While it may not always seem like it, we’re living in some pretty glorious days for the horror genre. While uninspired dreck tends to draw the most mainstream attention, thanks to that being the bulk of what makes it to wide theatrical release, there have been a lot of fantastic films to come out in recent years, mostly from indie directors and teams.
This list barely scratches the surface of what’s out there. The full roster could probably fill the pages of a sizable book, but here I’m highlighting ten filmmakers/filmmaking teams that are giving the genre a good name, even if their work is going unnoticed by the general public and sometimes defying genre labels.
Six months ago, I didn’t know anything about Jeremy Gardner, but now I consider him one of the most interesting people working in the genre. I still see a lot of movies for the first time via Netflix’s DVD service, and I didn’t see Gardner’s The Battery until it became available on that late last year. I had heard good things about it, but I had no idea just how great it would be. I fell in love with it immediately, and quickly watched it again. I started reading/watching interviews with him, following him on Twitter, and whatnot.
It was clear by watching The Battery, which he wrote, directed, and starred in, that he brings something unique and exciting to the genre, but hearing what he had to say made me appreciate him as a filmmaker all the more.
The Battery clearly has comedic elements, and some might even consider the film more of a comedy than a horror movie, and that’s fine. The genre needs its humor. Either way, the film was one of the best blends of horror and comedy in recent memory, and easily one of the best zombie films since the turn of the century.
Gardner has since appeared in Spring, one of 2015’s best so far. His follow-up to The Battery, Tex Montana Will Survive!, which he co-directed with Christian Stella (who also worked on The Battery in a variety of capacities), is currently on the festival circuit, and appears to go further in the comedic direction. Few have seen it so far, but its first full review makes it sound pretty fun.
If you’ve seen The Battery, you know how well Gardner and Stella have been able to pull off greatness without a budget. Tex Montana looks to take a similar approach, and even ditched the concept of a script in favor of improvisation. Here are a couple teasers:
Gardner also acted in the yet to be released The Mind’s Eye from another up and coming director, Joe Begos (Almost Human).
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who share directing credits, always work together, and earned respect among the horror community with their highly original Resolution back in 2012. With this year’s Spring, the two are making an even bigger impact on the genre, and have upped their filmmaking game considerably.
While they did do a segment for the generally lackluster V/H/S: Viral, they’re two for two when it comes to films of their own, and they’ve described their next project, a film titled Beasts about Aleister Crowley, as the darkest thing they’ll probably ever do. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about that.
“There’s no way to tell an Aleister Crowley story with a happy ending, it’s that simple,” they told me in a recent interview. “That complicated man’s life is not a happy story, and his personality tends to lean toward extremes that many people will have trouble accepting. But it’s amazing in its meanness, its darkness is kind of like that of Boogie Nights (remember what the 3rd act becomes) or There Will Be Blood. We guarantee the film will still be fun to watch, but happy it will not be.”
And if you haven’t checked out Spring, which was released on VOD last month, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Greg McLean made a big mark on the genre a decade ago with 2005’s Wolf Creek, which even earned praise from Quentin Tarantino. He followed that up with 2007 killer croc flick Rogue, which was significantly better than you’d probably expect from such a movie.
While he served as a producer on a few films in the meantime, we didn’t get another film from him until the recent Wolf Creek 2, which placed him firmly back on the map. It upped every possible ante entered by its predecessor by making a fun, action-packed gorefest out of the story, which was set up with the much more slow burn telling of part 1.
Wolf Creek 2 left a wonderful taste in my mouth, while leaving me thirsty for more. Luckily, there is a great deal more on the way. It was recently announced that McLean and co. are developing a Wolf Creek series, which will retain his creative talents as well as those of John Jarratt, who plays the murderous Mick Taylor.
If that weren’t reason enough to keep an eye on McLean’s efforts, it was also announced that he’ll direct The Belco Experiment from a script by none other than James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead, Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy).
In November, McLean was reported to be attached to a survival thriller called Jungle starring Kevin Bacon. The director seemed to confirm this by tweeting a report about it:
— Greg McLean (@GregECP) November 27, 2014
But we haven’t heard much else about the project since. It’s not even listed for either McLean or Bacon on IMDb, so I’m not sure what’s going on with that.
