Postulating & Pontificating: What’s In A Good Horror Director?

I return to a topic that is a favorite of mine!

Recently I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine, The AuteurCast. I always listen to The AuteurCast, but as they were in the middle of a series on Stanley Kubrick I was especially jazzed to hear what they had to say. The particular episode I was listening to was on Mr. Kubrick’s 1980 horror film, The Shining. Along with special guest Max Evry, the usual hosts Rudie Obias and West Anthony broke down and discussed The Shining in a manner that did the film proud. I am, and this should not come as a surprise, a big fan of The Shining. Hearing Mr. Obias, Mr. Anthony, and Mr. Evry discuss the film in such a fine manner made me very happy.

During the episode one thing stuck in my craw. All three gentlemen continually made reference, in different forms, to “normal horror directors.” They singled out Mr. Kubrick as being something special, and singled out his direction for working so well because it went against the grain of what most horror directors have to offer. I will agree with all three men that Mr. Kubrick brings a considerable amount of skill to the table in the way that he directs The Shining. However, the way they continually referred to “normal horror direction” rubbed me the wrong way.

Horror is just like any other genre, it is full of its cliches and tropes. At the same time I find horror to be the most rewarding genre of all. It is the genre that consistently tackles real world ideas in interesting ways and finds methods of connecting with its audience that intrigue me. I’ll save the rest of what I have to say on the uniqueness of horror for a later, and much lengthier, post I have planned. But, to summarize, when Mr. Obias, Mr. Anthony, or Mr. Evry referred to “normal horror direction” I got the distinct feeling that they were pigeonholing the genre like so many other people make the mistake of doing.

Maybe I’m wrong, chances are that I am. After all I love The AuteurCast, it is among my favorite film related podcasts. I find Mr. Obias and Mr. Anthony to be intelligent guys who have interesting and well thought out points to make about film. I don’t know much about Mr. Evry, but I have enjoyed his appearances on The AuteurCast. Still, I was irked by the way that Mr. Evry spearheaded the idea of “normal horror direction.” In many ways the idea he put forth, that the hosts quickly jumped on board with, is similar to the idea that horror is meant only to scare.

In that sense I think that the fellows at The AuteurCast missed the boat on all that horror truly has to offer. It doesn’t just scare, it can also drench the viewer in atmosphere, rivet them with tension, make them smile with well done gore effects, and create mythical characters that stand the test of time. Horror is a genre capable of many things, and there are many horror directors who over the years have explored the vast depths of the genre. Stanley Kubrick entered the horror genre and played with ideas previously put forth by James Whale, David Lynch, Tod Browning, Mario Bava, F.W. Murnau, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Jacques Tourneur, and many more. Mr. Kubrick created his own unique horror film in The Shining, but much of what he put forth had been found in the work of “normal horror directors” for many years previous.

Even today the horror landscape is filled with directors who are trying new things and using the horror genre to look at humanity and the world around us in the most interesting of ways. Directors like Ti West, Daniel Stamm, Guillermo del Toro, Matt Reeves, Michael Haneke, and Alexandre Aja are exploring the many different permutations that a horror film can bring forth. There are bad directors in the world of horror, but that simply makes horror, yet again, no different from any other genre found under the wide spectrum of the umbrella of motion pictures.

I don’t hold any ill will towards The AuteurCast or Mr. Evry for what they said during their review of The Shining. Quite the opposite in fact, I enjoyed their review and I liked how their words about horror directors spurred me to write this column. I’m not seeking to change their minds, not that this is even a point of discussion where minds need to be changed. I love horror, and I love when topics or discussions make me want to write at length about horror. So thanks to The AuteurCast and Mr. Evry for giving me a lot to chew on and tickling my opinion bone. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy their podcast so much, and it’s also one of the reasons why I love horror, and the genre’s many very talented directors, so much.

Cheers,
Bill

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