There are a wealth of low-budget horror movies, and there are some true treasures out there. Low budget indie horror gives the opportunity for anyone with a creative vision to make it come to life, with their own ideas, their own passions, and often their own friends.
Given the general state of… everything, I thought I’d start 2021 on an optimistic note and focus on the indie horror films that have mastered the art of parody. These hilarious flicks have a specific period or subgenre in mind, and they use every tool in their horror-comedy arsenal to capture their stylistic and contextual heart.
Come for the comedy, stay for the attention and care we can give indie horror filmmakers. They’ve earned it!
In Inhumanwich!, an astronaut on a mission gets into a real might of trouble when his ship flies through a radioactive meteor storm, completely destroying the ship’s computer and causing a malfunction. In the radioactive kerfuffle, the astronaut melds with his sloppy joe sandwich, turning him into a sentient blob of highly destructive and murderous meat.
This delicious 50s horror parody (the comedy is plentiful in this subgenre, I’m telling you) has expertly mastered the rule of three and successfully side-tackles the drive-in monster movie tropes. The cast seamlessly slide through every sly comedic line, delivering with just the right amount of dry reserve to make the jokes pop.
I actually laughed out loud during this one, alone in my apartment. Multiple times. It’s quality!
Budget: $2,030 USD
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, Tubi, Hoopla
Lake Michigan Monster (2018)
The eccentric Captain Seafield has hired a team of specialists to help him hunt down the Lake Michigan monster that killed his father. After a series of failed (and questionably thought-out) plans, he’s left with but one option: to take matters into his own drunken hands and slay the beast once and for all.
Written and directed by the film’s dynamic lead, Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Lake Michigan Monster is a deliriously fun and brilliantly stylized homage to monster flicks of the 50s. It’s goofy but clever; it knows exactly what it’s doing, and executes every moment with hilarious precision. With its in-camera tricks, simplistic effects, sight gags, and plucky dialogue (laced with its own sarcastic commentary), Lake Michigan Monster is relentlessly fun and packed with gusto. You can read my full review here.
Budget: $7,000 USD
Where to Watch: Rent on Google Play, YouTube, or Apple TV
The VelociPastor (2018)
The Velocipastor follows a priest who — after losing both his parents in a tragic (yet hilarious) explosion — travels to China and is cursed with the ability to turn into a dinosaur. Stricken with guilt after a killing spree, he is convinced by a golden-hearted hooker to use his powers for good — fighting crime… and ninjas.
I went into The VelociPastor with low expectations, but boy howdy did it surprise me. Written and directed by Brendan Steere, the film is expanded from a mock grindhouse trailer that Steere made in 2011 for a school project. It’s very self-aware and knows exactly what it’s trying to pull.
The Velocipastor doesn’t try to hide its humble budget — at all — and uses its limitations as comic relief. Every ridiculous prop is milked for extra effect. The VelociPastor costume itself is so perfectly awkward (even the inflatable dino suits you see online are more convincing) and you really couldn’t imagine it any other way. It’s just plain funny. But there are scenes when Steere makes an earnest effort; one love scene is so stylized that it’s basically a fully produced music video. It’s a hilarious and humble little film that’s far better than it has any right to be.
Budget: $35,000 USD
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, Tubi
Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
From the mad and brilliant minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Cannibal! The Musical tells the (mostly) true tale of Alfred Packer and his failed expedition that tragically (supposedly) ended in cannibalism. What started as a trailer that the duo made while at the University of Colorado at Boulder (pre-South Park — in the before time), they were encouraged by the chairman of the university’s film department to develop it into a full film. It was picked up by Troma and became a cult classic, with live stage versions produced by community theater groups across the country.
They, of course, took some creative liberties with the story, including a subplot about Packer’s beloved (yet disloyal) horse Liane, named after Parker’s own ex-fiance who left him shortly before production began on the trailer. If you watch the film… his feelings on the topic become quite obvious.
As with everything Parker and Stone do, Cannibal! The Musical is brilliant. The music is legitimately good (and will get stuck in your head), the comedy is spot-on, and if you’ve seen Orgazmo you’ll definitely note some familiar faces.
Budget: $70,000 USD
Where to Watch: Rent on Amazon Prime
Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)
Filmed in Ottawa, Ontario (what up my fellow Canucks), Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter follows Jesus Christ, hunting vampires. Using kung fu, he fights the vile bloodsuckers that have been attacking lesbians across town. He also teams up with a luchador at one point. Did I mention there are musical numbers?
This movie is just as ridiculous and absurd as you think it is. As far as the quality goes, it’s about as indie as they come, but the cast and crew clearly had a blast with this one. And you will too!
Budget: $100,000 CAD
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)
Set in 1961, Dr. Paul Armstrong and his wife Betty drive to a cabin in the mountains to search for a fallen meteorite that is suspected to contain a rare element, atmosphereum. But they’re not alone; also searching for the mystical rock are two aliens who need the atmosphereum to repair their fallen ship (which has stranded them on earth), and a sinister scientist who seeks the atmosphereum for his own purposes (to revive a skeleton in Cadavra Cave). There’s an escaped mutant, a woman created from forest creatures, psychic powers, and dancing, too.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra has become a bit of a cult classic, and for good reason. It’s silly but sold with deadpan delivery, and the tone is a pitch-perfect recreation of 1950s B-movies.
