In entertainment, sports, or whatever category you want, the phrase “The Mount Rushmore of (insert topic)” has been used for years to be a measuring stick of the four best or most iconic figures in that category.
Today we will look at what I consider to be The Mount Rushmore of Horror Directors. These four directors worked primarily in the horror genre and made lasting impacts throughout the genre that can still be felt today. These four stand out above the rest due to their legacy/influence, filmography, and, most importantly, just my personal freakin preference.
It is hard to put into words just how much of an impact Alfred Hitchcock has had on the thriller and horror genres, and his influence can also be felt outside these genres. “The Master of Suspense”, Hitchcock pioneered many elements of psychological thriller and horror films, and his movies remain more thrilling and terrifying than most released today. Too often horror now relies on jump scares and special effects, but Hitchcock instead used slow-building tension and suspense to create the edge of your seat films which impacted audiences at the time like no other film. This is most notable with his most famous piece, Psycho (1960), which set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behavior, and sexuality (horror staples) in American cinema. The Birds, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, and Dial M for Murder are just a small selection of his gripping, thrilling, and terrifying movies. However, at the end of the day, I just don’t consider him a horror director.
The horror genre is one that has taken many twists and turns over the years and is now completely different from how it was in the early 1900s. However, although it is different, it is important to not forget the roots of the genre, as they influenced what came later and set the blueprint for years to come. At the forefront of the fledgling horror genre was James Whale, who is best known for directing four classic horror films of the 1930s: Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Whale’s work in horror and a few other genres (he actually did not want to be labeled as a horror director, and therefore probably would not appreciate inclusion here) reinvigorated Universal Studios during the 1930s, but his non-horror works took place during a down period for the company, and this is the reason why he is best remembered for his early work in horror.
For some people, the name Sam Raimi will conjure up images of the incredibly popular Spider-Man trilogy, but for horror fans, Raimi’s name will always represent something much darker. Sam Raimi is responsible for creating the Evil Dead series of films, which were not only scary but also helped develop the horror-comedy genre. Raimi brilliantly incorporated B-movie tropes and cinematic style along with genuinely scary stories, helping to create films that are both terrifying and highly entertaining. Although Raimi honed his skills through his Evil Dead series, he would continue to evolve his corner of the genre with his return to horror after the Spider-Man movies in 2009’s Drag Me to Hell. He may have moved away from the genre, he still remains an important figure in the history of horror movies.
Argento has had a huge impact on modern horror films and is legendary for his work in the giallo subgenre. Dubbed “The Italian Hitchcock”, Argento has made some astonishing horror films, beginning with his first “animal” trilogy. This consisted of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971), and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972). After that came his most famous film, one that any horror buff must-see, 1977’s Suspiria. Moving away from the constraints of giallo, Suspiria saw plot and character as secondary to sound and vision, creating a film that was as much a surreal piece of art as it was a horror movie. With stunning use of color and sound, it is a feast for the senses and is now a cult classic that cemented him as one of the elite horror directors.
Hammer Films was a British production company that made dozens of horror films from the mid-1950s to 1970, which dominated the horror market, and therefore played a key role in shaping the genre as we know it today. Terence Fisher worked for Hammer Films and is one of the most prominent horror directors of the second half of the 20th Century. It is thanks to him that we have classic movies such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), and The Mummy (1959). Fisher is considered to be the director that brought gothic horror, complete with sexual overtones, to the mainstream, concepts which are now huge aspects of modern-day horror films. It is also thanks to Terence Fisher that famed actor Christopher Lee became a horror legend, as it was his roles in some of Fisher’s films that helped make him a household name.
Famed for his very obscure films which blended horror and science fiction, David Cronenberg is considered to be one of the principal originators of a subgenre known as body horror. This style of film explores the fear of bodily transformations and infection, with the most famous example being Cronenberg’s The Fly, which is a hugely important film in the horror genre. Prior to this, Cronenberg had shown glimpses of his talent to make horrifying and unique films through Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, and Scanners. All of these films contained wild and gruesome makeup, with The Fly earning an Academy Award for its unforgettable makeup. Since these fantastic films from the ’70s and ’80s, Cronenberg has taken his career in a slightly different direction and shown his diversity by delving into more dramatic movies, such as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.
FACES ON THE MOUNT:
Legacy: A true horror visionary, John Carpenter is a remarkably influential horror director who has contributed some of the best horror and science fiction films of all-time. Many would consider his legendary Halloween (1978) film to be the greatest and most influential horror movie ever created, and it is still heavily studied and discussed to this day. Other masterpieces include The Thing (1982), and The Fog (1980) (as well as the Escape franchise outside of the horror genre). It is largely due to Halloween, however, that is why he is considered such a master, as this birthed the possibility of horror franchises and the ability to create fantastic and deeply affecting horror films on a shoestring budget. Not only was his use of Steadicam and POV shots influential, but Carpenter is also famed for scoring his films. This includes the iconic Halloween theme which is so crucial to the franchise, and now the entire genre.
