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LOW BUDGET, HUGE SCARES


In horror films, cheap thrills are just as good as expensive ones. You don’t need a huge budget to scare your audience senseless. Take the new British chiller HOST, described by Dread Central as “the scariest film of the past decade” - it all takes place on a laptop screen, and features a handful of actors and just a sprinkling of effects, but manages to be incredibly effective and unsettling. Here’s a selection of some of the best low budget horrors that have revolutionised the genre with their cost-cutting approach to fright, using resourcefulness, new technology and canny marketing to work around budgetary restrictions.


Night of the Living Dead (1969)


George A.Romero’s zombie shocker, featuring a group of people under siege from the undead in a farmhouse, cost a little over $100k and made over $18million at the box office. Superbly scripted and beautifully photographed, Romero garnered terrific performances from a no-name cast and doused the film with a sense of dread and despair. It is now regarded as a classic - and was recently added to the esteemed Criterion collection, receiving a stunning new Blu-ray restoration - not bad for a low budget chiller!


USP: Romero’s film showed footage of zombies munching flesh - truly shocking at the time, and ensured real word-of-mouth buzz.


The Blair Witch Project (1999)


Famously filmed for the price of a cheap secondhand car, The Blair Witch Project, about three filmmakers getting lost in the woods looking for a witch, became a cultural phenomenon, kickstarted the ‘found footage’ genre, and made hundreds of millions of dollars, spawning a sequel and a remake.


USP: The filmmakers utilised the internet to publicise the film as if it had actually happened - and audiences lapped it up.


Paranormal Activity (2007)


Less than a decade after The Blair Witch Project, along came Paranormal Activity to rewrite the horror filmmaking rulebook once more. Director Oren Peli made his nerve-shredder for about $15k - and it is devastatingly effective - relying more on what you don’t see, than what you do. A static shot of people sleeping should be boring - not flesh-crawlingly scary.


USP: Trailers for the film showed audiences literally leaping out of the seats while watching the film.


Open Water (2003)


Two scuba divers are left behind during a boating trip - and find themselves surrounded by sharks. Shot on video over the course of two and a half years, with a budget of $130k, Open Water is a masterclass in slowly building tension in a single location. The film made a staggering $55million worldwide at the box office.


USP: A shark film, based on a true story, with no CGI. Sold!


Carnival of Souls (1962)


Director Herk Harvey’s only feature film, a mysterious story of a woman’s visits to a rundown funfair, was made on a tiny budget with a crew of six. George A Romero has cited it as an inspiration for Night of the Living Dead, and shares that film’s unforgettably haunting quality.


USP: The poster suggested this was ‘A story so unusual it will burn itself into your mind’.


Lake Mungo (2008)

Joel Anderson’s mock horror doc, about the drowning of a young girl, is a gem - the less you know about it going in, the better. Combining interviews, mobile phone footage and eerie photographs (recalling Repulsion and The Shining), it’s a viewing experience that really gets under your skin.

USP: The attention to detail and verite style makes you think this doc could be real.


The Evil Dead (1981)


Sam Raimi and his pals touted a short film they’d made round to potential investors, and with the initial $90k they raised, went off to a cabin in the woods and made one of the greatest horror films ever - starring Bruce Campbell as a man up against recently unearthed ghouls and possessed pals.


USP: The posters had a killer quote from horror writer Stephen King - “the most ferociously original film of the year”. And the tagline ‘The Ultimate Experience In Grueling Terror’ whetted ho