The next project we’re likely to see from McLean, which also stars Bacon, is 6 Miranda Drive, a supernatural thriller from Blumhouse Productions, which is already completed. It doesn’t seem to have a firm release date, but is expected this year.
So in other words, lots of McLean action to look out for.
While I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t gotten a chance to check out his earlier films yet, Ivan Kavanagh established himself as a force to be reckoned with in modern horror with last year’s The Canal – perhaps the most criminally overlooked film of the past year.
The Canal (review) had it all. It was violent. It was gross. It was disturbing. And most of all, it was downright creepy. It has pretty much everything you want in a horror film.
While I have a hard time placing any of 2014’s horror output over Ti West’s The Sacrament, when it comes to the year’s supernatural horror, I dare you to find a better example than The Canal, which makes The Babadook look like Annabelle in my opinion.
“The best horror films all deal with common, sometimes primal, fears, such as fear of the dark, of violence, of harm coming to a loved one, of realising you don’t really know the person you’re closest to, of knowing we are all capable of both great good and great evil,” Kavanagh recently told me. “The way I always thought about it was, if I fill the film with some of my own fears, like some of the ones I mentioned, it’s bound to frighten at least some other people too.”
Well, that turned out to be a pretty great approach, and hopefully he’ll carry this philosophy with him further into his career.
Kavanagh has remained pretty tight-lipped about his next project, but he did say it’s “very different from The Canal and deals with a different type of horror” He also said he thinks it will be “absolutely terrifying”.
I believe him. I don’t even know what the project is, and it’s already one of my most anticipated films.
Another of last year’s most criminally underrated films was Proxy from Zack Parker. You could argue about whether or not it’s truly a horror movie, but I’m not really a fan of arguing about labels. There’s no denying that the film deals with some truly horrific subject matter. The film is brutal, suspenseful, and beautifully written and shot. The best part about it was how unpredictable it was. Proxy was without a doubt one of the year’s highlights, as far as I’m concerned.
It’s for that very reason that Parker’s work is high on my radar’s list of priorities. Proxy was just great filmmaking, and I don’t care where Parker takes us next in his career (genre-wise). It’s a journey I want to take.
“I don’t really think about genre when making a film, I’m just making the story the only way I know how, filtered through whatever sensibilities I may possess,” Parker told me in an interview earlier this year. “I understand why people may label PROXY as horror, as it certainly deals with pretty horrific circumstances, and there are much worse things than having your work embraced by one of the most passionate and loyal cinema communities that exist. Like any filmmaker, I just want people to see my work.”
You can count me in, Zack.
Like Kavanagh, Parker was tight-lipped about his next project when I talked to him, but he did say it will be his biggest film so far in terms of scope. It’s shooting in Chicago this year, and he’s expecting a 2016 release.
Adam Wingard (along with writing partner Simon Barrett) is a name that most horror fans are most likely familiar with by now, if not from early efforts like Pop Skull and A Horrible Way to Die, than certainly from You’re Next, and contributions to the V/H/S franchise and The ABCs of Death.
The reason I felt compelled to include Wingard on this list, rather than leave him off with more obvious names like Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, or Ti West, is that I feel like he’s really just getting started. While leaning more toward action than horror, his last film The Guest was arguably his best work to date, and he’s attached to some other projects that should have fans excited.
For one, Wingard and Barrett have been tapped to remake I Saw the Devil, the amazing South Korean film. While I’m not always the biggest champion of remaking movies that are already so good to begin with, my position tends to be more positive when I trust the filmmakers who are handling the material. In other words, if they’re going to remake that movie for an American audience, I’m glad it’s going to be Wingard doing it.
Even since that news came out, Wingard has become attached to another project – a horror movie – called The Woods. I’m glad he’s sticking close to the genre for the foreseeable future (although I’d love to see more badass action films from him as well).
I first heard of Kevin and Michael Goetz when news recently came out about the brothers being tapped to helm the remake of Martyrs, a film which I love dearly. This is one of those films I typically wouldn’t be excited about being remade, but again, if it’s in the hands of the right filmmakers, perhaps it can be executed well.
