As a lover of the horror genre, I thought I would present to you some of my favorite horror directors. I discovered in making this list a few problematic things that many would point out about the genre. Mainly the lack of women and people of color representation when it comes to directors. I don’t want to get on too much of a soapbox, but this is something the genre needs to work on. I wanted to acknowledge the problem and still make a list, so with that in mind.
Oh, extra notes, this is a list of directors so notable names might seem left out, such as Clive Barker, but it’s because I consider them more of an asset to the genre in other forms (writer in the case of Mr. Barker). Also acknowledge that as much as I would love to have, I haven’t seen every horror movie, so a few directors have been left out because I just haven’t seen enough of their work. Also, realize that I know there are great directors that I might have left out because I had to edit myself at some point.
With all these warnings here we go.
George A. Romero
Look, I loathe being one of those “if you don’t like, you don’t get it, people,” but for Romero, I make an exception. He created the zombie genre as we know it and everything that has spun off since Night of the Living Dead owes at the very least some credit to him. Aside from the fact that he basically invented a sub-genre, he also made some damn good flicks. Even if he’s not a must-see director to some people, he is someone that deserves our love and our praise, and the horror world suffers a significant loss in his absence.
Two of my favorite horror films were directed by Carpenter, and I recognized his talent for balancing out the suspense that older horror fans grew up on as well as kills which newer horror fans demanded. More than many others, he managed to strike a balance between what differing horror fans wanted/desired. Carpenter never makes the same movie twice, and yet always manages to make an impact. If it’s not one of the greatest slasher flicks (Halloween), it’s one of the greats Lovecraftian horrors (In the Mouth of Madness), or it’s super entertaining if not as scary (The Fog), or just one of the ideal horror movies (The Thing). I cannot overstate how much I love John Carpenter, or how much he manages to scare me.
If I had to pick one of the worst scenes I have ever experienced as a horror fan, it would be the needles used to keep the girl’s eyes open in Opera. Argento’s films are all over the place. They can be artistic, they can be gory, they can be cruel; no matter what they manage to do they are very likely unforgettable.
While Wes Craven was good at many things, he was great at two. He practically invented the meta-horror sub-genre. For better or worse Scream and A New Nightmare were pretty much the archetype when they came out as far as meta-horror is concerned. The other thing he did well but doesn’t get nearly enough credit for is comedy in horror. He was not always successful in these efforts (Last House on the Left), but Wes Craven has always attempted to tickle the humor bone of horror fans. When he succeeded, he nailed it. Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most disturbingly hilarious movies I have ever seen. He didn’t make horror comedies (like Shaun of the Dead), he made very dark movies and then gave us something to laugh at in the middle of them. It’s significantly more disturbing that way. In his spare time, he also did movies outside of the scope of those two talents that were also amazing.
Guillermo Del Toro
I was hesitant when calling Del Toro a horror movie director. Conventional wisdom says he is, and it’s not exactly wrong, but it often doesn’t feel right either. You have easy to call it movies like Mimic (a personal favorite of mine), but then you have movies like Pan’s Labyrinth that defies what a horror movie is in so many ways and then embraces it in so many others. Del Toro’s films are complicated and often hard to define, but it’s part of what makes me love the horror of them more. He is not willing to accept normal convention in any format especially not genre.
I could not write this list without adding Hitchcock. I love Hitchcock. He was a master of his craft. From the shocking ending of Psycho to his brilliance in taking something seemingly mundane with The Birds and making me afraid every time I saw a group of crows. Some would argue that most of his films would be more “thriller” in this day and age, and yet Rear Window still offers some of the most stressful scenes I have ever seen. The man scares me like few others.
The first time I watched Shivers, it made me uncomfortable but also made me laugh (at things I shouldn’t laugh at, to be honest). The first time I watched The Fly, it made me cry a little. I am still uncertain what to do with Dead Ringers or Videodrome. The point is the first time I have watched any of Cronenberg’s films I have been entirely out of my element, and it rarely changes on repeat viewings. I keep coming back because he has something that draws me in. The struggle with my reaction to films is only a benefit in my mind.
These are directors that have not had many horror films but have been outstanding with their outings thus far, and I am both nervous and excited to see how else they invade my nightmares
Not just an excellent showing for a first-time horror director but first time director period. This movie is well beyond just a normal horror film for all the themes it explores. I already knew that Jordan Peele was talented, but I so want him to dive back into horror now. He has been tapped in various behind the camera roles for various projects since the success of Get Out, but I can’t wait for him to tackle this genre as a director again. If he does decide to forgo the horror director role, maybe at least the horror writer cap *fingers crossed*
The Invitation might be one of the best modern horror films I have ever seen. It builds tension in a way that few other films can without the use of gore. The sense of foreboding that follows as you watch this film is impossible to escape. Not only that but the climax delivers in every way. This film sticks with me, and it’s frankly brilliant. I am waiting with baited breath to see what else she might bring.
So, Harron has hardly been out of the directing game, but she had an early horror bang and then seems to have taken a different turn in her career (I don’t know if it’s by choice or not). Either way, she did a phenomenal job bringing American Psycho to life, and I would love to see her behind the camera for another great serial killer flick. If it’s her own choice that she hasn’t gone there again then I understand, if others have held her back then get out of the way let her genius grace us, please.
So she is in honorable mentions vs. the others due to the lack of knowledge of her works. The only thing I have seen of her’s is American Mary. Now I have some issues with this movie and how it presents the body modification community, but based on directing alone it’s top notch. Even with my problems, I find it a fairly unique and entertaining film, and I concede that I don’t believe it’s negativity toward body mod enthusiasts was entirely intentional. Soska seems like she has a rising career in the horror world, and I am hoping this is the case. I am also curious about what I have missed from her.
Much like Soska, I haven’t seen enough of his works. You’re Next is a stand out as far as the genre goes though. It turns expectations on their head, and I hope that he might have another hit like that coming soon.
Blackburn is behind the oft-forgotten Kristy. It is similar to You’re Next in how it plays with the genre, but less appreciated. I think both films are comparable in the creativity and talent behind them, and I don’t think it’s fair that Kristy is ignored in favor of You’re Next. Give me more, please!
Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
If I had to name one underrated modern horror film, I would be hard-pressed to pick between The Invitation and The Void. The Void hits everything and hits it so damn well. It’s dark, it’s suspenseful, it’s fucked up, it’s multi-genre, it’s a horror movie for horror movie fans, it’s Lovecraftian, short of getting the horror movie gods to bless it I can’t imagine what else this movie could do. It wasn’t the duos first outing, but it’s so good and shows that the two have so much potential. Just give me more.
So did I mention some of your favorite directors in horror? Did I leave some out? What are some of your favorite films by the directors listed? Let me know in the comments.