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7 Respected Directors Who Did Horror

 

Shane Meadows has confirmed that his next project will be a horror movie.

While he came close with Dead Man's Shoes , it's his first solid stab at the genre.

And he's definitely not the first director to surprise us by getting into the horror business.

Here are a few helmers who ventured into a genre that got no respect at the time...

 

Stanley Kubrick

The Reputation:
Having built up an impressive roster across various genres, including historical ( Spartacus ), black comedy ( Dr Strangelove ) and science fiction ( 2001 ), Kubrick had cemented his rep for intelligent, verging on highbrow stylised film.

Originally known for stark realism, he moved via Lolita into more of a surreal feel that would dominate later movies.

The Horror Flick: The Shining (1980)

Adapted from Steven King’s novel, it finds writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his family headed to the isolated Overlook Hotel for a winter stay, only to have paranormal forces turn Jack into an axe-wielding loon.

The Signature Move:
Aside from his now legendary perfectionism (more than a hundred takes on one shot), the film bears out his obsession with long parallel walls.

It also has what Roger Ebert describes as The Kubrick Stare, with a character – in this case Torrance – staring into camera as he goes mad, with his head down and his eyes looking up.

The Critical Response:
It was a critical flop but a commercial success.

Among its detractors was King, who said the director was: “A man who thinks too much and feels too little.”

Variety slated it, saying, “With everything to work with, director Stanley Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King's bestseller.”

Next: Hitchcock
 

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Alfred Hitchcock

The Reputation: Pre- Psycho , there were indications that Hitchcock would turn to full-on horror/thriller as he’d slowly been becoming the master of suspense.

He already had the likes of The 39 Steps , The Lady Vanishes , Suspicion , Rope , Strangers On A Train , Dial M For Murder and Rear Window until his belt.

Unlike many of his peers, it was surely just a matter of time…

The Horror Flick: Psycho (1960)

Seizing on Robert Bloch’s novel as a way to regain his thriler crown and shove boundaries, Hitchcock is largely faithful in his adaptation, focusing on Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a young woman who steals $40,000 from one of her employers and ends up at the Bates Motel.

Where, it just so happens that a certain mother-obsessed psychopath (Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates) kills her.

The Signature Move:
Crane’s early bath (or should that be shower?) is a trademark Hitchcock note – his female leads often get offed early in proceedings.

And it also continues two recurring motifs – murders that shatter lives and the director himself in a cameo.

The Critical Response: Mixed. The New York Times sniffed that it: "Comes at you with a club in this frankly intended bloodcurdler" and moaned that the "denouement falls quite flat for us.”

Variety was much more positive: “An unusual, good entertainment, indelibly Hitchcock, and on the right kind of box office beam.”

The rest, as the cliché runs, is history: Psycho was a sensation and is now one of the most recognisable, parodied and referenced movies ever made.

Next: Coppola
 

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Francis Ford Coppola

The Reputation
: While he got his start with the schlocky likes of Roger Corman’s Dementia 13 , Coppola had forged ahead with a career that included Finian’s Rainbow , The Conversation and the Godfather movies.

He was largely seen more as a dramatic director, though his mob pics and Apocalypse No w had their own share of horrors.

The Horror Flick:
Dracula (1992)

Coppola takes the plunge fully back into horror with this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire tale.

Gary Oldman is the immortal fang club member with a wooden Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker, Winona Ryder pouting away as Mina and Anthony Hopkins chewing scenery as Van Helsing.

The Signature Move:
It’s mostly in the style and look of the film – Coppola likes warm colours in his period films and Dracula is no different.

And it also continues his love for more practical effects – albeit blended with hi-tec work.

The Critical Response: It differs – while Oldman’s turn as Dracula was largely praised, the movie was slated for some of its cheesier moments.

“After a while, the movie collapses into the usual hugger-mugger about garlic, fang marks, and, of course, a fellow named Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins), who knows everything about killing bloodsuckers,” said Entertainment Weekly.

Still, it made enough money to help Coppola save his vineyard.

Next: Friedkin

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William Friedkin

The Reputation:
Friedkin was much more known for his dramatic/thriller work – The French Connection , The Boys In The Band and comedy The Night They Raided Minsky’s.

Friedkin wasn’t exactly the studio’s first choice for his horror outing either – the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols and peter Bogdanovich passed before Friedkin was offered the job.

