A great many horror movies have large, all-star casts, graphic special effects, and other extravagances that cause budgets to balloon. Money can help to produce a great amount of tension and a great number of scares. Nonetheless, a large budget is by no means required to create fear.
Some movies demonstrate that all a film needs to be scary is good writing, good performances, and tension-building direction. With minimal special effects, casts of largely unknowns, and stripped-back production, there are some great horror movies that are terrifying despite not having much in the way of budget.
10 The Blair Witch Project Didn’t Even Have An Entire Script
The Blair Witch Project is widely-credited with popularizing the found-footage style of film, particularly in the horror genre. Telling the story of three young adults who record a documentary about a local monster legend, it details their descent into terror and despair as the titular Blair Witch sets her sights on them.
With a budget of far less than half a million, the film is one of the most successful in terms of its budget relative to its box office takings. The film has been praised for its slow build-up of tension and scares. Despite this, it lacked a script and was largely comprised of improvisation from its cast.
9 The Babadook Received Universal Acclaim
Released in 2014, The Babadook tells a surface story about a mother and her son being stalked and tormented by a monster. It does so while exploring deeper themes of grief, love, and parenthood. Highly metaphorical and symbolic, the film has received wide praise for its writing, clever scariness, and its depth.
Despite being one of the best-reviewed movies of 2014, The Babadook was made on a budget of just $2 million. With a minimalist cast and a focus on its human characters, the film provides terror by weaponizing minor details and the imagination of the audience.
8 The Invisible Man Is Tense The Whole Way Through
Made on $7 million, 2020’s The Invisible Man has a higher budget than other horror movies. Nonetheless, it does a lot with far less than other horror movies. Although the film’s box office was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was successful and well-received.
Telling the story of a woman attempting to get away from her abusive ex-boyfriend, who stalks her with the use of an invisible suit, the film builds constant tension throughout. The viewer never knows when the titular Invisible Man is present, and there are very few tension breaks to help audiences regain their calm. Through the clever use of its premise, the film scares throughout.
7 Black Christmas Is A Slasher Movie Forerunner
The “slasher movie” is a popular horror subgenre about a small group being stalked and killed – often in gruesome and extreme ways – by a killer or killers. The focus of these films tends to be on gruesome deaths. There have been numerous influential movies in the genre, but one of the earliest is 1974’s Black Christmas.
Made on less than a million dollars, Black Christmas tells the story of a group of sorority sisters who are tormented and killed shortly before Christmas. Although dated, the film has been reappraised as one of the best horror films ever made, with a particular note made of its scares.
6 Eraserhead Is Surreal And Horrifying
Director David Lynch is well-known for his surreal, unsettling, and downright odd filmmaking – most notably with his television series, Twin Peaks. As part of his surrealist portfolio, David Lynch created the horror movie Eraserhead, which is about a man attempting to raise an inhuman child.
The film combines vivid sexual imagery with body horror and unsettling incomprehensibility and has been noted for its unique aesthetic and sound design. Made on as little as $10,000, it’s considered one of the most significant horror films of all time.
5 Friday The 13th Had Humble Beginnings
Friday the 13th is one of the long runners of the slasher genre, and its villain Jason Voorhees has become one of the most recognizable villains on film. However, before it acquired its status as a household name, the series had humble beginnings in the very first Friday the 13th, made on just over half a million dollars.
The first entry is relatively tame compared to its sequels and doesn’t prominently feature Jason. Instead, his mother Pamela Voorhees murders a group of camp counselors out of vengeance for her son. Nonetheless, with the slasher genre in its infancy, the film was considered terrifying when first released, and it still holds some scares for modern audiences.
4 Psycho Made Film History On Less Than A Million Dollars
Alfred Hitchcock remains one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time, and the horror movie Psycho is his most well-known movie. Following the fallout of the murders committed by the motel owner, Norman Bates, the film’s story, direction, performances, and music have all become iconic.
With little in the way of special effects, the film’s tension and scares are conveyed via the acting, writing, and direction. In particular, its use of staccato, high-pitched strings during times of fear has become a staple of the genre, which are often echoed or parodied. On a budget of little over $800,000, Hitchcock made horror movie history.
3 Get Out Is A Deeply Unsettling Low-Budget Debut
Get Out is the well-received directorial debut of Jordan Peele. Rather than producing the comedy he was formerly known for, Peele made a horror movie that details a group of white upper-class Americans who abduct and take over the bodies of African-Americans for their own nefarious means.
With a rising thread of tension, an increasing sense of unease, and a horrifying story, Get Out received critical acclaim upon its release. Considered one of the best films of 2017 and made on a budget of $4.5 million, it proved that Peele was a force to be reckoned with when it came to horror.
2 Halloween Uses Simple Scares To Great Effect
Of all the slasher movie franchises, Halloween remains the most enduring. With several reboots and retcons, the series has continued into the 2020s. Nonetheless, its first outing in 1978 with the simply-named “Halloween” is widely considered the best movie of its franchise, not to mention one of the best horror films ever made.
RELATED: Halloween: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Original Film’s Production
With a budget of slightly over $300,000, Halloween wrings a huge amount of tension and terror from music, performances, and simple camera trickery. Despite its lack of special effects, many consider it the scariest slasher film.
1 Paranormal Activity Made People Flee Cinemas
Paranormal Activity proved an unexpected smash hit in 2007. A found-footage movie, it details a couple recording their house in an attempt to find evidence of a demon that is tormenting them. As the film goes on, the strange phenomena caught by the cameras increase in frequency and intensity.
The film initially cost just $15,000 to make, but its budget was vastly ballooned by a new ending that cost $200,000 itself. Despite this, the film remains one of the most profitable ever made and is noted for its genuine scares. When it was released in cinemas, people fleeing halfway through was a common sight.
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