Road to Halloween: Jeremiah’s Top 5 Horror Directors

Written by Jeremiah Greville October 25, 2017

Horror Directors

Even the spookiest movie frights are only as terrifying as the people behind the camera can make them. Horror is a genre that has long celebrated movie-making disciplines that go underappreciated elsewhere. Art design, makeup, acting, and splat-tacular special effects work are the hallmarks of the genre, dating back decades. And these disciplines receive even more acclaim considering the relatively low budgets most horror films have to achieve them. Yet all that gruesome gooey goodness is worthless without the right director at the helm. So this Halloween, let’s count down the top 5 horror directors. That’s right — a twist! These are the movie maestros that bring your terrors to life.

Honourable Mentions: Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 & 2, Poltergeist), Sam Raimi (Evil Dead Series, Drag Me to Hell), Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions), Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, The Birds, Many memorable thrillers)

5. Dario Argento

Dario Argento

The Fright List: Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebre, Phenomena (Creepers), Trauma, Deep Red

Sometimes called the ‘Italian Hitchcock’, Dario Argento is a legend in Italy whose films have influenced horror for generations. From his early giallo work (an Italian thriller/horror subgenre) to his later ‘surrealist’ films, Argento has worked in several subgenres. Outside of Italy, however, his reach is felt more as a writer and producer than a director. Dario Argento has had his hands in all three of the Demons films (writing and producing!), as well as Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. His name carries a lot of weight in the world of horror, but unfortunately has not reached the same wide acclaim as his contemporaries. That might change soon though, with Guillermo del Toro touting Argento’s influence on his upcoming film, The Shape of Water.

4. David Cronenberg

David-Cronenberg

The Fright List: Shivers, Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly

The great granddaddy of body horror, David Cronenberg has earned his spot as one of the greatest horror directors of all time. His fascination with disease, transformation, and disfigurement helped create an entire subgenre of terror. Though his later films have focused more on psychological and visceral thrills, his early body of work was a steady progression to his body-horror masterpiece, The Fly. Cronenberg is still working and producing great films, but seems to have left the horror genre behind. He left on a high note through, and stopped while he was ahead. Still, we’ll always have the nightmare-inducing parasites of Shivers, and the unforgettable unease of Brundlefly.

3. James Wan

James Wan

The Fright List: Saw, Insidious 1 & 2, The Conjuring 1 & 2, Dead Silence

Like Argento, James Wan has made a name for himself as both a producer and a director. Yet it’s his innovative command over multiple genres that has earned him the #3 spot on this list. Though he’s the youngest filmmaker here, his relatively short career has yielded some iconic horror flicks. He created the ‘torture-porn’ genre in the first Saw film, and re-invented modern supernatural horror with both The Conjuring and Insidious films. His influence cannot be understated, yet his career has barely started. Though he’s recently worked on action-thrillers Furious 7 and Aquaman, his producing work has kept him active in the horror genre. Hopefully, he’ll return to scare us from behind the camera again soon.

2. George A. Romero

George A. Romero
The Fright List: The Living Dead franchise (all SIX films), The Dark Half, Monkey Shines, Creepshow, The Crazies

We’re nearing the end of the list and have hit one of the titans of terror: George A. Romero! Almost everyone knows Romero for his Living Dead zombie films, but he’s also the great mind behind the Stephen King films The Dark Half and Creepshow. His work on the zombie genre, however, has been definitive and universally influential. Romero is largely the reason why zombies have survived so long in our cultural consciousness. Horror filmmakers both inside and outside of the zombie subgenre — including those on this list — point to Romero as one of their prime influences. Not only did he show us, definitively, what a zombie was, he used them as a clever tool for social commentary. Romero knew that monsters could be living, dead, or living dead.

1. IT’S A TIE! – John Carpenter & Wes Craven

1(a). John Carpenter

John Carpenter

The Fright List: The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness, Christine, The Fog, Halloween, Village of the Damned, Vampires, Ghosts of Mars

John Carpenter is genre-directing legend, known world-over for his independent spirit and incredible success with relatively low-budget fare. Not only did he direct some of the best horror films of all time, but he also scored them too. His sparse, methodical synth rhythms made everything from Christine to The Fog drip with tension and atmosphere. While he worked in several genres, including comedy and science fiction, he’s most known for his distinctive, minimalist horror. 1978’s Halloween helped develop the slasher subgenre, while Carpenter’s ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’ (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, & In the Mouth of Madness) expanded the scope of what horror could be about, or achieve. He’s a director whose passion and creativity in the face of financial difficulty has inspired a generation. John Carpenter is a filmmaker who loves making films, and in turn his films have gone on to inspire — and terrify — countless people for years.

1(b). Wes Craven

Wes Craven

The Fright List: My Soul to Take, Red Eye, The Hills Have Eyes (Part 1 & 2), The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs, Scream 1-4

Wes Craven, unlike John Carpenter, experienced much success throughout his career. Before his death in 2015, he was known as the “Master of Horror”. His feature film debut was the horror classic The Last House on the Left, and he followed that with The Hills Have Eyes. However, his most famous films are undoubtedly A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. Craven didn’t stop there — he directed sequels to several of his own franchises, and helped steer them in later years. But while Craven has focused more on horror than any other filmmaker on this list, he’s directed just as many misses as hits. He ties here at the top spot with John Carpenter because they represent two different facets of the horror genre. Craven is a director who hones his craft in public, while Carpenter is a filmmaker who continues despite the obstacles in his way.

Both filmmakers show a commitment to horror filmmaking that’s rare and wonderful. It’s these facets in particular — a willingness to improve, and an unflappable persistence — that have put them together at the top of the list. They’re the best horror filmmakers of all time, and they’ve each thoroughly earned that distinction. Together they’ve provided an example that horror filmmakers continue to follow to this day.

So there you have it! The top 5 (or 6) horror directors of all time! Do you agree or disagree with our list? Comment below or on Facebook with your favourite horror directors, and as always at this time of year — Happy Halloween!

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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