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Watch 10 First Films from Great Horror Directors (Part 1)

PACIFIC RIM | via Universal Pictures

When directors are asked for advice on how to break into the industry by aspiring filmmakers, their answer is in variably some version of, “Get a camera and make something.” And as unhelpful as that sounds on the surface, even the most successful directors got their start by doing just that: making something. Even if it was imperfect or flawed.

So, in what I will be an ongoing series, I’ve compiled the first endeavors of some of our favourite horror directors as a means to inspire anyone who might be facing some kind of creative paralysis. Because, as you’ll see, while many of these films do give hints of the great heights these directors would climb, they are all scrappy, rough around the edges and full of wonderful flaws.

Here we go!


Neil Marshall (“Combat” 1999)

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Before bursting onto the international horror scene with the highly acclaimed The Descent, Neil Marshall wrote and directed Combat, a nearly 8 minute short where several friends go out down the pub for an evening of womanizing that turns ugly. Like the early works of many filmmakers, Marshall seems to be experimenting with the basic formal aspects of cinema: sound, motion, lighting and editing.

In the film, battle sounds plays over a highly stylized scenario, fluid camera movies, quick editing.  It’s a showy piece that highlight many of the traits he would use to great effect in Game of Thrones, Centurion and, my personal favourite, Doomsday.

 


Tobe Hooper (“The Heisters” 1964)

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Tobe Hooper’s debut is like an absurdist Edgar Allan Poe story. Very well produced with an old Hollywood look, the story is about a group of robbers who hole up following the theft of a priceless jewel.

While it doesn’t suggest the macabre that would come 10 years later with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it does boast some ingenious visual gags and a sense of rare sense of humor for the director.

 


Vincenzo Natali (“Elevated” 1996)

SP-D8-0752Director VINCENZO NATALI on location during the filming of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Dark Castle Entertainment’s science fiction thriller “SPLICE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Canada’s Vincenzo Natali is responsible for some of genre cinema’s most iconic and provocative stories. From the seminal Cube, which spawned two sequels and even a forthcoming reboot, to Splice and time-twisting Haunter his resume he’s made some great films. Add to that his stints on TV’s Hannibal, The Strain and, most recently, Westworld and an impressive body of work emerges.
Elevated is Natali’s first effort as a director. An exercise in tension, it concerns a man and a woman trapped in an elevator who may or may not be in danger from a monstrous force outside of it.

 


Ana Lily Amirpour (“Six and a Half” 2009)

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Amirpour director a number of shorts from 2009 to 2012, one of which was A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night which would become the basis of her feature debut of the same name. Her 2009 debut effort, Six and Half however remains a fascinating exploration of adolescence and human nature.

In the film, a young girl endures a traumatic experience which she ultimately blames on a frog. Stylistically the film fluctuates between two very distinct aesthetics, one showing a knack for horror imagery. Watch for Amirpour’s next, an apocalyptic cannibal flick, The Bad Batch which will hit Netflix next year.

 


Guillermo del Toro (“Geometria” 1987)

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Guillermo del Toro’s Geometria is a humourous short with a dark and sinister twits. Technically it’s the Hellboy director’s second short before directing Cronos, but it’s too great not to share.

In the film is about a boy who is tired of failing geometry and summons a demon to solve his problems. The signature colour pallet is here as well as the gothic sensibility the director would become know for.

 


James Cameron (“Xenogenesis” 1978)

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Every starts somewhere, even James Cameron who holds the distinction of having the highest grossing film of all time under his belt. Of course before transporting audiences to Pandora, the blockbuster director started in horror, The Terminator and Aliens remaining two of the most influential films of the genre.

Cameron started as a model builder and matte painter working for Roger Corman on films like Battle Beyond the Stars and the visual nod to AlienGalaxy of Terror. Even before that, however he created a true oddity, Xenogenesis, which sees an engineer terrorized by a sentient spaceship and a giant robot. It’s definitely interesting to see the short as a harbinger of some of the ideas the director would perfect in The Terminator.

