The days may be stretching a bit longer now as the sun finally starts to set a bit later every night, but there is still plenty to be scared about right now. With armed riots and COVID potentially around every corner, horror is still an ever-present part of all our lives. Fortunately, horror movies provide a safe platform for all thrill-seekers to get their shrieks and screams in without actually having to put themselves in harm’s way.
Thanks to production companies like Blumhouse and A24, independent horror is currently undergoing a bit of a renaissance. Filmmakers who grew up watching some of the earliest independent horror films are now out there creating their own grim worlds for audiences to lose themselves in. Whether it’s supernatural or psychological horrors that tickle your fancy, read on to learn more about 20 of the Best Indie Horror Movies if you dare!
The granddaddy of slasher films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974, is one of the infamous horror movies ever released. Directed and co-written by Tobe Hooper, the film follows a group of traveling friends who fall prey to a family of torturous cannibals. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre has so much going for it, but it’s impossible to mention this film without mentioning the granddaddy cannibal of them all: Leatherface. This chainsaw wielding madman has become one of the most iconic figures in horror and his first appearance perfectly displays why he is still such a creepy, terrifying force today. Texas Chainsaw Massacre made its mark as a violent and messy film, but it also deserves praise for its realistic feel and solid ensemble performances.
George A. Romero isn’t the first director to utilize zombies in his films, but he certainly popularized and enshrined the brain-eating creatures in modern pop culture. With 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, Romero’s first foray into zombie film-making, he follows what happens when a group of seven individuals are stranded and locked inside a farm together while being attacked by mindless monsters. Loosely inspired from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Night of the Living Dead is both tense and creepy but also comical and excellently paced.
If you like horror movies to make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, then Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs might be for you. A French film that follows two young women as they try to seek revenge for a past crime, a decision that leads them straight into the torturous and sadistic hands of a cult-like organization that believes pain brings people closer to god. Tense and incredibly bloody, Martyrs has a spiritual and philosophical throughline that adds a interesting layer of depth to the project. Even though Saw predates Martyrs by four years, Martyrs doesn’t hesitate to show people being mutilated and tortured in a much more severe and squirmish way than its American rival; in fact, it revels in the misery that it inflicts upon its characters.
After being quarantined for what feels like an eternity, a psychedelic dance party sounds pretty damn good right about now. Climax, an ensemble film that features a lot of improvisation and interesting motion, sees a group of dancers come together for a good-old-fashioned 90s warehouse afterparty. Unfortunately, the night takes a turn for the worse when everyone starts acting angry and confused as it becomes clear that the party punch was spiked with acid. Written, directed and co-edited by Gaspar Noé, the film is highly technical, featuring a lot of long, jarring takes, and isn’t afraid to put the camera right in the middle of incredibly uncomfortable, sometimes violently shocking moments.
Anyone who has seen Twin Peaks knows David Lynch is no stranger to creepy, atmospheric film-making, but this quality dates all the way back to Lynch’s feature-film debut Eraserhead. A twisted metaphor about the horrors of parenthood, Eraserhead follows a man named Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) as his life is turned upside down upon learning that his “girlfriend” gave birth to a grotesque baby. Silly at moments due to the uncomfortable tension hanging over everything, the film is both surreal and disturbingly sexual in a way that makes it hard to stop watching. The character work and industrial setting are certainly alarming, but Lynch also excels at creating ghastly soundscapes that make everything creepier and harder to comprehend in the best way.
Writer and director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room doesn’t deal with supernatural entities or grotesque body-horror, but it is still an incredibly tense, horrifying watch. A touring punk band takes a last-second gig without realizing they accidentally agreed to perform at a neo-Nazi club. Instead of avoiding a hostile scene, the punk rockers escalate the situation during their performance and find themselves locked in the green room scared for their lives. The film has a lot of fantastic performances, but Patrick Stewart’s turn as Darcy Banker, the intimidating and loyalty-demanding neo-Nazi leader, proves the classical thespian still has a hard edge. In 2021, the thought of being locked in a room with a bunch of angry skinheads is more relevant and terrifying than ever, and Green Room is an adrenaline-fueled ride about this group’s desperate struggle to escape with their lives.
When comedian Jordan Peele made the transition to mainstream writer and director with Get Out, he took the cinematic world by storm. Structurally, the film is a romantic-comedy gone very wrong, but the racially-charged satire and tense conversations make it feel more like a psychological thriller. Full of fantastic performances, the most memorable being Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, someone who is understandably nervous to meet his girlfriend’s family who gradually realizes things aren’t as they appear, Get Out is both charming and funny while also being intensely dark and dripping in poignant societal criticism.
Writer-director Ari Aster’s debut feature film, Hereditary, is the perfect blend of psychological and supernatural horror. After the secretive matriarch of the Graham family dies, things slowly start to unfold for everyone else in the family. As the Grahams lose their grip and start to grasp their grandmother’s dark secrets, things quickly spiral out of control. This is definitely a situation where the less scare-seeking viewers know going into the movie the better, but just know that Hereditary knows how to take its time and get under the viewer’s skin. Full of incredible performances, Toni Collete in-particular was sorely overlooked at the 2019 Academy Awards for her work in this movie.
Zombies have evolved a lot since Romero re-introduced them in Night of the Living Dead, and no movie ups the zombie-ante quite like Train to Busan. A Korean film mostly set on a singular train that is making the journey to the port city of Busan, Train to Busan is set in the earliest moments of a zombie outbreak. As the passengers travel, the country slowly starts breaking down and the outbreak becomes present on the sealed train. Hectic and claustrophobic at the same time, the film is heavy on emotions, effective jump scares and action packed moments that make it one of the most entertaining twists on the undead genre in a while.
