Wes Craven. John Carpenter. George Romero. Alfred Hitchcock. The horror genre doesn’t just have great directors, we practically have royalty. At some point we declared the greatest horror filmmakers in the land to be our “Masters of Horror,” and all was basically well. But then something weird happened. We stopped.
Your mileage might vary on this but amongst the horror circles I frequent, we seem particularly hesitant to celebrate more contemporary filmmakers the way we celebrate our established maestros. Maybe the title “Masters of Horror” just carries with it a certain amount of baggage. Maybe“Masters of Horror” is a term that we use to describe horror filmmakers of a certain era, who brought about a new wave of frightening flicks that continue to inspire new scary moviemakers to this day.
But I’ll cry foul on that. Contemporary audiences are growing up with contemporary horror movies – obviously – and that means that they are forming attachments to newer filmmakers who have just only emerged into prominence in the last decade or two. These are the filmmakers who are scaring a whole new generation of horror fans, and many of them are at least arguably masters.
So who, exactly, belongs in the cast of “Masters of Horror: The Next Generation?” Which filmmakers are exciting, brilliant and consistent enough to build a meaningful reputation as a master of their craft?
I really am asking you this. I’m going to put some names into the hat in just a moment, but I invite you to let us know your own nominations on social media. You can tweet us at @Blumhouse with your picks, or you can also comment on this article’s Facebook posting.
But I do ask that you consider the following criteria before you declare your new-ish Masters of Horror. They must have A) directed at least one truly brilliant horror movie; B) directed multiple films in the horror genre (or at least genres closely related to it, like psychological thrillers); C) only risen to prominence within the genre over the last 20 years; and D) consistently directed good, great or at the very least interesting horror films. Everyone is entitled to a dud now and then, but in general their output needs to be genuinely impressive in order to be called a “master.”
In the interest of getting the ball rolling, I’ve wracked my brain and come up with just a handful of initial nominees for our incoming class of Masters of Horror. Congratulations, filmmakers! I now declare you to be legends in your own time.
Masterpieces: SAW, THE CONJURING
James Wan is one of the most successful horror filmmakers, period. He’s launched three blockbuster franchises – SAW, INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING – and his style has evolved very impressively over time, incorporating real human drama, outlandish jump scares and inventive camerawork within the same film, and sometimes even the same scene. And although he may be branching out into the action genre now, he isn’t abandoning his roots. He’s still producing films in his enormously popular franchises and potentially even new ones, like this summer’s upcoming supernatural thriller, LIGHTS OUT.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO
Masterpieces: THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, PAN’S LABYRINTH
One of very few horror filmmakers with an Oscar nomination in his back pocket, Guillermo Del Toro has become a name brand within the genre. He’s produced books, hit TV series, art house horror movies and big budget monster flicks, and his luscious attention to costume, makeup and production design – combined with his singular sympathy for monsters of all kinds – has given his work an unmistakable artistic stamp.
Yes, Del Toro technically debuted his first film more than 20 years ago (with 1993’s CHRONOS) but he didn’t become a seemingly ubiquitous force in the industry until the late 1990s and early 2000s, and we wouldn’t want him to get lost between generations. He truly is one of the Masters of Horror.
Masterpieces: OLDBOY, STOKER
Award-winning Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park doesn’t always work in the horror genre, but even his thrillers are absolutely terrifying. Chan-wook Park has a nasty ability to look inside of the human soul and film our various disturbances, whether it take the form of a priest afflicted with vampirism (THIRST), a young woman compelled to embrace her perversions (STOKER), or unbelievably sadist revenge (OLDBOY). Chan-wook Park has been pushing at the extremes of the human condition for years, and he has proven time and again that he is truly a master at making us all uncomfortable in the process.
Masterpieces: MAY, THE WOMAN
Lucky McKee is unique amongst my nominees, because he has already been declared one of the “Masters of Horror” by the short-lived Showtime anthology series that bore the same name. But when Lucky McKee directed his installment he was still relatively green, with only one theatrically released feature to his name. In the years that followed he’s made good on his early promise, releasing a series of mostly confrontational, mostly feminist films that have the power to shock, empower and push his audience’s buttons. Hell, even his MASTERS OF HORROR episode “Sick Girl” was a masterstroke, using insectoid metaphors to dissect the perils of unhealthy relationships.
Masterpieces: YOU’RE NEXT, THE GUEST
Adam Wingard, usually collaborating with screenwriter Simon Barrett, has been successfully deconstructing genres and rebuilding them again for years. His thriller YOU’RE NEXT modified modern slasher and home invasion tropes into a familial drama with violent twists and turns, and his difficult-to-categorize thriller THE GUEST is one of the most unexpected, topical and hilarious horror films in recent memory. Adam Wingard’s oeuvre lives in a nether realm between the familiar and the wholly unusual, making his work a real treat for genre fans and casual horror lovers alike.