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The Greatest Indie Horror Movies of All Time


Summary

  • Indie horror films offer compelling stories and characters often overlooked by mainstream audiences.
  • Night of the Living Dead created the zombie genre and inspired many horror franchises.
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eraserhead, and Halloween influenced the horror genre with their unique approaches.



Horror has always been a subjective genre. There are die-hard fans who line up to see every film and moviegoers who want absolutely nothing to do with it. Horror encompasses many subgenres and themes that people don’t give the genre credit for. Comedy, thriller, fantasy, and drama can all be merged with horror, and while not all of these combinations stick to the landing, many of them are worth checking out. Horror has given movie fans some of the most iconic films and characters in film history and has consistently kept movie theater seats filled over the years.

While there are numerous horror films that many of us love, there are possibly just as many lesser-known horror films equally deserving of horror fans’ attention. Indie horror has created some of the most compelling, thought-provoking stories in the genre, as well as some of the most entertaining. Here are 30 of the greatest indie horror films.


Update February 28, 2024: We love indie horror and want to give you even more recommendations! This article has been updated with even more great low-budget horror films to watch.


30 Night of the Living Dead (1968)

That’s right — the quintessential zombie film was an independent production through and through. Seeing how it laid the groundwork for an entire horror subgenre, we figured it had to have a place here. George A. Romero’s horror epic Night of the Living Dead sees a group of survivors coming together in a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse during the onset of the zombie apocalypse, with rising tensions from both in and outside the domicile threatening their survival.


Creation of the Zombie Genre

From utilizing unknown actors to implementing guerrilla filming techniques, Night of the Living Dead remains one of the most influential horror films ever made. Aside from starting Romero’s own Living Dead franchise, its unintended social commentary and explicit depictions of gore would also open the door for a number of other horror franchises to come in the following decades. Its accessibility has no doubt contributed to its enduring legacy, with the film accidentally entering the public domain as soon as it was released in 1968. Watch Night of the Living Dead for free on YouTube.


29 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

An exercise in cinematic chaos with one of the most gritty and gruesome visuals that still hold up today, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s premise is deceptively simple; a wrong turn on a road brings unwilling tourists face to face with a cannibalistic family. What ensues is one of the most nightmarish and brutal fights for survival committed to celluloid.

A Gritty Masterpiece That Pushed the Boundaries of Horror

Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been extremely influential in the horror genre, specifically with slashers. It’s hard to believe that something so impactful on an entire genre was once a small production filmed in middle-of-nowhere Texas. It inspired many remakes and a sequel, but not one of them measures up to the cultural impact of the original. This film, along with Black Christmas, which was released the same year, kick-started the slasher craze of the ’80s and permanently left its mark on the genre. It’s disturbing, brutal, and beautifully shot. Watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Tubi.


28 Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead

Release Date
February 3, 1978

Cast
Jack Nance , Judith Roberts

David Lynch’s feature film directorial debut is certainly his most outwardly horrifying. Eraserhead, originally released in 1977, sees Jack Nance playing Henry Spencer in a surrealistic industrial world. After a chance encounter with a woman named Mary leaves him with a “child,” Henry’s life is turned on its head when the stress of fatherhood starts to gravely affect him.


The Original Midnight Movie

As a black-and-white horror film, Lynch crafts an uncomfortable setting through its bizarre setting, effective soundscapes, and heavy reliance on interpretive imagery. Though the film’s production was fraught with budget concerns and numerous delays, it has since become a staple cult film for horror fans everywhere. The horrifying visage of Henry’s child is still as terrifying as it was when it first came into view, with some paying tribute to the unsettling reveal decades after Eraserhead originally hit midnight theaters. Stream Eraserhead on Max.

27 Halloween (1978)


When discussing independent horror films, John Carpenter’s Halloween needs to be included. What has spawned countless sequels, reboots, and remakes began as an independent film that launched the film career of Jamie Lee Curtis. It is one of the greatest slashers ever made and created, inarguably the most iconic slasher villain of all time.