Part period piece and part supernatural horror, Robert Egger’s feature-film debut, The Witch (also known as The VVItch), is best described as an incredibly detailed nightmare. Set in a New England settlement in the 1630s, the film focuses on a Puritan family who are trying to build a successful life while they come into contact with demonic forces. Inspired by Eggers’ own fascination with witches, the film doesn’t deliver direct scares per se, instead it makes the viewer sit in the unknown and uncomfortability of each moment as the family is slowly torn apart. Heads up for anyone who may not be aware though, part of why this film can be described as “incredibly detailed” is due to Eggers decision to use painstakingly accurate dialogue and dialects, something that can take a moment to get used to.
Goodnight Mommy, a psychological horror from Austria, knows how to make its viewers stir in their chair. Co-Directed and co-written by filmmaking team Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the film follows two boys (brothers Elias and Lukas Schwarz) after their mother returns home from a surgery. Since she is adorned with full facial bandages that make it impossible for her kids to confirm whether or not it’s really their mother under there, the two begin to suspect that it’s actually an imposter in their home. A tense and bloody ride, Goodnight Mommy turns into a full out war between the young boys and their “mother” as they struggle to learn the truth and survive being trapped inside with her.
It’s rare that people truly get second opportunities in life, but writer-director Michael Haneke completely remade his own 1997 movie Funny Games in 2007 with brand new performers like Tim Roth and Naomi Watts. Pretty much a shot-for-shot remake of the original except for the fact that it’s in English, the film is the perfect meta encapsulation of why you don’t talk to strangers. When the Farber family visits their lake house, they come into contact with two young men who quickly turn from awkward conversations to sadistic games. Rather than simply rob the family and escape quickly, the two young men- played wonderfully by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet- take their time embarrassing and torturing the family, making it clear that sometimes normal people are worse than monsters.
Spending time with Willem Dafoe alone on a lighthouse sounds terrifying by itself, but Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse turns that uncomfortable scenario into a manic nightmare when a new lighthouse keeper (Robert Pattinson) comes aboard right before a powerful storm. Like Eggers’ other entry on this list, The Witch, the film pays careful attention to details, making sure everything from dialects to set decoration is as authentic as possible as the two men spiral out of control in the isolated setting. Shot in black and white with a squared, 1:1 aspect ratio, the old-school aesthetic adds to the film rather than serve as flashy techniques that muddle or distract the audience.
Directed and co-written by horror legend John Carpenter, Halloween sees a deranged serial killer escape from an “insane asylum” and return to his hometown to wreak havoc on Halloween night. Six-year old Michael Myers killed his sister, and now, 15 years later, he’s ready to kill some more. A classic slasher film full of tense moments, Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance in the movie as high school student Laurie Strode, proves exactly why she has earned the title scream queen. At this point Michael Myers is one of the most infamous Halloween costumes, but the original movie is definitely still worth seeing for anyone who wants to know why he’s such an iconic killer.
Life can be strange, but it can be even STRANGERwhen you’re on psychedelics. Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, structured after the infamous Tibetan Book of the Dead, sees Oscar have an out-of-body experience after being shot by the police during a drug sale. Heavy on neon lights and flowing camera movements, the film excels at making the audience also feel like they are in the middle of an uncomfortable, world shattering trip. Enter the Void is more of an avante garde art film than pure horror, but it is still incredibly unsettling and takes the audience on a wild, memorable ride.
A horror-western set in the 1890s, Bone Tomahawk is writer S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut feature-film. Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russel) has to put together a group in order to rescue some individuals who have been kidnapped. The only problem is, they weren’t kidnapped by outlaws looking for quick cash, they were taken by cannibals. Unafraid to get grotesque, Bone Tomahawk is truly one of the most brutal films I’ve ever seen as Sheriff Hunt and his gang struggle both physically and mentally to survive and get the job done. Despite its B-movie qualities, the film is actually stacked with an amazing ensemble of actors like Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox whose performances elevate the entire thing.
When people think of vampires, adult figures like Dracula and Lestat are probably the first thing that pop to mind. Let the Right One In, a Swedish film written by the man who wrote the 2004 novel it’s based on, inverts things by having the central vampire be a young girl. Equal parts comedic, kiddy romance and dreadful exploration of how dark people can be, Let the Right One In is both shockingly violent and heart-achingly sweet that sticks with viewers for a long time. While the film did have an entertaining American remake hit theaters in 2010, the original is far superior at creating both tense and loving atmospheres.
Sometimes, horror movies need a shot of cuteness and positivity to really land, and Little Monsters has both of those qualities in spades. Written and directed by Abe Forsythe, the group follows a group of quirky characters, led by Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad, as they try to protect a group of young students from a hectic zombie outbreak taking place around them. The zombies in Little Monsters are deadly and terrifying, but the way the film blends in comedy makes it a unique, must-watch.
The two-girls-one-cup of the horror world, 2009s The Human Centipede is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. A Dutch film that follows Lindsay (Ashley Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), two American tourists on a European vacation, things quickly turn south when the tourists are kidnapped by a good-old-fashioned mad scientist who is working on a comical yet extremely dangerous torture method that sees people sewed together anus-to-mouth. It’s hard to call Human Centipede a good movie with a completely straight face, but the way it excels at making viewers uncomfortable makes it a one-of-a-kind horror experience that everyone needs to see at least once.
With Covid still ripping through people’s homes, a big, group dinner sounds terrifying for a lot of reasons right now, but director Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, which focuses on a group of old friends reuniting over dinner two years after a traumatic experience, makes it a terrifying get-together for a whole different kind of reason. Unafraid to take its time and make people second guess all of the confusing, tense actions taking place on the screen, The Invitation is an explosive film that also does a wonderful job at exploring the emotional and psychological damage trauma can have on one’s life.