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The Top 13 MASTERS OF HORROR: Writer/Directors

By Preston Garrett · July 29, 2010

We're not really in horror season yet, but we thought we'd step back and take a look at the top horror filmmakers of all time – the true creators of horror. For the purpose of this list, the filmmaker needed to hold a writer AND director credit for their films to be considered. Points were given for creating lasting and successful franchises, and extra credit was given for creating seminal characters. Let the debate begin.

13. Neil Marshall

He's a relatively new guy on the scene, but Marshall is climbing the ranks with a lot of momentum.   He's penned and directed 2 cult horror hits (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) and it looks like the latter of his creations could turn into a full fledged franchise (he took the EP credit on The Descent 2.)  He definitely meets the profile we're trying to set as the precedent  here… but his next project, Centurion, is a discernible departure from his horror roots.  Will he be able to cross over like the Raimis and Cronenbergs of the world (read further if you don't know who the hell I'm talking about)?  Maybe… but I kind of wanted to see what other horror he could conjure from the depths of Appalachia…

12. The Pang Brothers

These brothers from Hong Kong have franchised their way into the big leagues over the past 8 years.  Danny and Oxide penned and directed The Eye, the terrifying opus about a blind girl who is bestowed sight after she receives an experimental eye transplant surgery.  The kicker: her new eyes make her see ghosts – yikes.  2 more Eye movies have come out since the original in 2002 – The Eye 2 (2004) and The Eye 10 (2005).  They've yet to have solid stateside success (the only "American" movies they've made are the lackluster The Messengers and the Nicolas Cage flog Bangkok Dangerous), but maybe it's because they need to stick to horror…?  Just a thought, Brothers Pang.  Give us more gore.

11. Takashi Shimizu

So we're waiting for the day when we make a movie, it's sequel, then are asked to do it all over again for a different market.  Shimizu is of the poster children for this.  In 2002 he wrote and directed Ju-on, and in 2003 graced his Japanese brethren with Ju-on 2.  Back to back classic haunted-house-with-a-pissed-off-ghost-revenge-movies (albeit, with the ever-recognizable Japanese twist), Shimizu repackaged the first film for the US market in 2004.  It featured a former vampire slayer, Stone Temple Pilots music video nymphet, and Scream franchise murder victim.  And yes, this describes the same person!  Sarah Michelle Gellar graced the US with the morbidly successfully Grudge series over the course of 2004 to 2006.  But it leaves us wondering… can you bring something totally new and totally interesting to the US, Mr. Shimizu? According to imdb, he's at work on Paranoia Agent, but there's no info on what market this is for yet…

10. Eli Roth

For a guy who's totally revered for his craft, he hasn't really done a whole lot… but we kind of don't care.  With huge word-of-mouth and business endorsements from the likes of Quentin Tarantino (he's gotten to test out his acting chops in both Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds, as the already iconic "Bear Jew"), Roth is a totally relevant power player when it comes to horror expertise.  Some people love him, some people hate him, but the fact of the matter is, he's the guy to emulate career-wise if you're trying to make it in the horror genre.  After the huge cult/critical success of 2002's Cabin Fever (former gross out horror deity Peter Jackson hailed it extensively), Roth's only worn the director/writer hat 2 more times for his Hostel franchise.  With Hostel: Part III in the works, it's clear that Roth is only wearing the producer pants this time around, so we're kind of wondering if he's done with the whole directing thing.  He's still writing (he's credited for the upcoming The Man with the Iron Fist), but it seems like he might be done behind the camera.  Let's hope Thanksgiving is a real thing… pretty please.

9. James Wan

Simply put, Wan is responsible for the horror franchise to end all horror franchises of the new millennium.  He's the writer/director of the original Saw film – 5 more have been released, and yes, a 7th is coming your way this Halloween.  Personally, we're not huge fans of these films over here, but you have to give props where props are due.  After Scream wrapped up (temporarily – more on that later), after the Halloween movies seemed overwrought (again, more on that later), horror goers were left itching for a new original, totally renewable (at least up to 7 times over) horror series to latch on to.  Wan gave them their wish in 2003.  Since then, he's only produced the subsequent Saw movies, but has found time to jump slightly away from the horror genre with the 2007 Kevin Bacon thriller Death Sentence.  Coming up next – no more writing for Wan apparently, but he'll stay behind the camera for the 2011 slated releases of Insidious (featuring the sorely underrated Patrick Wilson), and the yet to be cast Castlevania.  Again, the guy is modern kitsch horror.  Props.

8. Rob Zombie

Musician turned shock horror director Zombie is a rising new voice in horror cinema.  With the incredibly disturbing sadomasochistic House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects, Zombie showed that he does indeed have the gory, messed up chops to create instant cult classics.  But that's not why he's really on here.  Zombie's really shined with the reboot work he's done for the dying Halloween franchise.  With 2 under his belt now, he's moved away from the totally gratuitous S&M of his previous efforts, and has shown that he can be faithful to an endeared series, while still bringing a breath of originality as both a writer and director.  Let's not beat around the bush though – we're ready for some more original Zombie fare… perhaps a zombie flick… anyone?

7. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg has had a helluva career, effectively transitioning from more gross out, heady sci-fi fare into the world of legit drama (re: A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and the upcoming Freud/Jung biopic A Dangerous Method).  But when Cronenberg was starting out, he was writing the bulk of his own material – most of which was rooted in the morbidly strange.  With movies like Scanners, The Fly, and Videodrome, Cronenberg established himself as an auteur of the sci-fi horror mesh… and its total absurdity.  Even though his films never went into full franchise mode (okay, The Fly II and Scanners II don't really count), Cronenberg's story and directorial style stand the test of time – his signature is all over them, namely the gruesome (and almost comical) make up effects that are a throwback to monster movies of the 50s, revamped for the 80s era of decadence.

