Written by Dr. Jose
Imagine reading on Twitter tomorrow that Adam Wingard was helping write the next Pixar movie. Or seeing that Robert Eggers was directing a heartwarming family dramedy about an elderly couple. Or that James Wan‘s next project was adapting If You Give a Mouse a Cookie for the big screen. It might be a bit disorienting – these are horror directors, after all. The only time they should be associated with ‘warm fuzzies’ is if they happen to be describing the deadly space creatures from their next movie.
However, it’s actually not that strange for horror directors to dip their toes into family friendly waters, and in fact a lot of the big, established names in horror have done it – multiple times, for some. Perhaps filming blood and guts day in and day out gets boring. Or maybe they shoot softer stuff as a way to decompress. Or maybe – just maybe – they’re simply trying something new.
As for Wingard, Eggers, Wan, and the rest of the new generation of horror directors, they’re all still relatively new and just now making names for themselves. There’s still time for them to give the family stuff a shot – and who knows, sooner or later they just might.
Below I’ve compiled a short list of some of the “softer” works by some of horror’s more talked about directors. Some are familiar, others may surprise you. Have any to add? Leave a comment below!
A decade after writing and directing The Slumber Party Massacre, Amy Jones shifted her focus from driller killers to drooling canines. Along with John Hughes, she wrote the much-beloved ’90s family flick Beethoven. It proved to be quite the success – as of this writing, it has spawned four sequels.
Chuck Russell wrote and directed two of the most memorable horror films of the late-’80s: The Blob and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. His penchant for pun-cracking weird-faced dudes who can defy the laws physics carried over into the early-’90s when he produced and directed the massive hit, The Mask.
Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, the deranged duo who collectively brought us cult hits like Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dolls, and who individually brought us films like Society, Return of the Living Dead III, and Castle Freak, joined forces once more to write one of the most successful films of 1989, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. (It beat out Back to the Future II, Ghostbusters II, and even The Little Mermaid.)
Speaking of the Honey franchise, Thom Eberhardt, best known for directing Night of the Comet and the underrated Sole Survivor, wrote the sequel, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. But the horror connections don’t stop there: HIBUtK was produced by Slumber Party Massacre II writer and director, Deborah Brock, and Empire Pictures president, Albert Band!
Is there anything scarier than a group of feisty senior citizens who want to break out of a retirement home and go on one last adventure before they kick the bucket? Less than a year after writing and directing one of the most successful and influential horror films of all time – Halloween, duh – John Carpenter tried something completely different by writing a few TV movies that were decidedly not horrific: the comedic Zuma Beach and the heartfelt Better Late Than Never.
David Lynch’s films are known for their unsettling subject matter, freaky surrealism, and general bat-shit craziness – which is why it’s so surprising that the director decided to make a G-rated Disney film in the mid-’90s. (That’s not hyperbole, by the way – The Straight Story is literally a G-rated Disney film.) While the film wasn’t a financial success, it was met with critical acclaim, winning 12 awards and 29 nominations – including an Academy Award for Best Actor.
It’s hard to conceive how John D. Hancock, director of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death – one of the great low-budget weirdo spook movies of the ’70s – could also direct one of the many beloved Christmas movies of the ’80s, Prancer. That is, until, you realize the little girl in Prancer is also named Jessica, and then it all makes sense. (I don’t know, I’m grasping at straws here.)
Speaking of Christmas, Bob Clark is probably best known for his two films Black Christmas and A Christmas Story. And while A Christmas Story is a family film to be enjoyed by those of all ages, Clark somehow made an even more family-friendlier film, the talking toddler film Baby Geniuses, which is clearly aimed at…well, actually I don’t know who it’s aimed at. It’s pretty bad.
David Lynch wasn’t the only one on this list to dip his toes into Disney waters – horror maestro Wes Craven was also briefly on Mickey’s payroll when he directed an episode of the TV program Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, entitled “Casebusters”. But perhaps Craven’s best known diversion from the horror genre was his true story drama, Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep and Gloria Estefan.
Sometimes you just gotta go where the money is. After writing The Howling and directing The Nest, director Terence Winkless found himself some job security by directing over 40 episodes of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as well as their full length feature, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Ninja Quest.
After directing The Gate, Gate 2: The Trespassers, and the underrated I, Madman, Director Tibor Takács also found himself in the TV game: he directed Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which inspired the long-running television show (for which Takács directed the pilot episode). He followed it up by directing the sequel, Sabrina Goes to Rome.
In between writing some of the most fun and popular horror movies of the ’80s – movies like Fright Night, Child’s Play, and Psycho II – Tom Holland tore a page out of the Spielberg/Dante handbook and tried his hand at writing one of those “child in danger” fantasy movies that were becoming so widespread at the time. Despite being well-received, as of this writing, Cloak & Dagger has been Holland’s only attempt at such a genre.
Sadly, the horror community lost one of its greatest and most important figures just a few weeks ago. Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Wizard of Gore himself, passed away in September – and with him went an era of goopy, sleazy, low-budget drive-in B-movie gold that was and is as important to cinema as French New Wave, New Hollywood, or any other cinematic movement over the last century. But it wasn’t all sex and splatter for ol’ H.G. Not long after directing Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!, Lewis directed two kid’s films: Jimmy, the Boy Wonder and The Magic Land of Mother Goose.
Last but not least, we have Nicolas Roeg, director of the horrifying Don’t Look Now, and the equally-horrifying-but-still-kid-friendly The Witches. If you squint hard enough, you can find a few parallels between the films which makes it seem like not so much of a stretch that Roeg would’ve directed both films. But the graphic sex and violence in Don’t Look Now stands in glaring contrast to the ultimately playful and goofy nature of The Witches.
Honorable mentions: frequent Bob Clark collaborator Alan Ormsby, who wrote Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Deranged, Deathdream, and Popcorn, who also happened to helped write Disney’s Mulan. And George A. Romero, who directed the authorized biography, O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose. And while it’s not necessarily a family film, it’s pretty damn weird.