One can say with some degree of certainty that it takes a particular kind of person to direct a horror film. The necessary ingredients: an obsession with bodily functions, a macabre sense of humor, and a twisted imagination. They have no trouble poking and prodding at our deepest fears. These horror directors have a knack for making us scream, and we love every second of it.
Even those who aren’t horror buffs know about Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s signature, voyeuristic approach to filming made his films innovative and utterly terrifying. His precise camera work invites the viewer in in a way that had never been seen before. Many of Hitchcock’s films were immediate hits, and many more have become known as classics in the time since their release. Although many of Hitchcock’s films rank among the best in the business (Rebecca, Rear Window, The Birds), we count Psycho as his best.
2. Wes Craven
If you know Wes Craven’s name, it’s probably been in conjunction with his most legendary creation, Freddy Krueger. Yes, Craven was the mastermind behind A Nightmare of Elm Street franchise. He was also the brains behind Scream. Together, these franchises garnered him the nickname “Master of Horror.”
Craven’s films are particularly known for revolutionizing slasher films into genre-bending and innovative horror. His most iconic film remains A Nightmare on Elm Street, the movie that launched a horror legend.
3. David Cronenberg
Cronenberg has a very particular knack for making stomachs turn. He shocked Hollywood with his ability to exploit people’s fears of bodily transfusions and infections. Disease and disaster are common places for character transformation. His work with Dead Ringers and The Fly solidified his fame. Cronenberg is one of the leading figures of the visceral body horror subgenre.
Despite Cronenberg’s frequent eschewal of Hollywood and its big budgets, his work is iconic, both with body horror fans and the general public. Over time, his work has gone from the fringes to the center - like one of his most beloved films, The Brood.
4. John Carpenter
John Carpenter is a many-faceted director: He’s dabbled in action, science fiction, and most notably, horror. He’s best known for having directed Halloween and The Fog. Carpenter is classic horror - minimal lighting, unnervingly steady cameras, and some of the best “cheap scares” you’ll ever see.
Halloween was his breakthrough film, grossing $300,000, practically unheard of for an indie film in 1978. Carpenter frequently collaborates with his wife Sandy King, and refuses to watch his own movies after they’re out, claiming he will only catch the mistakes. Carpenter is known for naming characters after real people; if you meet him, be careful what you say! Until then, you can watch his most iconic film, Halloween, one more time.
5. Dario Argento
Dario Argento is an Italian director, producer and critic. He’s the mastermind best known for giallo - the 20th century Italian horror subgenre complete with elements of mystery, slasher, and psychological thriller films. His debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, took the horror film scene by storm and put him on everyone’s radar.
Argento is heavily influenced by Grimm’s fairy tales, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. He also has a couple strange knacks when it comes to his creative strategies. He will frequently use close-ups of the killer, and Steadicam. These combined make for watching experiences that make our skin crawl. Argento is most known today for Suspiria, a strange, trippy, supernatural horror film. Until 2018’s remake is released, you can rewatch the original, one of the most influential horror films of all time.
6. James Wan
Even if you (somehow) don’t know James Wan, you know Billy the Puppet. This Australian director reinvigorated body horror with his breakout hit, Saw. Despite its shoestring budget, the Saw franchise is one of the highest grossing ever. Today, Wan is behind some of the most popular horror films in modern times: Conjuring, Conjuring 2, Insidious, Lights Out, Annabelle, and more.
His movies are known for their brutal portrayals of violence and often feature parents desperately trying to protect their children (just look at Insidious). Despite the unending nature of the Saw movies, returning to the first installment always results in terror and nostalgia.
7. Adam Wingard
One of the youngest directors on this list, Adam Wingard debuted at the age of 19 with Home Sick, and continued building his reputation within the horror community with his gruesome shorts, V/H/S and The ABCs of Death. His style has often been compared to directors like David Lynch, thanks to a dark and macabre sense of humor paired with an unapologetic desire to scare.
In the past few years alone, Wingard has taken on a handful of vastly different projects. He recently signed on to direct Godzilla vs. King Kong (set to be released in 2020). He also directed Death Note, a Netflix adaptation from a popular manga and anime series. It’s about a boy who comes into possession of a book that allows him to kill anyone as long as he knows their name, and can picture their face. Our favorite, though? You're Next, a terrifying mumblegore contribution.
8. Ben Wheatley
It may sound strange, but this director gets his inspiration from the mischievous cartoon duo, Tom and Jerry. Why? He enjoys the rise and fall between chaos, confusion and order. It’s a theme Ben Wheatley employs in his wide range of projects. He’s best known for 2016’s Free Fire, Kill List, and Down Terrace, which he directed in eight days in May 2009.
Wheatley began his career making short films and animations. These were modestly successful, but he quickly moved into more challenging projects.Wheatley’s very specific combination of an any man hero, dark humor, and full-out violence has made films like Kill List, an occult/crime horror/thriller mashup, so successful.
9. Jen and Sylvia Soska
The Soska Sisters, called the Twisted Twins by fans, watched the Poltergeist when they were young and fell in love. The identical twins erupted into the horror scene after releasing a handful of movies that were hits: American Mary, See No Evil 2, and Dead Hooker in a Trunk.
The Soska sisters combine their visceral, visual horror with a social conscience, creating horror films that focus on the female form and experience. In American Mary, a struggling medical student is convinced to perform terrifying surgeries to help pay her bills.
10. Ti West
Ti West is a young director to look out for. Despite his relatively young age, West has already managed to make a massive name for himself. His work debuted in 2001 with a series of short horror films. He later directed The Innkeepers, The Sacrament and The House of the Devil.
He’s notorious for combining a bland, washed-up life with the freakishly paranormal. In The Innkeepers, we follow a couple working at a local inn who are faced with univiting ghosts. While the film may seem mainstream at first glance, West’s slow, suspenseful build-up and explosive ending will leave viewers clutching the edges of their seats.
Still from "The Innkeepers" via Dark Sky Films