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Horror Directors You May Not Know Have Passed Away

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In the horror genre there are many directors who became synonymous with big screen terror, such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, George A. Romero, and Wes Craven, to name a few.

While some directors created one great horror masterpiece then moved on to other genres, like Steven Spielberg with "Jaws" and William Friedkin with "The Exorcist," filmmakers like Romero and Carpenter clearly found their groove in horror, and created many great scary films throughout their careers. These directors helped shape the genre into what it is today, and have inspired newer upstarts, like Ti West ("X") and Rob Zombie ("House of a Thousand Corpses"), to carve their own terrifying paths as filmmakers as well.

Sadly, in recent years we've lost many of the great horror directors in cinema history, although thankfully their work will continue to scare the hell out of audiences for generations to come. Here is a list of horror directors that you may not know have passed away.

George A. Romero

George A. Romero was the godfather of the modern zombie. Without him, we wouldn't have "The Walking Dead," nor would the zombie become the most popular monster of the 2000s without Romero's influence.

A true maverick filmmaker who never went Hollywood, Romero was born in New York and settled in Pennsylvania, making commercials and industrial films through his firm, Latent Image. Then in 1968, he helmed "Night of the Living Dead," one of the most important films in horror history.

Before Romero, zombies usually would sleepwalk around and occasionally strangle someone. With "Night," they were now savage flesh eaters, feasting on brains and fresh blood to stay alive. "Night of the Living Dead" was also praised by the critics for having a social conscience, which Romero would claim wasn't intentional. Yet some critics saw the film as an allegory for social turmoil and the Vietnam War.

Romero made more zombie films, including the original "Dawn of the Dead," which Roger Ebert hailed as "one of the best horror films ever made," plus "Day of the Dead" and his comeback film, "Land of the Dead."

Romero went beyond the undead with "Creepshow," his collaboration with Stephen King that paid tribute to EC Comics, "Martin," a deeply personal vampire story, and "Knightriders," which featured Ed Harris's first starring role, but he would always remain best known for his zombie flicks.

Romero died of lung cancer on July 16, 2017 at the age of 77.

Wes Craven

It's hard to believe that some of the most notorious horror films of all time were directed by a man as kind, gentle and articulate as Wes Craven. But he was a truly lovely man that you'd never think would be capable of helming a movie like "Last House on the Left."

Craven was a former professor, and he first started out making low budget skinflicks with his close friend Sean Cunningham. But when they made "Last House on the Left" together, it had the impact of a sledge hammer. Like "Night of the Living Dead," "Last House" inadvertently captured the social violence and disillusionment that came at the end of the '60s, and it gave the film an added subtext many didn't anticipate.

After "Last House," Craven didn't want to make another darkly nihilistic film, so he next helmed "The Hills Have Eyes," which was still scary, but much more fun to watch. In the early '80s, Cunningham would go on to launch the vastly successful "Friday the 13th" franchise, and in 1984 Craven would create his own wildly popular series, "A Nightmare on Elm Street," which launched Johnny Depp's acting career and of course made Freddy Krueger a beloved horror villain.

In the '90s, Craven would have a successful third act reinvention with the self-aware horror of "Scream," which turned the genre inside out and created a franchise that is still going strong today.

Craven died of brain cancer on August 30, 2015 at the age of 76.

Tobe Hooper

While Tobe Hooper didn't have a great body of work like many of his peers, he created one of the greatest films in the genre's history, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." An unrelenting, intense, low-budget masterpiece that's still very effective, there have been many sequels to and reboots of "Chain Saw Massacre" but to this day it has never been equaled.

Hooper would never follow up with a film as well-made, scary or intense as "Chain Saw," but he did a very good job scaring the hell out of TV viewers with the 1979 mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's "Salem's Lot." "Salem's Lot" was the first successful horror TV miniseries, and it paved the way for many great Stephen King adaptations in the decades to come.

After "Chain Saw," Hooper directed "Eaten Alive," "The Funhouse," "Poltergeist" (although many still credit producer Steven Spielberg with the film's success), the remake of "The Toolbox Murders," and more. Hooper died on August 26, 2017 at the age of 74.

William Peter Blatty

While William Peter Blatty is best known as the author of "The Exorcist," he also wrote and directed "Exorcist III," as well as the acclaimed thriller "The Ninth Configuration."

