It’s so common to hear someone talking about how a band’s first album was so great that everything else paled in comparison. After all, that band had their whole life to come up with the material for the first album and often only a year or two to come up with the material for the next.
The same is absolutely true with directorial debuts. Some directors find their first film a flop, perhaps owing to lack of experience, but then go from strength-to-strength in their career, but others start things with a bang. These are some of our very favorite directorial debuts from the horror genre:
Cheap Thrills, 2013, E.L Katz
Cheap Thrills focuses entirely on the premise of betting. This might not seem particularly terrifying, but in his directorial debut E.L. Katz creates a betting game unlike any we’ve ever seen before. Far from the relatively sedentary land of free bet offers, online bonuses, or horse racing, this film instead pits two friends against each other in what turns out to be a fight to the death.
Craig, a recently homeless mechanic, heads to a bar to drown his sorrows, where he bumps into an old friend from high school, Vince. The pair share a drink together and before long run into the bad guys of the film, husband and wife Colin and Violet. The group begin to chat and Colin and Violet learn of Craig’s financial woes. As it’s Violet’s birthday, Colin offers to pay Craig and Vince to keep Violet entertained by completing a series of challenges.
The challenges start out with a simple 50 bucks for whoever downs a shot first, but the betting quickly escalates. We won’t spoil it for you by revealing all of the tasks that the duo of friends are asked to carry out, but suffice to say that even for a black comedy this is pretty dark.
The Blair Witch Project, 1999, Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez
It seems incredible that a film as massively influential as The Blair Witch Project could be a directorial debut, but it is, and not just for one, but two directors! Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez broke boundaries when they made this film, pioneering the found footage concept. Before this, found footage films didn’t really exist, certainly not in the full mainstream as this horror classic would turn out to be.
For those who’ve been living under a rock, The Blair Witch Project centers around a group of students who set out to film a class project about the Blair Witch; a local legend that they’re fairly sure they can use to make something pretty spooky. Unfortunately for them, the group go missing, and all that’s left of them is the film footage which is found a year later. The viewer gets to see the ‘raw’ footage from the project, watching with increasing terror as the legend of the Blair Witch appears to come true.
It’s edge of your seat viewing, truly unsettling and undoubtedly one of the best found-footage concept films out there. Not bad for a first try!
Get Out, 2017, Jordan Peele
In terms of directorial debuts, Jordan Peele absolutely hit the ground running with his smash horror Get Out. It was in the top ten most-profitable films of 2017, with a budget of just $4.5 million and a net profit of a staggering $124.8 million. Horror films aren’t notorious for making the top 10, so for a first try this really was quite the achievement.
Get Out centers around Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, a young black photographer who is going to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s family, played by Allison Williams. The premise sounds standard enough, but the horrifying secrets that Chris uncovers about Rose’s family are blood-bloodcurdlingly weird.
The film makes a difficult-to-swallow comment on racism in the US, but takes it to a slightly paranormal level. It’s great to see modern horror films dealing with tricky subjects like this, with the recent success Parasite building on this and proving that horror films deserve to be taken seriously, debuts or not.