1. David Lynch

Looked at one way, most of David Lynch’s movies are horror movies. Is there a more petrifying moment in cinema than the Winkie’s diner scene in Mulholland Dr.? Is there a more menacing monster than Dennis Hopper’s gas-huffing pervert gangster in Blue Velvet? And what genuine “master of horror” has conceived of a creature as unnerving as that infant abomination in Eraserhead? Lynch’s films operate on a level of deep and irrational dread, like nightmares ripped from the subconscious and splashed across the screen. So consistently frightening is his oeuvre that many contributors to this list even questioned his inclusion, arguing that such efforts as Lost Highway, Inland Empire, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me are horror in its purest form. Point taken, but there’s still something perversely exciting about imagining what the creator of Twin Peaks could do with a bogeyman who does more than just lurk behind a dumpster. He’d make the most haunting haunted-house movie ever—the kind that would plague your dreams for years, provided you ever slept again. [A.A. Dowd]

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2. Joel and Ethan Coen

Black humor. Gruesome violence. Uncanny insight into our darkest impulses. All the elements of classic horror are already lurking throughout the filmography of the Coen brothers. The magnificent directing duo have spent their career alternating between noir and screwball comedy, with the occasional musical thrown in, so it’s not a stretch to imagine them taking on another genre. As it is, a few of their films only need a nudge to be great horror movies. Take Marge Gunderson’s chipper optimism and basic humanity away from Fargo, and you’re left with a bleak, inescapable landscape and Steve Buscemi being fed into a wood chipper. Or pull Anton Chigurh out of No Country For Old Men, and you’ve got a remorseless, unstoppable villain capable of scaring the pants off of any audience. The Coens pulling their darkest elements together into an expertly written psychological horror film? Could be a pip. [Mike Vago]

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3. Lucrecia Martel

A car careens down a dusty, winding road. The driver, a blonde woman in her 40s, hears her phone ringing, and reaches over to grab it from the passenger seat. At that moment, the car hits something. It’s unclear what exactly; the driver herself doesn’t know, and is afraid to find out. This scene comes early in Argentine director Lucrecia Martel’s 2008 film, The Headless Woman; it’s the most celebrated moment in Martel’s body of work, and the most debated, since the movie that follows continually suggests she may have hit a child. “Suggests” is the operative word here, because the logical explanation is that she hit a stray dog. Martel’s ability to get most viewers to accept an irrational explanation despite a lack of evidence speaks to her canny sense of design, atmosphere, and perspective—a valuable skillset for a horror director. A viewer can only wonder what she’d do with slow-simmering psychological horror. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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4. Michael Haneke

Of all the punishing provocations Michael Haneke has made over the years, none are quite as aggressive in their tactics as Funny Games, his grueling meta movie about a French family brutalized by fourth-wall-breaking psychopaths. But there’s an irony to that film, and to Haneke’s almost shot-for-shot American remake: In wagging his finger at the unsavory conventions of the home-invasion thriller, the Austrian scold produced the most intense, effective entry in the whole genre. (The Strangers looks like Home Alone by comparison.) In fact, there’s always been an expert genre filmmaker lurking within Haneke, whose manipulation of tension and directorial cruelty could easily be applied to the kind of basic horror scenarios he despises. Look at the shocking splatter of carnage in Caché, the nocturnal terror of Time Of The Wolf, or the concealed genre premise of The White Ribbon. Even Amour, Haneke’s empathetic masterpiece, operates on a horror-film wavelength, with or without its blood-chilling nightmare sequence. All of these efforts suggest Haneke could make one hell of a creepshow if he put his mind to it. Just don’t say that to his face. [A.A. Dowd]

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5. Paul Thomas Anderson

There are agonizing, horrific moments in the Paul Thomas Anderson catalog, and he’s even got a movie with a slasher-rific title, There Will Be Blood. But the horrors he’s depicted so far are fairly grounded, from the psychological torture of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master to the physical brutality visited upon Paul Dano in Blood. But imagine the fun Anderson could have if he were less encumbered by reality. (Maybe he could make it rain blood the way he made it rain frogs.) What if the egos of characters like Daniel Plainview or Lancaster Dodd didn’t start out at a simmer and eventually boil? What if Anderson started the story of a character at the moment they snapped? [Josh Modell]

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6. Darren Aronofsky

The most frighteningly horrible scene (okay, maybe the second most frighteningly horrible) in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream involves a refrigerator coming to life and attacking Ellen Burstyn. Sure, it’s a hallucination, and even though it sounds silly on paper, it’s absolutely terrifying in the movie. And Aronofsky is clearly at least a little bit interested in making a more direct horror film. He co-wrote the little-seen Below, from the director of Pitch Black, and it’s rumored that he’s considering helming XOXO, a social-media horror film written by Black Swan co-screenwriter Mark Heyman. If that doesn’t work out, though, he could really just spin off that killer refrigerator from Requiem. [Josh Modell]

