Almost all great horror movies are low-budget efforts from independent companies with special effects made up from whatever is available from someone's basement or garage. While these films often suffer from inane direction, horrid acting, bad lighting, insipid dialogue, etc., there are some very rare gems to be discovered in the slag heap, should one care to look.
Most of these films had very abbreviated releases or were directly released to video or DVD. I know that a number of people believe that a straight-to-DVD release always means a film is cheap or poorly made; but, in the current theater environment, this is simply no longer true and has probably not been true since the explosion of VCR technology into the consumer market. The simple truth is that nearly 50% of the revenue from movies these days is from the sale of DVDs and not from theater ticket sales. A number of independent companies have decided to avoid the issues with releasing a film into theaters and release directly to DVD. Someone tell the MPAA that it's gonna be out of business in about another decade, just like the Hays Act, but I digress.
Let's start with a chick flick. John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps tells us the story of two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald, who enjoy such activities as creating and photographing staged death scenes for a school project, dissing the reputation of people they dislike, and imagining how they may die — all the normal dysfunctional teenager activities. Deciding that kidnapping their hated rival Trina's dog is the best revenge, they have a little misadventure near the woods with something that's mean, hairy, has big sharp teeth, and has a taste for teenager. Ginger is mauled by the beast, and Brigitte saves her — or so she thinks at the time. By linking menstruation to lycanthropy, the film becomes a feminist critique on sexual desire and feminine bonds and the difficulty maintaining them. This film is highly recommended, as are the sequel Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, which is Brigitte's story, and the prequel Ginger Snaps Back, which is a horror western!
Alex Turner's Dead Birds tells the tale of a group of runaway Confederate soldiers who, with the help of an escaped slave and an Army nurse, stage a bank holdup and proceed to escape to Mexico with the loot. The thieves decide to stop in at an abandoned plantation for the night and inevitably begin to fight amongst themselves.
Turner went on in 2009 to make Red Sands, a war horror movie set in Afghanistan in which a U.S. solider relates to an officer how he was the sole survivor of an extended combat mission. Turner is a director to keep your eye on.
David Prior's AM1200 is a Lovecraft Festival award-winning short 40 minute movie that packs a nasty punch. Sam Larson is a crooked investment analyst who decides to get in his car and try and outrun his guilt when the investment scam goes bad. Unfortunately, he missed that signpost up ahead and drove straight on into the Twilight Zone. See the trailer at http://www.am1200.com/.
Lucky McKee's 2002 May starring Angela Bettis, Anna Faris, and Jeremy Sisto is the story of a lonely young woman. May is a young woman who has been teased since childhood about her lazy eye and has real trouble making friends. Roger Ebert really like it, I like it, and you might just find this disturbing character study a real treat.
J. T. Petty's The Burrowers is another horror western set on the Dakota plains and is the tale of settlers, Amerinds, and something else on the Great Plains of the Dakotas. The film is very dark and shows the West as a brutal place filled with injustice, hatred, and spectacular vistas.
As a bonus, you can see the prequel Blood Red Earth for free, courtesy of FearNet, which I do recommend, so that you can get some idea of the quality of the film.
Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers is the story of a British army unit that runs into some very unfriendly residents of the Scottish highlands, who just happen to be werewolves. With riffs on Southern Comfort, The Evil Dead, Zulu, Aliens, The Matrix, and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, this gem is not to be missed!
The Hamiltons is an award-winning film that tells the story of Francis in a video documentary of his life and his strange family living in a quite California suburb. His parents are deceased, and the family has lost the family farm. David, his oldest brother, is an in the closet gay funeral home director that kidnaps young girls on the side and keeps them in the basement and brings home men for one-way, one night stands. The twins, Wendell and Darlene, seem to share a bizarre incestuous bond that separates them from the rest of the siblings. Oh, and youngest brother Lenny is kept locked up under the stairs. The film offers a very disturbing look at what you believe are a pack of serial killers ala the infamous Hewitt of Texas; the final revelation that reveals something entirely different has been going on.
Antibodies, a German language film with English subtitles, is a very disturbing film. A serial killing pederast is caught after a violent shoot-out with police. The murder of a young girl is unsolved, so the police officer who caught the serial killer goes to interview him, and the mind games begin. Thankfully, most of the violence is implied, but the question of whether evil is a contagious virus is at the heart of the film.