speaking, you’ll stand a chance of finding an audience, making your money back, and even breaking into the festival circuit.

For example, Curve, about a girl struggling to escape from a hungry, sentient abyss (and set in a single location), played at The Tribeca Film Festival:

I. Curve | Dir. Tim Egan, 2016

Clinging to a smooth, curved surface high above a sentient abyss, a girl tries to cover the few feet back to safety without losing purchase and falling to her death.

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

We also recently stumbled across Dawn of the Deaf, a fresh take on the zombie subgenre that played at Sundance:

II. Dawn of the Deaf | Dir. Rob Savage, 2016

When a strange sound wipes out the hearing population, a small group of Deaf people must band together to survive.

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

Some big-name filmmakers are even embracing the advantages of the horror genre to sidestep the Hollywood machine altogether. For example, Neil Blomkamp, the director of District 9, enlisted Dakota Fanning to play a woman pursued by a hideous monster through a space station in the self-funded Zygote:

III. Zygote | Dir. Neil Blomkamp, 2017

Stranded in an Arctic mine, two lone survivors are forced to fight for their lives, evading and hiding from a new kind of terror.

Mature Content; Viewer Discretion Advised.

If you’re looking for more fun and scares, then check out our roundup of 3 short horror films for people who don’t like horror films and give Lights Out a watch, which inspired a feature film adaptation last year. And of course, the second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things is around the corner, just in time for Halloween and sure to be a sensation!

Stranger Things | Netflix, 2017

Making movies – and television shows, for that matter! – is risky business.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the budget, the higher the stakes, the more conservative the production will be and the less creative leeway you’ll have. These days, managing risk often means sticking to tried-and-true templates such as superhero and franchise films, both of which boast built-in audiences and, so far, relatively predictable track records (emphasis on “relatively”). 

By making a low-budget horror film, you’re effectively lowering the stakes, which affords you more room to experiment and push the envelope. There’s simply less on the line, and since the horror genre lends itself well to a shoestring budget, it’s possible to avoid creative compromise, too.

Of course, the hope is that Hollywood will more readily embrace auteurs and their idiosyncratic visions, but in the meantime, we’re stuck with a paradox: financial limitations can set you free!

So the next time you’ve got a scary idea lurking around your brain, indie film friends, don’t lock it in the proverbial basement and throw away the key. Instead, let it out. Observe it. Feed it, and as it grows, try to imagine what it could look like all grown up on the big screen.


Want to make a scary movie but aren’t sure where to start?

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