Horror remains one of film’s most popular genres with audiences and many first-time directors have chosen horror as the genre in which to set their debut films. Horror makes a lot of sense as a genre for a first-time director to make a film in as it allows a lot more creative freedom without the need for a massive budget. Consequently, the horror genre has produced a number of innovative and passionate directorial debuts. Many of these films have gained cult status and some are even regarded as some of the best horror films of all time.
A director’s first film can be a tricky terrain to navigate – make a stunning debut and it may catapult you into the mainstream and allow you to make bigger films with bigger budgets. However, make a film that bombs, and you may find it twice as hard to make a second film.
10. The Gift (2015) Directed by Joel Edgerton
Written, produced and directed by Joel Edgerton in his feature length directorial debut, The Gift was the first film released by STX Entertainment. The Gift grossed almost $59 million at the box office against a budget of $5 million and was highly acclaimed by critics.
The film follows married couple Simon and Robyn who bump into Gordo, an acquaintance from Simon’s past. At first, Simon does not recognise Gordo but after the couple begin to receive mysterious gifts and strange encounters, a secret emerges that causes Robyn to question how well she knows her spouse.
Edgerton was inspired to write the screenplay by films such as Fatal Attraction, Cache and Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. Edgerton also acts in the film and shot his role in the film in seven days whilst his brother assisted behind the camera.
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
In a worn-down Iranian city, the residents encounter a skateboarding vampire who preys on men who treat women badly.
Described as the first Iranian vampire western ever made, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the feature film debut of director Ana Lily Amirpour who also wrote the screenplay. The film received positive reviews and grossed $628,000 at the box office. The film was based on a short film of the same name by Amirpour. The short film was screened at film festivals before an Indiegogo campaign was launched in order to fund the feature film.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night has been described as an important film and as one of the most influential feminist horror films of all time. In 2014, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was adapted into a graphic novel.
8. Get Out (2017) Directed by Jordan Peele
One of 2017’s most talked about films was the feature length directorial debut from actor, writer and comedian Jordan Peele. Get Out grossed $255 million on a budget of $4.5 million making it one of the most profitable films of the year.
As well as being a commercial success, Get Out was also a massive critical success. It was praised for its political and social themes and was nominated for various awards. At the 90th Academy Awards, it was nominated for four awards and won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Get Out sees couple Chris and Rose go on a weekend trip so that Chris can meet Rose’s parents. At first, Chris accredits the awkward behaviour that Rose’s family displays to the fact that the family are struggling with Rose and Chris’s interracial relationship. But soon a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to an abhorrent truth that he never could have imagined.
Following the impact and success of Get Out, Peele has flirted with the idea of a sequel. Peele said, “I can tell you I will definitely consider it. I love that universe and I feel like there is more story to tell. I don’t know what it is now, but there are some loose ends.”
7. The Babadook (2014) Directed by Jennifer Kent
This Australian supernatural, psychological horror film was the feature length directorial debut by former actress Jennifer Kent. The Babadook is based on the 2005 short Monster which is also directed by Kent. The Babadook tells the story of a single mother who is battling with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in their home. This leads her to confront a sinister presence in their house, whilst also dealing with the death of her husband.
The Babadook went on to be one of the best reviewed films of 2014. However, it was initially not a commercially successful film in Australia and was given a limited release. The film was more successful overseas, after its strong reception at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival garnered it more attention. The Babadook went on to make $7.5 million against a budget of $2 million. It also received a number of nominations at various film festivals and won a number of awards.
The Babadook’s origins came from Kent’s 2005 short film Monster. Monster screened at over fifty festivals worldwide and inspired Kent to adapt it into a feature. Kent calls Monster, “baby Babadook.” Kent started writing the screenplay in 2009 and then went about trying to secure funds for the film. she described the filming process as both challenging and frustrating.
Despite the success of The Babadook, Kent has stated emphatically that there will never be a sequel.
6. Hereditary (2018) Directed by Ari Aster
When the Graham family’s matriarch passes away, her daughter and her family are haunted by cryptic happenings and increasingly disturbing events as they try to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.
Hereditary was the feature length directorial debut of Ari Aster, who also wrote the screenplay. Aster pitched Hereditary as a family drama that “curdles into a nightmare,” not wanting to call it an outright horror film. Hereditary premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and went on to be both commercially and critically successful. Hereditary grossed over $79 million against a budget of $10 million.
Having always been a fan of domestic dramas, Aster wanted Hereditary to incorporate themes from that genre and root the film in family tragedy and grief rather than traditional horror elements. Aster cited The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Carrie as having influenced the screenplay for Hereditary. Hereditary is one of A24’s most profitable films to date.