Fifteen Greatest Horror Directors and Their Greatest Films


15. Robert Eggers

Eggers on the set of The Witch

The Witch, Eggers directorial debut, opened in 2015 to stellar reviews.  The film was part historical period piece, part horror film, and part family drama. That amount of narrative complexity has sadly become an increasingly rare sight in the horror genre today.

While The Witch is his first and only film to be released, it signifies the beginning of a legendary career in horror.  He is currently working on a remake of the classic vampire movie Nosferatu.

What to Watch:

The Witch

14. James Wan

Is that product or sweat making Wan’s hair glisten?

The Conjuring movies have been some of the most critically acclaimed horror films of the last five years.  It’s uncommon that horror sequels are successful.  More often than not, they are transparent cash grabs that superficially mimic the qualities that made their predecessors successful in the first place. But Wan has created a universe with The Conjuring that has hit its mark with three out of the four movies set in it, the first Annabelle being the only outlier. 

And then there’s that second horror franchise Wan spawned—Saw.  While it doesn’t have the same consistency as The Conjuring films, it is another iconic franchise coming from a single director still in the early part of his career. 

What to watch:

The Conjuring

The Conjuring 2


13. Jennifer Kent 

You probably won’t be as smiley as Kent while watching The Babdook

Like Robert Eggers, Jennifer Kent is new to the horror scene, but her directorial debut cause huge waves when it was released in 2014.  It was probably the most talked about horror movie to be released in years.  It came to a point when if you hadn’t seen it yet, people would look you at funny.

What is important about Kent is her passion not only for horror, but for women in horror—how they’re represented in films and what they can bring to the genre as creators.  For years, horror has felt a little like a “guy’s club” and its female characters one-dimensional.  Damsel’s were usually either in distress or else undressed.  Objectifying female characters was not only commonplace, it was expected.  Hopefully Kent and other up-and-coming female horror directors will continue to bring much-needed diversity to the genre. 

What to Watch:

The Babadook

12. Babak Anvari

Anvari behind the scenes of Under the Shadow

Anvari blew critics away with his debut Under the Shadow, a supernatural story set in Tehran, Iran.  The social criticism in the film is just as well-executed as its scares.  The story centers around the relationship of a mother and daughter, whose daily lives are filled with gender inequality and violence.

While still a bit of an unknown, Anvari’s debut suggests he’ll soon be a household name of horror.

What to watch:

Under the Shadow

11. Ti West

Ti West in classic indie garb

A master of slow-burn horror Ti West has crafted some of the best independent horror films this century.  He uses old-school atmosphere to build suspense and tension that always leads to an over-the -top and satisfying climax. 

West is one of the first directors to start the revival of independent horror that this decade has witnessed.  His focus on character and pacing brought new life to genre that in the years before his debut had become a dumb-downed gore-fest.  His next film will be a departure from the horror genre, with a Western setting and revenge-thriller plotline.  Although, I’m sure he’ll throw a few scares in for old-time’s sake. 

What to Watch:

The House of the Devil

The Sacrament

The Innkeepers

10. Tobe Hooper

Hard to believe the man behind Leatherface was a fan of the knit sweater

Everyone remembers the first time they watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It’s brutal intensity just sticks with you.  Leatherface and his insane family of cannibals; women hanging from meat hooks; the way Leather face swings that chainsaw of his as he chases the fleeing pickup truck. Disturbing is an understatement.

Hooper is such a good storyteller that even with the PG-rating restriction placed on him while directing Poltergeist, he constructs a horror classic. He didn’t rely on gore or cheap thrills, he had raw talent. 

What to watch:

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


The Funhouse

9. George A. Romero

Zombies swarming Romero. Whether it’s to devour or worship him is unclear

He is the man who unleashed the hordes of zombie apocalypse films, TV series, and books upon us.  While it may be a tired trope today, the zombie movie is one of the most popular genres of horror and has spawned some of the scariest films in the genre. Night of the Living Dead is a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in horror. 

What to watch:

Night of the Living Dead

Dawn of the Dead

Day of the Dead

8. Terence Fisher

Fisher brooding behind the camera

One of the most influential director on this list, Fisher is responsible for some of the biggest classics in horror.  His films were darkly gothic and, for the time, intense and brutal.  When The Curse of Frankenstein was released in 1957 critics called it disgusting, gruesome, and debased.

Fisher reinvented icons of horror to make them fresh and much more disturbing.  His films have featured the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy. He’s made over 20 movies about vampires, nearly all of which are far superior to the droves of bland vampire flicks released today. 

What to Watch:


The Curse of Frankenstein

The Mummy

7. Roman Polanski

Behind the scenes of the filming of Repulsion

He only directed a handful of horror films, but all of them are incredible. He took a few cues from the Hitchcock course book and made Rosemary’s Baby, a classic of the genre.

