This past year or so has seen a lot of change in my film tastes. Long gone are the days when I’d stumble my way through a Buñuel just to look a bit smarter over a pint of beer – my recently watched list on Netflix now almost exclusively comprises of indie horror movies.
It might have something to do with the fact that in-between Cultured Vultures and the 9-5, I appreciate shutting down my brain and unwinding with something not necessarily shallow, but a film that won’t be rivalling Welles’ finest any time soon. There are plenty of detractors of the genre that say, “oh, another damn Paranormal Activity” and “why are we remaking this again?” and to an extent, they’re justified.
Some mainstream horror has suffered from a lack of ambition lately. Too many studios are relying on the same old tired sequel formula. That’s where the indie horror space has really started to thrive, films off the beaten path that rip up the script and try different things. Whether it’s the slow burn brilliance of something like The Lighthouse or zombie movies somehow constantly being reinvented, if you want innovation in horror, indie is where you have to look.
As long as the directors of the best indie horror movies below stay around, the genre should be okay.
The Best Indie Horror Movies
20. Terrifier (2016)
Director: Damien Leone
Following the rampant success of the adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, clowns in horror movies are all the rage again. While some people may not be scared of clowns, Terrifier might just make people puke because of them — it’s one of the most gruesome movies you will ever see.
If you’re looking for a nuanced character portrait in Terrifier, don’t bother: it’s basically just stylish violence for its short runtime. If that’s your kind of thing, go for it, but don’t say we didn’t warn you to bring a bucket with you.
“Yes, in the end we’re talking about a killer clown slasher film with only a hint of character development and a relatively silly plot, but Terrifier is a movie that’s bound to affect nearly everyone who watches it on some level. If you’re not scared of clowns, the violence is sure to get to you. And if the violence doesn’t get to you, man, I’m more than a bit worried for you.”
19. Stake Land (2010)
Director: Jim Mickle
The film that gave me the idea for this article, Stake Land is one of those films on Netflix that you take by face value and sadly scroll past. I’m glad that Netflix’s constant recommendation badgering brought me around to it.
A vampire film with roots in the zombie apocalypse (zombocalypse?), Stake Land has stunning cinematography that belies its meagre budget and a dramatic tone that gladly avoids becoming overwrought, as so many similar films do. A dodgy final 15 minutes aside, this is the best vampire film since Near Dark.
18. Kill List (2011)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Hodge podge. A British phrase for a British film and an apt description of this wonderfully warped film’s genre. Is it a horror or more of a hitman flick? Domestic drama? Ben Wheateley doesn’t waste time trying to categorise his 2011 effort and neither should you.
It’s a disorientating, uncompromising downward spiral into the occult that features one of the least likeable protagonist’s since Shia LaBeouf decided to piss about with robots. I will never be able to look at wicker the same way again. Catch it if you can, it’s available on most VOD services and probably for just over a tuppence on eBay.
17. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Something’s wrong with the mother of two young boys. She is constantly secluding herself from them following surgery that appears to have left her mangled. As the boys’ suspicion grows, so too does the suspicion of the viewer that all is not as it seems.
Hyped up immensely after it reveal before not really landing the distribution to capitalise on it, Goodnight Mommy is a entrancing descent that you can now find on most streaming services. It’s slow almost to a fault, but your patience will be rewarded with this one.
16. The Invitation (2015)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Not to be confused with the considerably more so-so 2022 vampire movie, The Invitation really doesn’t get the reputation it deserves as being one of the most nerve-wracking character studies in recent horror history. It’s incredibly patient with an incredible payoff that’s worth waiting around for.
When a troubled man is invited to dinner with his ex, things are not all they seem. The people are odd and there is something bubbling underneath the surface. When it reaches its climax, The Invitation provides one of the most effective closing scenes you’re ever likely to see in an indie horror.
15. Host (2020)
Director: Rob Savage
Would Host have quite as much impact if it didn’t release in 2020, a year in which everyone and their nans was hooked up to Zoom for emotional support? Maybe, but it’s easy to agree that Host took a very tired subgenre in the form of found footage and somehow made it feel fresh.
