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When Dramatic Directors Try Horror

Those of you unfamiliar with Dream House director Jim Sheridan should know how talented he is. My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, In America and Brothers are four exceptional dramas, feature a total of seven Oscar nominations for acting (including two wins), and all were directed by Sheridan. So if you're like me, you might be wondering "What's this guy doing directing a horror film like Dream House?"

Turns out, it's not so uncommon for typically dramatic directors to try their hand at scaring the pants off moviegoers. Once upon a time, horror was actually a respected genre of movies. Now we have Saw VI, Paranormal Activity 3 and Final Destination 5, but movies like The Exorcist, Halloween and The Shining are as good as it gets.

With that, here are a few of the directors whose shoes Sheridan follows. You know all these names, but they certainly aren't the first ones that come to mind when you think of horror directors. Yet, for better or worse, they've dabbled in the genre, and in a few cases, the fact that they never really went back speaks volumes.

Martin Scorsese, Cape Fear
After breaking onto the scene with 1973's Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese became known as one of the best American directors ever and known for his gritty, hard-hitting dramas—Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver. In 1991, however, he stepped outside his comfort zone with Cape Fear, a remake of a 1962 classic starring Robert Mitchum and Atticus Finch himself, Gregory Peck. Neither film is straight-up horror, but Robert DeNiro's lead performance in the remake is more frightening than Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta combined. OK, not as scary as some of his most recent films (Little Fockers, anyone?) but still... 

Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho
For the Master of Suspense, horror films weren't a huge departure. By 1960, Hitchcock had over thirty years of experience making thrillers. But nothing quite prepared folks for Psycho, a true game-changer of a film. From the iconic music to the unforgettable performance by Anthony Perkins as the mother-loving Norman Bates, it was clear right away that this guy knew how to scare people, and he proved just a few years later with The Birds that his Psycho was no fluke. 

Robert Wise, The Haunting
The last thing I think of when someone mentions horror films is the Von Trapp Family, but the two existing almost simultaneously in Robert Wise's world when he followed-up his beloved 1963 horror film The Haunting with the Oscar-winning musical The Sound of Music. Actually, Wise began his career as an editor on a number of classic films, including Citizen Kane. He first tried his hand at directing with a horror film—The Curse of the Cat People—before moving on to success in a number of genres, including musicals. But whatever he might be known for now, The Haunting remains a horror favorite to many.

Frank Darabont, The Mist
Darabont has made a career out of directing Stephen King adaptations, so of course he'd been a well-established horror director, right? Oddly enough, it's the few non-scary King stories that Darabont started his directorial career with. The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are two highly respected modern dramas directed by Darabont, but it was his 2007 King adaptation, The Mist that showed he was a jack of all trades (or genres, if you will). It also showed us that people could be just as scary as any creature or critter.

Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later
Boyle's calling card as a director is that he rarely, if ever, does the same thing twice. Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, Millions, Sunshine, 127 Hours, and his beloved 2003 zombie flick, 28 Days Later, share maybe just one thing in common: Boyle. But someone so accomplished and skilled in different areas has to tackle horror at some point, and many would argue that Boyle's only horror film is his shining moment as a filmmaker.


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