6. Clive Barker

For Preston, Clive Barker is responsible for many a nightmare of his from around 6 years old to 10 years old – even without having seen one of his films (the movie boxes at the local Blockbuster were enough.)  He's the man behind the Pinhead, Hellraiser's iconic, horrific, nasty hitman from Hell.  Transitioning from horror novelist to filmmaker, Barker has created some of the most memorable horror films of the past 20 years, including the Hellraiser films, the Candyman series, and the Scott Bakula nightmare Lord of Illusions.  He hasn't stepped behind the camera so often, but he's slated to get back in action on the upcoming Tortured Souls: Animae Damnatae.  There's really not much else to say – the guy's name is synonymous with the horror genre, even if you've never seen any of his movies.

5. Tobe Hooper

When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out in 1974, it was a total horror game changer.  Nobody had seen anything so honest or believable before.  It was practically a documentary, slash an unbelievable nightmare, slash a totally believable nightmare.  Hooper singlehandedly invented the verite style of horror, creating copycats into perpetuity.  Though he wasn't the writer for it, Hooper also hit it huge in the franchise game by directing the first of the Poltergeist films (though the story of the Poltergeist production is one shrouded in controversy, as Spielberg apparently strong-armed the entire directorial process, whilst in the producer role.)  But the 2 franchises alone are seminal to the genre, especially since it was deemed worthy to reboot TCM by none other than Michael Bay (as producer – Marcus Nispel directed.)  Since the 2 series though, Hooper hasn't done much to brag about, but his notoriety still stands on its own.  Hopefully, he can channel his roots with the upcoming Stephen King adaptation, From a Buick 8

4. Sam Raimi

He's kind of the franchise/crossover/remake king.  When Raimi helmed The Evil Dead in 1981, it was a cult critical success, so much so that he went ahead and remade it practically shot for shot (but with a ton more gore and hilarity) in 1987, and just called it Evil Dead II.  Weird, yes; inspired, definitely.  He basically started a new genre too – the horror comedy.  Peter Jackson certainly owes Raimi kudos to his own career as a gross out film director, and the same can be said to the likes of Roth, Taratino, and definitely Robert Rodriguez.  Raimi abandoned his true horror roots for some time after the 3rd ED installment in 1992 (Army of Darkness).  After major critical acclaim with the super adult drama A Simple Plan in 1998 (and a couple other forgettable ones), he landed the gig of a lifetime with the Spider-Man franchise.  But it seems like Raimi might be bound for a return to form.  Drag Me to Hell (2009) saw Raimi back at it with the horror/comedy genre.  Yeah, it wasn't that good, but hopefully he's just flexing his muscles to get back on the gross out workout plan.

3. George A. Romero

Another genre inventor, Romero essentially invented the zombie movie for what it is today.  Night of the Living Dead (1968) wasn't only terrifying to audiences when it came out – it was also one of the first films in a post Heat of the Night world to make an African American actor the hero of the story.  It can even be said that this was the jumping off point for Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, employing verite and POV camera techniques that were seldomly used before in the genre. Romero's Dead franchise has been epic, spanning from its impetus in 1968 to 2010 with the release of Survival of the Dead.  With the exception of the Dawn of the Dead remake done by Zack Snyder in 2004, Romero has written and directed every Dead film – a pretty much unprecedented feat, especially for the horror genre (though there's one guy who really takes the crown for this totem.)

2. John Carpenter

He invented Halloween, one of the most profitable movies/franchises of all time (not highest grossing, profitable), which could stand alone – nothing else needs to be said.  But Carpenter's gone even further, developing the Escape series (…from New York and LA respectively), rebooted The Thing (seriously, one of the best horror movies of all time), and has a slew of other somewhat schlocky (but still awesome) films under his belt.  With Halloween, he essentially created the mass market, low budget horror movie.  Yeah, Romero did this with NOTLD, but Carpenter innovated the franchise potential for horror.  Without him, there'd be no sequels to Texas, none for Hellraiser, none for Scream or Friday the 13th… it really and truly was his work that made the plagues of horror franchises what they are today.  And no, that's not a bad thing – good and bad horror films are incredibly entertaining, especially when there's a discernable, totally rudimentary formula to them.  Carpenter's work stands alone, as well as his original scores.  Perhaps Mr. Eastwood took cues from Carpenter?  Wethinks yes.

1. Wes Craven

Yes, he's number one.  Before we even got to know our best friend, and arguably most famous totem of horror supervillains (a Sir Freddy Kruger, Esq.), Craven made 2 of the most copied horror films of all time without breaking a sweat… and spawned reboots of them in the past few years – The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes (he also directed a sequel to Hills himself in the 80s.)  Even though Carpenter more or less spawned horror franchises, Craven is the tried and true dominator of the franchise.  Directing only 2 of the Nightmare on Elm Street films (the original from 1984 and New Nightmare ten years later), the Nightmare series is the most successful horror moneymaker of all time.  And what's one of the others?  It rhymes with Scream.  What really sets Craven apart from these other directors (in our humble opinions) is his overseeing presence over the production of all his films, whether they're his original babies, or spinoffs.  And to his ingenue credit, Scream came out of nowhere and totally re-injected horror as a mainstream genre again – a clever movie about movies that parodied none other than Wes Craven himself.  No, Craven didn't write the script, but he brought life to it that only a true master of the craft could.  And guess what – get ready for Scream 4… 5, and 6 – Craven's back.  But to be completely honest… the most terrifying movie of Craven's – Music of the Heart with Meryl Streep.  Not scary because it's actually scary – scary because it makes you wonder why the hell Craven hasn't dabbled more in non horror cinema.  Keep going, Wes.