Welcome again to my Monday column and sorry for bringing this amazing article so late (it’s officially Tuesday, but it’s Pancake Tuesday, so stop moaning). Previously I reviewed the New Wave French classic, the 400 Blows and later I showed you what to watch, if you liked the mainstream film and wanted to see its hipster version. But there is something more to independent movies than just the way they speak about different themes and the experimental style in which they are often directed. The independent cinema has been born because people didn’t have money to make a mainstream film. Ironically though, some of the low-budget independent films have become cult classics and they are now loved by millions making their creators awfully rich and their work a franchise. It doesn’t make them worse but it definitely makes them more recognisable. So, my dear hipsters, here is the list of films that although had surprisingly low budget (to make it even more interesting, they are actually uber low budget because I only chose ones under one million dollars) and became surprisingly big. And yes, you should learn them all.
and why not make them 12…
12. Napoleon Dynamite ($400 000)
Every American kid knows this film. It was Mtv product for the forming new generation and was there to mirror our feelings and doubts. Napoleon Dynamite like Coen’s Lebowski, it gain followers spreading the protagonist’s life philosophy. First time I watched it, i wasn’t really convinced, but second time, Napoleon Dynamite was actually pretty entertaining. I guess the most important part of it though is the fact that Mtv only spent $400 000 on it and through the word of mouth managed to create the ultimate anti-hero for its modern audience. You don’t need money to make history.
11. Cube ($375 000)
Warning! A drastic image below.
Cube is an independent horror film that personally, I have no idea how many people have seen. I know it earnt more money than expected and although it did not make a big career overall, it left something for the future filmmakers. Cube was the first film in which a person after being cut/ cut through/ cut in half etc… would remain as a whole just so after few seconds they can fall into many pieces in slow motion.
This small thing so strongly influenced horror world for a long time that today we are already tired of this reappearing cliche. Resident Evil series seem to use it in every single of its films.
With a budget like this, the creators of Cube has once again prove that in order to make a good horror movie, one doesn’t need money for special effects (apart from this one). A good story and a twist almost always does a trick. And when it doesn’t…the answer can be found in the 80s.
10. Halloween ($320 000)
In the 80s it seems that everyone wanted to do horror movies, no matter how much money they had. Halloween was John Carpenter’s third film and because of amazing directoral skills he had been developing in his previous project and because of a truly disturbing image of Michael Myers, Halloween instantly became the genre’s classic. Not many watching it now remember that extremely recognisable Michael Myer’s mask was actually a painted and altered mask of Captain Kirk the creators picked up for $2.
9. Night of the Living Dead ($114 000)
Not only is Night of the Living Dead one of the first zombie horror films ever made (I believe that it was the first time the terminology was used in cinema), but also it defined what Midnight Movies were. Midnight Movies were films screened late at night and apart from the fact that they were indie, they simply did not fit the mainstream styles and themes. George R. Romeo could not have found a better audience for his first film. Night of the Living Dead is now watched by both independent and mainstream audience. As for the director, he has made many Living Dead films, rising the budget with every one of them. They might lack the original’s uniqueness and roughness, but they never lack heart.
8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($84 000)
My favourite horror film ever made. Today it is still being remade and sequelled as much as it was when it first came out. Based on the true events, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is now one of the most recognisable names (even those who haven’t seen it, heard it) and the biggest franchise on the horror movie market. However, making the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still remembered by Hooper as long, tiring and difficult process. He employed unknown actors and shots for hours seven days a week only to realise that due to its disturbing content, finding the distributor might be even more challenging. Once it hit the cinemas, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre earned $30 million just in the United States making it one of the most influential horror movies ever made.
7. Super Size Me ($65 000)
I don’t want to really discuss this documentary because I honestly believe that it completely misses the point of the whole project. I don’t want to start discussing its content, so I’m just going to say that putting yourself in extreme situation like Morgan Spurlock did is always bad for you. If I ate fruits, which are considered healthy 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and nothing else but only fruits, I would probably end up in a hospital. But enough about it.
