Pierre Tsigaridis’ striking debut feature TWO WITCHES is a truly terrifying – and very funny – horror treat, that mixes Sam Raimi-style thrills with Argento-esque stylings to come up with one of the most original and purely entertaining fright films in recent memory – it’s so good you’ll watch it twice.
Delivering genuine jolts from the get go, with an audacious interlinked narrative, and an outstanding central performance from Rebekah Kennedy, Tsigaridis’ film looks set to join the illustrious ranks of previous genre debuts that have left a bloodied mark on the film map. To celebrate the release of TWO WITCHES on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, here are ten of the best horror debuts ever, featuring zombies, knife wielding lunatics, creatures from the beyond, and, of course, witches, plural.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1969)
George A Romero’s stark, dark, black-and-white zombie film is a key example of how you don’t need an enormous budget to make a nifty, thoroughly entertaining horror film – just a farmhouse, a handful of actors, a vivid imagination, resourcefulness and a great script. Blending social commentary with vivid shocks, and shot through with the sort of nihilism that would come to characterise cinema of the Seventies, Night of the Living Dead is a bona fide horror classic.
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)
The directorial debut of Wes Craven, the man behind such horror favourites as A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and Scream, The Last House on the Left justly retains its reputation as one of the most harrowing cinematic experiences of all time, nearly half a century on from its original release. Unleashed on an unsuspecting public in the early Seventies, it shocked audiences with its graphic and unflinching violence, paving the way for a whole host of cheap imitators looking to capitalise on its success. It is Wes Craven’s original alone, however, that remains one of the true watershed moments in horror (and indeed, film) history.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking first horror film, a massive hit when it was released, sees a camper van full of friends run afoul of the Sawyer clan – including a former slaughterhouse worker, a mummified mother and the infamous skin-masked Leatherface, a man-child who enjoys chasing his victims around with a chain saw, before slinging them on a meat hook before they are turned into barbecued goods. Nerve-wracking, blackly hilarious, and brilliantly entertaining, Chainsaw is a film that fans never tire of rewatching.
THE EVIL DEAD (1981)
Young director Sam Raimi scrabbled together some cash – from investors, off the back of a horror short that was the basis for his first feature – and headed off into the woods with his actor pal Bruce Campbell, a movie camera, and a few dozen buckets of blood. They came back out with The Evil Dead in the can, and the rest is low budget horror movie history. Quite unlike anything that had been before – a gore film with Three Stooges slapstick and unbearably scary moments – that, as Stephen King famously put it on his invaluable poster quote was “the most ferociously original horror film of 1982”. Or any other year for that matter.
Clive Barker’s debut film, a nightmarish vision of flesh ripping demons wreaking havoc on a suburban household, was unleashed on cinema audiences in 1987, and became a box office sensation, spawning numerous sequels, a legion of devoted fans and turning Pinhead into a horror icons alongside the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Barker’s taut, twisted script, adapted from his story The Hellbound Heart, coupled with his remarkably deft direction (belying the fact this was his debut) ensures a film dripping with dread, and bursting with inventive set pieces and bloody imagery – including the appearance of the gruesome Cenobites, summoned by the infamous gold puzzle box, and their metal hooked torture devices.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1998)
One of the first films to harness the power of the internet for promotion, the producers cheekily blurred the lines between fact and fiction, suggesting that the film was actual footage shot by three film students who had gone missing in the woods. The Blair Witch Project was subject to a serious buzz before anyone outside of film festivals had even seen it, meaning that by the time it was released, audiences were eager to see what all the fuss was about. Thankfully, it was clever, funny, and very very frightening. This was the little picture that could… scare the life out of cinemagoers.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell came, they Saw, and they conquered with this low budget, gruesome horror thriller. Promoted by a tantalising advertising campaign – ‘Dare you see Saw?’ – this devilishly effective and gory film (which cost $1.2) took over one hundred million dollars worldwide, turned Jigsaw into a horror star, and was followed by a series of sequels and spin-offs, as well as numerous rip-offs.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2010)
A horror film shot on a camcorder that features footage of people sleeping doesn’t sound too enticing – but Oren Peli’s film was a box office sensation, mainly due to the fact it was scary as hell. Featuring some skin-crawlingly frightening dabbling with the occult, and bolstered by naturalistic performances from the lead actors as a couple being terrorised in their suburban home by supernatural forces, Paranormal Activity became a horror movie phenomenon, spawning numerous sequels and giving anyone who watched it a sleepless night or ten.
THE WITCH (2015)
Robert Eggers’ eerie 17th-century spine-tingler was also the featuring film starring debut of Ana Taylor-Joy (Queen’s Gambit), starring as a young girl whose family are expelled from a Puritan settlement and must carve out a new life for themselves in the forest wilderness… which is where their troubles really begin, after her baby brother is stolen by a witch who lives deep in the woods. A beautifully shot, wonderfully realised horror fairytale, Eggers’ remarkably unsettling first film resonates deep in the mind long after viewing.
TWO WITCHES (2021)
Expectant young mother Sarah is convinced she has been given the evil eye from a mysterious blank-eyed old hag while she is dining with her partner Simon. When the couple go to visit his new-agey friends Dustin and Melissa, dark forces are unleashed after an ill-advised attempt at consulting a Ouija board to allay her fears. Meanwhile, tensions grow between grad school student Rachel and her new roommate Masha after a violent incident involving a man that the strange and impulsive young woman has brought home. Director Pierre Tsigaridis effectively delivers two films for the price of one in his deliriously assured debut, announcing himself as a horror director of note, and TWO WITCHES as a sure contender for the horror debut hall of fame.