Budget: $100,000 USD
Where to Watch: Rent on Amazon Prime
Dude Bro Party Massacre III (2015)
In Dude Bro Party Massacre III (note, there are no I and II), a string of murders shake the bros of frat row. Serial killer “Motherface” has made her mark and massacred many a dude. Grieving loner Brent Chirino decides to infiltrate a fraternity to investigate the death of his twin brother, and in the process, help his new bros survive the next wave of Motherface’s rage.
This film is a perfect example of how a team can work together to create something special. It’s the first (and currently only) feature film created by the comedy collective 5 Second Films, based on their popular 5-second short (which was later developed into a fake trailer). The troupe were all assigned scenes to write (but weren’t allowed to collaborate) and writer Alec Owen was tasked with assembling the screenplay from their contributions. The result is a hilariously manic slasher movie that tackles all the tropes (and visual aesthetic) of 80s horror summer camp classics.
With some surprising cameos (Larry King, Patton Oswalt, The Room’s Greg Sestero, and Andrew W.K.) and a continually quotable script, Dude Bro Party Massacre III is like the Wet Hot American Summer of horror movies. Every scene is laced with constant jokes and a string of scene-stealing performances. It’s flawlessly hysterical.
Budget: $241,071 USD
Where to Watch: Tubi
Don’t Let the RiverBeast Get You! (2012)
In the film, Neil Stuart (the greatest tutor his small New England town has ever seen) has been made a laughing stock after a supposed encounter with the local RiverBeast; no one believed him, his fiance left him, and he fled town in disgrace. Now he’s returned, earning the “cruel” nickname RB — short for RiverBeast, of course — and is regularly tracked by a local “muckraking” reporter, set on ruining Neil’s reputation even further. Soon, people start disappearing, and Neil’s sure the RiverBeast is to blame.
Co-written by director Charles Roxburgh and star/producer Matt Farley, Don’t Let the RiverBeast Get You is utterly charming. There’s something about the (un?)intentionally hilarious dialogue that just works for me; absurd throwaway lines about the useful qualities of kitty litter and the difficulties of sharing butternut squash are so matter-of-factly delivered, you can’t help but laugh. It reads as though it was penned by an English teacher in the 1950s, with such stinging insults as “cretin”, “weasel”, and “ne’er-do-wells”. It’s like if Norman Rockwell wrote a horror movie.
This film is pure, wholesome content that — through the occasional thick New England accent — harkens back to simpler times in small town America. It’s so honest and precious you can’t poke fun at it, but the ultra low budget quality requires some hilarious workarounds.
Budget: Specifics Unknown
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
I Was a Teenage Wereskunk (2016)
A farcical, anachronistic 1950s throwback, I Was a Teenage Wereskunk sees Curtis Albright — a mild-mannered, insecure teenager — cursed by an enchanted skunk after he’s sprayed in the face while peeping at a woman in a state of undress. Every time he gets horny, he transforms into a monstrous, murderous wereskunk. Hilarity ensues.
I Was a Teenage Wereskunk is… far better than I expected it to be. The cast are all impressingly competent actors that sell the shit out of everything. Melanie Minichino — in particular — steals every scene, serving double duty as Mrs. Albright (Curtis’ concupiscent mother) and Deputy Gary, the overconfident, peppily pugnacious sheriff’s deputy.
Filled with sight gags, slapstick comedy, and zippy dialogue, it’s a damn fun film that flies far under the radar.
Budget: Specifics Unknown
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, Tubi
Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace (2004)
In the 1980s, famed horror writer Garth Merenghi created, wrote, directed, and starred in a 50-episode sci-fi/horror melodrama set in a hospital situated over the gates of Hell, called Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace. All of the episodes were rejected by the BBC, but two decades later, six have been dusted off and presented along with interviews with the show’s cast. Or at least that’s the idea.
Completely made up, the parody is brilliantly (and believably) done; it looks and sounds straight out of the 80s, with intentionally sub-par special effects, choppy editing, clumsy writing, and hilariously bad acting, and the end result is pure comic genius. Starring Richard Ayoade (The I.T. Crowd), Matthew Holness (Free Agents), Alice Lowe (Prevenge, Sightseers), and Matt Berry (FX’s What We Do in the Shadows), the series was created and written by Ayoade and Holness, with Ayoade serving as director.
This BBC classic is only six short episodes (and I believe some can be found on YouTube?), and it’s fantastically cheesy. Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace perfectly lampoons the ridiculous genre that inspired it and does so with a great amount of love and humor. It’s a true work of art.
Budget: Specifics Unknown
Honorable Mention: WNUF Halloween Special (2013)
Presented as a VHS recording of a live TV broadcast on October 31, 1987, WNUF Halloween Special looks… dead on. Seriously. If you show this to anyone and don’t tell them it’s actually a 2013 creation, you’ll likely have ‘em fooled. With commercials interspersed between the on-air segments, the film tells the tale of a TV news host who goes to a local haunted hotspot on Halloween night with a team of husband-and-wife paranormal investigators (the Warrens, much?) to see if they can scare up some spookies. Things go horribly awry, of course.
It’s less obviously funny than the other entries on this list, but it’s incredible commitment to detail is, frankly, impressive.
Budget: $1,500 USD
Where to Watch: Shudder