Let’s be honest, most of the truly notable horror films to come out in the past few years have not been big box-office-breaking blockbusters. Audiences are drawn more to the indie horror film festival favourites — those movies that take risks to really mess up their audiences. We love to feel scared, and the new, somewhat quieter voices of genre cinema have proven time and time again to be the real talents to watch out for. While reboots, sequels, and franchises are still being pumped out, we’re turning our eyes to the real prize.
But in order to even make sure these subversive, creative, shocking titles can be seen, a film’s distribution is paramount to its success. One of the reasons that film festivals are so vital to the industry is that they give the exposure needed to get independent horror films in front of the eyeballs of not just reviewers and audiences, but distributors as well. This puts these lesser-known films in theaters, on streaming services, and into homes via physical media.
Horror is a constantly shifting, growing beast that has really come into its own. To meet the demand for bigger, bolder horror, a few different production and distribution companies have popped up that either specialize in or have a heartfelt dedication to the horror genre. Names that — once you see them attached to a title — you immediately know what kind of quality you can expect.
Blumhouse is the rockstar of horror producers/distributors. Headed by producer Jason Blum — who has become a celebrity in his own right — Blumhouse is responsible for some horror household names. Get Out, Halloween, The Purge, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Split, to name a few. Blum has figured out the model for horror success; great minds with big ideas, and a lot of flexibility with a modest budget. The formula seems to work and has been yielding huge returns. While Blumhouse has broached other genres with films like Whiplash and BlacKkKlansman, horror is a first and foremost focus.
Founded by actor Elijah Wood and directors Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller, SpectreVision is on the cutting edge of the horror genre. With titles like Mandy, Daniel Isn’t Real, Color Out of Space, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Cooties, SpectreVision gives a microphone to unique voices in genre cinema. Any time you see a SpectreVision card in a film’s opening credits, you know you’re in for something special.
While not exclusively serving genre fare, A24 has been at the forefront of horror’s new wave, providing distribution for some of the top titles on everyone’s tongue. Hereditary, The Witch, Green Room, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Hole in the Ground, and Under the Skin are just a few films they’ve shared with the world. A24 has helped to pull the genre in a direction that’s more accessible to hardened film critics and cinephiles, sneaking scares in through the back door. It’s paid off, with genre films bigger than ever and more widely known outside of the horror hound’s household.
DREAD is the horror label that Epic Pictures releases under, providing American distribution for Uncle Peckerhead, Harpoon, The Lodgers, The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw, The Golem, and Terrifier. Dread Central Media was acquired by Epic Pictures in 2017, who then announced that they would be developing an independent label to distribute and produce horror films. In 2019, this label was renamed DREAD, and the rest is genre-embracing history.
Ghost House Pictures
Ghost House Pictures — founded by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert in 2002 — has produced the American version of The Grudge franchise (including its most recent iteration) along with 30 Days of Night, Drag Me to Hell, Boogeyman, and Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe. Their reach may not be as broad, but they’ve built their brand with titles that hold weight.
Branching off from parent company IFC, IFC Midnight has become quite the powerhouse of genre cinema. The company provides distribution for modern cult hits like A Dark Song, The Devil’s Candy, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, The Clovehitch Killer, Dead Snow, Maniac, and The Human Centipede. Their commitment to bringing hidden gems to wider audiences has been invaluable for fans of horror cinema.
Dark Sky Films
Dark Sky Films probably isn’t a name you’ll immediately recognize, but they’ve been bringing some quality indie horror content. House of the Devil, the Hatchet sequels, Stake Land, Starry Eyes, We Are Still Here, Deathgasm, Bliss, and 1BR are just a few of the titles they’ve got tucked under their belt, and they’re not stopping any time soon. They’re the little distribution company that could, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.
Terror Films are also on the smaller scale, but with films like Hell House LLC and The Taking of Deborah Logan on their roster, they’ve got a dedication to indie horror titles. Their team is comprised of a seasoned group of executives with backgrounds in Finance, Distribution, Production and Post Production, so they’re keenly aware of how to lead a film to success.
Ask any die-hard horror fan about Troma Entertainment and they’ll probably have a favourite film to mention. Founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Hertz in 1974, Troma is responsible for films like The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet, Cannibal! The Musical, and Surf Nazis Must Die. They both produce and distribute a bevvy of low-budget indie horror fried gold, often with some element of comedy, parody, and gore. Their acquired films have featured early roles from stars like Billy Bob Thornton (Chopper Chicks in Zombietown), Samuel L. Jackson (Def by Temptation), and Kevin Costner (Sizzle Beach, U.S.A). They’re basically the definition of “cult classic”.
Full Moon Features
Speaking of retro indie horror goodness, we can’t forget Full Moon Features. Headed by b-movie veteran Charles Band, Full Moon is home to the Puppet Master series, Trancers, Castle Freak, and The Gingerdead Man series (yes, series). The production/distribution company even runs its own streaming service, allowing subscribers to watch any one of their massive list of distributed titles.
As far as streaming services go, Shudder is undeniably the best for genre-loving audiences. Picking films up from the festival circuit, they’ve provided a wide-reaching home to titles like Revenge, The Mortuary Collection, Anything for Jackson, Host, Nightmare Cinema, Satanic Panic, One Cut of the Dead, and Satan’s Slaves. They’ve also been committed to continuing our genre education with documentaries like Horror Noire, Cursed Films, Eli Roth’s History of Horror, and Scream, Queen!. And that’s not even counting the countless horror movies and series they’ve brought to our homes, adding new collections on a regular basis.
Raven Banner Entertainment
Canadian company Raven Banner Entertainment handles physical media distribution for a lot of indie content, such as For the Sake of Vicious, The Battery, Trench 11, Lifechanger, Yummy, and Tigers Are Not Afraid, among many other lesser-known titles. If you’ve ever been to a Canadian horror convention, chances are you’ve bought something from these guys.
Black Fawn Distribution
Speaking of folks you’ll see at Canadian horror conventions, Black Fawn Distribution manages physical distribution for a roster of indie horror, like Harpoon and The Ranger, usually offering some pretty impressive “Blacklist” package sets for die-hard collectors. But they also wisely manage distribution for the films they make and produce themselves (such as The Oak Room, Bite, The Heretics, and I’ll Take Your Dead), meaning they’ve essentially got a one-stop shop for rad Canadian horror.
And then there’s Arrow Video, who have done an impeccable job of putting together physical releases with stunning cover art for both new releases and cult classics. Seriously, their artwork is incredible. They’re arguably the best in the physical media business, with releases for indie gems like Lake Michigan Monster as well as fan favourites like Tremors, Audition, and Hellraiser.
And speaking of physical media, Scream Factory (a subset of Shout Factory) offers a wide selection of both cult classics (such as They Live and In the Mouth of Madness) and newer fare (like Baskin, The Babadook, and Raw). Conveniently, they signed a deal to manage the physical releases for IFC Midnight’s features, which is an excellent bit of teamwork if you ask me.
Additionally, Vinegar Syndrome is one of the best when it comes to restoring and releasing cult horror. They specialize in “protecting and preserving genre films”, aiming to distribute lost or otherwise unavailable films to the genre-loving masses. There’s also Severin Films, who are dedicated to retro and re-releases of cult horror films. With an impressive roster of titles, they have a lot of bizarre bases covered.
Now, by no means is this a comprehensive list — these are just a few of the producers and distributors that bring quality horror home. The genre has made its mark on the entertainment industry, and it’s proven to be quite lucrative. These distributors know that horror is here to stay, and they’re committed to keeping it that way.