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7. Cristian Mungiu

Probably the most acclaimed of the Romanian New Wave directors, Cristian Mungiu has built his reputation on the strength of two slow-paced dramas, each a portrait of female friendship shattered by oppressive law. Halloween fare, in other words, isn’t exactly his wheelhouse—or is it? 4 Months, 3 Weeks, And 2 Days is as relentless as any torture-porn exercise, putting a Final Girl type through a gauntlet of terrors and building to a gory money shot. (The discovery of a knife, the ominous suggestion of a lingering adversary, and a nighttime journey into darkness additionally qualify the film as horror in spirit, if not in genre.) Likewise, Beyond The Hills is essentially an exorcism movie without the pea-soup vomit and demon contortion; all those William Peter Blatty-knockoffs could benefit from its sheer intensity. Should Mungiu unexpectedly decide to take a hard turn out of the art house and into the funhouse, might we suggest Zombie Ceaușescu as a potential subject? [A.A. Dowd]

8. David Gordon Green

Some time ago, David Gordon Green was attached to direct a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, possibly to star Natalie Portman. Portman likely scratched that itch with her Black Swan performance, and it’s probably best not to touch Suspiria anyway. But that doesn’t mean Green was on the wrong track when he sought out a potential horror movie. His visual signatures—unmistakable even in broad comedies like The Sitter—could bring new life to familiar horror settings like a creepy forest or a decaying backwoods cabin. This year’s Joe had a Southern Gothic tinge to it; there’s no reason to think he couldn’t push those elements further the way he toyed with the boundaries of the buddy comedy in Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and Prince Avalanche. Speaking of comedy: a horror genre workout could be improved immeasurably through Green’s idiosyncratic sense of humor and off-kilter dialogue, which turns up even in his most serious efforts. The ingredients of a distinctive horror movie are all there in his other movies. It’s just a question of adjusting the ratios. [Jesse Hassenger]

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9. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang has a habit of awkwardly blending disparate genres—relationship drama with whimsical fantasy, dreamy mood piece with gangster lark—which is perhaps one reason that only a single one of his features, Last Life In The Universe, has received a theatrical release in the United States. (Several of them are available to stream on Netflix.) One genre he’s never really tackled, though, is horror—a shame, because several of his films hint at a stealth talent for chilling bloodstreams. Roman Polanski is the clearest influence: Ratanaruang’s Invisible Waves transplants the claustrophobia of the master’s so-called Apartment Trilogy to a seafaring vessel, while Ploy sprinkles some of the psychological tension of those same movies into a sterile hotel room. Ratanaruang, who’s already dabbled in the supernatural and in elements of the serial-killer thriller, might have a superb midnight movie in him yet. The trick will be talking him out of diluting it with dollops of some other genres. [A.A. Dowd]

10. Andrea Arnold

So many horror movies focus on young female characters, and so few of them connect to those characters in a meaningful way. One of the best adolescent heroines in recent film appears in Andrea Arnold’s drama Fish Tank, about an impoverished, standoffish English girl who aspires to be a hip-hop dancer. Arnold followed that up with a stripped-down, de-aged Wuthering Heights, continuing to show unsentimental sensitivity to her young subjects. Both movies also generate a lot of tension from grounded stories, a quality that would serve Arnold well in any number of horror subgenres, from the psychological to the supernatural (preferably shot in the old-fashioned 1.37 aspect ratio she used for Tank and Heights). Any Final Girl of hers would kick ass in believable and boxily framed ways. [Jesse Hassenger]

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11. Denis Villeneuve

So far, the films of French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve have focused exclusively on real-life horrors: school shootings, genocide, child abduction, repressed sexual desire, etc. Most of them, however, also possess an atmosphere of suffocating unease that would lend itself well to more trivial terrors—the fictional maniacs and monsters people turn to when hoping to escape life’s actual maniacs and monsters. Enemy, Villeneuve’s most recent movie, is downright Cronenbergian in its grotesque arachnoid imagery: There’s a Brundlefly-like spider-woman, a dangling skyscraper behemoth straight out of a ’50s atomic-monster movie, and a final jolt more alarming than just about any scene in the year’s actual horror movies. As for Prisoners, a prestige pedigree couldn’t mask the film’s pulpy nature; if Villeneuve can justify arting up a hoary kidnapping thriller, he could certainly stoop to employing his impeccable craftsmanship to, say, a science-gone-wrong potboiler. [A.A. Dowd]

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12. Catherine Breillat

Catherine Breillat looks deep into the yawning chasm separating men and women, finding nothing lurking there but horror and sexual violence. What is the shocking ending of Fat Girl but the director’s hopelessly bleak and brutal interpretation of the true nature of gender relations, manifested in the naked, unforgiving flesh? Breillat sees the sexual arena in literal terms: Men and woman only relate to each other on a battleground, with women, inevitably, as the losers. A Catherine Breillat horror film would inevitably plumb those same depths of cruelty and tragic sexual incompatibility—probably to an extent that would make Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist feel like a Merchant Ivory film. Breillat taking on traditional “woman in peril” or “rape-revenge” horror cliches with her signature icy intellectualism and intensifying cruelty would turn the genre inside-out and make the so-called “new French extremity” avert its eyes. It also might prevent viewers from having sex for a long, long while. [Dennis Perkins]