The Prototype For the Slasher Genre

Much like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween perpetuated the slasher craze that occurred in the ’80s and has inspired every film in the subgenre to follow it. Laurie Strode is often regarded as one of the best final girls in horror history, if not the best. The score alone has haunted moviegoers for 45 years, and frankly, no other horror theme comes close to being as freaky as this one. The legacy of Halloween is still carried on today, with the franchise still running and multiple masked killers in the genre often paying homage to the movie. Stream Halloween on AMC+.


26 The Evil Dead (1981)

the evil dead

The Evil Dead

Release Date
September 10, 1981

Cast
Bruce Campbell , Ellen Sandweiss , Richard DeManincor , Betsy Baker , Theresa Tilly , Philip A. Gillis

It would be nearly impossible not to mention one of the most influential low-budget indie horror films of all time on this list. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead was shot on a shoestring budget in the woods of Tennessee, with only 13 people working on the film. Now, it has inextricably left its mark on the horror genre and earned itself a massive cult following.


I’ll Swallow Your Soul!

Raimi’s dizzying Dutch angles and fast-paced movements through the woods have become staples of the Evil Dead franchise, and the film is a quintessential “cabin in the woods” story. The combination of nauseating gore and campy humor has set the blueprint for every horror comedy to follow it. Over 40 years later, this film has created a lasting franchise that is still adding entries, most recently with Evil Dead Rise. Each film has taken the basic premise of opening the Book of the Dead and unleashing parasitic demons that the original laid the foundation for and has incorporated its own spin on the story. Stream The Evil Dead on AMC+.

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25 Man Bites Dog (1992)


Man Bites Dog is one of those rare horror movies that feel ahead of its time. Predating The Blair Witch Project by several years, this 1992 mockumentary horror film sees a documentary crew picking a taboo subject to cover. They follow the murderous misadventures of Ben, a jovial serial killer who is incredibly quick to anger. Though the crew aims only to document his escapades at first, they may get a little too caught up in Ben’s monstrous lifestyle.

Up Close and Personal With A Killer

When you think of “dark” comedy, you can’t get much darker than Man Bites Dog. For being as funny as it is unsettling, Man Bites Dog is also a perfect example of independent filmmaking. Most of the documentary crew double up as both characters in the story and crew members involved with the production. It remains one of the very few films to be publicly released with an NC-17 rating, a warning to those who may want to see this cult French film for themselves. Stream Man Bites Dog on Max.


24 Funny Games (1997)

Funny Games (1998)

Funny Games (1998)

Release Date
March 11, 1998

Cast
Susanne Lothar , Ulrich Mühe , Arno Frisch , Frank Giering , Stefan Clapczynski

Runtime
108 Minutes

On a trip to their vacation home, a mother, father, and son are taken hostage inside the house by two violent young men who appear at first to be friendly neighbors. The two men force the family to play sadistic games with one another for their own amusement. Michael Haneke would also go on to remake his own film, offering both a 1997 and 2007 version of the movie, both bringing the shock and unease of a violent home invasion.


Home is Where the Horror Is

Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games is a brutal film that will make you uncomfortable in your own home. These intruders torment this family simply because they can and simply because they want to. The family is forced to do cruel things to one another and made to humiliate themselves. It’s thought-provoking and unsettling and plays on people’s innate willingness to help to be helpful. It features a twist that no one will see coming that will certainly make you question the entirety of the film. Stream Funny Games on Max.

23 The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project has been the blueprint for found footage horror films since its release in 1999. It has inspired numerous imitators, and very few have been able to capture the same atmosphere. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez spent a week in the Maryland woods with three actors to compile footage that they would shape into the most recognizable found-footage film. The movie would also dominate the box office, making $250 million worldwide on an estimated budget between $200,000 and $750,000​​​​​.


