Most directors would say they were born to make movies, but the life-history of New Zealand film-maker Scott Reynolds seems more inevitable than most. "Both my parents worked at the Hollywood cinema in Auckland," he explains, "and they took me along with them when I was still a baby. One of my earliest memories is watching a double bill of The Incredible Shrinking Man and A Fistful of Dollars."

By the time Reynolds was 14 years old, he too could say he was working "in Hollywood". Even if it was the Auckland Hollywood. "I got my training from watching Scorsese, Hitchcock and Kubrick. From 14 to 23 I worked as a projectionist. I showed The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday and Saturday night, every week for six years."

Watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show that many times would be enough to make anyone homicidal, but Reynolds attributes The Ugly - his horrific directorial debut - to his younger thrill-seeking self. "The Ugly is for the 17-year-old Scott Reynolds," he says. "In my teens I was big on horror and slasher movies so I kind of had to get it out of my system."

Happily, the New Zealand Film Commission enjoyed what came out, and agreed to fund the psychological slasher movie. "The Ugly has lots of blood and people from beyond the grave hanging out in it and no cultural value," Reynolds admits cheerfully, "but they were sensible enough to look at the script. They thought it could be a good film and maybe it could make them some money. I respect the Film Commission for realising that New Zealand's film industry needs The Ugly as much as The Piano."

With The Ugly, released this week, Reynolds is lucky to be able to surf the slasher revival that followed Wes Craven's Scream. But he remains aware of the general B-movie bad-mouthing of the horror genre. "Even fans will admit there's a certain schlock factor that goes with it," he sighs, "but I'm proud of The Ugly. I'm proud to call it a horror film, but I don't think its just about a man running around with a razor killing people. It goes deeper than that. It mixes past and present, plays with people's perceptions and expectations."

Set in a hospital artfully made to look as though it were "designed by a madman", The Ugly features a hand-picked cast of unknowns, even within the relatively small star pool of New Zealand. "A lot of our local stars did audition for a role," remembers Reynolds, "and everybody said, 'look, it doesn't matter, once it's out of New Zealand, nobody's going to recognise these people anyway'. But I think you have to answer to your home base first. I care what people in Christchurch and Auckland think. If I'd cast our leading soap opera star as Simon, The Serial Killer, the moment he raised his head and looked into the camera, our audience would have killed themselves laughing."

One of his team is lawyer turned actress Rebecca Hobbs, who plays the psychiatric doctor sent to examine Simon. "It was really important for me to have a strong female character," says Reynolds. "I wanted to make the film a game of wits between them and Rebecca's legal training gave her just the right air of authority."

While Hobbs may be no scream queen, Simon still succeeds in bumping off a collection of vulnerable women. Isn't The Ugly conforming to the misogynist slasher stereotype there just a little? "The Ugly isn't just about a guy running round killing bimbos," argues Reynolds. "We don't delve too deeply into nudity. Simon doesn't molest any of the people he kills either. There's not even that Silence of the Lambs sexual connection between Rebecca's female professional and the killer. It's more subtle."

Psychologically maybe, but the throat-slitting is enough to put some squeamish viewers off their popcorn. "The killings are very nasty," agrees Reynolds. "That's because I hate movies where you see the guy flash the razor and then just see the blood splash the wall. That's such a cop out. It's like, 'do you know how terrifying it would be to see someone get their throat cut?' Well this is how terrifying. I go for the shock factor. Like the jaguar chasing the zebra, that 10 seconds of the kill."

Despite such graphic bloodletting. Reynolds' first film displays all the murky ambiguity and suspense of the best psychological thrillers. "You know," grins Reynolds, "if someone deconstructed The Ugly I'm sure there would be things that even I didn't know were in there. Film-making for me is totally instinctive; I'd be the worst person to write a thesis on The Ugly. You hear these great theories about The Day of the Dead being a comment on contemporary society, but I mean, man, at the end of the day it's a zombie movie."

'The Ugly' is on release