The big names in horror are often recognized by both the genre community and mainstream entertainment culture, showered with accolades by horror fans and film critics alike. Directors like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Wes Craven have secured their place in film history, but many more talented directors go largely unsung for their hard work and noteworthy contributions to the genre. To remedy that, we recently kicked off a recurring segment that gives much-needed credit to those groundbreaking horror filmmakers who aren’t always given the praise they deserve. [You can check out part one here and part two here.]
Since the first two installments proved popular, we're back with another round, and this time we present not five, but six more of our favorite underrated genre film directors.
Director of The Gravedancers and Big Ass Spider, Mendez and frequent collaborator Dave Parker (Coldwater, The Hills Run Red) helped to inspire the popular Showtime series Masters of Horror, but never actually got the opportunity to contribute material to that show. Gravedancers is one of the best entries in the original round of After Dark "8 Films to Die For" feature slate, and Big Ass Spider (now available on DVD) is big ass fun, but Mendez has yet to garner wide recognition beyond a strong cult following of genre fans. Mendez also brought us the films The Convent and Killers, and his latest feature Don’t Kill it is currently in preproduction.
Ruben brought us the 1984 horror/sci-fi classic Dreamscape, as well as the original version of The Stepfather, the horror-inspired thriller The Good Son, and the Julia Roberts thriller Sleeping With the Enemy. Dreamscape was released the same year as A Nightmare on Elm Street and shared a lot of plot similarities with Wes Craven's classic, including a dream-stalking killer, but never managed to achieve the level of success that Nightmare did. Ruben has an impressive resume of genre titles under his belt, but oddly enough his name rarely comes up in discussions about prolific horror, sci-fi, or thriller directors. His most recent genre film was 2004's sci-fi thriller The Forgotten, but he still keeps a fairly low profile these days.
Lynch is responsible for what is widely regarded as the best entry in the Wrong Turn franchise, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, as well as the "Zom-B-Movie" framing story to the horror-comedy anthology Chillerama. In spite of a good genre track record, Lynch doesn’t seem to be receiving the kind of accolades one would expect for talent of his caliber. He has a large fanbase as well, but has yet to experience any significant success outside of the tightly-knit horror film community. Lynch’s latest feature Knights of Badassdom is slated to hit select theaters on January 21st, which may lend more recognition to the much-deserving young director. Lynch is also the co-star of FEARnet's original series Holliston, along with fellow horrror filmmaker Adam Green.
Troma co-founder and president Lloyd Kaufman is responsible for creating an independent film empire, grooming several generations of young genre film directors, and giving advice and inspiration to aspiring independent filmmakers through his Make Your Own Damn Movie! instructional series. Among his impressive accomplishments, Kaufman is responsible for the creation of one of the most violent and memorable superheroes in The Toxic Avenger; he also co-directed the smart and satirical romp The Class of Nuke ‘Em High, which spawned a forthcoming two-part sequel Return to Nuke 'Em High, with Kaufman returning to the director's chair. Perhaps, because of the schlocky persona that is sometimes associated with the Troma brand, Kaufman rarely seems to get the credit he deserves, and that is a travesty. Without Troma, the genre film landscape would be a completely different place.
A one-time protégé of Lloyd Kaufman, James Gunn helmed Troma's infamous Tromeo and Juliet before moving on to direct the cult classic Slither. Gunn also penned the script for Zack Snyder's well-received 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. He obviously learned well from his mentor Kaufman, and that is evident in Slither, which has a similar schlocky aesthetic to many Troma pictures, but Gunn’s unique point of view is evident throughout. He has since achieved more mainstream success than the other directors we've profiled here, but we think he deserves more recognition as a genre pioneer than he's been granted so far; that may change this Summer with the premiere of his epic Marvel adaptation, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Norman J. Warren
UK director Warren is a prolific filmmaker in sci-fi, horror and exploitation, responsible for cult titles like Bloody New Year, Satan’s Slave (aka Evil Heritage) and Inseminoid (aka Horror Planet). While he didn’t turn out a massive quantity of films over the course of his career, his contributions are nevertheless noteworthy for their surreal and bizarre qualities. Warren's directing career has begun to wind down these days, but he still retains cult favorite status and a strong fanbase.
Honorable mention is extended to Paco Plaza, co-creator of the [REC] franchise, and Mary Lambert, director of Pet Sematary.
Who are some of your favorite horror film directors who don’t always receive recognition?