Top Ten Horror Directors Making Non-Horror Television

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CSI2

SHOCK goes wild and reveals ten horror legends and their ventures into mainstream television.

 

It’s a sad fact that theatrical feature films are today suffering through a sort of creative dormancy, causing Hollywood’s top talents to migrate over to television’s artist-friendly climate. The horror genre has been especially affected by this trend, with beloved directors seeking work in TV not only for a paying gig, but also to stretch out with subject matter not usually brought their way. Many of these directors have actually been tacking television for years, as the examples below illustrate. Now, this list isn’t to showcase horror folks doing yet more scary stuff on the small screen, such as stints on TWILIGHT ZONE or HANNIBAL or THE WALKING DEAD, but are a look at familiar filmmakers using (or having used) the dominance of television programs for the chance to do something a little unexpected…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAM8XRUM7TE

CASEBUSTERS (Wes Craven)

No filmmaker felt more ghettoized by the horror genre than the late Wes Craven, and he famously leveraged his SCREAM clout for the opportunity to direct Meryl Streep in the cloying biopic MUSIC FROM THE HEART. But in 1986, well before his Streep gambit, Craven was thinking of the kids—his film DEADLY FRIEND was something he hoped would connect with younger audiences, and it was instead hijacked by the studio and loaded up with ridiculous gore sequences. That same year, Craven would finally get to make a genuine kiddie flick, as he went into league with the House of Mouse to direct an installment of their stalwart WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY program. Craven’s effort, feeling very much like an aborted series pilot, is called CASEBUSTERS, and it concerns a brother (Noah Hathaway of TROLL) and sister, the latter of which is obsessed with detective novels. The duo are helping out their kindly, podgy grandpa (character actor Pat Hingle), who happens to be a private investigator-slash-neighborhood watchman. Teaming up with local delinquent “Ski”, Grandpa and the youngsters take on a geeky Rick Moranis clone and a harridan in mom jeans who are out running a lame counterfeiting scheme. From hilariously awkward and misplaced narration by Hingle, to three (!) ineptly-staged car chases, to dumbed-down and preposterous plotting (the little sister blackmails a guy into chasing down the baddies by threatening him with a fine for dumping garbage?), CASEBUSTERS is juvenile, moronic fluff. Sorry, Wes.

GAME OF THRONES (Neil Marshall)

Fiendishly popular GAME OF THRONES has no shortage of epic set pieces and enormous battles, something Neil Marshall had previous experience in mounting through his swashbuckling 2010 film CENTURION. Marshall got the nod to direct two of GAMES’ heaviest episodes, and it’s difficult to discuss the particulars without spoiling any of the series’ intricate political machinations. Suffice it to say that when Marshall’s name flashes up on the credits of a particular episode, in-tune viewers know that they are primed for scope and scale—it was Marshall who marshalled the massive brawl between the sentries of the Night’s Watch and the feral tribe known as the Wildlings, and the results can be witnessed in the clip below:

NEW YORK UNDERCOVER (Mick Garris)

Having set or broken ratings records with his Stephen King miniseries, it makes sense that Mick Garris would be recruited over the years to hop aboard a number of successful programs. Garris has thus demonstrated his ability to work with the darker corners of teen-driven dramas like PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and RAVENSWOOD, and macabre grownup fare like THE WITCHES OF EAST END and HAPPY TOWN, but it was his helming an episode of Dick Wolf’s mid-nineties cop actioner NEW YORK UNDERCOVER that comes out of left field. UNDERCOVER was part of the then-upstart Fox network’s attempt to coax a younger demographic, and featured regular performances from hip-hop and R n’ B stars of the day. Garris’s episode has cool-guy detectives Williams and Torres backing a local reverend against an evil cigarette conglomerate’s attempts to discredit him, and boasts an appearance by controversial social critic Al Sharpton.

 

CSI: MIAMI (Rob Zombie)

For Rob Zombie’s many critics who would dearly love to see him direct a script that he didn’t write himself, look no further—in 2010, Zombie was behind the camera for an episode of CSI: MIAMI, conjuring that Bruckheimer beige glow around star David Caruso. There are traces of Zombie’s visual flair during an opening party sequence, and members of the Zombie zoo show up in the form of William Forsyth, Malcolm McDowell, and Sheri Moon Zombie (and there’s also a cameo by ZZ top’s Billy Gibbons!), but the episode hews closely to the standard CSI procedural outlay. The far more amusing result of Zombie’s network television dalliance is his interview anecdote regarding the notoriously crotchety Caruso, starting at 3:55:

DREAM ON (John Landis)

John Landis will the first person to tell you that he’s hardly a horror icon, having only ever made two features in the genre. He most definitely has a dozen blockbuster comedies to his name, so it was hardly an out of character move for Landis to concoct his own sitcom, bringing in FRIENDS’ Marta Kaufman and David Crane to assist in developing it. Alongside TALES FROM THE CRYPT, DREAM ON was a key component of HBO’s early wave of original programming, and Landis would direct many of the episodes himself. The show starred Brian Benben (with whom Landis would reunite in the awful MASTERS OF HORROR episode ‘Deer Woman’) as Martin Tupper, an NYC book editor fumbling through post-divorce dating life. The show’s gimmick is that Tupper spent so much time in front of the television as a child that footage from ancient programs would be spliced in to comment on the action, as Tupper’s brain presumably would do. While DREAM ON’s risqué humor, spicy language, and frequent instances of nudity broke ground for the TV sitcom format, the plots were repetitive and the clips themselves quickly become annoying. Still, Landis can take heart in knowing that his show was in on the ground floor of the towering program slate for which HBO has since become renowned. Here’s a trailer for the show, in German:

 HAWAII FIVE-0 (Joe Dante)

Joe Dante has made the odd venture into television throughout his career with a number of forgotten series, such as the excellent kid-oriented spookshow EERIE, INDIANA. And like Rob Zombie, Dante dipped his toe into the CSI world by directing an Amityville-themed 2009 episode of CSI: NY. It’s no big stunner to see that Dante can handle horror on large or small screens, but the surprise is how he became a staple of the HAWAII FIVE-0 revival, directing a total of nine episodes of what has proven to be a solid and consistently entertaining cop series. Of course, the assignment of shooting this year’s atmospheric Halloween-themed HAWAII episode went to Dante, and here’s a nasty, maggoty clip of that particular work:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGF-x30KpYE

SCALES OF JUSTICE (David Cronenberg)

As most die-hard fans are aware, David Cronenberg veered into television by directing an episode of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES, a show that conveniently shot in Cronenberg’s hometown of Toronto. Less prominent on Cronenberg’s T.V. resume is his direction of two episodes of SCALES OF JUSTICE, a crime re-enactment program hosted by esteemed Canadian defence attorney Edward Greenspan. SCALES was adapted from a long-running radio program of the same name, and the screen version was, to be honest, a stiff and amateurish Northern answer to slicker U.S. fare like UNSOLVED MYSTERIES. Surviving episodes are almost impossible to find—though a brief, unremarkable clip from one of Cronenberg’s efforts can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5BRajxkOhQ

THE WINNERS (George A. Romero)

Laurel Entertainment was the name of the Pittsburgh production company founded by George A. Romero and partner Richard Rubenstein. In addition to Laurel’s involvement with feature films, the company also produced a series of sports documentaries during the mid-seventies under the title THE WINNERS. Romero himself would cut several episodes of THE WINNERS together; besides a celebration of legendary Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell, there was also a 1974 ode to the gridiron accomplishments of one O.J. Simpson. In retrospect, this short doc is arguably the most horrific project of Romero’s career, but at the time Simpson was a spotless paragon of athletic prowess and adored for his affable, approachable public demeanor. The documentary itself amounts to standard sports-profile fawning, and fairly drips with hilarious seventies’ funky-flute music and graphics, but brush aside the now-odious subject matter and it stands as an excellent example of Romero’s tremendous editing skill, especially in the short pre-credits locker room sequence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbXbzYvDC_s

THE EQUALIZER (Tobe Hooper)

In between shooting his features TCM2 and SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION in the late eighties, Tobe Hooper also got sidetracked by several TV projects. There were the shows that one might expect, from Spielberg’s Garris-guided AMAZING STORIES to the pilot of FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES, and a real curveball among them—an episode of righteous action-drama THE EQUALIZER, a sort of upscale A-TEAM in which a retired British spy (played primly by THE WICKER MAN’s Edward Woodward) is contacted via personal ad by New York’s downtrodden, and then Woodward goes to work in their defense. Hooper’s episode has a family battling a slumlord, and features an uncharacteristically restrained performance by a young Michael (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) Rooker, which balances a hilarious, over-the-top Michael (BARTON FINK) Lerner as the heartless slumlord. As with most EQUALIZER episodes, the two-dimensional melodrama is laid on thicker than mayonnaise, and Hooper can’t manage to impart enough of his personality to rescue a single minute of this soppy network slop.

RAKE (Sam Raimi)

Sam Raimi is no stranger to filling up T.V. schedules with Renaissance Pictures’ output in the capacity of producer, and he very recently directed the opening salvo of the Starz channel’s ASH VS. EVIL DEAD series. Less acknowledged is his participation in 2014’s Greg Kinnear vehicle RAKE. Any inch of film or byte of DV directed by Raimi is prized by film nerds for its visual inventiveness, but beyond the splatstick of the EVIL DEAD trilogy or the grandiose spectacle of his SPIDER-MAN and OZ films, Raimi is also an unheralded master of slow-burn drama (Sure, THE GIFT may be spotty, but A SIMPLE PLAN is an American crime classic). RAKE sits squarely in the comedic side of Raimi’s repertoire, and gives him another puffed-up protagonist to torture through karmic misfortunes; this one deftly played by Raimi’s GIFT star Kinnear. Kinnear’s character Keegan Dean isn’t quite in Ash’s delusory league, but roguish attorney Dean is a pretty flawed hero nonetheless. Raimi directed RAKE’s pilot, guest starring the great Peter (FARGO) Stormare as a serial killer, and returned for episode four. Entitled ‘Cannibal’, the episode has AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Denis O’Hare playing a debonair flesheater that Kean is hired defend in court—before horror fans get too excited, know that this cannibal is handled mostly for laughs, and that the consumption turns out to be consensual. Overall, the short-lived RAKE was a witty, acerbic show gone too soon. (And yes, Raimi devotees, “The Classic” makes a split-second cameo at the end of ‘Cannibal’.)

 

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Weekend: Sep. 19, 2019, Sep. 22, 2019

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