Blatty was primarily a comedy writer ("John Goldfarb Please Come Home," "A Shot In the Dark") who also worked in the public relations department for USC. A devout Catholic, writing "The Exorcist" brought Blatty back in touch with his faith, and it became one of the best-selling books of the '70s, as well as one of the most terrifying films in cinema history.

Still, Blatty had the itch to helm his own movies, and he moved into the director's chair in 1980, doing a respectable job on "The Ninth Configuration" — which he adapted from his 1966 novel "Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane" — and "Exorcist III," which Blatty adapted from his novel "Legion." (Many critics consider "Exorcist III" an underrated horror film today.)

Blatty died on January 12, 2018 of multiple myeloma at the age of 89.

Lucio Fulci

The Italian godfather of gore, Lucio Fulci had been an active director in Italy since the '50s who covered many genres, from comedy to Westerns. But he is best known for his hardcore horror films such as "Zombie" (featuring the famous tagline "We are going to eat you"), "Gates of Hell," and the surreal midnight cult classic "The Beyond."

Fulci was beloved by gorehounds because of the aggressive, hardcore violence in his work, and his films were often released in the U.S. unrated, meaning no one under 17 could see them. While the bloodshed in many of his films, like "House By the Cemetery," and "New York Ripper," could often be hard to stomach, he could also make well-crafted films that showed he had a good understanding of cinematic craft, like "Lizard in a Woman's Skin" and the murder mystery "The Psychic."

Fulci died from complications of diabetes on March 13, 1996 at the age of 68. This was not long after he made a successful appearance at a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors convention in New York, where many fans came out to pay homage to him, much to his disbelief.

Stuart Gordon

Many who enjoyed the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" series are probably unaware that it was created by Stuart Gordon, the man who gave us two classic H.P. Lovecraft adaptations:  the deliriously gory and outrageous "Re-Animator," and "From Beyond," which came under fire from the ratings board and had to be released with the equivalent of an NC-17.

Gordon deftly combined horror and humor, and as he said in the book "Reel Terror," "I've always felt you can never find an audience that wants to laugh more than a horror movie audience. I always think it's a good thing to give the audience something to laugh at without hurting the movie."

Gordon started directing in theater, where he put on experimental and risky plays, like a version of "Peter Pan" that protested the Vietnam war. Many years later, "Re-Animator" was turned into an award-winning musical, where audiences in the first three rows got drenched in splatter.

It's hard to imagine a filmmaker like Gordon working at Disney, but he successfully launched the Mouse House franchise "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," starring Rick Moranis, and was able to adapt his wild, irreverent style into family entertainment. Gordon died on March 24, 2020 of multiple organ failure at the age of 72.

Mario Bava

A wonderfully stylish and inventive Italian horror director, Mario Bava was under-appreciated in his time, but he is now a beloved cult figure among film buffs. (Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino are all big fans of his work.)

Bava directed "Black Sabbath," the film from which the band took their name, as well as "Black Sunday" (a big influence on Burton's "Sleepy Hollow"), "Blood and Black Lace," "Planet of the Vampires" (which some considered the inspiration for "Alien"), "Danger Diabolik" (which was parodied in the Beastie Boys video "Body Movin" and featured an incredible soundtrack by composer Ennio Morricone), and "Bay of Blood," which bore an uncanny resemblance to the first two "Friday the 13th" films.

Bava's work showed great ingenuity considering the miniscule budgets he had to work with, and many feel he could have become another Hitchcock if he'd hooked up with the right project, but his cult following is still going strong to this day. The maestro died of a heart attack on April 27, 1980 at the age of 65.

Herschell Gordon Lewis

The original godfather of gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, made viciously bloody movies before there was even a ratings board, taking onscreen violence and bloodshed to a shocking new level in the '60s.

Lewis is best known for the splatter trilogy "Blood Feast," "Two Thousand Maniacs," and "Color Me Blood Red," and while none of these films are on the level of "The Exorcist," they still have an important place in the genre's history because without them, we wouldn't have big screen bloodshed the way we do today.

