All horror fans have their favorite directors. We root for these guys. They’re the names we saw over and over again when we started diving into the genre. For many of us, they were the first directors we ever learned about. Wes Craven and John Carpenter were the first two filmmakers who’s careers I felt the need to follow. It was almost like putting puzzle pieces together. You’d see that A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream were made by the same person, and so a picture began to form.
While I love all genres, we’re here to talk horror movies and even though I love the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson, I feel more passionate toward the filmography of George Romero and Dario Argento, even though both have had as many misses in recent years as hits.
We call the masters of horror masters for a reason. They’re the founding fathers. They’re the biggest names in the genre. To people like us, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Barker and the like are rock stars. Which is a good thing, too, because—perhaps with the recent exception of Cronenberg—the industry as a whole certainly doesn’t see them as such.
But these people did have enough credit from their horror films to prove themselves to studios, however late in their careers, as people who were just good directors, no matter the genre. It was a late revelation, but an important one and one that allowed these talented creators to work outside the genre that made them famous.
Wes Craven – Music of the Heart
Music of the Heart is probably not riveting for the average horror fan, but it was a pretty major production. This one starred Meryl Streep and, of course, she was nominated for an Academy Award for it. The story’s actually pretty straightforward: A woman teaches violin to wayward inner city kids, bringing them together, all learning something about themselves in the process. It’s a very optimistic piece from the man that brought us The Last House on the Left.
Carpenter had branched out before this with films like Escape from New York and Starman, both of which are great, and while Starman shows his horror roots the least, Big Trouble shows the best of what he can do outside crafting tension and scares. This is a big, fun action comedy. It’s far removed from the dread of Halloween and nihilism of The Thing, but at the same time it is so Carpenter.
James Wan – Furious 7
James Wan is the youngest director on the list but he has already proven himself as a modern master of genre filmmaking. He’s now created three hugely lucrative horror franchises with Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring. And he completely turned around to give us Furious 7, which was everything his horror features weren’t: light, funny, over-the-top popcorn entertainment. And even then, he knocked it out of the park. I can’t wait to see what he does with Aquaman.
George Romero – Knightriders
Knightriders is probably one of the most insane movies ever made. I think everyone needs to see it. It’s pretty much about knights on motorcycles. That’s the whole gimmick. The film is kind of like an Arthurian take on Mad Max. It also boasts the best performance Romero ever got out of Tom Savini. For that reason and so many others, I think it’s something that people who only know Romero from his zombie flicks really owe it to themselves to check out.
Clive Barker – Gods and Monsters
Apart from being a brilliant horror writer, director and artist, Clive Barker is also one of the best producers in the business. He has an amazing eye for material and talent. He’d been shown the book Father of Frankenstein about Frankenstein director James Whale’s twilight years, and took it to Bill Condon, who asked if Barker would produce the film if he directed, and Barker agreed. Condon had previously worked under Barker as producer while directing Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. The picture itself is a fascinating biopic that wound up winning an Oscar for best screenplay.
Stuart Gordon & Brian Yuzna – Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
That’s right. The team that created the gory, hilarious and immortal Re-Animator were also the guys behind the Rick Moranis being a terrible father franchise, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Gordon was initially supposed to direct the film himself, but that was apparently before the producers saw any of his previous work. Still, he crafted the story and he and Yuzna worked on the script together. Gordon did wind up directing episodes of the TV series that followed.
Dario Argento – Once Upon a Time in the West
Before making a name for himself as one of the biggest Italian horror directors of all time with films like Suspiria, Deep Red and Tenebre, Argento started out as a screenwriter for one of the biggest, most revered spaghetti westerns of all time, Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s not something he’s always remembered for, but it does show that he has a long history in cinema, and a love that stretches beyond the genre in which he made himself known.
Everything David Cronenberg has done for the past twenty years
I tried to narrow it down to one, I really did. But I couldn’t. Of all the great masters of horror, Cronenberg is the only one who left the genre behind permanently. All of his films in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s still had elements of horror, but were approaching wider and wider topics. Crash and Naked Lunch are weird movies, but they’re not horror by any stretch of the imagination. ExistenZ was sort of his send off to body horror and even that was treated as more action/sci-fi. After that, he never looked back, moving onto Oscar-nominated thrillers like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method.