There are a few recipes that make for a good indie movie. With restricted budgets and a lack of Hollywood heavyweights to draw the crowds, the concepts, titles and storylines need to do the heavy lifting (a bit like old Hollywood films, then), and the effects need to be more modest and practical in most cases. For these reasons, horror movies tend to make great indie flicks, with cutting-edge special effects and professional cast members replaced by fake blood and screaming.
Even before the current indie movie explosion, some extremely famous horror franchises began their lives as independent movies -some of cinema’s most iconic horror characters were rustled up with only a few hundred dollars and plenty of free labour. We’ve put together a list of the best and most successful indie horror movies, including details of the best (and worst) memorabilia – you may be surprised at some of the creativity which Hollywood execs deployed to try and make some extra bucks after the box office.
In 1978, John Carpenter was not known as a slasher movie director. In fact, the horror genre itself was still relatively young, with Hitchcock still the king and new boys like Carpenter, Craven, Cronenberg and Romero still to become the legends they are today. Halloween was a game-changer for horror, and the independent movie scene as a whole, in that a Hollywood-esque flick was created on a budget of $300,000, and went on to become one of the most highly-regarded works of all-time horror.
Carpenter’s reliance on suspense and practical effects are just part of the success of the movie, with then-unknown actress Jamie Lee Curtis backed up by the esteemed and established Donald Pleasance. But the series really found its footing thanks to prime antagonist Michael Myers. In fact, Myers was rated the 3rd best horror character of all time in a poll by IGN – a status which will certainly upset Star Trek star William Shatner. Legend has it that Myers’ iconic face mask, now a highly popular piece of movie memorabilia, was actually a mask modeled in Shatner’s likeness, which was borrowed thanks to its spooky and unrealistic nature! Our own favorite piece of Halloween memorabilia is the Halloween can cooler – the perfect way to keep your drinks cool whilst enjoying the movie.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Back in the early Eighties, names like Robert Englund, Johnny Depp and even Wes Craven were firmly limited to the small budget movie scene. Craven had had previous success with movies like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, but it was A Nightmare on Elm Street that really elevated him to the big time. With a simple premise, a terrifying bad guy and some convincing sells when it came to the murders, A Nightmare on Elm Street capitulated on the decade’s teen comedies and dramas, joining the illustrious ranks alongside The Breakfast Club and Back to the Future when looking retrospectively.
The film’s very modest budget of $1.8 million was made back with ease, and now Nightmare memorabilia is highly desirable. Naturally, every clothes shop worth its salt stocks enough leather gloves and red and black striped jumpers during peak costume periods, but there were some additional weird and wacky bits of kit that joined them on the bandwagon.
Just take the Freddy Krueger toaster, a clever piece of culinary kit that imprints a toasted image of the evil janitor on any given bread. Or the incredible ‘Freddy’s Greatest Hits’, a full album of voice recordings and original songs performed by the Elm Street Group. The 1987 album contained ‘hits’ including ‘Do the Freddy’, ‘Woolly Bully’ and ‘All I Have To Do is Dream’. There’s also the Nightmare on Elm Street slot machine, made especially to celebrate the horror franchise. Based on the modern remakes, the virtual slot machine can be played along with other great horror slots at Wink Slots. There’s plenty of references to the main characters and even a scare-filled appearance or two from the man himself.
The Blair Witch Project
If there’s one movie that just doesn’t lend itself to memorabilia, it’s The Blair Witch Project. None of the characters’ mumbling moments are particularly memorable, the evil presence is never actually seen on screen, and although the found footage is scary, it doesn’t produce anything that execs could greedily slap on a lunchbox. Despite this, the film has become a cult classic on a tiny $60,000 budget and sparked the ‘found footage’ movement of low-budget indie horror hits.
In 2016, the remake/sequel, Blair Witch, was released. With a much larger budget and a much lower overall critical opinion, it still made $45 million in cinemas. But within the confines of a cinematic universe that claimed to be inspired by real events, surely there’s no way to try and profit using merchandising?
Well, that’s where the Blair Witch soundtrack comes in. Despite there being no music whatsoever throughout the film, a CD soundtrack was released which was purported to be found in the car that the trio left at the side of the road before the movie starts. Right. The album is still available on iTunes and Amazon, so it can’t be that bad…can it?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
One of the most shocking movies of all time originally didn’t see the light of day in many countries, thanks to some of the bans imposed on Tobe Hooper’s 1974 independent slasher. Scenes depicting the violent demise of Leatherface’s victims may have been too much for many motion picture associations to handle, but this didn’t stop a host of Massacre memorabilia being sold off the back of the super-successful franchise. A mug featuring the mug of Leatherface is available – a lovely pick-me-up that’s as strong as your coffee. Or why not spice up your next BBQ by ordering a ‘blood spattered deluxe apron’, just like the one worn by Mr. L.
Whether it’s a hit in the novelty aisle, a tasteful tie-in or an utter piece of tat, even auteurs need to pay the rent. So don’t judge too harshly the next time you see an iconic piece of your favorite slasher film being flogged to the masses.