I first had the opportunity to interview up-and-coming indie horror director J.D. Lifshitz last year, and despite the fact that he still had to worry about homework, his poise when speaking about being a filmmaker and his knowledge of the genre as a whole made a huge impression on me. I’ve been loving this genre for a long time now (I’m old so I won’t say how long exactly), but he could talk circles around me when it came to discussing horror films, which is why I knew I had to ask Lifshitz to participate in our week-long coverage of indie horror filmmakers’ favorite films.
When Lifshitz submitted his list, he used the following parameters: “I tried to not use such obvious choices like Cabin Fever or Pi, but I’m sure most horror fans will know at least one film on this list. I also decided to only include films made post-2000 as the independent scene has completely changed since the 90’s such that it’s almost a different world entirely. I also only stuck to American cinema because I didn’t feel like making this whole list French, Spanish, and Swedish.”
So sit back, relax, and let’s take a look into the best independent films horror has to offer with the guy who made Killed on the 4th of July, shall we?
1. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
I was as skeptical as anybody walking into this one. I’d watched my fair share of love letters and was seriously starting to wish for less ‘throwbacks’ (that’s fanboy for rip-off) and regression and more genre progression with filmmakers willing to take risks and try something new. The fact that this was being billed as the opposite of that did nothing to enhance my expectations, self-referential horror being no easy task to pull off, and it’s even harder when you attempt to do it with a straight face. Imagine my surprise when not only did this familiar tale of a babysitter’s torment pull off the 80’s feel to perfection, but it did it without poking fun and with enough respect that it all felt fresh. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it spins it better than most and provided more genuine scares than any other film that year. Sure, the last ten minutes can’t possibly meet our expectations, but this one’s all about the journey it takes to get there. It’s the best Polanski film never made.
I would hope most seasoned horror fans would have at least heard of this wonderfully twisted gem by now, about a tragic misfit (Angela Bettis reminding us how great performances in horror films can truly be when actors respect the material) who opts to ‘create’ herself a friend to escape societal rejection. If this sounds like I’m being vague, I am because this is one story where the less you know going in, the better. Funny, creepy, and even touching, this is indie done right.
3. THE LOST
Based on the fantastic Jack Ketchum novel (which itself detailed the real-life crimes of Charles Schmidt, the infamous ‘Pied Piper Of Tucson’), this is a true masterpiece of the ‘Boiling Point’ sub-genre (There Will Be Blood, Taxi Driver) which showcases the slow and horrific deterioration of sociopathic murder suspect Ray Pye’s loose grip on sanity. Stylish, compelling, brutal, and loyal to the source material, this is one descent into human depravity that dares you to watch. Marc Senter gives a knockout performance as Ray, while Chris Sivertson’s remarkable direction (this was his first released feature and you’d never know it) keeps us at the edge of our seats with a dread-fueled build-up to a jaw-dropping conclusion. Plus, it scores extra points for featuring Richard Reihle, who brings class to any project he’s in.
4. THE SIGNAL
One of the finest ‘zombie/apocolypse’ pictures of all time, independent or otherwise. This is the film that put A.J. Bowen (undeniably one of the best actors in any genre to come out of the indie scene in the past few years) on the horror map. Three segments told by three different directors, each sporting their own unique voice, while still retaining an overall consistent tone. Great characters, inventive violence, wicked set-pieces, and genuine style wrapped up with an awesome Joy Division cover. Seek this one out and try to guess the budget before looking it up – you won’t believe it.
5. TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL
Okay, so this one isn’t fair. I caught this at Sundance last year with a cheering crowd and enthusiastic buzz, and yet it is still attempting to find North American distribution. This is hands down the funniest horror comedy I’ve ever seen. Ever. Don’t read anything on it, just go in cold, and prepare to laugh till hurts. The fact that a film of this caliber is having such issues in the market is really scary.
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