Favorite Horror Films: The Thing (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987), In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
My Personal Freakin Preference: Carpenter’s films were the few that actually got to me as a kid. Sure I knew who Michael Myers was but he wasn’t scary to me. However, The Thing and Prince of Darkness were some of the few that actually shook me to my core with his creepy atmosphere and special effects. There would be so many movies of his that would shape my you movie-watching life in and outside of horror. Halloween will always be considered one of the greatest horror films of all time and the film that really launched the slasher genre that would take off in the 80s. Also, if it wasn’t for Carpenter and Halloween, I wouldn’t have the Friday the 13th series and my Jason Voorhees. So to that, I salute you, sir.
George A. Romero
Legacy: Zombies are immensely important to the horror genre, and we have witnessed a resurgence of zombie horror both in film and TV in the last 10 years or so. However, zombies would not be what they are today if it were not for George Romero. Widely considered to have invented the zombie movie, Romero horrified audiences with the enormously influential Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This launched a very successful zombie franchise, with Romero being attached to the majority of these projects. Not only did these films help define zombies, but the clever use of POV shots and the realistic approach was almost unprecedented in horror before (though they are now staples of the genre). Romero’s fingerprints are all over the horror genre, and we have him to thank for the many excellent zombie films out there.
Favorite Horror Films: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Martin (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1978)
My Personal Freakin Preference: I couldn’t tell you how many zombie movies I saw before ever seeing the original Night of the Living Dead. Hell, I think I saw the 1990 remake before the original but it didn’t matter. Its influence was ingrained in my brain and the first time I sat down to watch it, I could recognize the masterpiece that it was. It instantly became one of my favorite horror films alongside Dawn and Day. Martin would be one of his films I would find later on and fall in love with. His NOTL and influence have given me and other horror fans so much, it’s hard not to rank him among the best all-time.
Legacy: Wes Craven sadly passed away in 2015, which meant that horror and the entire film industry lost a true legend. He was prolific in the horror genre, and particularly the slasher sub-genre. Craven has a stunning body of work, with his most notable contributions being the famed A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise, the Scream Franchise, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, The People Under the Stairs, and Deadly Blessing. Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger is one of the most iconic horror villains, as is Ghostface from the Scream films, which brilliantly saw Craven satirize the sub-genre that he helped elevate. This shows that Craven knew how to create fun and thrilling horror flicks, but also terrifying ones that will stick with you long after the credits roll. Horror directors do often not get much credit, but Craven will always be remembered as one of the great filmmakers. It’s hard enough to change a genre once let alone twice by the same man. Craven took the slasher sub-genre to a new level with Freddy Krueger. Instead of just having a killer in a mask hunting down victims, he would have this killer do his hunting in teenager’s dreams which is brilliant. Then he changed it again by giving us the meta-horror slasher Scream. Craven was a true pioneer and innovator in the horror genre.
Favorite Horror Films: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), New Nightmare (1994), Scream (1996)
My Personal Freakin Preference: I love Freddy so much. He was so wicked and fun back in the 80s. The nightmare scene and innovated kills would make the biggest impact on though and that was all Craven. The thing I loved about Craven is that he kept pushing boundaries within horror. Everyone points to Scream as the movie that helped launch meta-horror but he did it first with New Nightmare which brought Freddy into the real world and made him scary again. He was a director that I was watching every film he made no matter what. He made some doozies of course but when got it right, they were home runs.
Legacy: Italian filmmaker Mario Bava is famed for kick-starting what we know as the modern slasher film, as well as the giallo film genre. This began with hugely influential films including The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and Blood and Black Lace (1964), while Bay of Blood (1971) is considered by most to be the movie that paved the way for the explosion of slasher films in the 1980s. He was also known for creating fantastic gothic horror films such as Black Sunday (1960), plus 1965’s sci-fi/horror Planet of the Vampires, which was a thematic precursor to Alien. Anyone that considers themselves a fan of modern film or auteur directors including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, and Tim Burton must check out his work, as they all cite his films as being very influential on their own.
Favorite Horror Films: Black Sunday (1960), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Bay of Blood (1971)
My Personal Freakin Preference: I was very late to the Bava party, not seeing a film of his till late into my 20’s but man was I missing out. He is someone who has influenced so much of what I love about horror while I was growing and I didn’t even know it. Going back through his works and reading about his brilliance made me truly appreciate his genius and vision. I look forward to watching more of his classics that I have missed out on.
Please share below what four horror director’s you believe would make your Mount Rushmore.
Check out last year’s Mount Rushmore of Horror Franchises.