Are Kevin and Michael Goetz the right filmmakers? Well, I don’t know for sure, but after learning the news, I went and checked out their other film Scenic Route, and my mind was set a bit more at ease. Scenic Route was a thoroughly entertaining film, and it made me want to see more from these guys.
There’s no question that remaking Martyrs is a bold move for a follow-up, and it’s entirely possible that it will be a huge disappointment, but I’m holding out some hope. Even if Martyrs doesn’t work under the Goetz Brothers, I feel like with Scenic Route, they established themselves as filmmakers to keep an eye on, and I’ll be interested in seeing more original work from them.
Jim Mickle has been making interesting films for years, but I’ve only experienced the bulk of his work over the past year or so. Let me just say, it’s been quite a treat. It’s always nice to find a filmmaker that you weren’t familiar with and then unlocking a treasure trove of entertainment that’s already out there waiting to be consumed.
Stake Land and We Are What We Are are two excellent contributions to the genre from recent years, and his most recent film Cold in July gave us a much needed viewing experience of the work of literary great Joe Lansdale, who has been one of my favorite writers for quite some time.
As good as Cold in July was, we should all be excited about Mickle’s next project, which is a TV series of Hap and Leonard based on the iconic characters that have graced many of Lansdale’s pages.
From here on out, I’ll be watching anything with Mickle’s name on it. I’m also hoping we’re going to be getting a lot more movies based on Lansdale’s works. Bill Paxton is bringing us The Bottoms, so that’s pretty exciting too.
If you’ve read much of my own work, you probably know that I’m a huge fan of Found and its spinoff Headless. Schirmer directed and co-wrote the screenplay for the former, and co-produced/co-edited the latter. Cullipher did effects for Found, and directed Headless. While many of the same people worked on both films, they have very different feels, but are equally entertaining. Both directors are worthy of your attention going forward.
These films are ultra low budget. They don’t have the slick and polished looks of your typical Hollywood fare or even of the films created by most of the other directors on this list, but that’s actually one of the things that illustrates just how talented these guys are, and what a great addition they both make to the genre.
With Found, Schirmer got actors who were willing to work without paychecks, and he showed that money really isn’t all that important when a film has substance, good writing, and the ability to evoke emotion in its audience. Soundtrack and an awesome title sequence don’t hurt either.
Cullipher, on the other hand, focused his efforts on delivering a surreal gorefest while honoring the tone of the era Headless is representative of, while managing to be more entertaining than many of the films of its type. You couldn’t ask for better gore effects from such a budget than what Cullipher and his team have been able to provide, but with Headless and shorts like Roses: A Goremance and Come, he has shown that there’s a lot more to an Arthur Cullipher film than mindless gore. There’s weirdness and thought too.
I would say to watch out if either of these directors get some money thrown their way for a bigger budget film, but you know what? I enjoy what they’ve done with no budget so much, I almost don’t like the idea of them making more expensive productions. I’ve seen a lot of movies with seemingly similar budgets over the years, and they’ve been mostly forgettable at best, and absolutely terrible at worst. The films these guys are putting out are hard-hitting and incredibly memorable, and I can’t wait to see more from them.
Modern Horrors recently interviewed Schirmer who gave us an update on the various projects he’s working on, which includes a project from Cullipher. Read up on all of that here.
Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer made a big splash in the horror genre last year with Starry Eyes, which appeared on many top ten lists. Now we all want to see what they have in store next.
The duo are working on a segment for the upcoming horror anthology Holidays, but beyond that, we’re still going to have to wait and see.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood News, they said, “We’ve just been writing our butts off. We have a lot of features that we’re trying to develop to get made. We’ve been reading a lot of scripts from other writers too. So hopefully we’ll get something that sticks in the next few months that we can announce.”
Whatever project they take on, I know I’ll be interested in seeing it, and I think the bulk of the horror community would express similar sentiments.
As I said in the beginning, this list only scratches the surface of the talent that’s out there making incredible films in and near the genre we all know and love. Which filmmakers are you most anticipating more work from?