There’s little doubt that the horror genre has its heroes. Filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and Tobe Hooper know how to make a good horror film, so that’s what they do. Every once in a while, though, a director from outside the genre will momentarily set foot into the realm of terror to give us a classic movie, only to go right back to making “normal” movies when they’re done. Here are eight horror movies by non-horror filmmakers who crossed over to the dark side just once.
1. Child’s Play – Sidney Lumet
Sidney Lumet made some of the most important movies in cinematic history, movies like 12 Angry Men, Network, and Dog Day Afternoon. Lumet had a way of coaxing brilliant performances out of his actors, and that gave his films heart. In 1972, he made his only horror film, Child’s Play. This is not the film about the demonic doll named Chucky, this is an adaptation of a Broadway play about bullying at a catholic boys school that is the result of demonic possession. Sadly, Lumet died in 2011, so Child’s Play will always be his only horror film.
2. The Exorcist – William Friedkin
The Exorcist is easily one of the top five movies on any horror fan’s list (if it isn’t consistently number one), but the 1973 classic is director William Friedkin’s only horror film. Choosing story over comfort, Friedkin dipped his foot into many different genres, making documentaries like The People vs. Paul Crump, crime dramas like The French Connection, and action films like To Live and Die in L.A., but only wandered into horror again for a few television episodes of The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. And speaking of The Exorcist…
3. Exorcist II: The Heretic – John Boorman
Most moviegoers know John Boorman as the director of seminal films such as Deliverance and Excalibur, but he was tapped in 1977 for the inevitable sequel to The Exorcist, appropriately titled Exorcist II: The Heretic. The film was a flop, and to this day is considered a black eye in the history of the franchise. Maybe that explains why Boorman never made another horror film?
4. What Lies Beneath – Robert Zemeckis
Robert Zemeckis is better known for shaping the youth of the eighties with his Back to the Future trilogy and for winning Oscars with Forrest Gump. Although he dabbled a little bit in horror on television, directing episodes of Amazing Stories and Tales from the Crypt, his only big-screen fright flick is the 2000 Hitchcockian ghost story What Lies Beneath. Despite a strong script and a big-name cast that included Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, What Lies Beneath was a box-office disappointment, so Zemeckis went back to making movies that he knew would be successful – and immediately made the Tom Hanks vehicle Cast Away.
5. Near Dark – Kathryn Bigelow
Before she was making Oscar bait films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow made action movies like Point Break and Strange Days. However, even before that, she made Near Dark, a 1987 movie that, along with The Lost Boys, would challenge all of the preconceived notions about vampires. Bigelow’s direction coupled with the natural chemistry of the cast (Bigelow basically used onetime husband James Cameron’s Aliens cast, a group that consisted of Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein) turned Near Dark into an instant revisionist western classic vampire movie. Then, she moved on to making war movies.
6. 28 Days Later… – Danny Boyle
For a while, Danny Boyle was England’s hippest director, making too-cool movies like Trainspotting and The Beach. In 2002, he turned the zombie subgenre on its ear with 28 Days Later… and its fast-moving, athletic pack antagonists. This was two years before Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead would bring quick zombies into the lexicon. Boyle didn’t return for the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, instead opting to win a few Oscars with Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. As of now, he has never made another horror movie.
7. The Omen – Richard Donner
Richard Donner got his start in television, directing episodes of old westerns like The Rifleman and Have Gun – Will Travel before helming some of the best episodes from the final season of The Twilight Zone in 1964. His sole contribution to horror history is the 1976 anti-Christ movie The Omen. The Omen was a huge box office success and is largely considered one of the best horror films of all time, but Donner parted ways with the genre, moving on to more family accessible films like Superman, The Goonies, and Ladyhawke. He would end up directing a few episodes of Tales from the Crypt in between making Lethal Weapon movies, but The Omen remains his only horror film.
8. Misery – Rob Reiner
A child star who got his big acting break playing Meathead on All in the Family, Rob Reiner stuck gold with his directorial debut, the cult classic mockumentary This is Spinal Tap. Reiner’s film resume includes softies like The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally…, but his adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “The Body” into the coming of age film Stand by Me impressed King so much that, in 1990, the writer let Reiner have a shot at directing one of his more frightening books – Misery. Reiner’s direction combined with knockout performances by James Caan and Kathy Bates turned Misery into a classic horror film, and Rob Reiner dropped the mic and went back to making dramatic comedies.