Near Dark (1987), F/M Entertainment // GIPHY
Near Dark (1987), F/M Entertainment // GIPHY

12 Directors Who Started Out Making Horror Movies

Near Dark (1987), F/M Entertainment // GIPHY
Near Dark (1987), F/M Entertainment // GIPHY

In the conversation of films that can rightly be considered art, those that fall into the horror genre are often ignored. Very few horror movies have been nominated for Academy Awards in categories other than Best Makeup or Best Special Effects. And unless it’s an established franchise, most studios are not in the business of investing large sums of money into scary movies.

Following the financial success of low-budget, indie movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, the market became flooded with writers and directors looking to be discovered so that they could one day move up to making big-budget blockbusters. But the horror genre has a long history with first-class talent, having kickstarted the careers of some of today's most acclaimed filmmakers. Here are 12 well-known directors who cut their teeth on blood, suspense, and jump scares.


Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Sam Raimi is sort of the gimme on this list because he has not technically left the genre, yet still deserves to be mentioned. Before directing films like The Quick and the Dead (1995), A Simple Plan (1998), Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), and the Spider-man trilogy in the early to mid-2000s, Raimi created and starred in a horror comedy called It’s Murder (1977). He followed that project up with The Evil Dead trilogy, which is still regarded as one of the greatest and most influential film trilogies of all time.


Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images

Speaking of The Evil Dead (1981): Joel Coen worked as Sam Raimi’s assistant editor on the original film in 1981, and the same year he also assisted on the Frank LaLoggia horror film, Fear No Evil. Joel, alongside his brother Ethan, would go on to create an eclectic slate of quirky films in a variety of genres, including Raising Arizona (1987), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).


Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images

One does not simply direct Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), or JFK (1991) right out of film school. Oliver Stone fought in Vietnam for the United States Army, and when he returned he studied under Scorsese and others at New York University. He wrote and directed a short about Vietnam in 1971, and two of his next three projects were horror films: Seizure (1974) and The Hand (1981).


Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Best known as the director and producer of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, Peter Jackson’s first three films were horror, though he admits that he did not take them seriously. In a 2010 interview with The Telegraph, Jackson spoke candidly about Bad Taste (1987), Meet the Feebles (1989) and Braindead (1992): “I call them splat-stick," said Jackson. "To me, they were a joke. We enjoyed being crazy and anarchic and upsetting the people we wanted to upset in those days. But, big puppets having sex? It’s harmless, surely.”


Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Before Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009), James Cameron was developing his directing style with bites and frights. His theatrical feature film directorial debut was Piranha II: The Spawning (1981), which he followed up with two little films called The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986).


Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA

In 1987, Kathryn Bigelow (who was married to James Cameron from 1989 to 1991) found herself knee-deep in vampire lore while making her second feature, Near Dark. Of the film and the director’s efforts, Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club writes: “It’s a thrilling demonstration of how deftly Bigelow can take a subgenre as overharvested as the vampire film and make it seem fruitful once again ... Bigelow finds a way to reconcile two very different kinds of vampire stories: the seductive, all-consuming romance of the Dracula myth with its promise of eternal love, and the fang-bearing, blood-soaked viscera of an out-and-out horror movie.”


Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

After making a low-budget sci-fi film called Firelight (1964) as a teenager, Steven Spielberg moved to Los Angeles and started working in television. In 1971, Spielberg got the opportunity to direct Duel, a TV movie about a driver being stalked by a tanker truck that walks the line between thriller and horror. A reviewer for The Guardian wrote that the climax of the film “sent shivers through even my generally unsusceptible spine. The best horror story in town.” The Sunday Telegraph praised Spielberg’s work and saw his potential, writing that “the director, Steven Spielberg, new to me but starred for future reference, has made in effect a striking horror film out of everyday ingredients.”


Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Before becoming one of the go-to directors for superhero and comic book films, Zack Snyder directed TV commercials. In 2004 he directed the remake of George A. Romero’s zombie flick Dawn of the Dead, from a script by James Gunn. Roger Ebert said the film was “slicker and more polished” than the original, but did not have the same “mordant humor." Speaking of James Gunn ...


Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Variety

Though Gunn is best known these days as the guy who wrote and directed Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and is currently working on the sequel, Gunn got his start at legendary horror house Troma, where he wrote the script for Tromeo and Juliet. In 2006, Gunn wrote and directed his first film, the horror-comedy Slither.

10. J.J. ABRAMS 

Mike Windle/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

As a kid, J.J. Abrams loved movies and would write in to his favorite magazine, Cinemagic, to request articles and ask the editors questions. In the early 1980s, the magazine’s founder offered him a job making music for the 1982 Troma film, Nightbeast.


A Christmas Story (1983) will be a lasting part of Bob Clark’s legacy, but for horror fans, the work he did in the 1970s is just as important. Films like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) and Deathdream (1974) got him notice, but Black Christmas (1974), one of the first slasher films, became a cult classic and earned him a dedicated following.

Clark said in an interview that John Carpenter asked him if he had considered making a sequel to Black Christmas. “I was through with horror," Clark explained. "I didn't come into the business to do just horror.” Carpenter asked him what the sequel would be like if he did want to make one, and Clark gave him an idea that should sound very familiar to fans of the genre: “I said it would be the next year and the guy would have actually been caught, escape from a mental institution, go back to the house and they would start all over again. And I would call it Halloween."


Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Oscar-winning filmmaker Curtis Hanson said that his first professional writing job was for a Roger Corman film called The Dunwich Horror (1970). He and producer Tamara Asseyev later collaborated on the Sweet Kill (1972). Hanson then moved more toward mysteries and thrillers, directing The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), L.A. Confidential (1997), and 8 Mile (2002).

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  


Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  


Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain
9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.


In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.


Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.


A deep well

Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.


In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.


Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.


In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.


An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.


In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.


These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.


More from mental floss studios