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10 Great Directors Who Should Make Horror Movies — IndieWire Critics Survey

Many great horror movies have come from unexpected places. From Christoper Nolan to Greta Gerwig, here's who we want to try the genre next.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson

Steve Bisgrove/REX/Shutterstock

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: What filmmaker would you most like to see try their hand at a horror movie?

Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko), Pajiba/Riot Material

“Singin’ in the Rain”

I struggled with this question, because a lot of the directors I have adored have worked in horror, be it Tim Burton (“Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands”), Robert Zemeckis (“Death Becomes Her”), Edgar Wright (“Shawn of the Dead”), Frank Oz (“Little Shop of Horror”), Guillermo del Toro (“Crimson Peak”), Bong-Joon Ho (“The Host”), Jim Jarmusch (“Only Lovers Left Alive”), or Taika Waititi (“What We Do In the Shadows”). Part of what I love about the genre is the way is can be reshaped with vision, color, and humor. And it seems a lot of modern directors get that and run with it! So I thought back on a classic-era helmer I’d love to have seen tango with horror, and man, wouldn’t it have been rad to see a Stanley Donen make one?

Best-known for the iconic “Singin’ in the Rain,” Donen had a way of bringing a sharp wit into sunny crowdpleasers. He dabbled in darkness with the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn thriller “Charade,” which was ripe with tension and charm. So, I grew positively dizzy at the thought of what he might bring to the horror genre! But overlooking his filmography in awe, I noticed a film title I’d never heard of before: “Saturn 3.” Made in 1980, this is apparently the only horror movie Donen ever made. A space-set tale of terror, it stars Harvey Keitel, Kirk Douglas, and Farrah Fawcett. And behold the true horror is that I never knew of it until this very moment!

If you’ll excuse me. I have a blindspot to eradicate.

Tomris Laffly,  Freelance

Matt-Damon-Hereafter-movie-image

“Hereafter”

Ken Regan

I have long wanted Clint Eastwood to direct a classic, terrifying horror film. His long career filled with staggeringly effective and absorbing crime dramas bordering thrillers (“Play Misty For Me”, “A Perfect World”, “Absolute Power”, “Changeling”, just to name a few), his unrivaled economy in storytelling, as well as his startling handle on organically building tension (pick any one of his films) all signal that he truly has the aptitude to scare the living daylights out of us. Plus, his grief-stricken, often melancholic sensibility that informs the majority of his filmography is a chief quality some of my favorite horror films also possess. With “Hereafter”, in which he deals with the afterlife and supernatural forces, I was even more convinced that we would one day get the Clint Eastwood horror film we don’t even know that we need. I am still wishing and hoping.

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

“Ishtar”

The other side of the horror coin is comedy, because, like fright, laughter is a physical reaction, bypassing will and judgment. It’s no surprise that, in the hands of horror-masters, a laugh is a frequent release from fear; on the other hand, much of what gets the biggest laughs in comedy arises from situations that, if seen apart from antic inspiration, would be purely terrifying. That’s why I wish that the best comedy director of the last half-century had gotten to make (or, even now, would make) a horror film (and a whole bunch of other films in other genres, too): Elaine May.

Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Freelance: Hello Beuatiful, Harper’s Bazaar, The Mary Sue, and more

“Dunkirk”

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Christopher Nolan. He typically has a very dark palette and doesn’t shy away from social commentary in sci-fi and other genre films, which are very trend right now. It seems like it would be a natural progression for him. I’d like to see what he’d do with it, and what statement he’d make.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today

“Tokyo Story”

I would have loved to have seen what a director like Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu might have done with the genre. Ozu is perhaps best remembered for intimate family dramas, photographed in mostly static, slightly low-angle compositions (the vantage point of a tatami mat), such as “Late Spring” (1949), “Early Summer” (1951) and my favorite, “Tokyo Story” (1953), which explore love, loss and intergenerational miscommunications. Often the characters are haunted by their pasts, so why could he not tackle actual haunting head-on? Sadly, Ozu long ago depated this earth, but perhaps his own ghost still lingers, able to inhabit some current director(s) and urge them towards an Ozu-like horror movie. Maybe the Coen Brothers . . . it’s amazing to me that they, too, have never dabbled in the genre, since they otherwise experiment freely. Now imagine their sensibility married to that of ghost-Ozu, and we’d have quite the oddball movie. Bring it, I say!