Polanski does a brilliant job at depicting a woman’s slow descent into insanity in Repulsion. It is one of the few films that can actually make a viewer experience what it feels like to go insane.  That’s scarier than any blood-sucking monster I’ve ever seen.

What to Watch:


Rosemary’s Baby

The Tenant

6. Dario Argento

Argento preparing one of his signature meticulously designed shots

A pioneer of the giallo genre, Argento is known for his creative and visceral murder sequences and beautifully shot films.  He is often labeled Italy’s Hitchcock, but the two directors have distinctly different styles and strengths.  Where Hitchcock is a master storyteller, Argento doesn’t focus nearly as much on plot.  His films are much more driven by their imagery than narratives.

What to watch:


The Opera

Deep Red

5. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg shares a drink with one of his many sticky creations

The filmmaker whose name will forever be associated with gross-out gore, David Cronenberg’s iconic and inventive use of practical effects and makeup is his signature.  He is considered one of the originators of body horror, a subgenre of film that uses the mutilation and disintegration of the human body as the basis for its horror.

Who could forget Jeff Goldblum’s visceral transformation into a mutant bug in The Fly or the flesh-gun that causes Leslie Carlson’s organs to erupt out of his body in Videodrome?  Cronenberg’s visuals are still impressive by today’s standards and are a whole lot more creative. 

What to Watch:


The Fly


4. Wes Craven

Wes Craven flanked by two of his iconic creations

The grandfather of meta-horror, Wes Craven’s blend of humor and dread are what give his films their recognizable flavor.  Many horror films suffer from being either humorless or mind-numbingly silly.  Craven struck a balance that has been widely influential—there would likely be no Cabin in the Woods or Housebound without Scream.

The humor in Craven’s film often comes from a satirical meta element, like the characters in Scream discussing the conventions of horror movies or Wes Craven’s cameo in New Nightmare. Instead of undermining the narrative, the comedy takes jabs at lesser horror directors and also gives the audience a sense of ease through laughter that sets up some of Craven’s best scares.

What to Watch:


The People Under the Stairs

A Nightmare on Elm Street

3. David Lynch

A rare picture of David Lynch where his hair is neatly combed back

Lynch’s surreal, dream-like films are often praised for their artistic value and technical prowess; they are often described as “disturbing” and “nightmarish,” and yet they are rarely categorized as horror by film critics.  Maybe it’s because his films aren’t overloaded with jump scares and recognizable horror tropes. Maybe it’s because Lynch’s films are kind of uncategorizable.

Whatever arbitrary genre his films get classified as, the reason he is on this list is because nearly all his work deals with fear and the nature of evil. He explores the darkest side of human nature and presents it to the viewer with uncompromising urgency.

The appearance of the Mystery Man in Lost Highway, the harrowing murder of Maddy Ferguson in Twin Peaks, the Lady in the Radiator’s haunting musical number in Eraserhead.  These scenes are pure horror and pure Lynch. They show how he builds fear through his unique blend of sound design, striking visuals, and the uncanny behavior of his oddball characters.  I mean, did you see episode 8?!

What to watch:


Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Lost Highway

2. John Carpenter 

John Carpenter…casting a spell?

Carpenter was born in New York, but grew up in Bowling Green Kentucky.  His obsession with film began early when he was introduced to John Ford’s westerns and low-budget horror films like The Thing From Another World.  He began shooting short films before entering high school, and went to film school until he dropped out to make his first feature.

While Hitchcock may have invented the slasher genre, Carpenter popularized it with Halloween. What’s so remarkable about this film is how Carpenter managed to make such an effective horror movie with such a low-budget.  Carpenter relied on tension, music, and atmosphere to get his scares over visual effects—a technique many modern-day horror directors could learn from

What to watch:


The Thing

The Fog

1. Alfred Hitchcock

The one and only Alfred Hitchcock

Who else would you expect to see at the top of this list?  He pretty much invented the slasher genre with Psycho. His genius at framing and pacing has influenced any director who is serious about adding suspense to their films.   He’s the guy that made a flock of fucking birds scary. 

While it’s hardly fair to pigeonhole Hitchcock as a “horror” director, his influence on the genre makes him inseparable from it.  Besides, as the coming names on this list will prove, the best horror directors have more going on in their repertoire than our beloved (but let’s be honest, somewhat limiting) genre, horror. 

What to watch:

The Birds


Rear Window


Jake Swain has been interested in horror gaming and films since first watching David Lynch's Eraserhead at a far too young and impressionable age
Top 3 Favorite Games:Outlast, SOMA, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt