Must be the season of the witch…
I must begin with an admission. I don’t care for Hitchcock. I shrugged at Psycho and rolled my eyes through the Birds. I don’t know what it is about Hitch and his films that turns me off, but I’ve yet to see a Hitchcock movie that I have enjoyed. There. I’ve said it. So don’t come at me with his name in your mouth. Shush.
Now that is out of the way let’s move on to this. The ten greatest horror movie directors, one of many (or few depending on how lazy I am) articles celebrating that blackest of holidays; Halloween.
Rules here are simple. You must be a director. You must be known primarily for horror movies (no Spielberg for Jaws or Ridley Scott for Alien for example) and you must have at least three feature length films under your belt.
Sit by the fire. Ignore the creaking of floorboards and that scratching sound at the front door. Let’s begin.
10. Ben Wheatley
Key Films: Kill List, Sightseers, High-Rise
Horror is a tough genre in terms of directors. Is Roman Polanski a horror director? Rosemary’s Baby would suggest he is but that was decades ago now. William Friedkin gave us The Exorcist but not much else in terms of horror. With this in mind I kind of struggled with a definitive ten.
Having said that, British director Ben Wheatley has always made interesting, innovative movies and Kill List is a genuine horror classic. If you haven’t seen it, rectify that immediately.
9. James Wan
I actually don’t love the seemingly endless sequels to Insidious and The Conjuring but the fact that James Wan has been at the helm for not one but two wildly successful horror franchises would be enough to get him on this list alone. Add in Saw, perhaps the most iconic horror franchise of it’s generation and we have a sure thing.
Wan perhaps relies too much on funhouse scares and familiar tropes, but there is no denying his ability to produce memorable and affecting horror movies.
8. David Cronenberg
Key Films: The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly
David Cronenberg’s cinematic output is so successful that he has become a verb as well as a genre unto himself. The subset ‘body horror’ has become synonymous with the Canadian horror maestro and anyone who has winced their way through classics films such as Videodrome or The Fly will know just how uncomfortable Cronenberg can make his viewer feel.
A true legend of the horror genre.
7. Mike Flanagan
Perhaps the most little known director on this list but also the most exciting. Flanagan has an inverse Midas touch where everything he touches turns black and starts to decay…
I found it difficult to sit through Oculus such was its ability to frighten and Hush somehow managed to make a villain out of the adorable John Gallagher Jr.
Flanagan’s new and future projects are perhaps the most intriguing however, with a Netflix production of The Haunting of Hill House currently taking the world by storm as well as an adaptation of Stephen King’s Shining sequel Doctor Sleep slated for release in 2020. Exciting times.
6. Tobe Hooper
Key Films: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, Salem’s Lot
Tobe Hooper is a director synonymous with the horror genre. A cursory glance at his filmography reveals work on projects as diverse as the Nightmare on Elm Street TV series Freddy’s Nightmares, a short film called Crocodile and a charming looking movie entitled Toolbox Murders.
Despite his sprawling output, Hooper is mainly known for two of the most iconic horror movies ever made, in the shape of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist. The astonishing thing about Hooper being at the helm for both those movies is just how different they are. One is a cannibalistic horror show as notorious as it is shocking, the other heavily features this woman:
5. M. Night Shyamalan
There is a common criticism of M. Night Shyamalan that all his films follow a similar formula. While there is some truth to that (they tend to have a twist reveal towards the end) there is actually nothing much linking The Sixth Sense and The Visit say, other than they are both fantastically effective horror films.
In terms of box office, Shyamalan is one of the most successful horror directors ever and in The Sixth Sense, he has genuinely delivered an unforgettable horror classic. His current Indian summer is confirmation that he deserves his place on this list.
4. George A. Romero
Key Films: Night of the Living Dead, The Crazies, Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, Day of the Dead, The Dark Half
George A. Romero didn’t invent the zombie but he certainly popularised the idea of hordes of the undead shuffling around very slowly whilst still managing to engage in the occasional murderous rampage.
Romero’s filmography is dominated by the zombie genre but there are other gems out there as well such as the anthology horror Creepshow and the Stephen King adaptation The Dark Half.
I have loved horror from being a teenager and Romero and his Dead films are a big part of that. Watching those films was thrilling and exciting and they still drip with intoxicating danger and shocking innovation even today. Romero is a titan in the horror genre.
3. Sam Raimi
Key Films: The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Darkman, Army of Darkness, Drag Me to Hell
Sometimes the stars align and you are presented with the perfect film in the perfect moment. The scene: a wooden cabin somewhere near Matlock. The protagonist: a reluctant and moody teenager with a shit haircut. The film: The Evil Dead.
It was some kind of divine providence that led me to watch The Evil Dead for the first time ever in an actual cabin in the woods in the middle of a thunderstorm. I adored it of course. I adored it for Bruce Campbell, for the homemade feel and for the fact that it was genuinely terrifying. Nearly two decades later and I still love The Evil Dead. I also love all the sequels and the recently concluded TV show Ash vs Evil Dead.
Sam Raimi revolutionised horror with his low budget classic The Evil Dead and he showed he had lost none of his gruesome instincts when he returned to the horror genre for 2009’s excellent Drag Me To Hell. He also made some pretty good Spiderman films once upon a time…
2. John Carpenter
Key Films: Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Christine, They Live, In The Mouth of Madness
Halloween is my all time second favourite horror film (behind only The Shining). I love the theme (composed by John Carpenter himself), I love Michael Myers as a character. Jamie Lee Curtis is the original and best Final Girl. Even the sequels and the reboots have a certain charm to them.
Not content with directing one classic horror film, John Carpenter also has The Thing under his belt. A movie that is widely regarded as one of the finest horror films of all time. Elsewhere, The Fog is another cult classic, Christine is a first-rate adaptation of an early Stephen King novel and In The Mouth of Madness is one of the great underrated horror films of the ’90s.
John Carpenter gave the world Michael Myers. And now we can never give him back.
1. Wes Craven
Key Films: The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare, Scream, Scream 2
While the names on this list are all prestigious in their own right, when it comes to the title ‘master of horror’, there can only be one…
In the 70’s, Wes Craven defined the exploitation era of horror with two classics; the brutal The Last House on the Left and the iconic The Hills Have Eyes. The 80’s saw Craven drop A Nightmare on Elm Street. A film that would spark one of the most successful horror franchises ever. After a few barren years Craven returned again in the ’90s with Scream. The flick that would herald the return of the slasher genre and the beginning of self referential, tongue-in-cheek horror movies.
Put simply, Wes Craven delighted and terrified audiences for over three decades. I have spent hours upon hours devouring his movies and I will certainly continue to enjoy them for many years to come (until my untimely death in a freak overeating accident at the age of 46).
His passing in 2015 ensures that there will be no new Wes Craven films for us all to enjoy, but his legacy will be continued by the films that made him (in)famous. Rest in piece Wes. I hope Freddy wasn’t up there waiting for you…
And so, the end is upon us. You’ll hear a lot of noise about new horror films this Halloween and some of it will be justified. When all is said and down however, you can’t beat the classics. If you truly want to know what fear feels like, reach back into the filmography of these directors and pull something black and screaming out of the depths.
Ti West (The House of the Devil)
Dardano Sacchetti (Zombie Flesh Eaters)
Don Coscarelli (John Dies at the End)
Tom Holland (Child’s Play)
Rob Zombie (Halloween)
Eli Roth (Hostel)
Stuart Gordon (Reanimator)