You know you’re a true horror movie fan when the mere sight of a school bus is enough to send you into a movie-watching frenzy. Forget pumpkin spice, cozy sweaters, and golden leaves – for us, fall is all about Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, and anyone else who can give us a good scare. While horror movies are great all year round, there’s something delightfully spooky about watching one on a crisp autumn night. And if the movie also takes place in fall? You might as well forget about sleeping!
I used to wait until October 1 to start my annual horror movie binge, but it just wasn’t enough time to get in all my favorites. This year, I’m starting in September, so if anyone is trying to make plans, call me after Halloween. In all seriousness, though, while there are a few of slots on my list for bigger-budget films, such as The Cabin in the Woods and Grindhouse, horror is one genre that does not have to spend a lot of money in order to be effective. With a great storyline and enough fake blood, some of the all-time best scary movies have gotten by on a budget of just a few hundred thousand dollars.
In a world where the average Hollywood production costs over $100 million, that’s really saying something. While critics might scoff and call them B-films, there’s no denying that there is no genre quite like horror. Here, we’ve gathered 25 of our favorite low-budget horror movies, arranging them from most to least expensive with data from IMDb. Take a peek and you’ll see, horror movies don’t have to be big budget to kick serious ass!
25. Braindead – $3 million
Before Peter Jackson was world-famous for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, he was a little-known director from New Zealand filming satirical horror comedies. While Bad Taste and Heavenly Creatures are each disturbing in their own way, none of his earlier films can quite compete with Braindead. Today, the 1992 zombie splatter film has developed a cult following. As for how Jackson jumped from being practically unknown to his multi-million dollar budgets for Middle Earth? That’s still a bit of a mystery.
24. High Tension – $2.5 million
A weekend in the countryside, an ax-wielding serial killer, hot French girls — High Tension, or Haute Tension as it’s known in France, has all the makings of a standard horror film, but what it delivers is far from expected. Admittedly, it’s gory, graphic, and violent throughout, but it’s the unforgettable ending that will leave you frozen with fear.
23. Teeth – $2 million
Guys, this one might be hard for you to watch. However, if you’re not burning with curiosity to see “vagina dentata” in action, are you even a horror movie fan? We think not. Yes, Dawn has teeth down there, and yes “things” get bitten, but what really makes the film is Jess Weixler’s award-winning acting. Watch it and you’ll see why it was the most talked about film at Sundance 2007.
22. A Nightmare on Elm Street – $1.8 million
No matter how many times we’ve seen it, A Nightmare on Elm Street is always good for a scare. By working with little-known actors and using practical effects such as pancake batter and 500 gallons of fake blood, director Wes Craven was able to skimp by on a budget of $1.8 million. The film went on to become a franchise, earning over $25 million at the box office and establishing New Line Cinema as a prominent production house.
21. Killer Klowns from Outer Space – $1.8 million
Perhaps the most bizarre plot on this list is that of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. It’s exactly what it sounds like – killer clowns from outer space land in California and wreak havoc – but how that all goes down has to be seen to be believed. It’s 100% pure ’80s fun, complete with slapstick humor, promiscuous teens, and really, really scary clown masks. Today, it’s a cult classic, and a sequel, The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D is set for 2018, 30 years after the original film’s debut.
20. Hush – $1 million
You never know what you’re going to get with a horror movie on Netflix, but Hush will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. The 2016 film puts a new take on slasher films with its deaf heroine, Maddie, who must face a killer in silence. It’s a must-see for any horror fan, but don’t take our word for it – master of the macabre Stephen King tweeted, “How good was HUSH? Up there with HALLOWEEN and – even more – WAIT UNTIL DARK. White knuckle time.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
19. Re-Animator – $900,000
As the title suggests, dead bodies come back to life in H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator, but this is not your typical zombie film. When medical student Herbert West discovers a glowing green elixir that brings the dead back to life, horror and comedy ensue as he tries to work out the “side effects.” A word of warning – there’s a scene with a severed head that is just as disturbing as it is unforgettable.
