In the music business, they are noted as artists only capable of a single significant Billboard blip. Yet in filmmaking, no matter the genre, they are barely even recognized. For some strange reason, the motion picture industry doesn't typically categorize a moviemaker based on only one noteworthy hit or miss. Certainly there is an atmosphere of appreciation based solely on a writer or director's last box office receipts, but that has more to do with finance and business than it does with quality or overall excellence. Many distinguished auteurs have had their fair share of commercial disappointments and yet consistently retain their timeless status when real critical deliberation is given to their efforts.
But when it comes to horror, all bets are off. So iconic in its facets that it more or less supercedes all other categorical considerations, the movie macabre is actually a very specialized motion picture form. Many have tried it, and very few have truly succeeded. This is especially true for those craftsmen who view their talent as transcending all manner of product pigeonholing. There is also a senseless, snobbish quality involved, with many directors feeling that, as an art form, the fright film is beneath them. While it could be a case of understanding their own limits, the truth is that terror has always been an unappreciated style of cinema, and this high class, haughty notion has penetrated even the most mediocre moviemaker's mindset.
Still, some of the biggest names in the business have tried. A few have even met with massive success. But when you look more closely at the classics, the horror films that consistently make the Top 10 lists, you see that a few represent the one and only 'hit' that these paranormal pretenders to the throne ever created. Duplicating the criteria used when musicians are involved, SE&L has decided to celebrate those craftsmen who found a way to make their sole scary movie attempt effective. Naturally, there are some caveats. A director listed may have indeed made more than one horror film - William Friedkin also attempted the bad babysitter/tree demon debacle entitled The Guardian, while Clive Barker has made the nauseating Nightbreed and limp Lords of Illusion - and, as a matter of fact, can even claim a second, almost as substantive effort and still avoid elimination. The only other element worth pondering is the movie's viability as a creepshow archetype. Many may argue over the titles chosen, but it's clear that when viewed in light of the two prerequisites mentioned, these five films stand out as perfect examples of horror's 'one hit wonders':
William Friedkin – The Exorcist (1973)
Clive Barker – Hellraiser (1981)
Danny Boyle – 28 Days Later (2002)
Tim Burton – Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Stanley Kubrick – The Shining (1980)