After The Blair Witch Project came along in 1999, it feels like the independent horror boom of the 2000s was almost a direct result of that film’s success. Throughout this decade, we saw so many writers, directors, and other industry creatives get the opportunity to establish themselves and chart their course in Hollywood, and so many of those folks are still continuing to have a huge impact on what’s going on in the genre world these days as well.
The start of the new millennium proved to be an interesting time for horror, but especially indie horror. So many may not realize it, but American Psycho was initially an indie project that went through years and years of development before Lionsgate picked up the rights to Bret Easton Ellis’ book and moved forward on the project with Mary Harron at the helm. Even David Twohy’s Pitch Black started off as an indie film, until the company folded and its assets were sold to Universal Pictures while production on the sci-fi horror actioner was well underway. 2000 also gave us Leprechaun in the Hood, my favorite sequel in the series, Tobe Hooper’s Crocodile, and the Oscar-nominated Shadow of the Vampire, which was produced by Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Films.
The 2000s also kicked off with one of the decade’s most audacious indie horror features as well—Geoffrey Wright’s Cherry Falls. The film hit some snags when it came to its distribution due to censor issues that year, and in a very weird turn of events, Cherry Falls ended up being sold to the USA Network so they could premiere the movie on their channel that October. And with its $14 million production budget, Cherry Falls established itself as the most expensive “Made-for-TV” film ever, even if it was a movie originally intended to play at multiplexes.
2001 was a little bit quieter for indie horror, but it was the year that Brad Anderson made his debut as a horror filmmaker with Session 9, which still remains one of the best horror movies of the decade, so that is certainly a moment worth celebrating. And before anyone tries to point it out, there was another rather notable indie horror movie to come out in ’01, too, but considering its creator and director is a disgusting excuse for a human being, we don’t talk about that series on this site (but I’m sure you can probably put two and two together here, dear readers).
Indie horror bounced back in a big way in 2002, though, as we had a handful of fun independent projects come out during that year. Elvira’s Haunted Hills hit home video shelves this year, and the project was entirely funded by Cassandra Peterson. Stuart Gordon’s Dagon was also released in ’02, as was Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep, based on the Joe Lansdale novella. It’s also interesting in the very same year that the legendary Herschell Gordon Lewis made his return to the director’s chair to deliver up a Blood Feast sequel after a 30-year hiatus, both Eli Roth and Lucky McKee released their directorial debuts—Cabin Fever and May respectively—and both left their own indelible mark on the genre as a whole. And some may find this surprising, but Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil originally started off as an indie project funded by Constantin Films, with Sony Pictures and Screen Gems eventually distributing the film and taking over the financial aspects of the eventual franchise once the original proved to be profitable.
The next few years were busy in the world of indie horror, but relatively quiet in general, as there weren’t a ton of projects that made a huge splash during that time. That is, until a little movie by the name of Saw blew everyone away at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, forever changing the landscape of modern horror in a variety of ways. Obviously, Saw catapulted the careers of both James Wan and Leigh Whannell, but it also launched Twisted Pictures (which was co-founded by Mark Burg, Gregg Hoffman, and Oren Koules) and influenced future horror movies for decades to come. Lionsgate nabbed the distribution rights to Saw a few days before its premiere at Sundance, and while they initially planned to release the movie as a direct-to-video title, Lionsgate decided to give Saw a theatrical release based on how well Wan’s directorial debut was received during its festival screenings (it was also the closing film at that year’s Toronto International Film Festival).
The latter half of the 2000s was when the indie horror scene got really exciting, or at least this writer feels that way, since a number of movies that I would consider as some of my favorites came out during this time. 2007 in particular ended up being a great year for independent genre projects, as movies such as the meta mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Hatchet were released, which both felt like cinematic gifts to longtime horror fans. The very same year, an up-and-coming director by the name of Adam Wingard unleashed his feature film debut, Pop Skull, on the festival circuit, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes from John Erick Dowdle also made its debut at Tribeca that May.
Another one of my favorite modern horror/sci-fi hybrids to come out during this time is The Signal from David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush, and it’s a movie that I will shout about from the rooftops until I take my very last breath. The Signal premiered just a few days after another brilliant indie horror movie, Teeth, so the argument could be made that the 2007 Sundance lineup could be considered one of the best of the decade (Fido is yet another one of that year’s Midnighters that I also really enjoy).
2008 was also a particularly strong year for indie horror, too, as fans were inundated with a ton of killer content that year. Two horror comedies that I immensely enjoyed, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and My Name is Bruce, which was directed by indie icon Bruce Campbell (and would pair well with this weekend’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent), were released this year. The late 2000s were also an awesome time for indie creature features, with projects such J.T. Petty’s The Burrowers, Splinter from Toby Wilkins, Ben Rock’s Alien Raiders, and I’d even include Birdemic in so much as the filmmakers behind it began their promotional efforts for the project at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as their way of building word-of-mouth about the project before it debuted in early 2010.
When it comes to all the kickass indie horror that came out during this decade, the 2000s ended on a high note with the release of Ti West’s The House of the Devil, and a micro-budget supernatural shocker called Paranormal Activity, which transformed modern genre storytelling in some rather major ways once it made its way into theaters in the fall of 2009 (it had previously screened at the Screamfest Film Festival in 2007). Something else that felt like a landmark in the world of horror during this decade was John Gulager’s Feast, which came to fruition during the third season of Project Greenlight. Not only did the film launch the careers of Gulager and screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, but it also became a franchise with the release of two sequels: Feast II: Sloppy Seconds and Feast III: The Happy Finish.
What’s interesting is that while I’ve covered a number of incredible movies that came out during this time, there are still a ton more that I didn’t even get to mention, which proves just how vital the realm of independent horror was throughout this decade in particular. We saw so many creatives come into their own during this time from all over the world, and so many of these filmmakers are still telling cinematic stories that we are enjoying all these years later. While there is no doubt in my mind that both the 1970s and 1980s were crucial decades for independent horror filmmaking, I think the 2000s have proven to be a time that was just as essential considering how many of these projects not only changed the landscape of horror but hugely impacted the movie-making industry as a whole.
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