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30 Best American Indie Horror Films: ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,’ ‘Halloween’ and More

30 Best American Indie Horror Films: 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,' 'Halloween' and More

Halloween is this Friday, so plenty of sites are busy making greatest horror movie lists. Vulture republished their picks for the best horror movies since “The Shining.” Nick Schager of Esquire picked the best horror films playing on Netflix and TV this Halloween. Sound on Sight’s Greg Cwik went broader and made a list of his 40 favorite horror films. The Dissolve, meanwhile, got creative with their list and picked the 30 best American independent horror films, and it didn’t disappoint. Here’s the top ten:

1. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974), Dir: Tobe Hooper
2. “Halloween” (1978), Dir: John Carpenter
3. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), Dir: George A. Romero
4. “Evil Dead II” (1987), Dir: Sam Raimi
5. “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), Dir: Daniel Myrick/Eduardo Sanchez
6. “Near Dark” (1987), Dir: Kathryn Bigelow
7. “Eraserhead” (1977), Dir: David Lynch
8. “Martin” (1978), Dir: George A. Romero
9. “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), Dir: George A. Romero
10. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), Dir: Wes Craven

While I can nit-pick about the placement (“Halloween” is number one, fools) and films that I’m personally not on board with (Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s smug and not even remotely scary “The Cabin in the Woods“), the Dissolvers put forth typically strong defenses for all of their picks. Here’s Tasha Robinson on their number one choice:

“Texas Chain Saw Massacre” looks cheap, but it feels immediate and vital, more like being in the middle of a horrific experience than watching it onscreen…The horror of Leatherface is the horror of real-world violence, which often happens abruptly and without warning; Hooper doesn’t bother with Hitchcockian niceties of long teases and audience tension, he just has death come unexpectedly, and with maximal brute force. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is memorable for its disturbing images and its visceral impact, plus the endless implications of a murderer with a chainsaw in hands. (And also for its striking use of eerie sunset light.) But it’s even more memorable for its bluntness, and the frank suggestion that death could be waiting around the corner literally anywhere.

Only one filmmaker, George A. Romero had more than one film on the list, and all three of them made the top ten. Romero’s groundbreaking “Night of the Living Dead” understandably placed highest, and we’ve written about his terrific “Dawn of the Dead” before, but Nathan Rabin argues that his unconventional vampire movie “Martin” deserves to be placed alongside them.

As Martin, the pale, weirdly animalistic, oddly innocent title character, John Amplas is closer to Bud Cort in “Harold & Maude” than Bela Lugosi in Dracula. He’s an intense, quiet young loner whose self-identification as a vampire registers as a particularly extreme form of alienation: You don’t have to thirst for human blood to feel like an outsider, or to feel fatally removed from the brotherhood of man. “Martin” occupies a world of soul-sickness and free-floating ennui, drifting into the lives of other strange, sad lost souls. It’s about the horrors of loneliness, sadness, and alienation. It’s also a poignant, tragic romance about a man who finds an escape from his misery, but too late. 

One of the more divisive films on the list is Rob Zombie’s extreme horror film “The Devil’s Rejects,” which some might dismiss as just another film in the long line of mid-2000s torture porn (a pejorative so loaded it’s not even funny). Scott Tobias makes the case for the film as a great post-9/11 movie.

Following up his debut feature, “House Of 1000 Corpses,” Zombie revisits the Firefly clan, a Marx brothers-inspired family of redneck killers who claim more victims (R.I.P. Banjo & Sullivan) as they run from a sheriff (William Forsythe) hellbent on making them pay for his brother’s death. In seeking vengeance, the sheriff forfeits his authority and falls into the same moral tar-pit as his adversaries. It isn’t hard to read a political metaphor into that, but even for those disinclined to give Zombie that much credit, “The Devil’s Rejects” has all the elements that have made him such a distinctive horror auteur: exceptionally detailed production design, colorfully vulgar dialogue, an eclectic soundtrack of vintage and parody songs, and a rich sense of history in both the casting and the texture of the film. 

Personally, I consider a spirited argument for a film that I’m not a fan of to be the true test of one of these lists. I’m don’t much like James Wan’s “Insidious” (or even his more acclaimed “The Conjuring“), but Keith Phipps makes an excellent case for it.

Where “Saw” shocked audiences by showing everything, “Insidious” used suggestion and old-fashioned discretion to unnerve viewers. Here, what isn’t seen, or what’s barely glimpsed, is what’s really scary…Wan and Whannell tip their hat to everything from “Poltergeist” to “The Haunting,” but the real source of inspiration seems to be the cheap, unsettling films Val Lewton produced in the 1940s. Like Lewton, “Insidious” uses shadows, slow-burn chills, and offscreen space to tremendous effect, though the film isn’t too proud to juice the shocks with loud noises, as is the way with modern horror.

Finally, there’s a fair number of cult hits that deserve wider exposure. Spike Lee recently remade the vampire film “Ganja & Hess” as “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” but Rabin argues that horror fans should seek out the original if they haven’t already.

Audiences expecting a groovy, “Blacula”-like blaxploitation spin on vampire mythology from Bill Gunn’s 1973 cult movie “Ganja & Hess” are in for something else entirely. Gunn’s film—a moody erotic art film about a professor (the quietly charismatic Duane Jones, in his only lead role outside of “Night Of The Living Dead”) who develops a hunger for blood after being stabbed by a cursed African dagger—is low on graphic violence but high on atmosphere, eroticism, and a fierce spirituality equally rooted in African traditions and the black American church. Gunn delivers the genre goods to some extent with intermittent bursts of highly creative violence and achingly sensual sex, but he Trojan-horses these commercial elements within a dream-like meditation on the nature of violence, sex, destiny, and the African diaspora.

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