The Perfect Match: Horror Directors and Comic Book Movies

There’s always a lot of talk when directors make the crossover from one genre to another. It brings up questions such as ‘Will this work?’ and ‘Can so-and-so really direct a big budget superhero blockbuster?’, and frankly the answer is clearly, yes. A great director is a great director – it doesn’t matter which genre they hailed from. Before directing Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins was known for her Oscar-winning indie film Monster, as well as her turns behind the camera for various television shows over the years including: Arrested Development, Entourage, and The Killing. A director’s past work is not something that is necessarily indicative of how well they can do when tackling other genres, Patty Jenkins is someone who is a clear example of this. 

However, whenever comic book films are announced, there is always an immense conversation surrounding who will be cast and who will direct. Lately for Warner Bros. and their DC heroes, many of the directors have had various turns behind the camera for films in the horror genre. Given some of the elements from various comic book lore and storylines over the years, coupled with the content that can be found in horror films, on-boarding many horror directors shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, it’s a smart decision by the Warner Bros. powers at be.

James Wan and Jason Momoa on the set of Aquaman, and Zachary Levi and David F. Sandberg  on the set of Shazam!

Their current roster of horror directors includes James Wan (Aquaman) and David F. Sandberg (Shazam!), with the latest report revealing that Andy Muschietti (It, It: Chapter Two, Mama) is in talks to direct the long-awaited Flash solo project. Various directors have been floated about to be attached to the project at some point or another, but if any pattern is to be found in the Warner Bros. track record, Muschietti seems to be a shoe-in to helm the Ezra Miller starring flick. Sitting back and thinking about it, it’s something that was right there and even some earlier films proved that the superhero genre is perhaps in many ways tailored to fit in coexistence with the horror genre – like a missing piece of the puzzle that’s finally been placed. It is something that has been explored in the past with Richard Donner having directed the famed horror film, The Omen before he directed Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in Superman.  Sam Raimi wrote and directed the Evil Dead series before he brought Spider-Man to the big screen, Zack Snyder directed Dawn of the Dead before Watchmen, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman – and that’s only naming a few of the directors that have made this epic crossover.

Gathering up directors who have most of their backgrounds rooted in horror is a smart move. In regards to the past DC character based films, there were many that had some nightmarish elements (i.e. The Knightmare scene from BvS), but none have been done as well (in my opinion) as the scene in Aquaman where he faces off with the creatures from the Trench, as well as the scene with the Karathen (who knew that Julie Andrews could be so scary). The various scenes in Shazam! that incorporated the Seven Deadly Sins (particularly when Dr. Sivana went to visit his father  and brother during the board meeting) were very dark. It wasn’t something I was necessarily expecting from the Shazam! film based on the trailers; but it was a welcome experience in the theatre. These moments were right out of a comic book, couple that with the fright these scenes brought, and the audience truly received something special. 

Creature of the Trench in Aquaman (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

There are a multitude of film techniques that are distinct in horror films including tight framing, jump scares, use of negative light, irregular movement, chilling sounds – just to name a few. All of these elements in some way, shape or form played a part in James Wan’s Aquaman, and in David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!. I believe these elements helped to make the films what they were and for me, they certainly helped make both films great. Due to some of the content with the pages of various comics, being frightened, or feeling uneasy was something that I’d always expected. However on-screen, it wasn’t really something I felt (as an audience member) that I ever really got in full force, up until some of the most recent films. If the talks with Muschietti work out, I am intrigued to see just what he brings to the solo Flash film. There’s a lot for Muschietti to work with in terms of story, characters, and villains from the Flash world. So, I cannot wait to see what he might deliver after the It series.

With the supernatural and otherworldly elements at your disposal through comic book lore, it’s no wonder that horror directors have found a comfortable setting in the Worlds of DC. What Wan and Sandberg brought to their respective films, is something I haven’t seen in past films in the same wheelhouse – and with the amount of films surrounding superheroes, and some people likely suffering from ‘superhero exhaustion’, film studios need to strive to always put out something bigger and better than its predecessor in order to be successful (or so it seems). However, always relying on the same mundane stories with the same execution isn’t fun for an audience with high expectations. Therefore, Warner Bros. bringing in the likes of Wan and Sandberg was something new, surprising, and perhaps even left some scratching their heads. However, it worked beautifully and what the pair did with Aquaman and Shazam! was beyond what I could have envisioned for both films, and part of that was due to the horror within both movies. It was a refreshing change of pace. 

Thus far, horror directors has been something that is really working for Warner Bros. and let me to tell you, the more jump scares, negative lighting, and otherworldly creatures, the better. 2021 can’t come soon enough if that’s what’s to be expected for Aquaman 2.   I for one am hoping that the studio keeps up this trend of picking directors that many might say are “out of the box” because all I know is that I’m here for it, and hopefully you all will be too!