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The ‘Terrifier’ Series Proves the Grindhouse Is Still Alive and Profitable

In the entire history of film, the moving image has never been clearer! Forget HD, movies are being shot in 8K, IMAX, and more! Every time there is an advancement in image technology, it seems as though we’ve reached the pinnacle of what is capable in potential resolution, only to top ourselves shortly after. But how good of a thing is this really? For documentary filmmaking, this is wonderful. Having the chance to capture the world around us in a clarity that places audiences at the bases of volcanoes or in outer space is a dream. But what about blockbuster filmmaking? Well, I guess it depends on the type of movie that you’re making. Modern audiences seem trained to expect the crystal clear digital images found both in big budget tent pole features and surprise indie hits, but these very audiences are also starting to prove otherwise. This fall, an independent horror sensation rolled into theaters and rocked the Halloween season harder than any other – Terrifier 2, directed by Damien Leone. It’s a movie that had a $250,000 budget, yet went on to gross $11.5 million dollars at the box office. More than anything, Terrifier 2 proves that no matter what budget a movie has, if big scares are promised, people will show up in droves.

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Is a Low Budget a Good Thing?

Should movies be given the room to put in less effort, though? Is it okay for movies to not have to try as hard? In general, the more filmmakers that get to realize their vision, the better. Not in a quantity over quality sense, but in a true resources sense. This isn’t to say that lower budgets are always a pro. If this were the case, you’d find way more filmmakers spending way less money on their projects. In the hands of the right artist, less resources will lead to a more creative film. If Robert Rodriguez held himself off from making El Mariachi until he could score himself a multimillion dollar action movie budget, he might have never ended up making the movie, and we would have been without one of Gen X’s most inspiring filmmakers. The same goes for Damien Leone and his Terrifier franchise.

RELATED: ‘Terrifier’s Art the Clown is the Horror Icon of the 2020s

Less Money Means More Creativity

David Howard Thornton as Art the Clown in Terrifier 2
Image Via Bloody Disgusting

Low budgets seem purely restrictive, when in reality, they make a filmmaker more creative. Where certain productions might be able to lean on an army of a crew or CGI to cover up any and every mistake, low budget filmmakers don’t always have those options. Instead, they have to rely on inventive filmmaking, effects, and stories to invest audiences in. For low budget horror filmmakers, this calls for a reliance on nothing but making the scariest movie possible. These movies aren’t looking to have the most beautiful images or trying to look like they were shot for millions of dollars. They’re aiming to have the best kills, biggest scares, and eeriest atmosphere.

Imagine a world in which Damien Leone made the Terrifier movies, yet focused on the wrong things in making them. If Leone went into production on All Hallow’s Eve, Terrifier, and Terrifier 2 pouring his money into the wrong aspects of production, we’d end up with a much more forgettable series. Instead, he used equipment that would adequately complete his project, but invest the largest sums of his money into effects work and makeup. This meant a better, more memorable look for Art the Clown (Mike Giannelli, David Howard Thornton), better kills, and a greater emphasis on the more primal scares that grindhouse movies are known for. I mean, this is a series of grimy slasher movies after all. It’s not like Leone is out here trying to make Damien Chazelle‘s Babylon. Horror fans want filmmakers to give them the scariest projects that they can possibly conjure up, it doesn’t matter if they were shot on IMAX or iPhone.

The Height of Grindhouse Cinema

Terrifier

For whatever reason, with filmmaking becoming more accessible in recent years, filmmakers themselves have become less accepting of their movies looking “low budget.” This wasn’t always the case. When grindhouse and exploitation movies were becoming popular in the 60s and 70s, there were all sorts of movies being made in the Terrifier mindset. If it weren’t for the true and honest acceptance of low budget filmmakers making low budget films, we might never see Tobe Hooper or Sam Raimi come up. If Raimi decided “y’know what, I don’t have Hollywood resources or a 35mm camera, I really need to wait to shoot The Evil Dead until I can shoot it on 35,” he’d be up in Detroit “still selling air conditioning units,” as he once said. He didn’t quite settle for shooting the film on Super 8 film, but he knew he had to work with more obtainable resources or his movie might never happen. Same goes for George Romero, Wes Craven, and John Carpenter. They made wild horror movies that delivered scares by the boatload and the people showed up. The same stands true today, proven by Terrifier 2. Not only that, all of these guys shot their debut films for cheap because they were filmmakers that had to make movies, not filmmakers who had to wait for a golden check to come along. Also, that was back when people still shot movies on film! Do you know how expensive film developing is alone? Most iPhones can shoot 4K now. Get out there and make your movie! If it’s scary, people will see it!

Visual Grit Benefits a Movie’s Atmosphere

terrifier-2
Image via Cinedigm

Not only that, a low budget presentation provides for a creepier atmosphere. Whether audiences know it or not, there’s a certain effect that a grittier look gives a film. Whether it’s the beat up film that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was shot on or the lower resolution digital cameras of Terrifier 2, there’s an uneasy feeling that comes with a movie not looking the best. That’s not necessarily ideal for a drama, but it’s all the better for a horror movie. There are still loads of horror movies that are being made on the cheap, but the artists behind them make them look way too glossy by pouring their money into better quality cameras. Throw those cameras in the trash and shoot your movies on iPhones or low grade DSLRs. Even the modern classic dramedy Frances Ha was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II, a massively available, reasonably priced DSLR camera. Noah Baumbach chose to shoot on this camera because, in his eyes, it was the digital camera that most closely resembled the look of film, removing the “digital” nature of digital cameras. Bring this look back! It’s charming! Unless you’re making some sort of “elevated horror” movie, go ahead and rub your camera in the dirt and make your scary movie gritty. That eerie effect of a cheaper look handled by the right artist is mostly lost today, so thank you, Damien Leone, for bringing it back. Not only that, for people that are fans of low budget movies, it’s fun watching something that was clearly made by a small crew of filmmakers – it adds a lot of heart.

Today, more people can make movies than ever before. Smartphones have incredible cameras attached to them as well as several editing software apps available for free, literally at your fingertips. There are filmmakers out there who are discouraged over the idea that they don’t have enough money for their horror movie or that they don’t have the resources, it’s an epidemic in the filmmaking world. The bar for low budget filmmakers has been raised higher and higher over the years, but Damien Leone took that bar and shattered it. The Terrifier movies, particularly 2, have proven that if your movie is scary and entertaining enough, all you have to do is get word of mouth running and the people will come. Horror fans don’t need a 5-star meal every time they fire up Shudder or walk into a theater, they just want a ride. Indie genre filmmakers, take notes from Terrifier 2’s release – make your grindhouse movie, literally anyone can do it now. These movies are more creative, charming, and effective than anything all glossed and polished up. Grindhouse movies are alive and well, and with Damien Leone as captain of the ship, you might as well jump on.


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