On Facebook, I asked our community members ( counted in the hundreds of thousands ) who they consider a new Master of Horror in preparation for this editorial. Many directors claim to be “Masters of Horror” but let’s be honest: it’s not a title they can bestow on themselves. It is one that only we as fans can give to them.
What makes a Master of Horror? Well that is truly the million dollar question. The first thing to know about being a Master of Horror is that it has NOTHING to do with money. Some of the greatest genre directors of our time have not made any significant dents at the box office but have still managed to create some of the most memorable horror movies of our time.
(Please note, the below are “new” Masters of Horror, which is why names like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and George Romero are not on the list. Perhaps we will do another list looking at the greatest Masters of Horror of all time and those names will surely make an appearance.)
So with that said, here is my list of 10 New Masters of Horror. Some have had some serious contributions and others are just getting their feet wet. All of them, however, are incredible talents. Whatever your opinion of this list, I think we can all agree that every director here has contributed positively to the horror genre.
Ti West is well on his way to becoming a legend in the genre. He has directed many genre titles that have polarized passionate fans. The Innkeepers split fans 50/50, with half of them loving it and the other half groaning. The House of the Devil, on the other hand, which was written and directed by West, is quickly becoming a classic with horror fans.
West has two more horror films in development, The Sacrament and The Side Effect, and it is safe to say that all horror fans should keep their eyes peeled for both projects.
Xavier Gens has only just begun dipping his toe into horror and I can’t wait until he really gets a chance to throw himself into the deep end. His first film, the French terror flick Frontiere(s), is a classic Good vs. Evil crime thriller with a mixture of political intrigue, neo-Nazis, and a deranged family of killers, all wrapped in a 90-minute bloodbath.
Gens followed up Frontiere(s) with the apocalyptic nightmare, The Divide, one of the 10 best apocalyptic films I have ever seen. It’s violent, visceral, and very real and will make you feel sick to your stomach. It’s a vicious and believable look at how the end of the world might actually go down. Although Gens’ films have not raked in huge box office dollars, his talent is immense. Gens has two new horror films in the works, The Farm and Cold Skin, both slated for a 2014 release.
Adam Green is a genius because of his flexibility as a filmmaker. He is no one trick pony like so many genre directors are these days. Most of you will know him from his American horror, Hatchet, which was a huge hit among genre fans. Hatchet is a throwback to classic American horror in the vein of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was fun, but by no means was it the movie that grabbed Green the top spot on my list for film making prowess. Spiral did that.
Green’s Hatchet follow up was the jaw-dropping Spiral. Spiral is the closest thing to Hitchcock that modern horror fans can experience and showed us that Green is capable of so much more than just blood-splattered camera shots. Hatchet was fairly mindless, so imagine my shock when Green turned around and released Spiral which proved to be the complete opposite.
Green’s latest film, Frozen, is an ecological horror film that impressed the hell out of me but admittedly turned off some horror fans who prefer their terror more classic in nature. When the New York Times interviewed me and asked what my favorite ecological horror films are, Frozen made the list. Green is incredibly talented and is definitely a modern Master of Horror.
Steven C. Miller
Steven C. Miller first hit horror fans’ radars with his indie zombie film, Automaton Transfusion. Boy, did I hate that movie for it’s nauseating “grindhouse grain” effect. Regardless of the fact that it made me seasick, horror fans loved it and it instantly pushed him to the forefront of people’s minds as a talented up-and-coming director.
That was in 2006 and he made his directorial return in 2012 with two big movies: a remake, Silent Night, and an original horror, Aggression Scale. Sure, remakes make us all groan, but let’s not forget that not all remakes are garbage. Some filmmakers have managed to take the classics and rework them while still showing respect for the original and its fans.
Silent Night is a remake of the classic 1984 Christmas terror Silent Night, Deadly Night and Steven managed to put his own brutal spin on it while still paying homage to the original. The reason I think Silent Night works is primarily because they tapped a director who loves the genre as much as we fans do. Miller’s passion for horror showed in Silent Night where he managed to create and incorporate his own elements without destroying the classic.
Right on the heels of the remake’s release, Miller’s project, The Aggression Scale, an original horror film shot on a limited budget, made its debut. Aggression Scale made our list of Top Horror Films of 2012 and can be best described as Halloween meets Home Alone. The writing and visual style of this film demonstrated Miller’s unique vision and the final product is the main reason he makes this list.