Coming in at just under an hour long, Host really doesn’t waste much time as it sets up a group of friends taking on a very misguided Zoom séance. Director Rob Savage really made the most of the technology lockdown had restricted him to deliver some of the most unnerving moments in recent years.
Never trust filters.
14. Green Room (2015)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
If you manage to make your way through Green Room without vomiting on yourself through sheer anxiety, you’re a braver person than most. It has such a simple concept that goes such a long way towards it being one of the most visceral and haunting movies you will ever see. Plus, Patrick Stewart is a very naughty boy.
When a band plays at a Nazi club, they witness something they shouldn’t have witnessed. What happens next is a tour-de-force in subdued but incredibly impactful violence and a pace that never relents. It was one of the last movies of the severely underrated Anton Yelchin, and it may be among his best works.
From our review:
“Like the best films, Green Room takes the conventions of a genre and wraps them around truth. I walked into this film expecting some Saturday afternoon thrills. It delivered. What I did not expect was to leave the film reflecting on whether it was the right time to take my writing career more seriously.”
13. It Comes At Night (2017)
Director: Trey Edward Shults
It’s fair to say that It Comes At Night is a supremely polarising movie, and it’s easy to see why. The pacing can, at times, be laborious and make you feel like a “big” moment is coming to reward you for your patience, but it doesn’t. Early promotional material was somewhat misleading, too, pitching it as a creature feature rather than what it actually is.
It Comes At Night is a quiet, patient movie that focuses on the conflict in a family who are terrified of the outside world. It has a few “mystery boxes”, as Abrams would say, but it’s ultimately a character-driven indie horror movie rather than a spectacular and heart-pounding romp.
12. It Follows (2014)
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Just like It Comes At Night, It Follows is another indie horror movie that no two people can agree on. Of the two, however, It Follows’ unique “gimmick” is what makes it stand out more. The Catholic church probably had a few new reformed members after it first screened.
After having sex with a mysterious guy, a girl is stalked by a slow-moving “creature” that wants her dead. Trouble is: only those who are infected can see it. The logic gets a bit wobbly towards the end seemingly as they wanted to jam in a somewhat conventional finale, but just like the title implies, It Follows is a movie that you will really struggle to shake.
From our review:
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film which made me think twice before turning out the light as I went to bed. It Follows is a breath of fresh air and an instant classic. Turn the lights down, the volume up and keep a soft object handy in case you need something to hide behind.”
11. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Director: S. Craig Zahler
From the outside looking in, Bone Tomahawk might just appear to be yet another western. While it certainly has the hallmarks and could stand on its own if you took out its more horror-centric elements, what makes it so good is just how unerringly gruesome it is.
Packed with gore and some severely painful deaths, Bone Tomahawk is anchored by some great performances, mostly so in Kurt Russell. Bone Tomahawk was made on a dime and died a death at the box office, which means that it’s sure to become a cult classic — it deserves all the attention it gets. Have a paper bag by your side when you watch it, though.
10. The Battery (2012)
Director: Jeremy Gardner
I cannot fanboy over this film enough. As well as coming in at #6 on my Top 6 Non-Romero Zombie Films, The Battery makes the cut again here for indie horror movies. There’s just something about it that I can’t help but recommend.
It might have a couple of uneven spots and or two coarse edges but it certainly sticks in the mind, something which a big budget horror struggles to match. If you love your zombie films and want something with a bit more between the eyes, you could hardly ask for more from Jeremy Gardner’s debut feature.
It’s time for a confession. I initially wrote Ti West’s The House of the Devil off as I had genuinely confused it with this. They hardly even sound the same.
Moving swiftly on, this is a surprisingly excellent horror in the vein of John Carpenter’s finest with a dash of modern horror brutality thrown into the mix. More unsettling than horrifying, you should check it out if you have a fondness for the old-school.
Be prepared for a seriously slow burn, though. Stick with it and you will find yourself an indie horror that pays reverence to the classics of the 70s.
8. Martyrs (2008)
Director: Pascal Laugier
I cannot shake this film from my brain. I could take the thing out of my skull, put it through the dishwasher and it would still come out completely traumatised from the last twenty minutes of Martyrs. It is absolutely not for anyone who is faint of heart or stomach.