18. Dead Snow – $800,000
What’s scarier than zombies? There’s really only one thing, and that’s Nazi zombies on a quest to protect their valuables. While the plot is a bit loose, it’s worth a watch if you’re a connoisseur of grade-A special effects. As Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said, “The real stars are the special effects team, which does some admirably disgusting work with ribbons of intestines and a brain that plops out of a ripped-open skill with surprising delicacy.”
17. I Spit On Your Grave – $650,000
After a young writer is brutally gang raped by four men, she seeks out revenge, in what is undoubtedly one of the hardest to watch and most controversial horror films of all time. I Spit On Your Grave, which was originally known as Day of the Woman, was remade in 2010, and while some consider the plot a “misunderstood feminist film,” film critic Robert Ebert was not so kind. He called the film“a vile bag of garbage” and said that “attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.” Criticism aside, it’s a horror classic.
16. Friday the 13th – $550,000
Director Sean S. Cunningham only needed $550,000 to bring scenes of Jason and Camp Crystal Lake to life, but at the box office? Friday the 13th delivered over $59 million dollars – and that was just the first film. The franchise went on to have 12 films, including a crossover, Freddy vs. Jason, with the Nightmare on Elm Street series. To this day, it’s considered one of the most successful franchises in American history and a simple hockey mask remains a great way to scare your friends.
15. The Toxic Avenger – $500,000
The Toxic Avenger is one of those movies that is so bad, it’s good. Although it made only $300,000 at the box office, the story of Melvin Ferd, a bullied teen who falls into a vat of radioactive waste and becomes a misunderstood hero, is now considered a cult classic. Sequels two, three, and four followed, with none making back their budget, but each widely loved by Toxie fans. For years, there have been rumors of Toxic Twins: The Toxic Avenger Part 5, but so far, no release date has been confirmed.
14. The Town That Dreaded Sundown – $400,000
In the 1970s, director Charles B. Pierce championed a popular sub-genre of horror by presenting his films as true stories. Despite containing very little fact, the faux-documentaries were great for a scare, and eventually went on to inspire horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blair Witch Project. However, Pierce’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown contains more fact than most. In 1946, there really was a “Phantam Killer” who attacked eight people in Texarkana, Texas, but as for the terrifying sack-mask? We’re chalking that one up to artistic liberties.
13. The Evil Dead – $400,000
Today, director Sam Raimi is best known for his work on the original Spider-Man trilogy, but in the 1990s, he teamed up with actor Bruce Campbell to make one of the most horrifying low-budget horror classics of all time – The Evil Dead. Raimi hardly had a budget and the crew (compromised mostly of friends) was inexperienced, but after the film was screened at Cannes in 1982, the public was hooked. Over 30 years later, The Evil Dead is still considered one of the scariest films ever made. Seriously, wrap up tight in a blanket before viewing this one.
12. Beyond the Door – $350,000
Beyond the Door, otherwise known as Devil Within Her, is one part The Exorcist, one part Rosemary’s Baby, and 100% chilling Italian horror. When Jessica becomes pregnant with her third child, she begins to show signs of demonic possession, including projectile vomiting and spinning her head around. Although Warner Bros. attempted to sue for infringement on The Exorcist, their claims were denied. Watch it and you’ll see that it truly is a completely different and just as alarming story.
11. Sleepaway Camp – $350,000
We guarantee that no movie ending will shock you quite like that of Sleepaway Camp. Don’t be fooled by the campy set-up (pun intended) – the last two minutes of the film will completely rock your world. We’re not going to say another word. This is one you really need to experience for yourself.
10. Halloween – $325,000
Before there was Jason or Freddy, there was the slasher film that started them all – John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s hard not to wax rhapsodic about this film, but from the casting to the music to the set, the story of Michael Myers is just about as close as you can get to perfection in the world of horror. Carpenter’s budget was so low that he didn’t even have a mask for Myers when it came time to film, prompting a crew member to run into a local Halloween shop. There, he found a William Shatner mask for $1.98, which, after a few alterations, became one of the most iconic horror symbols of all time. While Carpenter no doubt longed for a bigger budget, the fact that locals were cast and asked to wear their own clothes and Halloween costumes only adds to the film’s reality. Incredibly, it went on to make over $70 million dollars.
9. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – $300,000
The character of Leatherface is loosely based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein, and while most of what is depicted in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is false, that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. In fact, director Tobe Hooper had difficulty distributing the film, which several countries banned outright for scenes of excessive violence. However, thanks to Hooper’s perseverance and the loyalty of fans, there’s an entire generation who winces every time they hear a chainsaw.
8. Phantasm – $300,000
A tall man, floating orbs, dwarf zombies — there’s so much going on in Phantasm that it’s impossible to categorize. Is it supernatural horror? A zombie flick? A stalker film? The answer is all of that and more. Although nearly everyone working on Phantasm was new to the industry, it became an instant success, inspiring three sequels. A fourth, Phantasm: Ravager, is set for release on October 7, 2016.
7. Night of the Living Dead – $114,00
When director George A. Romero made Night of the Living Dead, he didn’t just make a movie – he inspired an entire industry. From The Walking Dead to World War Z, every zombie film or series that came after it owes its roots to Romero. However, that’s not all Romero did that was revolutionary. He also cast a black man, Duane Jones, as a lead character, and faced issues of racism head-on in his storyline. Each of the sequels also address social issues of their time, such as consumerism in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and the rise of social media in 2007’s Diary of the Dead, making them not just great horror films, but important cultural touchstones.
6. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – $110,000
If you haven’t seen Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, do us a favor and watch the preview. Did you recognize who’s playing Henry? That’s a young Michael Rooker, better known as Merle from The Walking Dead! The character of Henry is loosely based on real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who was convicted of killing 157 people in 1983. The critically-acclaimed film follows Henry’s real-life relationship with fellow serial killer Ottis Toole, and is a chilling look into the mind of a murderer.
5. The Last House on the Left – $87,000
Before directors Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham hit it big with the A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises, respectively, they teamed up for 1972’s The Last House on the Left. The violent and gruesome exploitation film was banned in several countries, despite being well received by critics, but went on to make $3.1 million and become a cult classic. Although there are scenes that are hard to watch, there’s also a plot twist that will leave you cheering.
4. The Blair Witch Project – $60,000
You can’t talk about low-budget horror film without eventually bringing up The Blair Witch Project. It’s a polarizing topic, with horror fans remaining divided on whether it was scary or silly, but with the $248 million it made at the box office, it’s one of the most successful independent films of all time. A sequel is hitting theaters in September 2016.
3. Plan 9 from Outer Space – $60,000
Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, starring horror legends Bela Lugosi and Vampira, is considered to be one of the “best/worst” movies ever made. Stock footage, spaceships made from paper plates or hubcaps, and little green men made of plastic kept the budget low, and contributed to the film’s ongoing cult status. If it’s your first time watching, plan to view the story of how the film came together, as portrayed by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s award-winning Ed Wood, directly after.
2. Paranormal Activity – $15,000
With box office profits of over $193 million, Paranormal Activity is the most profitable movie ever made. By shooting the film on home video and starring only two actors, director Oren Peli was able to achieve his vision in just seven days of shooting. The result? Many viewers walked out of the screening mid-way, not because the film was bad, but because it was simply too scary to finish.
1. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne – $10,000
Be My Cat: A Film for Anne is wholly disturbing – especially if you are Anne Hathaway. The “found footage” film tells the story of the terrifying lengths that a young Romanian man goes to in order to convince Hathaway to star in this film. Of course, it’s all imaginary, but from start to finish, it feels intimate, raw, and real. As Josh Millican of Dread Central said, “What we have here is potentially revolutionary, and like the most impactful examples of uncompromising art, potentially dangerous. The line between fact and fiction has never been so terrifyingly or brilliantly blurred.” Watch it, if you dare!