Movies & TV

7 Megastar Directors and the Low-Budget Horror Films That Started Their Careers

From little acorns, giant mutant spiders grow
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Everyone's got to start somewhere, and so it is that many of the biggest directors working today started with low-budget horror movies.

It could be because there's a built-in audience for cheap genre films, it might be that horror fans forgive scrappy aesthetics, or that horror is a brilliant place to show off your personal style and flair as a director.

Either way the trend isn't going away—Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts started with horror film Clown, Rogue One's Gareth Edwards' debut was Monsters, while James Wan, who's taking on Aquaman, made his breakout with Saw.

Here are seven of the biggest movie directors and the teeny horror movies that helped build their careers.

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1| James Gunn: Slither

Best known as the anarchic director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn cut his teeth working for notorious schlock factory Troma, where he penned the screenplay for Tromeo and Juliet.

His directorial debut was Slither, starring Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker (a.k.a. Yondu) and an at-the-time-not-very-famous Elizabeth Banks. It's about an alien invasion of slug-like parasites which turn people into mindless zombies. It's very good, actually.

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2| Kathryn Bigelow: Near Dark

Long before she became the first (and still only) woman to win the Oscar for best director for The Hurt Locker, Bigelow broke out with horror western Near Dark.

This was actually her second film after co-directing The Loveless, starring Willem Dafoe. It's a gritty, dirty sexy vampire romance, starring Bill Paxton and Adrian Pasdar. It's Bigelow's first solo effort and reportedly the producer Edward S. Feldman told her she'd be fired after five days if she didn't know what she was doing. She kept her job.

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3| Peter Jackson: Bad Taste

Peter Jackson is so far the highest-grossing director of the 21st century. Rewind to 1987, though, and his directorial debut was Bad Taste, a schlocky, gory, glorious and disgusting low-budget alien-invasion movie.

Set and shot in Jackson's native New Zealand, it sees a bunch of ETs infiltrating a small town with designs on harvesting humans for their intergalactic fast-food chain. Quite the hike from Middle Earth, but a calling card that opened doors.

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4| James Cameron: Piranha II: The Spawning

The proud creator of the two highest-grossing movies of all time (Avatar and Titanic), the movie legend made his directorial debut on cheesy sequel Piranha 2: The Spawning.

In this follow-up the deadly killer fish have spread into the ocean and somehow developed wings, making them a flying menace on land as well as in the sea. Cameron's second feature was The Terminator, and he hasn't looked back since.

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5| Sam Raimi: The Evil Dead

He's now a prolific producer, running Ghost House Pictures (which made the excellent Don't Breathe last year), but in the early 2000s he was partly responsible for the resurgent boom in superhero movies as his Spider-Man series proved both critically and financially successful.

His first feature film was comedy horror It's Murder! and he followed this up with The Evil Dead.

Shot on a shoestring with his mate Bruce Campbell as the lead, it was a massive success which has now formed its own franchise, including a remake and the TV series Ash Vs The Evil Dead.

Fun fact: Joel Coen also cut his teeth on The Evil Dead—he was the assistant editor, before he and his brother went on to direct Blood Simple. Raimi and the Coens have been friends for years, with Raimi penning the script for the Coens' comedy The Hudsucker Proxy.

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6| Steven Spielberg: Duel

He's one of the biggest and most important and influential directors working today. But like all the best directors, he started out in genre.

His feature-film debut was an adaptation of the Richard Matheson story Duel, about a driver on a remote highway stalked by a tanker with an unseen driver. It's lean and highly tense horror-thriller which we're frankly amazed hasn't been remade.

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7| Oliver Stone: Seizure

Best known for his war epics (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July) and political biopics (JFK, Nixon, W.), Stone's feature debut in 1974 was Seizure, which he also wrote. It's a black-comedy horror about a writer whose characters (Queen of Evil, a dwarf called Spider and a strongman called Jackal) come to life and terrorise his family.

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He followed that up with The Hand, another horror, starring Michael Caine as a man whose hand get chopped off in a car accident. The hand returns to take revenge on his enemies (or does it?). It's actually better than it sounds.

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This story originally appeared on Digital Spy.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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