Top 5 Underrated Horror Directors
From legends of New Hollywood like George A. Romero and John Carpenter to contemporary powerhouses such as James Wan and Jordan Peele, some of the most renowned directors in history specialized in horror.
While guys like James Whale—known for his fantastic array of Universal’s Monster Movies—are definitely less discussed today, that doesn’t mean they’re underrated. Whale’s four horror films of the 1930s have an average approval rating of 97 on Rotten Tomatoes, and they’re still held in high regard by hardcore fans of the genre.
With this list, I aimed to shine light on directors that may not be household names like the guys listed off the bat. These directors don’t hold the same name value despite their contributions to the genre. With that said, let’s jump on in.
5. Jonathan Demme
While his 1998 film Beloved—based on Toni Morrison’s novel of the same name—did fall into the horror genre, it definitely doesn’t hold the name value of this director’s other piece of terror. Perhaps the most popular horror movie of the 90s, The Silence of the Lambs is also one of the genre’s most critically acclaimed, winning multiple Oscars and cementing a legacy unlike many others.
That’s in large part due to the performances of both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins—but the film’s success of course needs to be partly attributed to the direction of Jonathan Demme. If it weren’t for him, we would never have met Hannibal Lecter on screen. He isn’t as renowned as he should be for that fact, and it’s time some respect was put on his name.
4. Robert Rodriguez
While mostly known for his “Mexico Trilogy” of westerns—El Mariachi from 1992, Desperado from 1995 and Once Upon a Time in Mexico from 2003—Robert Rodriguez has an equally deep background in horror movies.
His first of the bunch came in 1996: From Dusk Till Dawn, written by and co-starring Rodriguez’s longtime friend and collaborator, Quentin Tarantino. The film received decent reviews, made good money at the box office, and has gone down as a cult film. It’s easily his best-known work of the ilk.
The most underrated came with The Faculty in 1998—decent money at the box office, but only a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. Trust me: that’s a robbery. It’s a charmingly stylized and fully engaging tale of an alien invasion, and the high-school dynamic of the characters leave room for plenty of thought-out development. It’s also quite funny, with a script by the same guy that wrote Scream: Kevin Williamson.
And while it’s not the most popular entry amongst his filmography, Rodriguez did collaborate once more with Tarantino, again on a horror film. This time, though, they had a more unique project in mind: a double feature that combined Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof. The former was better, but not by much.
3. Patrick Brice
Found footage films often rely on smaller budgets opposed to their blockbuster counterparts. Creep is no different. It’s one of the most creative examples of the sub-genre—as is its sequel, Creep 2. The films hold a 90% and 100% (respectively) on Rotten Tomatoes, and with good reason. They’re vastly entertaining and undoubtedly strange projects that will hold your attention the whole way through.
His next two films were nothing to write home about, but There’s Someone Inside Your House did receive some decent praise within the slasher sub-genre. However, his 2019 horror-comedy called Corporate Animals is one of the lowest-rated films featured on this list: with a 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, it nearly marred Brice’s spot entirely, notching him down to number three.
Ultimately, though, for as much as Corporate Animals tried to derail Brice’s placement, the Creep films held strong enough to carry the rest on their back. They really are that good.
2. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
As the only director of foreign-language films on the list, he’s the most underrated thereof when it comes to horror movies. Often referred to as the “David Cronenberg of Japan,” Kurosawa started his horror run in 1989 with Sweet Home, then continued the trend with The Guard from Underground in 1992.
However, his 1997 release Cure propelled him to new heights in the world of Japanese horror cinema. Alongside other projects like Ring (released in 1998 by Hideo Nakata) and Ju-On: The Grudge (released in 2002 by Takashi Shimizu), Kurosawa’s Cure is credited with invigorating the country’s “new wave” of cinema—Japanese horror.
Kiyoshi is still making films to this day, albeit with a bit more variety re: genre. His most recent horror film came in 2016 with Daguerreotype, and while it received middling scores from critics, his early horror works were more than enough to warrant Kurosawa’s placement at number two.
1. Bob Clark
Here we have a great example of a popular movie made by a no-name director. If you don’t have a picture on your Wikipedia page, are you really legit? I’m joking (mostly), but in the case of Bob Clark, it really is a travesty that he isn’t more popular.
The aforementioned movie, Black Christmas from 1974, is one of the earliest examples of a Slasher. Those unfamiliar with the sub-genre will undoubtedly know the films thereof, such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. However, before any of those, we got this cult classic that was actually polarizing at the time of release with regard to criticism. It’s now considered a masterpiece.
Some call it the first slasher, while even more say that title lies with Texas Chainsaw Massacre (also 1974), and others go as far back as 1960 with films like Psycho and Peeping Tom as their sources. But for my money, no matter who did it first, Black Christmas is the most fun of those four. Maybe not the best, but definitely the most enjoyable.
Other films directed by Clark that will scare your pants off include Deathdream, Deranged, and Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. I’d bet good money that you haven’t heard of any of those, and that more or less proves my point.
Agree With the List?
Let me know in the comments who your favorite horror director is amongst these underrated talents. Also let me know if I missed an obvious pick that should’ve been included.
For me, another one that comes to mind is Eli Roth, who made both Cabin Fever in 2002 and Hostel in 2005. They both made decent money and are generally liked by fans, but they also garnered pretty mediocre critical scores on Rotten Tomatoes. Roth almost made the list.
Thanks for reading, and as always: Happy Halloween!