April Wolfe (@awolfeful), LA Weekly

Winter's Bone

“Winter’s Bone”

If Debra Granik doesn’t make a horror film in the next decade, I’d be surprised. “Winter’s Bone” scared the shit out of me, and that mastery of tone/atmosphere/suspense would lend itself well to the genre. There’s also the matter of Granik getting shut out of Hollywood for god knows why; horror films would be an excellent way for her to break back on the scene and reap a big box office on a low budget — and prove wrong all the idiots who passed up her talents over the years.

Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), Birth.Movies.Death.

"Nocturnal Animals"

“Nocturnal Animals”

If there’s one director I’d like to see try their hand at horror, it would have to be Tom Ford of “A Single Man” and “Nocturnal Animals.” What immediately springs to mind as the catalyst is a particularly affecting jump scare in the latter, one that feels dependent on character context and doesn’t rely on a handful of fake-outs, but like good horror itself, it’s about so much more than being startled.

Ford’s work as a designer bleeds in to his films and how they capture mood. He certainly has an eye for aesthetics, but he also has a keen understanding of how those aesthetics interact with cinematic narrative. The two narratives within “Nocturnal Animals” clash wildly, with a dusty, sweaty, bloody rural revenge tale underscoring the psychological journey of Susan Morrow as she places its fictional events within memories of its author in the real world, her bourgeois facade punctuated by a pristine, almost sterile contentment that’s now threatened by a raw intensity that forces her to introspect. In “A Single Man,” the juxtaposition of the drab and the vivid exist within the same headspace. A depressed George Falconer sees his own modern surroundings in dull browns and greys, but a little girl’s dress or the lips or the eyes of lovers cut through his fog so powerfully, manifesting as bright hues of blue and red and green that they may as well be rescuing him from Hell itself.

So much of modern American horror (especially at the studio level) ends up within the narrow, monotonous parameters of a dull grey haunted house, and its stories are rarely told through the interplay between character and surrounding beyond characters literally searching through unfamiliar rooms and artifacts. I do hope we see Ford try his hand at up-ending this status quo. Scary doesn’t have to mean boring to look at, and few modern filmmakers are as deft at making even the most vivid of images so personally harrowing.

Christian Blauvelt (@Ctblauvelt), BBC Culture

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

I love the genre of “cozy mysteries,” where all manner of gruesome murder are presented as palatable dinner-theater fare. Agatha Christie was the master of this, of course. “And Then There Were None” puts such an emphasis on mood and atmosphere that you forget that any Saw movie director could quite easily direct an adaptation of Christie’s novel because its grisly formula-murders are compatible with their torture-porn aesthetic. But I’d love to see more of a “cozy horror” variant — and who better to nail that particular tone than Wes Anderson? I can’t claim to have had this idea first. SNL produced a brilliant “trailer” in 2013 for a hypothetical Wes Anderson horror movie, “The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.” Horror works best when it dives deep into the quirks of the characters’ personalities and explores the minutiae of their world. Anderson’s mastery of cinematic detail could give us a devil of a time.

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire

“Lady Bird”

A24

Greta Gerwig, because I’d love to see her apply the emotionally harrowing energy of “Lady Bird” to some kind of survival situation (a survival situation besides high school, I mean). It could even take place on a film set and play off her experience as an actress… like a less referential “Scream 3” that starts as a scathing comedy before spiraling towards horror with the same frenetic momentum that “Lady Bird” careens towards maturity. Why not?

Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance for Vulture, Nylon, the Guardian

"Inherent Vice"

“Inherent Vice”

A person could certainly mount the argument that all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are horror films — the horror of living in a world that has no need for you! — but that person would be a real toolbox. As I’m firm in my belief he can work well in any genre, whether it be melodrama, the Western, or stoner comedy, I’d love to see him try his chops with something scary. His later-phase films have had a brooding, unsettling intensity to them that could be easily transmuted into more deliberate fear. Joaquin Phoenix could be a murderer, maybe?

Question: What is the best film currently playing in theaters?

Answer: “The Square” and “The Florida Project” (tie)

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