This Is a Golden Age of Low-Budget Horror


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Traditionally horror movies have been full of characters whose foolish behavior is boring and predictable, but more and more movies like Hush and The Invitation are featuring characters who are smart and resourceful. That’s a welcome development for horror fan Maya Prohovnik.

“I always love movies that have someone smart getting to use their brains,” Prohovnik says in Episode 270 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

One reason that so many of these movies are able to defy expectations is because they’re made on a shoestring budget. “Horror is really having a little golden age right now,” says author Grady Hendrix. “Equipment’s cheap, and you have all these people who have seen the success of Paranormal Activity and all those Blumhouse movies, and they’ve seen there’s a model that can work—if you keep the budget low, you can take risks.”

The new horror boom is also aided by streaming services. Science fiction author Seth Dickinson says he’s spent hours trawling Netflix for offbeat horror titles that he would never have come across otherwise.

“This is how I get my random horror that I click on, and sometimes I find gems,” he says. “Sometimes I find terrible ones—a lot of the time it’s terrible ones—but sometimes there are some really good ones.”

Hendrix also believes that the steady stream of high-quality, low-budget horror is building an audience for more lavish horror spectacles. “That’s why I think It is going to be a huge success,” he says, “because people are so desperate for there to be a horror movie made on a budget of more than $5 million.”

Listen to the complete interview with Maya Prohovnik, Grady Hendrix, and Seth Dickinson in Episode 270 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Grady Hendrix on They Look Like People:

“In comparison to something like Baskin or The Void, I so appreciate that they decided to focus on these guys and have feelings and emotions, and really sell the friendship, rather than, ‘OK, let’s just take it for granted that the cop is brave, and let’s just take it for granted that these people have a dead kid so they’re deep and troubled.’ I appreciate someone taking the time to actually give us characters rather than do this sort of shorthand Hollywood thing—’Their child is dead, you know they’re very sad. They’re healing at different rates.’ I find it such a relief.”

Seth Dickinson on Don’t Blink:

“I love this movie. It’s probably my favorite horror movie of the last couple years—which has had a lot of good horror movies. I’m just such a sucker for this kind of conditional horror, where the problem is not a monster or a person but this uncanny phenomenon, and I thought the movie had so many low-key, really terrifying scares. … I don’t know how many of you have ever wrestled with any kind of existential anxiety, but I remember as a kid going into the bathroom and wondering, ‘What if I come out and there’s no one there? Anywhere?’ It’s such a simple, horrifying premise.”

David Barr Kirtley on The Invitation:

“One thing that this movie explores is the horror of not wanting to upset people. Even if you’re in this situation where alarm bells are ringing and everything seems wrong and you want to get out of there, there’s just an overwhelming pressure to not make waves, to not upset people, to not make a big deal out of it, to just go along and then leave later. And one thing that’s so effective about this movie is it makes you think, ‘In this situation would I have the self-possession to leave, or would I just stay through this dinner because of the inertia of social pressure?’”

Grady Hendrix on the new horror boom:

“You’re starting to see horror change again. It’s not just recycling the ’70s and ’80s. Even though there was sci-fi horror back then, it’s adding a lot more science fiction concepts, and a lot more of these mind-game philosophical puzzle things, which I feel kind of started around the time of Cube back in the ’90s and is coming full circle with, well, with Circle. … I find this resurgence so exciting. I’m not sure the resurgence is there with books right now—books are still a little thin on the ground with really original, interesting horror—but movies definitely are having a boom.”

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