13. Tsai Ming-Liang

The films of Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang (Goodbye Dragon Inn, Stray Dogs) are composed of long, long takes where pace and attention to minute detail force the viewer to adopt a rapt, receptive frame of mind. Not much happens, so when something does finally happen, the results are surprisingly potent. Imagining what this approach could do for a horror film is mind-boggling: Tsai could draw in patient, unsuspecting viewers and leave them reeling (assuming, of course, that they sit still to get to the shocks). Apart from the unprecedented opportunity for pants-dampening jump scares, the director’s signature style could create a unique form of horror—one in which a single, unnerving detail in the corner of the frame might register and then, with maddeningly gradualness, reveal itself as something inexorably, inescapably terrifying. [Dennis Perkins]

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14. Alexander Sokurov

With their dilapidated buildings, numbed color palettes, and pervasive atmospheres of dread, Alexander Sokurov’s films already look like horror movies. The Russian filmmaker has never shied away from unsettling viewers, either, whether in early films like Days Of Eclipse—in which a cadaver seems to come to life in a morgue—or in later works like his grotesque, occasionally gruesome adaptation of Faust. Once one takes into account his fondness for using digital, practical, and optical effects, it becomes clear Sokurov has all the makings of a technically precise horror director. The question is: Would he want to make a straightforward horror movie? Now that he’s completed his Tetralogy Of Power, Sokurov might be looking for a new subject for his fiction films; might we suggest an adaptation of Gogol’s “Viy”? [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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15. Yorgos Lanthimos

Anyone who saw Dogtooth knows exactly how effectively Yorgos Lanthimos can stage an unsettling set piece, unpeel the decay of a fractured family, and suspend an entire movie from a single steel filament of dread. Anyone who saw Alps, a vicious, uncanny fable about stand-ins for the dead, knows exactly how Lanthimos manipulates the camera so that characters who are fixedly separate are still held captive together in the frame, lurking in the small silences that in his films herald a particular sort of tragedy. For Lanthimos, whose absurdist and unflinching stories are as awkward as they are haunting, life is already a quiet horror filled with people reaching for connection even when it’s doomed. He’s already made his ghost story and his house of horror, but whatever he’d do with a vampire flick, we’d be first in line to cringe our way through. [Genevieve Valentine]

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16. Harmony Korine

From his start as the enfant terrible of the early-’90s independent scene, Korine has been obsessed with grotesque beauty. After writing Kids, Larry Clark’s cautionary tale about violent and anti-social youth, Korine skirted the line between outsider horror and jet-black comedy with his directorial debut, Gummo, about glue-sniffing, cat-killing kids in rural Ohio. Tonally, the film doesn’t work as straight horror, as one can sense Korine smirking behind the lens at his freakshow, afraid to take a leap into real psychological horror. The filmmaker has confessed to considering his 2009 VHS project Trash Humpers horror, but it’s more of a parody experiment. If Korine ever decides to get serious, he could employ that grotesque beauty and humor to the scary-movie genre; the results might resemble David Lynch crossed with Takashi Miike. [Drew Fortune]

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17. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s best-known films, Tropical Malady and the Palme D’Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, trade in the imagery of the folkloric supernatural: shape-shifters, talking animals, monkey ghosts, reincarnations. He also has a habit of setting and shooting scenes in near darkness—at the border between the visible and the invisible. It’s bewitching and disorienting, suggesting a mythical world hiding somewhere out there among the leaves and cicadas. It can also be a little creepy, the unsettling effect enhanced by Apichatpong’s fondness for extended takes and gradual action. Considering his fondness for narrative experiments, a touch of genre doesn’t seem out of the question. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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18. Kelly Reichardt

A Kelly Reichardt slasher would lend new meaning to the phrase “from a whisper to a scream.” Reichardt’s weathered, world-weary characters spend so much time speaking in hushed tones, it’s hard to imagine them screaming bloody murder—or anything else for that matter. This isn’t because the characters have led placid, peaceful lives. They’re emotionally closed off, following years of exposure to a particular strain of horror, which in Reichardt’s films shows up not as a knife-wielding stalker, but as a cluster of quotidian setbacks crescendoing to devastating effect. In Wendy And Lucy, a hard luck woman is sleeping in a public park when she’s startled awake by a vagrant who forces her to listen to his schizophrenic rambling, then, without physically harming her, vanishes as abruptly as he appeared. It’s essentially an inverted horror scene: Instead of the gruesome death of a buxom redshirt the audience never gets to know, there’s the threat of violence against a character rendered well enough to feel like flesh and blood. It’s a scene in which very little happens, and yet it’s more terrifying than the vast majority of stylized horror. If Reichardt dropped a psychopath into one of her naturalistic micro-stories, the result would be the stuff of quiet nightmares. [Joshua Alston]

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