Mar 20, 2012


Is it fair to say the glory days of Carpenter, Romero, and Craven are behind them? Should they fade into obscurity with what little respect they have remaining and perhaps work on their memoirs? Admittedly, Carpenter will always get a pass from me, but even the most cynical movie fan has to admit his "Masters of Horror" episode "Cigarette Burns" was damn good, and though his latest feature, The Ward, may have been derivative and cliched, the direction showed signs of life and enthusiasm. Is it Halloween or Escape From New York? God no - it's not even Vampires. But it's not the train wreck people say it is. However, I'll admit the Carpenter of now is not the Carpenter of '77-'88.

I don't mean to make it sound like without these heavy weights the genre is dead. Likewise, there are plenty of fresh faces out there giving us horror fans exactly what we need: James Wan, Brad Anderson, Lucky McKee, and the less heralded Christopher Smith, Jim Mickle, and Patrick Lussier.

But there are directors out there who have already shown a knack for our genre. Though they have yet to make an outright horror film, something is clearly festering inside these directors that needs to be explored.

Let's start with the most obvious:

Mel Gibson
I'm going to avoid going for the more generic argument by reminding you just how violent and splattery Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was. It's a cheap shot to the filmmaker, and it's also pretty disrespectful to the genre we're all supposed to love. But time and time again I've seen people disparage Gibson's very red Passion as nothing more than a torture porn film. "He should direct a Saw sequel!" I once saw a moron saya moron who apparently believes that's all a horror film amounts to: chains and blood and flying limbs. It's an unfair statement on every level I can imagine. First and foremost, wherever your religious (or non-religious) views lie, there's no denying Passion was a powerful film. I personally don't have one faithful bone in my body my time on planet Earth has been pretty instrumental determining that but I was moved by Passion. Quite highly. And while the scenes of torture were effectively disturbing (and rightfully so), they are not the reasoning behind Gibson's potential as a genre director. No, I speak of the scenes where Jesus frequently sees Satan staring at him from within the crowd of the jeering and judging. And this Satan is not the Satan of biblical or mythical lore. It's not even the Satan created by Hollywood. This is a Satan whose body is emaciated, whose sex is indeterminate, and whose all-white skin makes him stand out as he floats smoothly throughout the crowd. He holds a too-large deformed baby in his arms, and he stares at Jesus with eyes filled both with spite and sympathy. And let's not forget the scene where Judas is harassed by demonic children with insane sharp teeth and monstrous sneers before the man hangs himself from guilt...

Perfect Project: The proposed Pet Sematary remake. And while I'd like for him to pull double-duty and appear in front of the camera as well, he's too old for Louis Creed. But he'd make a haunting Judd Crandall, wouldn't he?

 Sean Penn
Sean Penn's time spent behind the camera may be less heralded than Mel Gibson's, but that does not mean his films do not contain some genuinely creepy imagery. I speak primarily of The Pledge, the 2001 dramatic thriller not seen by too many people. It's the story of a retiring chief of police (Jack Nicholson) who makes a promise to a mourning mother that he will not stop looking for the maniac that took the life of her daughter. Early on in the film, Nicholson's Jerry Black has a nightmare in which he rushes into a church and sees before him a defiled altar covered in the blood of the murdered girl. And standing over her, covered in blood and with a completely insane smile on his face, is genre fave Tom Noonan. The camera rushes at his face with inhuman speed, forcing the audience up close against this walking nightmare. It is a scene that literally scared the shit out of me in theaters the first time I saw it. While The Pledge is a dark and somber movie for its entire running time, this nightmare sequence is the only jarring and graphic moment in the film. It is expertly assembled and crafted. While I get the feeling that Sean Penn would not work within our genre, figuring it was beneath him, I can't help but wonder what kind of output we could receive should he ever give it a shot. None of Penn's films have ever really been large in scope, as he instead chooses to focus on small and contained stories about flawed people. So find him something small and contained with horrific elements, and let him do what he does.

Perfect Project: While perhaps not obviously horror, I'd love to see what he could do with a fresh adaptation of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It's a dour book with a not-too-optimistic look at our future, and it has an underlying political tone that someone like Penn could not resist. It would be a little outside of his comfort zone, but that might be good for him. Penn's last two directorial films were based on books, and his two films before that were original scripts. Him tackling the adaptation of the book himself could result in something bleak but wonderful.