Miller’s next kick at the genre was Under the Bed, a monster movie that seems to pay homage to classic teen monster flicks of the ’90s. I think Steven C. Miller is an underrated director who you may not agree has earned Master of Horror status, but he undoubtedly will if he keeps making movies like Aggression Scale and Automaton Transfusion. And don’t forget his many excellent horror short films. They alone prove me right!
Alexander Aja first hit my radar with High Tension. Brutal, well-written, and a real thrill ride, it was the first French film I had seen in many years that got me excited. Aja went on to pen the parking garage thriller, P2, which was a lot of fun to me and a great twist on the “stalker” segment of the genre.
From there he released Mirrors with Kiefer Sutherland, one of the few recent supernatural ghost story films I can say I really enjoyed. Aja really hit a high mark with Piranha 3D, the ultimate 3D B-movie. Aja’s films have grossed over $110 million at the box office, a staggering amount of payola!
I find some of Eli Roth movies incredibly over-hyped, but you can’t take away from the fact that he was one of the first to get the mainstream press buzzing in North America about extreme horror and the concept of “torture porn.”
Roth has three notable horror films under his directorial belt: Hostel, Hostel: Part II, and Cabin Fever.
I really enjoyed Cabin Fever despite its haters, and despite how over-blown I think Hostel was (especially claims of it being “terrifying”), it was still very solid and one of Roth’s best works to date. Roth’s films, including The Last Exorcism which he produced, have grossed over $100 million.
Tough to put Neil Marshall on a “New Masters of Horror” list, but considering he has only recently really started to crank out movies I think it’s fair. He made the classic horror movie, Dog Soldiers, in 2002, followed up with The Descent in 2005, and then released Doomsday in 2008.
He also has a partial writing credit for The Descent: Part 2, which holds the unique distinction of being one of the few sequels almost as good as the original. All three films that he has directed are the definition of fantastic film making. We can see Marshall’s clear talent for film making and why he deserves to sit in the Director’s Chair. His horror films have pulled in just over $50 million at the box office.
James Wan is a name that deserves to make the list for Saw alone, but unfortunately one good film can’t qualify a director as a Master of Horror (even if that movie is Saw). Wan, who wrote and directed Saw, followed that hit with more killer puppets in the form of Dead Silence (which, frankly, sucked).
His follow up to that put Kevin Bacon back on the map, though, with Death Sentence. Where Saw was a thrill ride from start to finish and Dead Silence was complete garbage, Death Sentence was a throwback to classic revenge films of the Bronson era and, in two words, kicked ass.
Wan’s latest kick at the box office was Insidious, a fan-polarizing hit. Fans either loved it or they hated it and there seemed to be very little middle ground. Insidious was a huge success, bringing in $50 million at the box office. Overall, Wan’s films have made studios over $140 million.
Pascal Laugier has not made a lot of films, but he has been in talks to do a TON of them, which at one time included the long talked about Hellraiser remake. His big claim to distinction is Martyrs, one of the most disturbing horror films ever made. He also helmed House of Voices, which I have not seen yet, unfortunately.
His latest kick at the horror movie can was The Tall Man, starring Jessica Biel. It was an interesting and complex thriller which did not maintain Martyrs-level quality but was still a solid movie.
Laugier’s contribution to the box office has been very small but, much like Richard Stanley, that does not detract from the fact that he is a hybrid of all the best traits of Eli Roth and Neil Marshall. I can’t wait to see what Pascal does with his next film.
There is no denying that, despite what his haters might say, Rob Zombie did a really great job with his early films. The Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses are fantastic films that define good horror film making. Unfortunately, he also got himself involved in a remake of Halloween which I think was his undoing with some die-hard horror fans.
I will be the first to stand up and say that Zombie’s remake of Halloween was actually pretty good. I expected a trainwreck and he turned in a solid flick that added a new spin on one of the most iconic horror characters ever. His follow up, Halloween 2, on the other hand, was not something worth talking about.
Love him or hate him, Zombie has made studios and producers a ton of money, raking in over $140 million at the box office (the bulk of which comes from his Halloween remake). Along with making studios a boat load of money, Zombie has also made some very innovative and original horror films, including his latest, The Lords of Salem.
Now that you’ve read my list, who have we forgotten? Who would you have added or removed?