An Indie Phenomenon That Ended Up Ruling the Box Office

The film is definitely a slow-burn, unconventional horror flick, but that is part of what has made it so influential to the genre. While it does take a while to get going, the ending is one of the most notable in horror history and, for some people, is the sole reason they were terrified after watching. The legacy of Blair Witch also extends past cinema, with the storytelling style also influencing online creators and budding filmmakers; showing them narrative horror on a budget has the potential to leave a huge impact. Stream The Blair Witch Project on Mubi or Freevee.


22 Dog Soldiers (2002)

A squad of British soldiers find themselves up against an army of werewolves during a routine training mission in the Scottish Highlands. The soldiers, along with a zoologist named Megan, seek refuge in a small farm cabin and aim to fight through the night in the hopes of the morning sun powering down the ferocious predators. Director Neil Marshall would follow up the success of Dog Soldiers with another beloved horror movie of the 2000s, The Descent.


At War With The Wolves

While the horror/action genre is nothing new, there are not many exemplary cases where a film melds both genres in a way that appeases fans of both. This made Dog Soldiers a pleasant surprise and a hit among genre fans as the movie brought bloody chaos and jump scares to a trigger-happy army squadron. The movie also boasts one of the most slick and intimidating werewolf designs to make it onto the screen. Dog Soldiers is admittedly simplistic in its approach, but it is so well executed that the movie has become a classic in the horror genre and one of the most beloved British horror films of the era. Stream Dog Soldiers on Hulu.

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21 [REC] (2007)

[REC]

[REC]

Release Date
November 23, 2007

Cast
Manuela Velasco , Ferran Terraza , Jorge-Yamam Serrano , Pablo Rosso , David Vert , Vicente Gil

The Spanish-found footage film follows television reporter Angela Vidal and her cameraman, Pablo, as they report on the duty of firefighters, visiting their hall and ultimately going with them to a call at an apartment building. Shortly after they arrive, the crew is attacked by one of the residents and soon find themselves, along with the tenants, quarantined inside the building. The movie also got an English remake a year later as Quarantine, starring Jennifer Carpenter.


While the found footage genre had already established itself as more than just a niche genre thanks to the success of movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, [REC] delivered the definitive found-footage knockout and is still considered by many to be the best the genre has ever produced. Proving it was not a one-trick shot, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero would follow it up with a sequel that both further deepened the lore but provided extra shocks and moments of chaotic violence. If you are going to watch one found footage film to get an idea of the genre’s ability to deliver scares, [REC] is the way to go. Rent [REC] on Prime or YouTube.

20 Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In

Release Date
January 26, 2008

Cast
Kåre Hedebrant , Lina Leandersson , Per Ragnar , Henrik Dahl , Karin Bergquist , Peter Carlberg

In the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1982, Oskar is a 12-year-old boy who dreams of revenge against his bullies. He meets and falls in love with a peculiar girl named Eli, who lives in his building. Eli can’t stand the sun or eat normal food, and she must be invited in order to enter a room. She gives Oskar the strength to deal with his bullies, but he quickly realizes that Eli needs to drink other people’s blood in order to survive.


Coming-of-Age and Horror Going Hand in Hand

Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire love story that is unlike any vampire movie. It adheres to some vampire tropes, such as not being able to be in the sunlight and needing to drink blood to survive, but it offers its own spin on the classic vampire tale. The movie is excellent at building tension, and the two young leads absolutely carry the story. Funny enough, this came out the same year that Twilight did, and both films could not be more different iterations of a vampire love story. Stream Let the Right One In on Prime.

19 It Follows (2014)

it follows

It Follows

Release Date
February 4, 2015

Runtime
100


After 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time, her life begins to change. She is plagued by strange visions and the inescapable feeling that someone or something is following her. Something is indeed following her, but only those infected can see the evil entity wanting Jay dead.

No Escaping the Inevitable

It Follows builds suspense and tension by taking advantage of the fear that something is always around the corner watching your every move. It’s more psychologically terrifying than it is conventionally terrifying, but it will surely make anyone rethink whom they choose to have any type of relationship with, as the movie masterfully explores the horrifying aftermath of sexual assault and a denunciation of victim-blaming through metaphors. It Follows has also proven to be an established fan favorite, with many clamoring for a sequel since the film’s release. Stream It Follows on Netflix.


