10 Best Horror Films From Directors Who Aren’t Known For the Genre

It's always special to witness a director trying out horror for the first time -- especially if it turns out to be the only time.
Horror Films Directors Only Once

October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best horror films from non-horror directors is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.

When it comes to deciding what to watch, I’ve never been one for directorial loyalty. Some of the best movies I’ve ever seen have been the ones I stumbled across when I let curiosity be my guide, never minding whether or not the art that moved me fits perfectly into a filmmaker’s pre-existing oeuvre. Filmmakers, too, seem to get distracted by their own curiosity sometimes, and these one-off experiments often lead to some of the best entries in their filmographies.

One of the more interesting examples of this serendipitous side quest is when a director who’s not known for horror dips their toes in the water of the genre, trying their hand at thrills and chills instead of romance, drama, comedy, or action. This got me thinking: which filmmakers have only ever really made one horror movie? Or made one that they’re known for, while the rest fall into other genre categories? As always, the Boo Crew rises to the occasion to answer.

10. Tony Scott, The Hunger (1983)

In an alternate universe, the vampire erotic thriller The Hunger was the launch of director Tony Scott’s prolific career as a horror filmmaker. All the ingredients were there: a clever take on vampire lore, sheer eroticism (credit to the central love triangle of David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon), and enough billowing sheets to bankrupt Bed, Bath, and Beyond. That last point is probably what damned the film. It was slammed as style over substance — as if that’s a bad thing. Though the film has garnered a cult status over the years, it’s typically not ranked as one of Scott’s best. And yes, part of that is because he went on to make some of the best action movies of the last fifty years. But Scott is a filmmaker who knocked it out of the park his first time at bat (pun intended). That he never returned to the genre is a damn shame. (Anna Swanson)

9. Ingmar Bergman, Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Hour of the Wolf is a mad blend of The Magic Flute, The Golden Pot, and Ingmar Bergman‘s own nightmares. The director’s films have always contained elements of horror, but this film traffics in the more traditional genre elements. And, yo, it’s scary, scary, scary; mostly sold through the performances.

The painter Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) desperately attempts to translate his bedtime visions to the canvas, giving them names and life. His wife Alma (Liv Ullmann) is immediately concerned, ruining her own sleep while guarding over him. As the film progresses, tensions build between the couple, leading to horrendous confessions and bloodshed. And that’s when the film really gets nuts. It’s easy to imagine a universe where Bergman leaned more heavily into the genre, producing spook pictures of the highest order. Although, again, maybe that’s exactly what he did, and we’re too highfalutin to admit it. (Brad Gullickson)

8. Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later (2002)

Filmmaker Danny Boyle dabbled in horror-adjacent movies before and after 28 Days Later (see: Sunshine), but the Slumdog Millionaire director has only ever gone all out scares once, for this Cillian Murphy-led zombie flick. The film that’s co-written by Boyle and Alex Garland, takes a unique approach to apocalyptic fiction, innovating the subgenre with the deceptively simple inclusion of fast zombies. That’s right, these undead hordes book it, making the decidedly dark horror flick a bit of an action film too. Boyle’s 2002 horror one-off had a more lasting impact than that, though: it’s often credited for rebooting the then-dead zombie craze altogether. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

7. Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark (1987)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to make a vampire film. Or at least, that’s my guess based on the plethora of directors – from Joel Schumacher to Catherine Hardwicke to Francis Ford Coppola – who have made exactly one vampire film. With respect to fellow list entries The Hunger and Dracula, though, I think Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire phase may have been the best of the bunch. The Oscar-winning filmmaker responsible for Point Break and The Hurt Locker did something extra special in 1987 when she deigned to give us the gift of bloody, leather-jacket-clad Bill Paxton. Near Dark does plenty well, from its neo-Western tone to its mix of sex appeal and scares. Actually, come to think of it, there’s not much Near Dark doesn’t do well. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

6. Antonia Bird, Ravenous (1999)

British filmmaker Antonia Bird only made four films before her untimely death, and the first three gave audiences no warning as to what she’d deliver with Ravenous. Priest is a controversial drama, Mad Love is an erratically romantic road trip, and Face is the story of a bank robber. Her final film, though, is a near masterpiece of tone and content, a period tale of travelers heading west and finding only snow, hunger, and something powerful in the meat of humanity. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle headline with perfection, and Bird runs them both through a wringer of terror, dark laughs, and heart-pumping action. Bird keeps things just light enough even as some very grim beats unfold, and it’s just brilliant stuff from all involved. (Rob Hunter)

This list of the best horror films from directors who only visited the genre once concludes on the next page…

1 of 2 Next

Valerie Ettenhofer: Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)