No matter what Morgan Spurlock wanted to prove, he definitely showed us that in order to make a film, the only thing we really need is passion and determination.
6. Pi ($60 000)
Pi was Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut and it gained him recognition at Sundance Film Festival (the biggest independent film festival). If you are not familiar with names, then Darren Aronofsky is the person responsible for Requiem for a Dream, the Wrestler and Black Swan. Despite being made for only $60 000 and released only in few cinemas in the United States, Pi has been commercially successful. Many still consider Pi Aronofsky’s best film. Apart from making Aronofsky recognisable director, the film also started the collaboration between the filmmaker and Clint Mansell, the composer who since then made soundtracks for all of his films.
5. Catfish ($30 000)
I love Catfish no matter how real or fake the documentary actually is. I especially love the fact that it only costed $30 000 and has been made in 2010 proving that the independent filmmaking has its big comeback. Catfish is a documentation of the director’s friendship with a girl he meets on facebook. Soon however, he discovers that not everything she tells him is true.
If I was to choose the documentary best portraying our generation, I would forget the activistic Super Size Me and focus on the festival gems like this one. Catfish is the story about our relationship with modern media and how the borders of anonymity are being constantly dangerously moved.
4. Clerks ($27 000)
Everybody hates Kevin Smith now. Even today I saw yet another open letter to the director, in which the author complains about Smith’s sell out and dishonesty in filmmaking. It is sad that this war between the critics and Smith takes place because years back in the 90s it was him who represented the people and was the voice of its audience.
Clerks is a film made by a guy who wants to make films. He brings together his family and friends, gets all the money he can by selling his comics collection, using ten credit cards and spending all of his insurance money, so he can make one of the most original, yet extremely simple comedy of our times. The film was shot in 21 days with almost no breaks and brought Smith both commercial success and recognition starting his career as a film director. Since then Jay and Silent Bob have been reappearing in many of his projects and although he is now most hated filmmaker, I believe he is still yet to show that money did not take him away.
3. The Blair Witch Project ($22 000)
Three students go to the forest in order to discover the truth about the Blair Witch. What we are watching is the footage that was found after they went missing.
Of course today we all know that the Blair Witch Project was a great marketing idea, however I remember first hearing about it from my friend, who was convinced that the story was true. I went to see the film and still young and inexperience I was not able to judge if it was just another film behind which the big company was standing, or the actual portrayal of someone’s death. Finding out that nobody was hurt during the filming did not spoil the Blair Witch Project for me. I still love it and I still believe that it is highly underrated. Although like with everything surrounding this movie, the budget information is still unconfirmed, the number balances between $20 000 and $750 000. That sounds like a hell of a party to me.
2. Paranormal Activity ($15 000)
Since it came out, Paranormal Activity has been taken advantage of the fact that we are still drawn to mocumentaries. Like in the Blair Witch Project we are tempted to believe that what we actually see on the screen is the actual footage taken from someone’s house. And like in the Blair Witch Project the sequel destroys the whole marketing idea. Fortunately, the sequels aren’t as bad as they could be although I did not believe in single scene shown after the first one came out and I think relentlessly ripping off its original is even cheaper than spending $15 000 on it, but it works. The fourth part is already announced.
1. Eraserhead ($10 000)
I’m not being pretentious here- David Lynch is probably one of the best directors alive and definitely the weirdest one. Lynch debuted with Eraserhead in 1977 and since the funding he got from the conservatory was not enough, he dedicated himself to odd jobs and asking his friends and family for money, he managed to complete the project. What came out of it was the most surreal film of the 70s and also Lynch’s perfect flagship. Hardly ever it happens that the director manages to develop his style in the first movie, but this is exactly what happened with Eraserhead. It is everything we love about David Lynch and in the words of the United States Library Congress, the movie is “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant”. I would say more- it is a MUST for every film lover.