18 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

a girl walks home alone at night

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Release Date
January 19, 2014

Cast
Sheila Vand , Arash Marandi , Marshall Manesh , Mozhan Marnò , Dominic Rains , Rome Shadanloo

In the Iranian ghost town of Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware that a lonesome vampire stalks the city’s streets come nightfall. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is truly unlike any other vampire movie you have ever seen and, frankly, unlike any other horror movie.


A Unique Vision of Horror Unlike Any Other

Gorgeously shot in black and white, the film is hypnotic and haunting. It’s very minimal in its imagery and in its story, but the viewer remains entranced the entire time. The titular girl quietly waltzes through the desolate streets and only harms those who have harmed others. More than blood, she wants companionship. A neo-noir-vampire-western, the film is unique to any other vampire movie put on film. The movie also has a wonderfully haunting score, helping push the movie to be one of the more immersive and hypnotic on this list. Stream A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Kanopy.

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17 The Invitation (2015)

the invitation

The Invitation

Release Date
August 5, 2015

Cast
Michiel Huisman , John Carroll Lynch , Logan Marshall-Green , Emayatzy E. Corinealdi , Tammy Blanchard , Michelle Krusiec

Runtime
90


On a dark night, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) takes his girlfriend to his ex-wife’s house, where they are invited for dinner. Over the course of the dinner, he notices that the other guests are acting strangely and that his ex-wife is acting even stranger. Something sinister is brewing in that house, and the other guests have a horrifying agenda.

Killing for Company

The Invitation is another slow-burn horror film that takes its time taking the viewer through the unsettling things occurring within that house. While its methodical approach may be too slow for some, the ending of the film is one of the most effective in an indie horror film that spreads beyond the doors of that house and is likely to stick with you long after you have finished the movie. Stream Invitation on Tubi.

16 The Witch (2015)

The Witch

The Witch

Release Date
January 27, 2015

Director
Robert Eggers


Robert Eggers is one of the most exciting directors working today, and his directorial debut showed audiences that he was someone to follow. A Puritan family in 1630s New England is forced to move outside their village to the outskirts of the forest, where they are torn apart by black magic, witchcraft, and demonic possession.

Folk Horror Re-imagined for A Modern Audience

Part period piece and part supernatural horror, The Witch is a detailed nightmare set against the backdrop of fearsome woods during the Salem witch hunt. We watch this once close-knit family start to turn on each other. The film doesn’t deliver full-on scares but rather forces the audience to sit uncomfortably in the uncertainty of what will happen to this family next. While divisive on release among the fandom, Robert Eggers would go on to prove his mastery of the horror genre with works like The Lighthouse and The Northman. Stream The Witch on Max.


15 Raw (2016)

After living her whole life as a vegetarian, veterinary student Justine is forced to eat raw meat for the first time in her life as part of a hazing ritual. She soon discovers she has an extreme craving for meat, leaving her absolutely ravenous at all times. She is thrown into an uncharted world of animalistic tendencies powered by an all-consuming need for flesh.

Embracing the Inner Cannibal

Julia Ducournau’s directorial debut Raw is an incredibly disgusting French horror film that you simply cannot look away from. Justine experiences a craving so strong that she will quite literally take a bit of anything that is in front of her. The film is unbelievably gory and doesn’t shy away from Justine’s cannibalistic traits whatsoever. Despite this, the film is so well-crafted that even as you are flinching at every horrendous moment that disgusts you, you are equally captivated by what you are witnessing unfold before you. Rent Raw on Apple TV+.


14 Green Room (2016)

Green Room

Green Room

Release Date
April 15, 2016

Director
Jeremy Saulnier

Runtime
94

Writers
Jeremy Saulnier

For as punk rock as 2016’s Green Room is, it’s equally horrifying. This A24 horror-thriller sees a down-on-their-luck punk band in unfamiliar territory. Desperate for some cash, the group plays a show in a club in rural Portland. However, shortly after their arrival, they realize it’s a refuge for neo-Nazi skinheads. Though the performance goes well, the group eventually witnesses something they shouldn’t, prompting a fight for survival against the club’s owner and leader, Darcy Banker, played by none other than Patrick Stewart.


Punk Rock Fueled Terrors

Aside from marking a rare villainous role for Stewart, let alone one in a horror film, it also marked one of the final roles for the late Anton Yelchin. Unfortunately, this gore-laden fright fest didn’t make back its minimal production budget at the box office. Though it underperformed financially, it remains a highlight of A24’s 2016 catalog of films, standing tall alongside The Witch, Swiss Army Man, and Moonlight. Rent Green Room on Apple TV+.

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13 The Neon Demon (2016)


Nicolas Winding Refn’s horror-thriller follows a young aspiring model named Jesse (Elle Fanning) as she moves to Los Angeles to begin her career. Her beauty and youth generate intense interest in the fashion industry, and she is sent to model for a professional photographer. However, the fascination Jesse generates also comes with fierce jealousy, which proves to be sinister.

Drowning in Decadence and Neon

Drenched in neon lights and visceral violence, The Neon Demon is a divisive film. It is both enthralling and disgusting. The imagery is both graphic and colorful, and the story flows like a dream. Refn’s take on the toxicity of the fashion industry makes for a dark, satirical commentary on an industry that preys on the nativity of young people yearning to be part of that world. Horror and fashion on paper don’t seem like two things that would mesh well, but on screen, it makes for a stylized, captivating narrative. Stream The Neon Demon on Prime.


12 One Cut of the Dead (2017)

One Cut of the Dead

One Cut of the Dead

Release Date
November 4, 2017

Cast
Takayuki Hamatsu , Yuzuki Akiyama , Harumi Shuhama , Kazuaki Nagaya , Hiroshi Ichihara , Mao

Director
Shin’ichirô Ueda

Runtime
96

Writers
Shin’ichirô Ueda

It’s hard to explain why One Cut of the Dead is so appealing without spoiling the very thing that makes it so good. On the surface, this independent 2017 Japanese production is a meta one, showcasing a small crew attempting to film a zombie movie amid numerous production struggles. However, the film’s manic director may have finally caught a break when a real zombie invasion occurs outside their door.


Don’t Stop Filming!

This homage to horror and filmmaking as a whole made waves for its sense of humor, its meta twists and turns, and its impressive single-take shots. Though the film deliberately swerves in a completely different direction around the halfway point, the journey is worth sticking through until the very end. The way that the Japanese gem unravels is its biggest draw, so go in blind! It’s an incredibly inventive film that even spawned a French remake in 2022; you can also watch director Shinichiro Ueda’s follow-up short film, One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote, for free on YouTube. Stream One Cut of the Dead on AMC+.

11 Cam (2018)

CAM

Cam

Release Date
October 1, 2018

Cast
Madeline Brewer , Patch Darragh , Melora Walters , Devin Druid , Imani Hakim , Michael Dempsey

Runtime
94


Cam follows a young cam girl named Alice (Madeline Brewster), who is eagerly trying to break into the top 50 ranks in her online video chat room. After she enters the top 50, Alice realizes she has been locked out of her account and that someone else who looks just like her has taken over her chat room and is posting live videos posing as her online alter ego, Lola.

Online Identity Theft at its Most Horrifying

While there are some bloody scenes in Cam, they are not what you would expect them to be. There are no jump scares, monsters, or killers in this film. The true horror in the movie is the fear of someone taking over your identity on any online platform and not being able to prove just that. Instead, you just watch your life slowly but surely being ripped from your grasp as you desperately try to pick up the pieces. A modern horror movie dealing with paranoia around technology that is only going to become more prevalent with advances in AI. Stream Cam on Netflix.



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