Non-Horror Directors That Made An Impact In The Genre
The horror genre is often attributed to a number of directors; those ‘masters of horror’ that have done much to chill and frighten audiences worldwide. George A. Romero will be forever known for his ‘Living Dead’ movies, and Dario Argento will be remembered for his blood-soaked Giallo pictures. John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg are just some of those other directors that horror fans will look back on with fondness for their varied contributions to the genre.
However, some of the best movies in the genre have been created by filmmakers not formally known as ‘horror directors. With just one, or maybe even two films, they have tingled the spines of audiences everywhere, and deserve to be recognized for their works. Let’s take a look at a few notable examples.
Danny Boyle: 28 Days Later
While not known as a horror director, many of Danny Boyle’s films have caused viewers to squirm in their seats. Be it the scenes of the dark underbelly of the drugs world in Trainspotting or the true story dismemberments in 127Hours, Boyle has delivered films that, while not always in the horror genre, are still darkly horrific.
However, Boyle did make the jump into full-blooded horror territory with the 2002 film 28 Days Later, arguably one of the greatest zombie films ever made. Despite being made on a shoestring budget, the film is terrifying to behold, with a London stripped of human life after an apocalyptic zombie invasion. Going against undead tradition, Boyle also gives us zombies that move at speed; creatures that are far removed from the slow-lumbering monsters of Romero’s movies. For this reason, he has made an impact in this field of horror and has inspired multiple filmmakers since, including Yeon Sang-ho and his action-packed zombie-fest, Train to Busan.
Rob Reiner: Misery
When you think of Rob Reiner, you think of lighter Hollywood fare, be that the fairytale adventures of The Princess Bride or his comedies, including This Is Spinal Tap and When Harry Met Sally. However, he is also responsible for two of the all-time great Stephen King adaptations. The first was Stand By Me, an adaptation of King’s dark coming of age tale, The Body. And the second was the more overt jump into horror, Misery.
Reiner’s 1990 movie gave us one of cinema’s greatest horror monsters, albeit of the human kind in Annie Wilkes, so expertly played by Kathy Bates. As the obsessive fan who rescues her favorite author (James Caan) from a car crash, Wilkes becomes ever more dangerous as she physically and psychologically tortures her unwilling house guest. The ankle-hobbling scene is one of the most gruesome moments in horror cinema, and the film’s descent into the worst of humanity is far removed from the cute and frothy movies prevalent amongst Reiner’s other work.
John Landis: An American Werewolf In London
John Landis: He’s a funny guy, right? As the legendary director of such comedies as Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Trading Places, you probably wouldn’t mention his name when talking about movies that chill and terrify you. However, he has actually ventured into the horror genre twice. In 1983, he directed a nightmarish segment of The Twilight Zone Movie, a film that has now gone down in history for the legal battles that ensued after Landis’ lead actor Vic Morrow (and two children) were killed on set. And in 1981, he also directed this seminal horror movie.
Admittedly, this film does exhibit Landis’ penchant for comedy, as there are scenes that will have you howling at the moon with laughter. However, in its tale of one man’s murderous trek through London after being bitten by a werewolf, it is also quite frightening at times. The film also featured (for its time) some of the best special effects ever seen in a werewolf movie thanks to Rick Baker, highlighted by his win of the first-ever academy award for Best Makeup. It’s a hair-raising movie, and even 40 years later, still stands as one of the best werewolf movies ever made.
Richard Donner: The Omen
Today, Donner is famous for such family-friendly movies as Superman, The Goonies, and Ladyhawke. He’s also well-known for Scrooged and the Lethal Weapon series. These are great movies all, but for horror fans, he will forever be remembered for creating one of the greatest movies about the antichrist (and one of the scariest movies in the creepy kid genre), The Omen.
The film is famous for many things, not least the orchestral theme song, Ave Satani, by Jerry Goldsmith. There are scenes that stick long in the memory, including David Warner’s death by decapitation and the nanny who hangs herself at a children party. And there are the performances of Billie Whitelaw as the evil Ms Baycock and Harvey Stevens who played the young antichrist, both of whom deliver scenes that send a shiver down the spine. It’s a film that spawned a number of terrible ‘devil’ films in the 1970s, and countless movies since, but it has never been bettered. It’s also a film that assumedly put an end to parents calling their newborns Damien… you know…just in case!
William Friedkin: The Exorcist
William Friedkin has made many films during his long career, including The French Connection, Cruising, and Killer Joe. But there is always one film that crops up in interviews with the director, and it’s this one, perhaps the greatest horror movie ever made. It wasn’t his last foray into horror territory – he also directed the psychological chiller Bug – but this is the film for which his name will always be synonymous with, and is responsible for scaring legions of horror fans.
So, why is the film so scary? Well, it might be because there is truth to the story. The film (and the original novel) are based on a real-life case in which a 14-year old Maryland boy had to be exorcised by a number of Jesuit priests. Unlike those horror films featuring werewolves, vampires, and armies of the undead, there is the genuine belief that the devil is real, and that he can possess the minds and bodies of others. Then there are the horrific images on display, including Regan’s mutilated face and her actions with a crucifix, as well as the sound work, which incorporates a chilling music score and the guttural voice of the devil. It’s terrifying, and will forever be Friedkin’s best-loved (and even hated) movie.
These aren’t the only non-horror directors who have made a contribution to the genre. We could have added Michael Powell’s name to this list, for the career-ending (but brilliant) Peeping Tom, or Stanley Kubrick for The Shining. There are many other such directors who have turned their hands to horror with notable effect, and their films will also sit side by side with those classics that have been made by the more-renowned masters of horror cinema. Leave a comment with your favorite or perhaps one I missed.
Lee Brown is a UK-based freelance writer, and has written movie-related articles for such websites as Flickering Myth, Screen Rant, and So The Theory Goes. In his spare time, Lee continues to write, focussing on story writing, playwriting, and poetry. Some of Lee’s work has been published in printed and eBook formats, and he has had one play transmitted over local radio. He is an avid movie buff and TV binge-watcher, and probably spends more time than he should sat behind a pillow watching horror movies from his sofa!