Six Promising Directorial Debuts of Questionable Filmmakers

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 12, 2012

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Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in "Speed"

The Seventh Victim (1943): Late in his career, Mark Robson made the camp classic Valley of the Dolls and Earthquake, arguably the nadir of ’70s disaster movies. Few would immediately ID him as the same filmmaker who made this goth-friendly mood piece about a coven of Greenwich Satanists. Robson cut his teeth first as an assistant editor for Orson Welles, then for the almost-as-brilliant, no-budget RKO producer Val Lewton, helming not only Victim but also the horrors The Ghost Ship, Isle of the Dead and more. Robson wandered far from his origins, and although he was twice nominated for directing Oscars, one of them was for Peyton Place.

Messiah of Evil (1973): Writer-director Willard Huyck hasn’t worked much since Howard the Duck , which is understandable. (He also made the notoriously ramshackle early Eddie Murphy-Dudley Moore bomb Best Defense.) But this George Lucas pal—who also co-wrote American Graffiti—made, along with wife Gloria Katz, a dreamlike debut, one of the few horror films to feel faithfully H.P. Lovecraftian (and without actually adapting him).

The Duellists (1977): Yes, Ridley Scott made Alien and Blade Runner. He also made 1492, A Good Year and Robin Hood, possibly the most boring movie of all time. In short, he’s sketchy, even within his decent films. But he kicked off his career with great confidence, adapting a Joseph Conrad short into a dense and gorgeous period thriller that even overcame the bizarre casting of broad-accented Yanks Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel among a cast of Brits.

Roger & Me (1989): Or maybe Michael Moore simply didn’t seem obnoxious and unfunny the first time.

Tremors (1990): With a neo-monster movie perfectly calibrated between funny and terrifying, Ron Underwood seemed to have laid claim to resourceful modern genre entertainments. But for some reason he then made corn: City Slickers and Heart and Souls. And, most sadly, The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

Speed (1994): Jan de Bont was a first-rate cinematographer who palled around with Paul Verhoeven and turned Die Hard into one of the greatest cinemascope films ever made. Unfortunately, he went Icarus: Following a fleet directing debut, he proceeded directly to Twister, Speed 2, The Haunting and the second Tomb Raider. He hasn’t worked since 2003. Good work, hubris.

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