It Follows (and the five most profitable low budget horror films)
Much like the wages afforded to Premier League footballers or J.K. Rowling's bank balance, film production budgets are one of those things that just seem to keep growing and growing. In fact, if you were to make a list of the most expensive films ever made, you would find that every single one in the top 20 was released in the last decade.
That shouldn't come as a surprise though; box office revenues are also the largest they've ever been thanks to an ever-growing population and a huge rise in cinema-going among the peoples of rapidly emerging economies like China and India. So, while Hollywood producers might be patting themselves on the back for their successes with mega-franchises from the likes of Marvel and Disney, there's also the undeniable fact that there are just more people around that are willing and able to spend their hard-earned cash at the cinema, so why not splash out a little more on those special effects to entertain them?
For every rule, however, there's an exception, and in recent years there has been another, opposite trend occurring in movie theatres – the rise of the low-budget blockbuster. Nowhere has this been more apparent, or more successful, than in the genre of horror. In the last few years, films like James Demarco's The Purge and Jennifer Kent's The Babadook have pulled in some impressive audiences on very modest budgets and scared them witless in the process.
The latest of these, arriving on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday June 29th, is David Robert Mitchell's It Follows. With a cast of young and talented actors led by Keir Gilchrist and Maika Monroe, the film's premise is almost laughably simple, but devastatingly effective.
It goes like this: a young girl called Jay (Monroe) begins dating a guy called Hugh (Jake Weary). He takes her to the movies and while they are there he spots an odd-looking girl standing at the entrance, but when he points her out to Jay she doesn't see anything, prompting him to freak out and demand that they leave. The second date is even worse and the following morning Jay awakes to find that she has been drugged and is tied to a wheelchair.
Hugh explains that by having sex with her he has passed on a curse whereby a supernatural entity that can take the form of any person will pursue her – at walking pace – until it either kills her or the curse is passed on to someone else. Wherever she is in the world, it will be walking towards her.
If the 'walking pace' thing makes you think 'well, that doesn't sound too scary', remember that it could be anyone – your best mate, your mum, whoever – and that the fact they are walking normally means it isn't completely obvious, even if they are in the same room as you. What Mitchell has managed to do with such a simple idea and a budget of just $2m is very impressive and the result, it has to be said, is often pretty terrifying - check out the trailer below and see for yourselves...
All of that got us thinking: what are the most successful horror films produced on tiny budgets? We did a bit of research and dug up the five most profitable horror films ever made, all of them produced on a budget of less than $1million. Here goes, in reverse order...
Friday the 13th
Budget: $550,000 / Gross: $59,754,601 / Return: 10,765%
With a budget of just over half a million dollars, Sean S. Cunningham's classic slasher flick is the most expensive on our list, but even then it's a paltry sum, even by 1980 standards. The recipe is lifted straight from John Carpenter's earlier film Halloween – more of which in a minute – but it's still very effective. Featuring a cast of teenage actors, a spooky abandoned campsite and a supernatural, relentless killer in Jason, Friday the 13th has spawned several sequels and with box office taking of nearly $60m, it was a huge win for Paramount.
Budget: $350,000 / Gross: $70,000,000 / Return: 19,900%
John Carpenter's 1978 film is pretty much the genesis point for all slasher films – there would be no Jason, no Freddy Krueger and no Scream killer without the terrifying, relentlessly murderous Michael Myers. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Michael's older sister and the next person on his hit list, Halloween is almost as famous for its iconic score – written and recorded by Carpenter himself – as it is for its psychotic anti-hero.
Working on a shoestring budget of just $350,000, Carpenter fashioned Myers' iconic image from a Captain Kirk mask bought from a local thrift store for £1.98, but it was more than enough to terrify generations of audiences and with box office receipts of $70m it convinced the rest of Hollywood that there was plenty of mileage in this kind of horror film.
Night of the Living Dead
Budget: $114,000 / Gross: $30,000,000 / Return: 26,216%
George A. Romero quite literally wrote the rulebook on zombies with this 1968 classic. The godfather of hundreds of zombie films from 28 Days Later to Shaun of the Dead, Romero created his breakthrough film on a budget of just $114,000 the film's special effects might not be so 'special' to look at now, but in 1968 audiences had never seen levels of gore like this and Romero's influence on horror films in general is practically incalculable. It is however possible to calculate profit and with box office receipts topping $30m, the film made enough money to ensure birth of an entire genre.
The Blair Witch Project
Budget: $60,000 / Gross: $248,300,000 / Return: 413,733%
Perhaps the first of the modern-day 'micro-budget' horror films, The Blair Witch Project was created by directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez in 1999 on a ridiculously modest budget of $60,000 and while the shaky camera work was an annoyance for some, the directors proved that with a strong enough concept and a little hype, you don't need wads of cash to create something terrifying.
Budget: $15,000 / Gross: $194,183,034 / Return: 1,293,454%
Its hard to think of anything that would offer an investor a return of over one million percent, but that's exactly what Oren Peli managed to deliver with this 'found footage' horror film in 2007. Created on the kind of budget you'd struggle to buy a decent sized family saloon car with, Paranormal Activity's simple, haunted house premise is delivered extremely effectively and with box office takings of almost $200m it's not just the most profitable horror film ever made, it's the most profitable film ever made, and will probably remain so for quite some time.