Lewis directed films up until the early '70s, before reinventing himself as a successful marketing executive (Ad Week called him "a direct marketing renaissance man"). Although his work was critically panned, it did prove influential, and filmmakers like John Waters were big fans. (Lewis was even nominated for Worst Director at the Golden Turkey Awards, an early precursor to the Razzies, but lost to Ed Wood.) Lewis passed away on September 26, 2016 at the age of 90.

Paul Naschy

A cult figure from Spain, Paul Naschy was a weightlifting champion who managed to launch a series of films where he played werewolves. Inspired by the Universal horror classics of the 1930s, Naschy reinvented and updated the original "The Wolf Man" — the 1941 staple starring Lon Chaney Jr. — with atmospheric locations, colorful lighting, and modern horror elements.

Naschy's first werewolf film was "La Marca Del Hombre Lobo," and it firmly established him as an underground horror star. This was also the first Naschy film that was released in the United States, under the hilariously deceptive title "Frankenstein's Bloody Terror." (While there's no Frankenstein in the film, there is a Wolfstein family, which wasn't close enough for most audiences. It was still a fine horror movie regardless.)

Other notable Naschy titles include "Werewolf Vs. The Vampire Woman," "Count Dracula's Great Love" (which was hilariously heckled on Elvira's "Movie Macabre"), "House of Psychotic Women," "Hunchback of the Morgue," and "Night of the Howling Beast," where the werewolf fights the Yeti.

Naschy's titles as a director include "Inquisition," "Night of the Werewolf," and "The Beast and the Magic Sword." He died of pancreatic cancer on November 30, 2009 at the age of 75.

Bob Clark

Most people know Bob Clark as the director of the beloved holiday classic "A Christmas Story," but he also helmed several horror films when he was starting out as a director. They include the original "Black Christmas," "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things," the underrated cult classic "Death Dream," (one of the few good films ever shown on Elvira's "Movie Macabre"), and the Ed Gein mockumentary "Deranged," which was so gruesome it was released unrated.

Clark started out in horror films because at the time it was easier to make a low-budget horror film and have a built-in audience ready to see it. Near the end of the '70s Clark broke through to the mainstream with the Sherlock Holmes film "Murder By Decree," which featured Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson, "A Christmas Story," which was not a hit when it was first released but has since become a classic, and the outrageous comedy smash "Porky's," one of the raunchiest movies of the 1980s.

Clark and his son Ariel were killed by a drunk driver on April 4, 2007. Clark was 67.

Dan O'Bannon

Dan O'Bannon made a name for himself as a screenwriter when he created the all-time horror/sci-fi classic "Alien," but O'Bannon also directed the hilarious zombie film "Return of the Living Dead," as well as a movie called "The Resurrected."

O'Bannon went to USC with John Carpenter, and they collaborated together on Carpenter's counter-culture sci-fi spoof "Dark Star." When "Dune" was at one point going to be turned into a feature film in the '70s, O'Bannon adapted the screenplay, and brought aboard the legendary Swiss artist H.R. Giger to provide the otherworldly production design.

When that incarnation of "Dune" fell apart, O'Bannon wrote "Alien," and turned director Ridley Scott onto Giger's work, which Scott loved immediately. "Alien," of course, became a huge hit in the summer of 1979, and its influence in horror and sci-fi has proven indelible.

O'Bannon also wrote the screenplay for the 1983 action hit "Blue Thunder," as well as the Tobe Hooper-directed "Lifeforce." He died on December 17, 2009 from Crohn's disease at the age of 63.

Terence Fisher

When the British studio Hammer Films entered the world of horror in the late 1950s, it was a big game changer for the genre. The Hammer films made stars out of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and they presented many classic monsters in a stylish new way, ramping up the blood and doing it all in full color. 

Terence Fisher was one of Hammer's top directors, and he helmed two movies that immediately put the studio, and star Christopher Lee, on the map: "Horror of Dracula" and "The Curse of Frankenstein." He also directed "The Mummy" with Lee in the title role as the gauzed marauder, "The Brides of Dracula," "The Curse of the Werewolf" (starring Oliver Reed), the sci-fi cult classic "The Earth Dies Screaming," "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," and "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed."

Hammer's impact on horror cinema was massive, and Fisher was one of its primary creative forces. He died of a heart attack on June 18,1980 at the age of 76.