Once you’ve sat through this French export all the way to the bitter end, it’s hard to envisage another film that will push the boundaries like Pascal Laugier so triumphantly achieved here. It says a lot that the screenshot above is just about the least NSFW image I could find.
7. Pontypool (2008)
Director: Bruce McDonald
Another zombie horror that breaks the mould, Pontypool has been warmly welcomed by the horror community for refusing to be conventional. It’s not scary (even for a second) and is more of a chin stroker, posing questions of its audience as a town is gripped by a mind-consuming mystery epidemic.
“Basically, we should all go and explore nature and put the technology away,” cries the Romero-reminiscent social commentary, and that’s hard to argue with. If you find yourself checking your phone while watching this, it’s probably best if you don’t.
6. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Director: Kim Jee-woon
A film being shot in 1080p didn’t really mean a lot to me until I picked this up on Blu-Ray; I’d seen others in high-definition but none of them quite sold it like this Korean masterpiece did. It’s visually arresting and just a little bit affecting.
Equal parts ugly and beautiful, I Saw the Devil is an unforgettable film from Kim Jee-Woon buoyed by the commanding performance of Oldboy’s Min-sik Choi. Imagine if Face/Off dealt more eloquently with psychosis and wasn’t utterly ridiculous and you’re on the right track.
The horror-comedy had been done to death (thanks, Shaun of the Dead) until this little gem popped up seemingly out of nowhere.
Two simple guys looking to lead the simple life are believed of being serial killers by a group of stereotypical teenagers who all die one by one in ridiculous circumstances.
Starring the always delightful Alan Tudyk and that bearded guy you’ve seen in a few things, its over-the-top gore and heart is a fantastic combination that should not be ignored.
“Oh hidy ho officer, we’ve had a doozy of a day. There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house when kids started killing themselves all over my property.”
4. Let the Right One In (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Here’s how you make a vampire film and without a single sparkle in sight. Let the Right One In and Twilight both incidentally came out in the same year but there’s more than a little gulf in quality between them. Let The Right One In wins by default as there’s no Kristen Stewart in sight.
This Swedish masterclass in tension was a revelation when it was released and has amassed a cult following, helped in no small part by its excellent young leads. A couple of memorable sequences (swimming, anyone?) and an interesting spin on the genre make the film one of the best indie horrors around.
3. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
Director: Shane Meadows
Just like Kill List, you could make the argument that Dead Man’s Shoes isn’t strictly a horror film but the image of Paddy Considine in a gas mask sways my opinion. Really, it’s more of a reverse horror where you root for the killer.
Visceral and original, this is an out-and-out punch to the gut that doesn’t relent. Shane Meadows’ guerrilla style compliments the demented military tactics of the film’s anti-hero who delivers some of the most memorably menacing lines from the past decade in cinema:
“God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that.”
2. One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Director: Shinichirou Ueda
One Cut of the Dead is one of those indie horrors that you just want to ramble on and on about, but to do so would be to ruin what makes it such a surprising gem. If you’re not swayed by its opening half an hour, stick with it: that’s all part of Shinichirou Ueda’s plan.
Following a film crew as they try to put together an ultra-low budget zombie movie before actual zombies show up, One Cut of the Dead is a marvellously fun watch that charms the longer it goes on. Catch it on Shudder if you haven’t yet, even if you don’t like zombie movies.
1. The Evil Dead (1981)
Director: Sam Raimi
You can’t talk about indie horror movies without discussing perhaps the most influential one of all time, which itself launched an almost surprisingly enduring franchise. Sam Raimi’s barmy backwoods trip gone wrong has influenced pretty much every low-budget horror film since the 80s, going on to create the legacy despite having about as much budget as one frame of Avatar.
The effects may not hold up well across the board, but the almost guerrilla-like filmmaking and committed performances provided the blueprint for every gory horror that couldn’t fit into the mainstream thereafter. While much of it was remade in the sequel, there’s something about the grimy, gonzo nature of this pioneering original that is hard not to be charmed by.
Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.
Gamezeen is a Zeen theme demo site. Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.