The big names in horror are frequently recognized by both the genre film community and mainstream entertainment culture. They are often showered with accolades by horror fans and film critics alike. Directors like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven have secured their place in history.
Many talented directors live in the shadows and are rarely recognized for their hard work and noteworthy contributions to the genre. To remedy that, we are shining the spotlight on five of our favorite underrated horror directors.
Christopher Smith has churned out some truly underrated contemporary classics and he himself is vastly underrated on the landscape of horror filmmakers. His films Severance and Creep are vastly different in tonality but both display an affection and understanding of the horror genre not unlike some of the great genre film directors of years past. Severance is full of witty one-liners and contrasted by a hefty dose of ultra violence. Creep finds its initially abominable lead undergoing the kind of transformation of character that we rarely see in horror films. He also helmed the mind-bendingly fascinating 2009 film Triangle. Unfortunately, if you say the name Christopher Smith to the average horror fan, they probably won’t have any idea of whom you speak. They may have seen his films, but the skilled director seems to have yet to become recognizable to stateside audiences.
Dave Parker is responsible for the cult classic The Hills Run Red as well as the anxiously anticipated slow burn horror film Coldwater. Parker took the meta approach to his slasher effort, The Hills Run Red and intertwined a multitude of impressive twists and turns that kept the viewer on their toes. Hills was doomed to a direct-to-DVD release by way of the now defunct Warner Premiere label, which is a shame, seeing as how the film had the potential to drive horror fans to the box office and in turn make a name for its talented director. Though the quantity of films Parker has been involved with may not be as large as some of his contemporaries, we will take quality over quantity any day.
Lucky McKee is such a prolific and talented filmmaker. He burst on the scene with his first solo-directing gig in 2002 with May. May is probably the film he is best known for to this day. His film The Woods is an underrated gem that didn’t make a big splash upon its release and has received most of its exposure by word of mouth. The film pays homage to classics like Suspiria and features a Bruce Campbell cameo in an atypical role for the cult actor. McKee’s 2011 collaboration with Jack Ketchum, The Woman is dark, brutal, intense, and really hard to watch. It is an extremely well made film; McKee elicited performances from his cast that are so realistic that it becomes difficult to watch what was unfolding on the screen. Pollyanna McIntosh’s performance was impeccable; it was excruciating to watch the ordeal she was put through. McIntosh sells the character of ‘The Woman’ as if she really was a feral woman entrapped by a psychotic family man. The success of her performance is thanks in no small part to McKee’s skill as a director. The Woman is not for the faint of heart and it’s not the kind of movie that I would want to watch more than once. But it is a movie that should be seen, if only as a testament to McKee’s directorial ability. McKee was tapped to direct an episode of the Showtime series Masters of Horror in 2006, but even that didn’t find the gifted director realizing the level of success one might expect. Regardless of name recognition, McKee is one of the most talented directors working in horror today.
David Schmoeller co-wrote and directed the bizarre 1979 cult classic Tourist Trap. The film is based on his critically acclaimed short film The Spider Will Kill You. Tourist Trap wasn’t terribly well received upon its initial release but has slowly collected a cult following over the years. In the years following, Schmoeller went on to direct the first and probably best installment in the direct-to-video Puppet Master franchise. He didn’t return to direct any of the installments to come after. He has been involved with both film and television in the years since the release of Puppet Master but unfortunately is rarely recognized for his noteworthy contributions to the genre film arena – namely Tourist Trap and Puppet Master.
Fred Walton directed When a Stranger Calls, When a Stranger Calls Back, and April Fool’s Day. Strangely, it’s uncommon to hear his name brought up alongside other filmmakers that have made great contributions to the horror genre. It’s unfortunate to see Walton go underappreciated, as he was involved with two very influential horror films – April Fool’s Day and When a Stranger Calls. When a Stranger Calls has gone on to influence countless directors to come since and April Fool’s Day is an undisputed slasher staple. In spite of Walton’s noteworthy contributions to the horror scene, he is rarely ever given the accolades he is entitled to.
Honorable mention to Jamie Blanks who directed the underrated Storm Warning, Urban Legend, and Valentine.