Thirteen Great Horror Directors

Okay, list time folks.

I thought I would share with you my ruminations on the greatest horror directors of all time. No small claim to fame this, as the genre has been a fertile breeding ground for talent. Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, David Lynch — all started out in horror. Spielberg cut his teeth on Rod Serling’s TV series “Night Gallery” before his debut with “Duel” and the smash hit “Jaws”. Michael Mann crafted the underrated and beautiful wartime horror story “The Keep”, while David Lynch’s earliest work was the surreal nightmare “Eraserhead”.

But such luminaries aside, let us without further ado “get down to it”….

13. Guillermo del Toro

Fans of del Toro may rail against his low position. But I would argue that he is not primarily a horror director. His early work “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Cronos” are definitely horror. The wonderful “Pan’s Labyrinthe” is a beguiling horror/fantasy. But his breakthrough film “Blade 2” and the “Hellboy” movies have been more action movies than terror movies.

12. Tobe Hooper

Hooper achieved phenomenal success with the no-budget “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, a film so groundbreaking it’s hard to imagine nowadays. But apart from the masterful scare machine “Poltergeist” he failed to follow up on it with such lacklustre gems as “Eaten Alive”. Hence his position at a respectful number 12.

11. George A RomeroThe king of zombies, Romero actually produced a couple of extremely good movies in other genres, such as the disturbing and atmospheric vampire picture “Martin”, and the wonderfully bonkers “Knightriders”. Still his “Dead” trilogy dominates popular culture today, and single-handedly recreated the zombie genre.

10. Terence Fisher

Prolific English director of Hammer horror films, Fisher brought us movies such as “The Horror of Dracula” (Christopher Lee), “The Curse of Frankenstein” (Peter Cushing) and “Curse of the Werewolf” (Oliver Reed). Okay, so not all of those are masterpieces. But he reinvigorated horror in the 1950s and 1960s, daring to show the Count’s fangs and lashings of blood in all its technicolour glory.

9. Roman PolanskiThe thinking man’s horror director, Polanski’s “Repulsion” is a scary journey into madness, while “Rosemary’s Baby” is a true Hollywood horror blockbuster. Polanski’s sensitive direction and the use of fine actors auch as John Cassavetes achieved devastating effect in the story of Mia Farrow’s pregnant woman beset by modern-day occultists. But my personal favourite is “Dance of the Vampires”  (aka “The Fearlesss Vampire Killers”), a pic that manages to be both delightfully funny and very very scary.

8. Mario Bava

The godfather of gore. Bava’s Italian horror remains obscure to some, but once seen his moves are never forgotten. “Bay of Blood” virtually created the slasher genre long before “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween”. While in “Black Sabbath”, an aged Boris Karloff shines in a trilogy of terrifying stories told with extreme relish. Bava evokes both the old Hollywood of the 1930s and the technicolour brashness of Hammer horror. An underrated master of the genre.

7. Dario Argento

Prolific and sometimes uneven, Argento’s work includes some of the greatest horror ever made. “Deep Red” is a Euro-thriller that becomes elevated to fever pitch by outrageous set-pieces and very flashy direction, as well as the first use of music by electronica band Goblin, who would famously perform the score for “Dawn of the Dead”. Argento’s “Tenebrae” is another masterpiece of “Giallo” cinema, where we stalk with the madman, seeing thorugh his eyes, only to arrive at a truly incredible ending. Not for the squeamish, but worth seeking out.

6. Roger Corman

The grand-inquisitor of American Horror in the 1950s and 1960s, Corman’s low-bidget ethic squeezed some of the best ever performances out of horror actor Vincent Price, to create such classics as “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Masque of the Red Death”. Corman also had an eye for talent, working with such future directors as Francis Ford Coppola and a young man called James Cameron.

5. David CronenbergShocking, disturbing, disgusting. All words that could apply to David Cronenberg’s work. From early films that are hard to watch such as “Rabid” and “Shivers” (the latter about a turd-shaped parasite that induces sexual craving in its host), to left-of-centre sci-fi “Scanners”, to the pinnacle of his horror career — the genuinely affecting remake of “The Fly”, Cronenberg refuses to pull away from the realities of our more fleshy parts. Achieved mainstream success with excellent dramas “Eatsern Promises”, “A History of Violence” and “A Dangerous Method”.

4. Jacques Tourneur

The old master of horror, Tourneur’s wonderful use of dark and shadow gave us truly memorable movie masterpieces such as “Night of the Demon” and “I Walked with a Zombie”. Although old, these movies are still creepy, thanks to their fantastic atmosphere, and their influence is often still felt today.

3. John CarpenterThe wonderkind of 70s horror, for a long time Carpenter had the distinction of directing the most successful independent movie ever , “Halloween”. He followed this up with movies that failed to impress critics and audiences at the time but which have since become horror classics. Movies such as “The Thing”, “The Fog”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Escape from New York” and “Big Trouble in Little China” are among the great films of horror cinema. Far ahead of his time, Carpenter added a sense of wicked humour to his movies that makes them as enjoyable today as they were when they first came out.

2. James Whale

A giant of horror cinema. Whale was a Brit who went on to acheve success in the fledgeling world of motion pictures in America. He established his reputation with classics like “Frankenstein”, “The Invisible Man” and “The Bride of Frankenstein”. Part of the expressionist school of filmmaking, Whale’s movies are operatic in tone, like a fever dream that transcend time and space to become truly mythical. His influence is felt in virtually every horror movie produced since, while his interpretation of Frankstein became imprinted into the modern consciousness.

1. Alfred Hitchcock

Known primarily as a thriller director, Hitchcock managed to traverse both genres and made some of the greatest horror movies ever. “Psycho” totally rewrote the horror genre, focusing on a monster who was human rather than imagined, with a frighteningy believable psychology. Difficult for us modern audiences to understand how much of a departure this was. But every psycho-thriller you see these days is modelled after him. Hitchcock went even further with the more disturbing “Frenzy”, again a frighteningly believable tale of a serial killer on the loose. In “The Birds”, Hitchcock does it again, this time with an apolcapytic thriller. Never explained, the birds attack mankind, and there can only be one winner. Directed with stunning flare, Hitchcock’s movie is still as potent today in its power to unnerve. Many of Hitchcock’s other films straddle the border of horror and thriller, such as “The Lodger”, a silent film about Jack the Ripper, “Blackmail”, or the surreal “Spellbound”. Meaning that he fully deserves his place as number one.

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