Horror has a notoriously welcoming community. It’s known for being the starting space for many independent filmmakers, giving them the freedom to explore the industry and have a great time doing it. Some of the most widely recognized voices in film today started there, and we think a few of them should get back into the game and amp up the scares. Check out our list below for 12 directors who once made a horror film (or a handful) and who should almost definitely make more.
Adrian Lyne – Jacob’s Ladder
Few directors capture the grit and grime of big cities quite like Adrian Lyne. Jacob’s Ladder is a film that feels covered in a layer of filth and ash, so much so that the presence of demons feels like a natural extension of the city. Jacob’s Ladder remains one of the most frightening films of the ’90s, largely because of Lyne’s ability to puncture of sense of the familiar and an unfamiliar sense of isolation and claustrophobia. Lyne creates grounded hellscapes mired in a beautiful mystique. There’s a scene in Fatal Attraction where Dan and Alex are walking through behind buildings in the meat packing district that serves as an early introduction to Lyne’s ability to create a setting steeped in decay and a sense of foreboding. It’s been 15 years since Lyne has made a film, and we hope that when he does return, it’s with a new story of lost souls ensnared in urban terror.
Steven Spielberg – Duel
Spielberg’s Duel is a master in his infancy. Originally a TV movie, its runtime was expanded to feature length once the studio saw how good it was. It’s a simple tale of a salesman being stalked by a truck driver with a grudge as he traverses the highways of middle of nowhere USA. Anchored by a fantastic central performance by Dennis Weaver, Duel is a classic piece of pared down, no frills horror. Spielberg was 25 when he made Duel, but it has such confidence and skill, it’s hard to believe the film was made well before his 30th birthday. Spielberg is still a master making movies in his 70s, but it’s been so long since he made a horror movie we can only hope he’ll return to the genre to show us all how it’s done.
Kathryn Bigelow – Near Dark
30 years ago, Kathryn Bigelow directed her first solo film, Near Dark, a veritable classic that brought fresh blood to the vampire subgenre. Set among a dark Midwestern backdrop, Caleb the reluctant fledgling becomes involved with a misfit group of vampires. There he must contend with his recent transition, a strange relationship with Mae, and a badass named Severen (Bill Paxton) who’d rather see him dead. Near Dark has earned a cult following thanks to its poetic, stylish mix of genres and beloved characters. These days Bigelow is best known for her war films Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Detroit, and has established herself as one of today’s best working directors. If she would bring what she’s learned from her Academy Award-winning movies back to horror, I bet we could see something great.
David Cronenberg – The Early Years
Where to begin? The king of body horror began his career in 1975 with Shivers, a dive into his signature strange sexual horror about a parasite that turns a high-rise into a sex-trap. He then went on to create an impressive horror portfolio with Rabid, Scanners, Videodrome, and his infamous 1986 remake of The Fly. The strength of these and his other works should satisfy any horror hound, but around the year 2000, Cronenberg leaned out of the genre and changed focus, embracing Viggo Mortensen and more straightforward fare. We want him back. Please, make a sharp and powerful commentary on society and gross us out again, like you did before?
Roman Polanski – Rosemary’s Baby
One of the most timeless horror classics is Polanski’s paranoid apartment horror Rosemary’s Baby. His first Hollywood film, and Mia Farrow’s first big role combined to make one of the most celebrated films of its time. A slice of the psychedelic ’60s and ripe with Satanic fear and suspicion, it tells Rosemary’s story of her pregnancy surrounded by deceit. As her stomach grows, she thins and weakens to bad suspicious advice and a larger, much more evil plan. One of three movies that feature a heavy psychological Kafka-esque theme, Polanski strives to bring heavy themes and doesn’t shy away from the worst parts of the mind while developing his distinct, inventive style. He’s slowed down a bit lately, some would say peaking with The Pianist, but in the coming years it might be nice to see a horrific swan song.
