Some horror legends are still around — Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, George Romero, Dario Argento — and every once in a while they happenstance into something that adds to (instead of detracting from) their already regal reputation. They are the current Masters of Horror, creepshow kings extraordinaire. Then there are the near-misses, the Michele Soavis and Bernard Roses who made massive initial impressions (Dellamorte Dellamore and Paperhouse, respectively) before slinking off into scary movie exile.
Indeed, thanks to the rise in technology, the bankability of fear, and the unbridled fandom which fuels many homemade horror movies, there are very few maestros left in the macabre, man or woman. In fact, it’s safe to say that many of the moviemakers today, your Marcus Nispels and your Bryan Bertinos, seem more interested in moving beyond dread, to play with the “real” artists of the cinema, so to speak.
Luckily, among the wannabes and the wanderers are a group of individuals dedicated to the genre. They are making strides toward saving the shivers while putting their own indelible imprint on fear. Some do want to move on, to make movies that make you laugh or cry vs. scream, but for the most part, they are the dedicated followers of fright. For this particular list, we’ve tried to find both the obscure and the obvious while keeping our collection within the commercial. Apologies to true indie auteurs with camcorders and MacBooks at hand: your $2K opus may be terrific, but until you pay your dues and do it, large scale, we’ll reserve you for a look at untapped talent. Instead, here are the 10 (actually, 13) best new breed horror directors working today. Argue all you want about their particular creative charms, but these are the names that will mark terror… until the next batch rolls up.
10. Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil)
Here’s one of the many similarly styled stories of success you’ll find in this countdown. After taking on one of the weaker installments in the always-uneven Hellraiser franchise (Inferno), Derrickson stormed onto the scene with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, earning more than $140 million worldwide in the process. He then was given the job of bringing the unnecessary remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still to the big screen. Four years later, however, Sinister reintroduced him as a horror maestro, with Deliver Us From Evil showing he could mix the genre into a standard crime thriller and still achieve amazing results.
9. Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest)
While it seems strange to associate the fright film format with that uneven indie ideal known as mumblecore, Wingard is frequently categorized as a someone bringing the fear factors to the non-mainstream methodology. Collaborating with the King of the Category, Joe Swanberg, he co-directed Autoerotic (a non-horror exploration of human sexuality) before breaking into the mainstream with his home invasion sleeper You’re Next. Last month, his movie The Guest was met with marketing indifference (they didn’t screen the film for critics) but praise and acclaim from those who saw it. His next project appears to be a remake of the brilliant Korean thriller I Saw the Devil.
8. Pascal Laugier (Martyrs, The Tall Man)
Unless you’re a diehard horror fan, or have followed the New French Extremity movement, you probably don’t know this name. But by now, Laugier’s amazing second film, focusing on a cult who captures and tortures young women as a means of investigating the existence of the afterlife, has become the post-modern equivalent of a water-cooler title, something so shocking and yet so amazing that it becomes a topic of heated discussion. His Martyrs follow-up, The Tall Man, did less than stellar at the box office and, recently, he left a remake of Hellraiser after wanting to go deeper and darker than creator Clive Barker did originally. Whoa.
7. Franck Khalfoun (P2, Maniac (2012))
P2 was a decent attempt to recreate the old fashioned nail biters of the past, Khalfoun collaborating with the dynamic duo of Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes), but he really showed his stuff with his take of William Lustig’s notorious video nasty from 1980. Using a unique filmmaking technique, shooting everything from the killer’s point of view, we wind up with a far more visceral experience than the one Joe Spinell forged nearly 35 years ago. Khalfoun even found a way to make Elijah Wood terrifying. Next on his plate is something called i-lived, as well as an Amityville movie.
6. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Inside, Livid)
Of all the filmmakers on this list and all the movie discussed, none are more disturbing than this duo’s defiant, gore-splattered experiment in outright prenatal terror. The plot to Inside sees a deranged woman tormenting a pregnant target. Her goal? To rip the fetus from her womb in whatever blood drenched means she can. Inside stands as a modern classic, a movie with the kind of outrageous vision which proves the aforementioned French Extremity Movement has merit outside the arterial spray. While their follow-up, Livid, wasn’t as outrageous, it was equally effective. Some are calling their latest film, Among the Living, a “return to form.”
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5. Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary, See No Evil 2)
It’s a shame that there aren’t more women making horror films, and it’s a shame that the Soska Sisters are just now getting the opportunity to show their gender-centric take of terror. They are amazing filmmakers, their Dead Hooker in the Trunk and American Mary two examples of what can be done with a great idea and a vision to see it through. Given a chance by WWE to handle the directing chores for their See No Evil follow-up, the ladies are poised to become the new voice of women in fear film. One look at their work and it’s easy to see why.
4. Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Sacrament)
There’s a name at the top of this list who really deserves the credit for its reemergence, but Ti West is also responsible for exploring the old school means of macabre, circa the ’70s and ’80s. Indeed, after a less than successful stint helming the popular sequel to Cabin Fever (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever), West went his own way, using the paranormal from the past (devil worship, ghosts, cults) to fuel his measured frights. While he is off filming a revisionist Western with Ethan Hawke and John Travolta, here’s hoping he returns to horror soon after. His movies are mesmerizing in their evocation of unseen terrors.
3. Rob Zombie (Halloween (2007), Lords of Salem)
If any two words can cause the interwebs and messageboard Nation to go critical mass in mere moments, it’s the combination of Zombie with Rob. People HATE his work, and they are entitled to such an opinion. On the other hand, Zombie is a true student of terror past and present. His films always mimic type (drive-in, slasher, exploitation, Euro-trash) and he nails the details from such antiquated ideals with a mischievous eye. Perhaps his biggest blunder, at least in the minds of fright fans, was his remake of John Carpenter’s iconic homage to Hitchcock. Now, years removed, many consider it a classic in its own right.
2. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza ([REC], [REC]2)
There is perhaps no better ’00s horror film than [REC] . It recycles an idea (the zombie film) with a tired gimmicky approach (the first person, POV, shaky cam experience) and turns both into an amazing edge of your seat experience. The finale, featuring something so disturbing it will haunt your dreams, is the icing on what was a previous 90 minutes of suspense and splatter. The sequel is equally sensational, as are the movies they have made separately (including Fragile, and the surprisingly strange [REC]3). While fans wait for [REC]4, it is safe to say that Balaguero and Plaza are players in today’s terrordome.
1. James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring)
James Wan holds the unique distinction of being one of the few filmmakers working today that has seen the successful launch of three separate and unique fright franchises: Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. All three have become major league moneymakers, thanks to the writer/director’s deftness at old school, slow burn scares. But even those titles which didn’t really resonate with fright fans (Dead Silence, Death Sentence) are amazing, true experiences in dread and genre definition. While he’s “graduated” to work on big budget Hollywood tentpoles (like the Fast and Furious films), his heart remains with horror. His creepshow cottage industry will only continue to expand from here.