Fear and Film:
The Hunt for
By Chris Dettone
What comes to mind when you think of Horror? For some, it’s the skittering, slithering noises of something menacing waiting just out of sight. For others, it is the monster that can lurk inside of our fellow men and women. Ultimately though, since the advent of cinema, and the first viewing of Le Manoir du Diable in 1896, there has been an ever-rabid audience for films that evoke fear.
Horror as we all know is a genre dates to a period much older than the mediums we currently enjoy. However, today we are privileged to live in a time when Horror seems to thrive in the minds of nearly every creative, the independent filmmaker included. What is it about fear that draws us in? Why do we as a species gravitate to what scares us to our very core? Why, more than any other genre, does Horror call to independent filmmakers?
“For me personally I think it is because horror is a genre that can be difficult. At least a good horror. You have classics in the genre that everyone talks about and characters that are like legends so to speak. I think it becomes a challenge to make a horror and people like challenges, at least I do.” – Brandon Lampley, Director (Homage – 2021)
“I think indie filmmakers gravitate to the horror genre because the final product expectations are a lot lower. This makes films a bit easier to get distribution for. If a horror film becomes so bad that it’s funny, for an entire group of fans, well that’s part of it for them. Bad horror can be fun, and then there’s great horror. People love to be scared and they’re constantly paying to do it. Filmmaking is just manipulating emotions, and fear is the easiest one to tap into.” – J.W. Cox, Director (Judge- 2020)
With films like It (2017) grossing over $700 million at the box office, the popularity of horror seems only to be increasing among fans; but among creators, the fervor seems to be equally powerful. Each year, independent film festivals like Film Freeway dedicate entire events to showcasing independent horror, and each year directors return with fresh, spine-chilling submissions, some of which even go on to cult level followings in the streaming community.
Many emerging creatives state that they are drawn in by the fact that a horror film can be done well based solely on the script and talent. One need not have a large budget for effects to illicit a terrifying response; they need only understand what they themselves are afraid of and then convey it to the audience.
“Indie filmmakers gravitate towards the horror genre because it’s more economically feasible and is likely to be more of a commercial success. The filmmakers of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity proved this. All you need is good talent and a script that gets people invested in the movie. Many moviegoers like to be scared and thrilled. Most other genres make it hard to achieve the entertainment value that horror provides.” – J.D. Kraus, A.D. (A Touch of Startdust – 2017)
“Indie folks are drawn to the horror genre because the fans are much more forgiving of low budgets and cheaper effects (they even praise in-camera effects)," says Paul Gorman, Co-Owner of MaddyG TV. "They don't mind seeing no name actors, they forgive bad / weak acting. You'll commonly find reviews saying, 'The acting was terrible, and the effects awful, but over all a good movie!' Horror fans are also collectors who pride themselves on their horror movie collection, so there's a fair chance your low budget horror won't be a total loss. You can't get away with cheap FX in a sci-fi or action film. You can't get away with mediocre acting in a drama. You pretty much can't even make a successful comedy without a name comedian in the lead. No other genre is as forgiving as horror.”
Ultimately of course, what is scary to each of us varies, but horror itself seems to be driving us toward an understanding of what scares us all; Appealing to both instinctual, as well as emotional fears that lurk within us as a species. Horror, in a way all its own and that no other genre can mimic, makes us ask questions about ourselves, and forces us to face parts of our psyche that we subconsciously do our best never to see. Horror is a study of the mind, and the independent film industry is intent on showing us all that there is always more to learn.