Christopher Nolan 
At this point, I think Nolan can do no wrong. Now is the time for him to hop right into our genre and show what he can do. This man has run the gamut of all the genres thus far. He's given us thrillers and dramas, as well as both crazy mind-fuck and exhilarating action. What's left for him to do but a comedy? Horror, my friendthat's what. The melancholy tone present in all his films would mix well in the world of the horrific. I see him tackling quite well a Shutter Island-esque horror tale as you witness the psychological breakdown of your main character. But at the same time, he can go big, as he's proven with Inception and The Dark Knight. And speaking of Inception, the scene where Ellen Page's Ariadne first meets Marion Cotillard's Mal is shockingly creepy. Cotillard's glare as Ariadne and Cobb retreat back up the elevator - and those dark eyes follow for most of their ascension - is chilling. Besides, Insomnia (the director's most under-appreciated filmand my personal favorite) as well as The Prestige has shown the man can descend into darkness with the best of them and come out with something both thrilling and poignant. While his films may not be overtly horrific, it's the darkness that lie within his characters - and what they're willing to do to each other or themselves - that make him a perfect horror candidate.

Perfect Project: Guillermo Del Toro's first book of his vampire trilogy The Strain. Nolan has already proven he can handle the more fantastical with his Batman films, and it's about time Hollywood apologized for all the fairy vamps of late and showed that they prefer to rip off heads rather than go to geometry.

Nicolas Winding Refn
Bronson got his name circulating, but Drive put him on the map. Both critics and fans embraced the oddly quiet story about a mentally unstable Hollywood stunt driver who gets in deep with some very bad men. No, there's not a lot of driving in a movie called Drive, but that doesn't make it any less awesome, either. Refn has a creative mind, and there are shots in Drive that look ripped directly from Kubrick's version of The Shining. The motel room scene is incredibly suspenseful and dripping with red; and the scene where Gosling's character slowly approaches the entrance to Nero's Pizzeria wearing his humanoid face mask doesn't quite feel like it belongs in a movie that is essentially John Hughes' Taxi Driver. Shortly after Drive's release, Refn was courted for all kinds of Hollywood projects, including the now-filming Die Hard 5 (under the direction of John Moore - ugh). While it's probably best he avoided that particular project, you can't help but wonder what other Hollywood properties - actual or potential - that he would be good for...

Perfect Project: A adaptation of the videogame Alan Wake ("Eew, no!" you say). Refn's lead characters are unstable and solitary men on a not-so-typical journey. And there's no one more solitary than novelist Alan Wake, who begins to investigate his wife's disappearance, all the while set-pieces from his own novels seem to be existing in the strange town of Bright Falls.

Bill Paxton
I know, I know. The man already has Frailty under his belt and the movie is damn good. Perhaps it was the pitiful box office returns from his directorial debut that scared him away from the horror genre (I believe it was the first Resident Evil that was sucking up all the horror fans' money that season at the box office), but with a pedigree like Paxton's, I find it hard to believe the man has not revisited the horror genre. For a man who got his start in films like Aliens, The Terminator, and Predator 2 (and was killed by each titular monster), along with the incredible Near Dark, I have a feeling the man is itching to get back into the genre. Bill Paxton's last few roles in film and television have been rather subdued and quietkind of strange for a man who played all manner of quirky and obnoxious characters in the past, such as Aliens' Private Hudson or Weird Science's Chet. The last "fun" part he played was in 2004's Club Dread, and his role as Coconut Pete showed he still wanted to party.

Perfect Project: Jonathan L. Howard has authored three books now in the Johannes Cabal series, the first being Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer. It is a highly unusual book about the dark arts, the debate over the significance of the soul, and a wager between man and devil. And your guide on this demented journey is the ever sarcastic Joannes Cabal. The book is goofy, horrific and laugh-out-loud funny. Paxton has already showed he's capable of doing all let's see him do it all at one time.

Honorable Mentions: Oliver Stone dabbled once in horror with his creepy cheapy The Hand starring Michael Caine, but his penchant for slimy characters (like, say, Natural Born Killers) makes me want him to take on author Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time.  And if Bill Paxton wouldn't want to take on Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer, I can see the Coen Bros. picking up the slack, as the book's odd tone would perfectly suit their own quirky style. Lastly, (and oddly), Adult Swim's Tim & Eric have proven in many of their skits that they have a truly macabre sense of humor. Give them something splattery and ridiculous to sink their teeth into—perhaps an Evil Dead 2-ish film of teen hijinks and flying body parts. One thing is for sure, it would be R-rated, original, and entirely fucked up.

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