Paranormal Activity has everybody talking about indie horror, especially shoestring budget flicks like Blair Witch Project. What do DiY scare movies really have in common, other than nausea-inducing steadycam? Allow us to enlighten you.
With slick horror movies hitting theaters this horror-tastic season, it's important that you know how to recognize true, authentic made-in-my-basement chills. You know it's an indie horror movie when . . .
. . . the steadycam makes you barf more than the chopped up guts do.
The only way you know a movie was made by real people instead of the Hollywood machine is if the cameras all look like they were mounted on the backs of interns who were looking at porn on their smart phones while running to catch a bus. Shaky cameras mean you'll feel shaky inside!
. . . snot is running out of somebody's nose.
Blair Witch is pretty much the final word on this. What was more poignant than that bubbly booger, throbbing urgently in Heather's nose as she whispered to the camera about how they were lost in the woods after being total dicks to everybody they interviewed and acting like your basic private school kids sneering at the townies? Without money for sets or costumes or anything, you can still get your actors to expel a little snot just by beating them or forcing them to sit really close to an open fire.
. . . special effects were purchased at the butcher shop.
One of the masters of indie horror, Herschell Gordon Lewis, made incredibly bloody movies like Wizard of Gore and 2,000 Maniacs. And all the guts came straight from his local butcher, who gave him cow and pig innards to play with. You'd think this would add to the realism of his gore scenes, but nothing looks more fake than wilted cow guts gobbed onto a nubile actress' stomach.
. . . a former metal rock star is involved.
Some of the greatest recent indie horror flicks, like Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses and Dee "Twisted Sister" Snider's Strangeland, were superlatively awesome. Metal gods know how to bring on the crazy using just scary makeup and giant, shiny shoes. And the soundtracks are awesome.
. . . there is some kind of unexpected political message.
Tales from the Hood is about scary ghosts and monsters - and how the black man is destroyed by gang life in ghettos. Night of the Living Dead is about brain-eating zombies - and the evils of a media-saturated society ruled by corrupt politics and militia-style law enforcement. Ginger Snaps is about werewolves - and the horrors of puberty for young women. Hollywood shaves the edgy edges off its horror movies, but indies stay spiky.
. . . you never see the monster - or you see too much of it.
We all really wanted to just catch one glimpse of whatever turned those Blair Witch bitches into little balls of teeth and hair. And holy crap who wasn't dying to see the creature in Paranormal Activity who left those three-fingered footprints that were about the spookiest shit since those kids' ball rolling out of nowhere in The Shining? But you know what else? We could have really seen a lot less of the guy in the sheep suit in classic 70s indie Godmonster of Indian Flats. And the CGI dinowormgator in DMX-Carnivorous? No. Just - no.