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What is common between Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson? Both are critically and commercially acclaimed directors who have held the reins of very large franchises, the Spider-Man franchise in the case of Raimi and the Tolkien franchise in the case of Jackson. Both directors have been extremely successful and are heralded as pioneers and visionaries. However, something that most people might not know is where both directors cut their teeth – low-budget, B-grade horror movies that show sparkles of their genius to come.

Let us take a closer look at the fine art of low budget horror movies, with special focus on Raimi and Jackson who showed how to do it right.

Raimi and The Evil Dead

With The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi created quite a few firsts in the horror genre. This was a low-budget horror movie in the 80s, created independently with a budget under $400,000, where Raimi unwittingly initiated one of the first successful horror franchises while also creating a masterpiece in the genre of splatter films – a horror movie subgenre that focuses heavily on graphic portrayals of violence, loads of gore, and the grotesque.

Raimi can also be credited as a major force in the founding of one of the most famous horror movie tropes – the “cabin in the woods” genre of films.

A lot went into making Evil Dead a low-budget horror cult classic, a lot of which is squarely due to Raimi’s decisions during making the film. First up, the cabin Raimi found where most of the action takes place in Morristown, Tennessee has a real-life horror story that contributed to the creepy ambiance.

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Then Raimi chose to make things very real for the cast and crew, which included using live ammunition for gunshot scenes, encouraging cast members to intoxicate themselves to help out with intense scenes, and including an extremely controversial and graphic scene where a woman is violated by a tree in a forest.

low-budget horror movies, evil dead

A major win for convincing, visually striking low-budget horror was the way Raimi and the crew handled special effects. A lot of viewers will remember the tacky but real horror effects of different shades of goo emanating from undead corpses as they meet their end. The melting corpse is infamous in horror circles, and the effects supervisor for the film used a plethora of practical, easily available ingredients to make things visually uncomfortable and real. This included things like oatmeal, marshmallow strings fashioned into guts, real snakes, and Madagascar cockroaches that the team acquired specially for the effect.

All of these decisions, coupled with the difficulties of a shoestring budget and money frequently drying up during the shoot, gives Evil Dead Its real, gritty feel.

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Peter Jackson’s Start

Fans who know Peter Jackson as the visionary director of arguably the best adaptations in cinema, The Lord of the Rings series, would be surprised to know that Jackson got his start directing low-budget horror movies of a very particular kind – a genre known fondly as “splatstick”. This involves outrageously graphic violence and gore thrown into a horror-comedy frame. His first feature-length film was Bad Taste, shot on a minimal budget.

low budget horror movie bad taste

Bad Taste involves an alien invasion scenario where the alien species are interested in humans as a source of food. Needless to say, this gives rise to graphic and gratuitous violence that is represented on screen using practical, budget effects that look corny and very real at the same time. All of this experience goaded Jackson towards his true low-budget horror masterpiece, Dead Alive.

The gore can make a low budget horror movie like these almost unbearable for some, but the creative energy and whimsical pace carries the action admirably as events unfold in quick succession.

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Essentially a zombie flick, Dead Alive involves a rabid rat monkey that carries the zombie disease and infects people through bites. The movie centers around Lionel, whose mother gets infected and starts infecting others. While Lionel understands exactly what is going on, he opts to keep things a secret and tries to take care of things himself.

low-budget horror movie dead alive

This leads to some gory yet hilariously horrific scenes, including one where Lionel patches up his mother’s skin with glue. The movie culminates into a chaotic climax, where Lionel’s house party guests become infected in several unique, gruesome ways. One guy has his entire head skinned while alive while Lionel tries to put things in order while having to move around on a very slippery floor thanks to the blood and guts. Finally, Lionel has to make the tough decision to “eliminate” the problem using some garden equipment.

Low-Budget Horror Movie Pioneers

Raimi and Jackson have both done their bit to show the world that horror movies do not need big budgets to be either good or disturbing. With creativity, vision, and the will to do outrageous things that push the boundaries in terms of filmmaking technique and special effects, both directors laid the foundation for a whole slew of low-budget horror movies that came after.

Additional Reading

What Can We Learn from Peter Jackson’s DIY Approach to Bad Taste?

The Joys of DIY Gore

The Untold Truth Of Evil Dead

Watch: How ‘The Evil Dead’ Became One of the Biggest Low-Budget Box Office Hits of All Time

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#Alien horror | #Zombie horror

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Last Updated on November 28, 2021.

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