There are directors who will always be considered titans of the genre. Filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, George Romero, David Cronenberg and many more are considered even nowadays to be modern masters of horror.
Some of them began their careers over forty years ago and their work is still largely unparalleled. But, for new horror fans getting into the genre, it can be tough to know where to start, even with the iconic, often obvious masters.
Different films hold up for different people. Some movies that are undoubtedly classics still don’t necessarily play well for a new audience. Those who are just starting to get into the genre aren’t always as forgiving of things that don’t feel as modern. They can get there, but they need to be eased into it first.
This is not a list of the best movie from each director, or even my personal favorites movie. Instead, these are simply my picks of the films from each that are most easily digested by those who have never watched any of their work, and are looking for a helpful introduction:
Tobe Hooper: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
For those who really know their horror, this choice seems controversial. But the fact of the matter is that I’ve tried to start people out on the original Chainsaw and it’s too dated for most newcomers to grasp. They can’t get into it. But a faster-paced, funnier, gorier version is easier to digest–especially for the modern horror fan. Then, having been introduced to the ideas contained within, they can more easily go back and view the original, and perhaps even appreciate it more for what it is. Other Hooper classics such as Salem’s Lot are too long for most people and Poltergeist would more likely spark debate over the controversy rather than the feature itself.
Gremlins is a horror movie. It’s also a family, holiday, drama, adventure movie and that’s why most of us love it so much. It has plenty to offer, such as a notably spastic, cartoon-influenced style, but it’s also packed with genuine character, emotion and heart. These also happen to all of the elements Dante has proved best at in his career. It’s so accessible for new viewers. Afterwards, you can move onto harder-edged stuff like The Howling.
Stuart Gordon: Re-Animator
Sometimes the most obvious choice is best. Horror comedy is a great way to introduce fans to the genre and Re-Animator already has a “you have to see this” kind of cult status, so it makes sense. It’s also a great example of the over-the-top humor and gore that Gordon would become known for. After seeing this, you can have fun spotting the cast in other Gordon movies, too.
David Cronenberg: The Fly
A good portion of Cronenberg’s work, while brilliant, might feel inaccessible to some. Videodrome is my personal favorite, and it’s an incredibly smart feature, but The Fly is a more suitable starter kit. It still has all of the body and disease themes, along with the ideal combination of sci-fi and body horror that you expect from the director, but it’s still a very approachable film. At its core, this is a love story fueled by two amazing lead performances.
George A. Romero: Creepshow
The Dead films are all great (obviously), but some of them move too slowly for new fans who have been raised on fast-paced zombie action like the Dawn remake, Zombieland and 28 Days Later. Creepshow is a great sample platter that, essentially, offers five unique Romero shorts, each with their own style. All are also done with a sense of humor and sick glee that make them endearing.
Sam Raimi: Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
The Evil Dead is clearly the place to start for new horror fans. But, in my experience, showing it to newcomers has never gone well. Evil Dead 2 gives you that loose recap of what goes on in the first feature and then just keeps on going, piling on the comedy and wackiness, as well as the over-the-top gore. It really is the perfect place to start. And for some, it’s the best horror movie to start with in general, no matter who directed it.
John Carpenter: The Thing
Halloween is another one that’s sadly too slow for many modern viewers. But The Thing still works the way you’d expect it to. Yes, I know of some who watched it after hearing how good it was and found it laughable (though not quite as bad as Halloween), but they’re thankfully not in the majority. The FX still more than hold up, while the isolation of the setting also makes the film feel weirdly timeless, which is an unexpected strength.
Wes Craven: Scream
Scream might be the most obvious choice on the list. But, for a lot of younger people it was and continues to be a gateway into the genre. More and more new horror fans are going back and watching the original film after the success of MTV’s Scream TV series. It remains a strong meta commentary on the genre, while also being a witty teen film and a genuinely scary, effective slasher all at the same time. One of Craven’s very best and, most crucially of all for newcomers, it name drops so many other horror movies that it’s basically a shopping list of titles to check out once you’ve finished this one.