Peter Jackson – Bad Taste
There is that internet meme where you post a picture of someone earlier in their career and caption it: I miss the old Kanye or the old Miley. Well, I miss the old Peter Jackson. Bad Taste, one of his early horror efforts, is an incredible lo-fi, shoestring budget movie about an alien invasion and the idiots who have to foil it. It has the Jackson trademarks of great make-up and special effects, along with a wicked sense of humour and love of a gory set-piece. Jackson showed with his Lord of the Rings trilogy that those sensibilities are still there; he just needs to get a chance to showcase them again with something horrific.
Tomas Alfredson – Let the Right One In
Oh boy. Try to forget about The Snowman for a second. Remember Tomas Alfredson’s near-flawless Swedish vampire tale Let the Right One In? Remember how quiet it was, the freshly-fallen snow and deep ache of loneliness depicted therein? This was a successful book adaptation and a respectable horror film that still makes its way to the top of many lists. Alfredson paid attention to detail with this film, taking his time and letting the work breathe as much as it needed to achieve the specific quality and mood he desired. It boasts some of the best child acting of its time and is more than enough evidence that Alfredson is a necessary force in horror, and is welcome back any time.
Danny Boyle – 28 Days Later
With 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle revolutionized the zombie film for the 21st century. Despite his insistence that it’s not a zombie film, it most definitely is. He can dress it up through semantics all he wants, but the truth of the matter is that Boyle excels at genre and should lean into it rather than stray. We can see aspects of horror in Boyle’s other films as well: the dead baby in Trainspotting, the loss of mental competency in The Beach and Trance, the cosmic menace in Sunshine, and the unforgettable situational horror of 127 Hours. Boyle’s unflinching ability to look into despair, and a visual style that plays well with dream logic and madness, begs to see the filmmaker take another step into horror.
James Gunn – Slither
Somehow Slither is one of the most endearing horror comedies of all time. The tale of an alien invasion that turns people into monsters in South Carolina was Gunn’s directorial debut that didn’t pay off until later when it achieved cult status. Slither had that kind of good-natured ’80s charm with just enough ick factor and humour that worked. You know where else Gunn’s sense of humour worked? All of Guardians of the Galaxy and his hair. It seems like he’s going to be locked in that direction for a long time, but if he catches a break, we know a genre that could use him again.
Edgar Wright – Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century. It is hilariously funny, unapologetically heartfelt, and genuinely scary. It is also possibly the only romantic comedy that features a scene of someone getting ripped apart and their organs eaten in front of them. Wright’s visual style, playful scripts, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of movies needs to find its way back into the world of horror as with Shaun he showed that he knows how to craft unique images backed up with a lean script that gives you laughs and scares in equal measure.
Rob Reiner – Misery
In what is still arguably the best Stephen King adaptation ever put to film, Rob Reiner brought one of the most discomfiting characters to life. Kathy Bates will forever be known as Annie Wilkes, the obsessive fan who holds a writer captive to her home and her imbalanced mind. A remarkably tense film, Misery perfected horror in helplessness in its limited space. Reiner has directed a handful of legendary romcoms and comedies (When Harry Met Sally, This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride) and has shown his flexibility by working all over the map most recently on a biographical history piece Shock and Awe. He has the talent, the experience, and the financing, so we’d like to see him back. Sure, The Wolf of Wallstreet is horrific in a different way but how about for old time’s sake, Rob?
Sam Raimi – Evil Dead Trilogy/Drag Me to Hell
One of the most influential horror filmmakers of all time, Raimi created a sense do-it-yourself youthful energy that shaped generations of filmmakers, the result of which can be felt in at least a handful of horror films that come out every year. Through the Evil Dead trilogy and Drag Me to Hell, Raimi created a blend of over-the-top horror comedy that has yet to be topped. While he left the horror genre for large scale blockbusters, ones that still carried his signature and eye for horror, his involvement in the TV series, Ash vs. The Evil Dead and various producing credits are evidence that horror remains his home. Though he’s still being courted for a number of blockbusters, we’d love to him dive back into horror with a new tale of terror and show all the imitators how it’s really done.
Featured Image: Warner Home Video (David Cronenberg in Nightbreed
Contributors: Becky Belzile, Sean Fallon, Richard Newby