PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Who Are the Next Horror Movie Maestros?

Perhaps it's too soon in the career arc to write off some of these wannabes as less than meaningful maestros. As we wait, however, the void continues to grow...and grow...

What happens when we lose a Wes Craven? Who will take the place of a Sam Raimi or a Dario Argento? Is there a talent bank of horror maestros waiting around somewhere, their penchant for terror untapped and underutilized? It's an intriguing question, especially for those of us who worship at the vault of evil's baroque doors. As we move into the next decade of the new millennium, it looks like there are less and less genius genre filmmakers around. Go back 30 years and you can argue over the impressive oeuvre of creepshow kingpins like George Romero, John Carpenter, and Lucio Fulci. Fast forward to 2010 and...the void is frightening - more frightening than some of the macabre titles coming out of the sloppy cinematic machine known as Hollywood.

Granted, we have lost some of the mavericks through categorical attrition. While one assumes he would go back tomorrow and deliver another devastating operatic bio-dread masterpiece as he did with The Fly, David Cronenberg has found much more success (and consistent work) as a manufacturer of more mainstream fare. Similarly, Peter Jackson's love of all things splatter got sidetracked with a stint in Middle Earth - and with his return there more than likely, we won't be seeing his gore-laden laughfests anytime soon. Indeed, it seems that many of the new experts of eerie are walking a fine line between their roots and career reality. Many want to champion the films they loved as fans. The problem is, finding an available outlet for such shivers.

Take Guillermo Del Toro, for example. There is no bigger horror geek in all of cinema. This is a man who can name check obscure foreign classic, standard '50s schlock, and a library of links to seminal '70s series like Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the ABC Movie of the Week. Yet he's best known for combining fear with the fanciful, using his adaptations of the comic book character Hellboy and his allegorical war stories (The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth) to explore as much of the dark half as professionally possible. Only first films Cronos and Mimic argue for what he can do playing the straight up scare game. Hopefully, the James Cameron produced, HP Lovecraft inspired At the Mountains of Madness will bring him back to the fright fold for a while.

Or what about Alexandre Aja? Listen to the commentary track on any one of his films and you'll hear an acknowledged horror nerd. Along with pal and collaborator Grégory Levasseur, he has parlayed his preference for old school shock into expert horror homages like High Tension and interesting combo creations like Mirrors. Oddly enough, he seems to have been lured away from the meaningful and directly into the commercial, tackling the interesting remake of The Hills Have Eyes and the oddball gross out gratuity of Piranha 3D. Unfortunately, is looks like he will abandon horror all together for his next project - an adaptation of the manga Space Adventure Cobra.

Perhaps the best example of someone still slumming outside the realm they really excel in is Marcus Nispel. After almost a decade making music videos for artist such as C&C Music Factory, Janet Jackson, No Doubt, and Mariah Carey, the German-born director got a chance to move into film thanks to Michael Bay and his classic redux factory Platinum Dunes. Looking for someone to take the reins of their proposed Texas Chainsaw Massacre update, newcomer Nispel got the nod. While many in Messageboard Nation went hysterical over the prospect of some flashy MTV-inspired hack reinterpreting their favorite power tool project, Nispel actually delivered one of the best horror remakes ever. He did the same for his far more serious (and nasty) reinvention of Friday the 13th.

So where is he now? Where is the man who, arguably, should have helmed the Nightmare on Elm Street makeover and be first on the list for the proposed Hellraiser reboot? Why, he's tackling the character Conan the Barbarian, what he call his "dream job." Indeed, this is the sad thing about today's potential horror mavens. Apparently, they aren't really 100% interested in forwarding the art of fear. Some, like Nispel and Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) use the genre as a stepping stone to "bigger and better" things. Others, like Del Toro and Aja, seem hemmed in by an industry that has the scary movie pegged as a teen scream single weekend dice roll. Should the gamble pay off, they will plow the field for more frights. Should it underperform...well, there's always the RomCom and the animated/family film category to further destabilize.

Eli Roth creates Cabin Fever and the post-modern masterwork Hostel and he's tagged as a terrifying torture porn expert. Of course, now it doesn't really matter as he's too busy paling around with Quentin Tarantino to take his possible maestro position seriously. Rob Zombie would kill to be the next Bava or Deodato and yet he is so locked into his rock and roll revisionist mindset that his most successful film - the disturbing Devil's Rejects - is more brilliant '70s drive-in exploitation recreation than actual all out nightmare. Sure, James Wan and Darren Lynn Bousman parlayed their time creating and catering to the Saw films to forward their individual agendas, but how many in the macabre fanbase were eager to see their follow-ups (Dead Silence and Repo: The Genetic Opera, respectively).

With names like Adam Green (Frozen, Hatchet, and Hatchet II), Jaume Balagueró (REC, REC2, and the little seen Fragile), and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) percolating beneath the surface and a string of proposed projects all waiting for holiday-oriented release dates - or worse, 3D conversion - horror is not going away any time soon. Oh course, this still doesn't answer the bigger question - why? Why are there no real maestros left...or at the very least, stepping up to be noticed? The answer, of course, is technology. Today, any genre lover with a camcorder and a gallon or two of red-tinted Kayro syrup can call themselves a scary movie director. As long as they can rape the legacy of the zombie, vampire, serial killer, or ghost and get some of their buddies to play the part, they can throw together a terror turd and fling it at the direct to DVD audience like an angry chimp in a monkey house.

Even worse, very few of these filmmakers want a legitimate career making fright films for the masses. They are almost all using the genre as a quick fix calling card, a resume builder toward the previously alluded to "bigger and better" things. Four decades ago, horror was considered a good way in as well - but it was also supported for its own inherent value. Today, thanks to a glut of garbage in the marketplace and a revolving door interchangeability in the perception of what makes a professional, few are opting for a life of terror. Sure, maybe one or two films, but there is this dream graphic novel adaptation /biopic they've always been interested in pursuing...

Obviously, the lack of new horror maestros stems from a cruel combination of categorical overkill, limited screen space, rollercoaster market placement, and an exhausting of the genre itself. If every new scarefest was The Exorcist in both effectiveness and critical acclaim, there would be artists lining up to recreate its classicism. But where are the names who want to make horror their sole business? Of course, the clever could argue that all of the past masters also abandoned the category (Music of the Heart, Knightriders, For the Love of the Game, Starman...just to name a few) to test their talents and comfort zone. But they always seemed to gravitate back to the genre that made them legend. Perhaps it's too soon in the career arc to write off some of these wannabes as less than meaningful maestros. As we wait, however, the void continues to grow...and grow...

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.