The Horror Flick: The Exorcist (1973)

Poor Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) has a bigger problem than worrying about puberty – she’s been possessed by a demon.

Two priests (played by Jason Miller and Max von Sydow) are brought in to exorcise her, but the supernatural entity doesn’t give up without a violent, vomit-stained fight.

The Signature Move: Friedkin’s early work in documentaries carried over into movies like The French Connection and The Exorcist is no different – it’s a jagged, in-your-face experience, which seems to suit the based-on-an-allegedly-true-story background for the movie.

The Critical Response: Reviews were mixed. The New Republic Gushed: “This is the most scary film I’ve seen in years — the only scary film I’ve seen in years.”

But the New York Times had a different opinion: “A chunk of elegant occultist claptrap. A practically impossible film to sit through… It establishes a new low for grotesque special effects...”

It ended up the second most popular film of the year.

Next: Siegel


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Don Siegel

The Reputation:
Starting his career as a montage creator, he ended up working with Elvis, Lee Marvin and most notably Clint Eastwood, among others.

Siegel specialised in war films, Westerns and dramas (including The Big Steal ) and later in his career, he’d go on to make Dirty Harry .

But 1956 saw him take a detour into sci-fi horror and launch an endlessly remade story…

The Horror Flick:
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

Snatchers tackles the story of a small California town that is overrun by duplicates of the residents grown from pods.

Local doctor Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) initially thinks his patients are suffering from mass hysteria, but he quickly realises that their claims of loved ones replaced by imposters are all too true…

The Signature Move: It’s less how the camera moves and more how the director works – with a background in shorts and second unit, he’d learned how to shoot fast and cheap.

Plus, his experience creating montages meant that set pieces were edited and shot beautifully.

The Critical Response: Variety was generally enthusiastic, though had some doubts: “This tense, offbeat piece of science-fiction is occasionally difficult to follow due to the strangeness of its scientific premise. Action nevertheless is increasingly exciting.”

Body Snatchers was generally well received and in later years has been hailed as a classic of the sci-fi horror genre.

Next: De Palma

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Brian De Palma


The Reputation : These days, we know him as a director of all genres – though he does tend to enjoy thrillers and dramas more than other movies.

But back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he was better known as a comedy director (particularly after 1969’s The Wedding Party ).

The Horror Flick: Sisters (1973)/Carrie (1976)

Carrie is, of course, the much more famous entry on De Palma’s horror resume, with the chilling tale of a mousy young girl (Sissy Spacek) pushed too far on prom night, who uses her burgeoning psychic powers to strike back at the school bullies.

Sisters, which sees Margot Kidder playing twins, is the tale of two siblings separated after years of living together – and the terrifying consequences for everyone around them.

The Signature Move:
De Palma's movies are usually packed full of symbolism, and layered visual style, and in Carrie it's unusually overt - blood, anyone?

He's also known for his homaging of other directors - Hitchcock is all over both Sisters and Carrie .

The Critical Response : Sisters had a mixed reaction – Roger Ebert, though, seemed taken with it. “The movie works not so much because of the twists and turns and complications as because of the performances.”

But it’s largely been seen as a B-Movie.

Carrie , on the other hand was a sensation, grabbing massively positive reviews, with New West magazine proclaiming: “It's a horror classic, and years from now it will still be written and argued about, and it will still be scaring the daylights out of new generations of moviegoers.”

Next: Kenneth Branagh


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Kenneth Branagh

The Reputation:
Shakespeare, Shakespeare, thriller, comedy drama, Shakespeare… Horror.

The man who raised the Bard’s screen potential indicated he might want to do something a little more horrific when he directed Dead Again .

But then he latched on to another classic writer and set out to make a proper fright film…

The Horror Flick: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

You know the story: a scientist (Branagh) obsessed with battling death after losing his mother creates a creature from dead body parts and brings it to life.

Robert De Niro is the creature. There is screaming.

Signature Move:
Aside from casting himself in plum roles, you mean? (He’s a good actor, so it’s allowed, though critics weren’t kind to him on this one).

He mostly opts for a stark, well, designed look for his movies and Frankenstein is no different.

The Critical Response:
Um… Not so good.

“Kenneth Branagh has indeed created a monster, but not the kind he originally envisioned. A major disappointment creatively, the film still has the makings of a box office brute,” said Variety.

And they were right on both counts – the film went on to make a profit, though not a huge one.

 

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