Posted October 11th, 2013
by Max Evry
With the exception of pornographers, no breed of filmmaker is more pigeonholed than horror directors. It takes incredible skill and oodles of talent to convince Hollywood brass that you have what it takes to tell a story that doesn't involve ten gallons of blood once you've established yourself in the genre.
Sometimes it happens, though, and in an even rarer occurrence it yields truly top-notch movies. A few of the directors on this list never totally made it out of the horror ghetto (and maybe they didn't want to!), but they all proved they could handle storytelling driven neither by stabbings or zombies, be they thrillers, superhero epics, or straight-up comedies.
Gallery | The 10 Best Non-Horror Movies By Horror Directors
- 10. 'Spider-Man 2' (2004) – Sam RaimiRaimi cut his teeth on gory genre-benders like "The Evil Dead" movies and "Darkman," though in his heart he was always an inventive visual stylist in need of a huge canvas. With the origin story of Spidey already under his belt, Raimi was finally able to cut loose on "Spider-Man 2" with cinematographer Bill Pope and create a comic book movie wild enough to make people's heads spin. Tobey Maguire's do-gooder faces off against mad scientist Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), and their battle along a subway car is an absolute showstopper, although true fans of the director appreciate Doc Oc's hospital operation scene -- Raimi's homage to himself -- where evil tentacles become instruments of horror.
- 9. 'Red Eye' (2005) – Wes CravenThe mastermind behind the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" franchises had tried to become a "normal" director with the abysmal Meryl Streep inner-city-violin-teacher pap "Music of the Heart," which died a merciful death at the box office. One could argue Craven stepped a little too far outside his comfort zone on that one, but when the Hitchcockian thriller "Red Eye" came his way he knocked it right outta the park. This contained time-lock thriller has Rachel McAdams threatened by terrorist Cillian Murphy during a long flight to make a critical phone call. The chemistry between the two leads and various scenarios that play out over the flight are riveting, white-knuckle material perfectly suited for Freddy's father.
- 8. 'Robot Jox' (1990) – Stuart GordonThis year Guillermo del Toro gave us the satisfying robot fighting picture "Pacific Rim," but its cinematic predecessor -- made on one-twentieth the budget -- was Stuart Gordon's utterly silly cheesefest "Robot Jox." Pitting rival countries' giant mechs against each other in gladiatorial "to-the-death" bouts, what makes this goofy Cold War-era sci-fi action flick rise to the challenge is the amazing stop-motion animation by late/great David Allen. Having made his name on Lovecraftian horror flicks "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond," this was Gordon dipping his toe into George Lucas territory while leaving his firm B-movie stamp on it.
- 7. 'Knightriders' (1981) – George A. RomeroThe man who invented the modern-day zombie with "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead" sought to re-invent Arthurian myth in this contemporary tragedy that substitutes motorcycles for horses. Ed Harris takes his first leading-man role as the self-styled King William, leading a troupe of Renaissance Fair performers under an antiquated code of chivalry that they live on and off the fairgrounds. It's basically like "Sons of Anarchy" meets "Excalibur," with lots of subversive subtext about alcoholism, homosexuality, and corruption thrown into Romero's rowdy vision of Camelot.
- 6. 'Danger: Diabolik' (1968) – Mario BavaThe first post-modern superhero movie was lensed by one of the great unsung B-movie heroes of all-time, Mario Bava. Known as "The Italian Hitchcock," Bava spent most of the '60s and '70s cranking out low-budget horror fare with a master's eye for in-camera effects and mind-altering angles. He pretty much invented the slasher movie ("Bay of Blood") and made the precursor to "Alien" ("Planet of the Vampires"), yet it is "Danger: Diabolik" which may be his most lasting legacy. Based on the Italian comic book character who totally gets off with his girlfriend by executing master heists and evading the law in his Batcave-like lair. This was famously featured on the last episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and sampled heavily for MCA's video for Beastie Boys track ""Body Movin'."
- 5. 'Eastern Promises' (2007) – David CronenbergCronenberg further distanced himself from his body horror roots ("The Fly," "Videodrome") with this British "Godfather" saga for our time. Viggo Mortensen gives a chilly performance as a Russian mob enforcer with a secret agenda, while Vincent Cassel and his giant schnoz is also in it as a dumb Fredo-like character whose messes Mortensen has to clean up. If "A History of Violence" announced to the world that Cronenberg was headed in a more mainstream direction, "Eastern Promises" is the movie that solidified it, giving us a taut thriller and at least one nude bath house action scene with Viggo and Little Viggo.
- 4. 'Pan's Labyrinth' (2006) – Guillermo del ToroWhile nothing del Toro touches can ever truly be called "non-horror" (even the monster mash that is "Pacific Rim" takes cues from Ray Harryhausen's scare pictures), the jovial Mexican gave us his ultimate artistic triumph with this 2006 Oscar-winner. A dark fable set in post-Civil War Spain, it revolves around young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she navigates a fantasy realm that may or may not be real while dealing with the harsh realities of living under her fascist prick of a stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López). El Capitan's ruthless methods snap us back to reality from scenes involving fairies, monsters, and woodland creatures, most of which are played by skinny genius Doug Jones in a make-up tour de force. A perfect companion piece to Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures."
- 3. 'The Trouble with Harry' (1955) – Alfred HitchcockWhile the Master of Suspense was never an out-and-out horror director there was usually a thriller edge to all his pictures, yet "Harry" is arguably his lightest work despite revolving around the titular corpse. Black comedy shenanigans begin with the discovery of Harry Worp's body on an idyllic Vermont hillside, which leads to the constant burying and un-burying of him as members of the small town, suspects or not, just want to be rid of the bastard. Leave it to Hitchcock to make such whimsical comedy out of seemingly macabre subject matter, and a young Shirley MacLaine was never more adorable.
- 2. 'Heavenly Creatures' (1994) – Peter JacksonBefore he was lord of "The Lord of the Rings," Jackson was undisputed king of splatstick, a subgenre of gory goofs including "Bad Taste," "Meet the Feebles," and "Braindead," the latter of which may still be the bloodiest movie of all-time thanks to a lawnmower and the horde of zombies who shake hands with it. In 1994 he took a sharp left turn into serious territory with "Heavenly Creatures," a portrait of the intense friendship between New Zealand teens Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, a bond turned deadly when they conspired to kill Parker's mother in 1954. Rather than go tabloid sleazy with this true crime tale, Jackson used his skill with special effects to take us inside the fantasy-drenched minds of two loving-yet-misguided girls. That sensitivity ultimately helped garner an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay, giving the Kiwi director entrée into Hollywood.
- 1. 'Big Trouble in Little China' (1986) – John CarpenterWhat do you do when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake? Ol' Jack Burton always says, "What the hell?" "Halloween" and "The Thing" made John Carpenter a household name in the horror community, and he had already proved himself a worthy mainstream filmmaker with "Starman," but "Big Trouble" was the flick he really went full-tilt boogie on. Genre-mashing fantastical sorcery, monsters, kung-fu, and neo-noir elements with screwball comedy turned this into one of the most beloved cult films of the '80s, buoyed by Kurt Russell's turn as Burton, that charming scoundrel trucker-turned-wannabe-John Wayne. Burton is that rare hero who bungles almost everything he does yet you still aggressively root for him.
TAGS alfred hitchcock, george a romero, horror movies, horror movies by non-horror directors, wes craven