2016 was a great year for fans of independent horror movies. It takes a lot of work to find the really good stuff in a sea of the same, no-budget zombie and slasher movies, but it’s worth it for the adventurous cinephile. The independent horror landscape is the best place to find the weirdest and wildest movies: these filmmakers don’t have big budgets or studios behind them, but their hard work and passion to make movies on their own terms results in films that are truly unlike anything else. If you’re looking to start diving in to indie horror, here are 5 of the most unusual independent horror movies released in 2016.
Since 2006, Minnesota-based filmmaker Christopher R. Mihm has released a new feature-length film every year. Each one is made in an earnest attempt to replicate the look and feel of the 1950s sci-fi/horror films Mihm enjoyed watching as a kid with his father. This year’s movie is much darker than any of his previous films, and it comes after his most kid-friendly film yet (2015’s Danny Johnson Saves the World). Weresquito: Nazi Hunter is the story of an American soldier who has returned to the States from Germany after WWII. A horrific Nazi experiment causes him to turn into a man-sized “weresquito” at the sight of blood, and he’s on a quest for vengeance against the Nazi scientists who were responsible. Shot as always in “period appropriate” black & white, Weresquito: Nazi Hunter is another wonder of low-budget filmmaking. It may not be the best entry point into the “Mihmiverse”–the name his fans have given the world of his films–but it gives viewers a pretty good idea of what to expect on their adventures there. The film is available on DVD directly from Mihm’s website Saint Euphoria.
Writer/director Scout Tafoya is a prolific film critic and video essayist, but he also somehow found time to release three films in 2016. House of Little Deaths is an epic 2.5-hour drama about a group of young women living and working in brothel in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I Am No Bird is an intimate modern twist on Jane Eyre, and Diana is something else entirely. Tafoya focuses on tiny details in the life of the titular protagonist played by Alexandra Maiorino, a young woman who spends some of her spare time killing and eating people. It’s shot largely in looming, lingering close-up, set to a synth score that makes it feel like what one might imagine would result from a collaboration between Michael Mann, Chantal Akerman, and Jess Franco. This is a horror movie more interested in the mundane details of the world in which its title character lives–architecture, city lights, construction traffic, leaky pipes, etc.–than in typical lurid exploitation. It’s a confounding and compelling take on familiar genre territory, and a film that gets better as it simmers in the memory. Diana is available through Vimeo VOD.
Any independent filmmaker wears a number of hats on a production, but Jimmy ScreamerClauz wears damn near all of them, and at the same time. ScreamerClauz creates nightmarish animated films, working almost entirely alone other than his voice cast and incorporating some music (although he does some of that, too). His previous feature-length film, 2012’s Where the Dead Go to Die, is a genuinely disturbing anthology of stories dealing with subjects no live-action film would dare. When Black Birds Fly is his second feature-length film, and while ScreamerClauz dials back the real-life horrors of his first film in favor of a more fantastic imaginary world, he amps up the insane visuals exponentially. This is also a lot less serious than his previous film, with moments of effective black comedy in the midst of creating a detailed universe and mythology. More than anything else, though, this is an impressively dense assault on the senses. ScreamerClauz uses CG animation to its maximum potential, creating images that would be literally impossible to realize in any other medium. When Black Birds Fly is available in various limited edition formats directly from the filmmaker, on Amazon VOD, and on DVD from MVD Entertainment.
In some ways, CarousHELL is a traditional slasher film: there’s a killer, a bunch of dumb young people victims, and buckets of blood. In at least one very important way, though, it’s highly untraditional: the killer is a carousel unicorn named Duke who is tired of kids riding him all day long and finally snaps, leaving the carousel to go on a killing spree. CarousHELL is a horror comedy that’s nearly as gory as it is absurd, which is saying quite a lot. Despite the low-budget, director Steve Rudzinski and his team at Silver Spotlight Films pack this movie out with some impressively gruesome practical effects to accompany Duke’s murderous one-liners. In addition to inventive kills, the film delivers a sex scene for the ages between Duke and a young woman with a unicorn fetish played by indie horror star Haley Jay Madison, whose work has often been a highlight of films by indie directors like Henrique Couto and Dustin Wayde Mills. She also played a victim in Arthur Cullipher’s Headless, which provides a nice segue into the final film on this list. CarousHELL is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Silver Spotlight Films.
Scott Schirmer made a big splash on the indie horror festival circuit with his debut feature Found in 2012, and its film-within-a-film Headless proved so popular that it was made into its own feature in 2015. Following that successful production Schirmer teamed up with fellow Indiana filmmaker Brian Williams (director of 2014’s Time to Kill) to form Bandit Motion Pictures, which released two films in 2016: Harvest Lake and Plank Face. Plank Face is the more conventional of the two films, but that’s not saying much as Harvest Lake set a pretty high bar for weirdness. The setup is familiar–a group of young people visit a lake house for a weekend of partying but things don’t go quite as planned–but that’s where the similarities between this and other “cabin in the woods” movies end. Instead of a monster or killer lurking in the woods, there are strange plants whose secretions allow them to exert a kind of sexual mind control over anyone who ingests them. The result is closer to David Cronenberg’s Shivers than Friday the 13th, a beautifully shot and ominous dreamy hybrid of Lovecraftian horror and pan-sexual eroticism. Harvest Lake is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Bandit Motion Pictures, Vimeo VOD, and (as of this writing) free streaming for Amazon Prime subscribers.