Horror films have proven to be quite a fertile playground for first time directors. Burgeoning filmmakers have been able to have fun and strut their stuff within the constraints of the genre, all without spending dozens of millions of dollars.
If directors like Jordan Peele of Get Out can muster up a worthwhile film that finds an audience, they can then use it as a springboard for more ambitious and costly films. Most of the time, though, their debuts efforts are drenched in such passionate that these directors are unable to even match let alone eclipse them.
This week, Peele becomes the latest first-time director to dabble in the horror genre with Get Out. The film's 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes (for now), which is proof that its been quite a successful dabble, too. But where does it rank against other films from debut filmmakers? Thankfully we're here to help, because here are the 10 greatest horror movies made by first-time directors.
10. Fright Night
While it might have taken The Wicker Man a few years to finally earn the praise it deserved, Fright Night found an audience from the very first August night it was released back in 1985. Tom Holland's debut film, which followed on from him scribing Cloak & Dagger, The Beast Within, and Psycho II, grossed $24.9 million, and was even followed by a sequel and a remake. But nothing quite matches the original, which is as scary as it is funny, with Chris Sarandon particularly brilliant as the vampire next door.
9. The Cabin in the Woods
Thanks to behind-the-scenes studio complications, Drew Goddard's directorial debut, The Cabin In The Woods, was kept on a shelf for a shocking number of years. We should all be extremely thankful that all of the nonsense got sorted out, because the movie is simply one of the greatest examples of modern horror. Based on a genius script co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, the film is endlessly clever - managing to be both loving and critical of its genre and simultaneously being both hilarious and frightening. Goddard has yet to direct a feature since, but given the quality of his first effort, we are most definitely waiting with bated breath.
While Guillermo Del Toro has gone on to direct better films (I'm looking at you, Pan's Labyrinth), 1993's Cronos was one hell of a calling card. A vampire tale with a surreal twist, Cronos might be stupendously gory, at a time when this was a delightful rarity instead of a boring cliché, but Del Toro makes sure that it's stylish and imaginative, too. While Del Toro is respectful to the horror genre he doesn't pander and Cronos is as intelligent as it is entertaining, while it was also the first proof that Del Toro has always been a Ron Perlman die-hard.
7. The Blair Witch Project
The triumph of The Blair Witch Project doesn't just go beyond the genre, but also beyond cinema. The decision to cast complete unknowns, as well as a marketing campaign that insisted the found footage really did occur, got under the skin of a mainstream audience to the tune of a $248.6 million box office from just a $60,000 budget. All of which meant that by keeping its villain out of sight, and letting the audience's imagination do the hard work, The Blair Witch Project is stupendously effective.
6. The Witch
The second-most-recent film of the list (stay tuned to find out what tops it), The Witch is a patient and unsettling horror film that keeps its cards very close to its chest while it slowly builds to its enthralling finale. Which makes it all the more impressive that this was writer and director Robert Eggers' debut as director. Eggers nails everything from a subtle script, to perfect casting, to haunting cinematography, while his camera work is never showy yet powerful when it needs to be. We can't wait to see what he does next.
5. Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
From a director that's just on his way to the big-time to one that's right up there with the Hollywood elite. Even though he's probably the most divisive in the business at the moment, too. It says everything about Zack Snyder that his debut outing would be a remake of the classic 1978 George A. Romero film of the same name. But while purists would disagree, Zack Snyder, with help from a James Gunn script, absolutely nailed it, as his Dawn Of The Dead doffs its cap to its predecessor, while being its own visceral and gloriously entertaining film at the same time.
4. The Babadook
Yet another recent cheap horror film that proves you don't need money to create a genuinely terrifying experience. With The Babadook, writer and director Jennifer Kent created a creature that's already secured its place in horror folklore. While it only possesses a few genuine jumps, The Babadook instead creeps under your skin but is just as equally terrifying. It also possesses a damn impressive and moving story to boot, all of which combined to raise the genre.
3. Get Out
Yep, it really is that high on my list. And Get Out earns it, too, because it really is that impressive. Jordan Peele walks the perfect tonal tightrope, as he makes Get Out more terrifying than it is funny, but also relies on the latter to keep the audiences thoroughly entertained. At the same time its timely subtext constantly festers underneath, pulling you in closer and closer. Not just an early contender for the best film of 2017, but a horror film that's destined to last for the ages.
2. Night Of The Living Dead
As a seismic picture that changed cinema, let alone revolutionized the horror genre, Night Of The Living Dead deserves all the recognition it gets. Of course, the first viewers of the film were going to react poorly to its gore, but this has now become a staple of the genre, and Romero uses it as a special effect so brilliantly that you still can't help but wince. Nowadays its grainy black-and-white aesthetic should feel dated, but instead it gives it a throwback feel that makes it even more engaging. Which is proof that even after all this time, Night Of The Living Dead is still full of surprises.
The first peak into David Lynch's delightfully warped mind, Eraserhead is so shocking and perplexing that even though you want to look away you're repeatedly convinced not to. Lynch's surreal visuals undoubtedly disturb. But they effectively provide a window into Henry Spencer (Jack Nance)'s issues with fatherhood, while the spooky score only adds to the terrifying concoction. And then there's Spencer's deformed baby, a prop that's so bizarre that the contents that went into creating it are still a secret to this day. Whatever it is, it's uniquely nightmarish, and will never be repeated on screen again. Just like Eraserhead.