Horror is a very tricky genre to pull off. However, there’s a reason that it is also such a prevalent genre in cinema, and that’s because horror is both cheap to produce and serves as a great entryway for otherwise inexperienced directors to get their foot in the Hollywood door.
Oftentimes, this results in many mediocre horror films that come and go without much fanfare, earning $40 million or so and then fading into obscurity. Though, that isn’t always the case. Many great directors have burst onto the scene with spectacular and memorable horror films, and many have gone on to lead very successful careers.
10 The Blair Witch Project (1999) – 86%
Love it or hate it, The Blair Witch Project heralded a new age of filmmaking. Made for between $200,000 and $500,000, The Blair Witch Project amazed both critics and general audiences for its homegrown style of filmmaking, which included throwing cameras into the hands of the actors and watching them work.
It was the directorial debuts of both Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick, both of whom have never been able to replicate its staggering success despite decades in the field.
9 Hereditary (2018) – 89%
As one of the best horror films of the 21st century, Hereditary was widely acclaimed upon release, and it served as the directorial debut of Ari Aster. Aster is a graduate of the American Film Institute’s Conservatory, and his debut couldn’t have made the institution prouder.
Widely praised for its performances and heavy atmosphere, Hereditary holds an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes with the critical consensus reading, “Hereditary uses its classic setup as the framework for a harrowing, uncommonly unsettling horror film whose cold touch lingers long beyond the closing credits”.
8 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – 89%
Arguably the most influential slasher movie ever made (and one that kickstarted a popular franchise), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was made for a measly $80,000 by director Tobe Hooper. Following an experimental film called Eggshells and the documentary Peter Paul and Mary: The Song Is Love, Hooper made his horror movie debut with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and it would become his go-to genre in the future.
Later directing Poltergeist, Hooper proved his capabilities as a horror director and provided cinema lovers with one of the most harrowing films ever made.
7 The Witch (2015) – 90%
Robert Eggers has made a name for himself as one of the greatest modern horror directors, and he debuted with one of the scariest witch movies of all time in The Witch. An exercise in slow-building tension, The Witch stars Anya Taylor-Joy as a Puritan settler who is mistaken as a witch by her religious family.
The movie contains a lot of great imagery and a foreboding atmosphere that proves Eggers’ talent as a technical filmmaker. He also has a commanding control over his actors, generating strong performances from Taylor-Joy and Ralph Ineson.
6 Eraserhead (1977) – 90%
David Lynch debuted with a horror film, although his career would later go in increasingly outlandish and fantastical directions. Made with the help of the American Film Institute, Eraserhead was produced on a measly budget.
However, this only served to highlight Lynch’s incredible invention and keen eye for creativity. The movie is continuously praised for its surreal imagery, heralding the more bizarre films of Lynch’s bright future.
5 The Evil Dead (1981) – 95%
Necessity is the mother of invention. Sam Raimi proves it with The Evil Dead, a sort-of campy, sort-of horrifying zombie film that perfectly blended horror and comedy and was made for a paltry $375,000. The Evil Dead would later be remade/rebooted with Evil Dead II, which was made for $3.5 million and given a far more professional sheen.
However, it’s the raw intensity of the first The Evil Dead that helps make it such a cinematic icon. Its filmmaking can be crude at times, but this crudity fills the film with personality and charm.
4 Halloween (1978) – 96%
John Carpenter wasn’t totally inexperienced when it came time for Halloween. He had two films under his belt – Assault on Precinct 13 and a low budget science fiction comedy called Dark Star. But Halloween was his first foray into horror, and it was the movie that made him a star.
Halloween helped popularize the slasher genre and turned Michael Myers into a cinematic icon. Back in 1978, it was hard to imagine that this little movie made for $300,000 would kickstart a horror franchise still going strong in 2021. Such is the incredible talent and imagination of Carpenter.
3 Night Of The Living Dead (1968) – 97%
George A. Romero, an unknown director of TV commercials from Pittsburgh, would single handedly change the horror genre forever with his seminal zombie film Night of the Living Dead. Produced independently for $114,000, Night of the Living Dead introduced the modern concept of zombies and solidified many of the zombie genre’s tropes.
It’s a little crude and outdated by today’s standards (the black and white photography, cheap makeup, old-fashioned “theatrical” acting), but it’s necessary viewing for anyone with even a slight interest in the history of horror cinema.
2 Get Out (2017) – 98%
Before Get Out, director Jordan Peele was largely known as a comedian. No one considered that the funny man from Key & Peele could make a good horror movie, let alone one that left behind such an incredible legacy.
That all changed when Get Out became a resounding success, earning critical acclaim for its race-based satire, genuine scares, and Peele’s confident direction. It went on to gross $250 million and earn Peele a very unexpected Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
1 The Babadook (2014) – 98%
The Babadook served as the directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent. Kent was a prominent television actress before losing interest in the art and veering into filmmaking. After studying under Lars von Trier, Kent made an independent short film called Monster, which in turn became The Babadook.
The debut was widely praised for its performances and thematic material, blending visceral horror and nightmarish sights with a personal story about grief. The Babadook is both horror film and metaphor about the debilitating effects of depression, and it all worked to perfection.
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