 


Ti West (“Prey” 2001)

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Ti West’s Prey is a great example of what to do when you have no money to do much with at all. Like Sam Raimi before him, he seems to have figured out that the camera itself can create tension by behaving through its own POV.

In Prey, two friends have taken photos of something in the woods. They become it’s prey as they try to escape.

 


Jennifer Kent (“The Monster” 2005)

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In The Monster, a single mother battles her son’s fear of a monster in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Yes, this first effort, gorgeously shot in black and white, would form the basis of Jennifer Kent’s breakthrough first feature The Babadook.

 


Ryûhei Kitamura (“Down to Hell” 1997)

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Down to Hell is actually Kitamura’s  second film, the 45 minute short being the progenitor of what would become his frenetic opus, Versus.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t source an English subbed verion of the film, but it’s still fun to see Kitamura pushing the limits of style and montage.

Kitamura would go on to work in both America and Japan on various projects, most notably Midnight Meat Train and No One Lives (pictured above).

 


Alexandre Aja (“Over the Rainbow” 1997)

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Ushering in a wave of young French extremists in the early 2000s, along with peers Xavier Gens and Pascal Laugier, Alexandre Aja’s early work is extremely stylish, cinematic, grotesque and gorgeous all at the same time. 

Over the Rainbow, Aja’s first directorial effort is an almost 10 minute short that, I think you’ll agree, could not be more French. Black and White and hyper stylish, it reminds of the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (a director whose work you can expect to show up in part two of this series).

Stay tuned for part 2!



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COMMENTS

9 Comments
  • aNYagenda

    “James Cameron who holds the distinction of having the highest grossing film of all time…”

    He’s got like 2 or 3 of the top grossing films of all time.
    But he’s a shmuck though.

    All he does is steal isht from other movies and TV shows and then stupid it down for lowest denominator mass appeal. The same thing jj abrams does. Admittedly he does seem to have a knack for that though.

    Fun list.
    I dont think I’ve seen any of these.
    Looking forward to part 2.

  • Blade4693

    Within The Woods could probably fit on here since it’s like a mini-taste of what would eventually become Evil Dead. Cool list though, I don’t think I have seen any of these tbh lol

  • Scotty James Savile

    Terminator is an “influential film of the horror genre?”

    I’ve actually never seen Terminator called a horror movie.

    Aliens, yes, but Terminator?

    • Chris Webster

      That’s so interesting, because the film has always played like a horror film to me. Terminator is totally a Michel Meyers-esque force of nature.

      • Yeah I’ve always felt it to play out like a slasher.

    • oh_riginal

      I can remember before T2 existed, that the first movie was often placed in the horror section of the video stores I was lucky enough to tag along to with an adult. I loved the movie (it played on cable a lot back then) and with the first kill (fist punched into punk’s stomach) you get a decent amount of blood. The Terminator ripping his own eye out and cutting his wrist open to perform repairs was gory enough for the time to give it a horror feel. The character of the Terminator itself wasn’t yet seen as the funny, fake-smiling, heroic one that it would be seen as from the sequel and onward. Hell, even Arnold only really had Conan the Barbarian under his belt at the time.

      Yeah, a lot of people saw the first movie as a horror movie back in the day. It’s the sequels that washed that away in retrospect.

    • Rick-Taylor

      Ya know, up until a few years ago, I would have agreed with you. Then, one day, I was watching the movie and I realized… without T2, the Terminator is totally an action horror movie. It is an evil and unstoppable force that lurks in the shadows, but also brutally kills anyone in its way. It follows the slasher recipe, very closely.

  • Munchie

    Isn’t it more accurate to say Neil Marshall “(burst) onto the international horror scene with the highly acclaimed” Dog Soldiers, since that movie came out first and was very well regarded upon its release?

    • Christopher Webster

      Can’t argue with that, though my recollection is that The Descent was a truly massive hit.

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