Horror’s Iconic Director/Actor Teams


There is a long and respected history of filmmaking teams, whether they’re writers and directors (like Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader), directors and producers (like Danny Boyle and Andrew MacDonald), or directors and actors (like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp). It’s clear that some filmmakers bring out the best in each other, and in working together, audiences get the best from both of them.

This is definitely true in the horror arena, where directors and actors reteam with regular consistency. So who are the iconic horror director/actor teams? Who is the Scorsese/De Niro duo of gore? The Kurosawa/Mifune team of the supernatural? This is a list of some of the most frequent and enjoyable collaborations in horror film history (in no particular order):

10. Wes Craven and Robert Englund

If the only thing they’d ever worked together on was the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, they would still be a legendary team with a fantastic partnership. However, Craven was smart enough to know when he’d found an entertaining and versatile partner, and he brought Robert Englund back for other roles as well.

There are the obvious reteams, of course: he worked with Englund again on A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, for which he wrote the initial draft of the script. Later, Craven revisited the series to give it a meta-horror spin by taking Freddy Krueger out of the films and into the real world in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Englund had a chance to play dual roles in the film, playing both a fictionalized version of himself as well as the darker “dream demon” version of Freddy.

They did work together again, albeit briefly. In 1992, well before the television horror boom was in swing, Craven create the short-lived dark fantasy series “Nightmare Café.” The series revolved around a mystical café that appeared in various locations in time to help people in trouble. Englund played Blackie, the mysterious owner of the café. The show was cut short at only six episodes, and Craven sadly passed away in 2015 before they could work together on any other projects.

9. Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs

When Stuart Gordon began his directing career, it was in the theatre in Chicago. Across the country in Los Angeles, young actor Jeffrey Combs was taking small film and television roles, trying to make a name for himself. There was no reason they should ever meet or know each other, until a film called Re-Animator brought them together. It was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration.

After playing Dr. Herbert West in Re-Animator, Combs returned in the lead role for Gordon’s film the following year, another Lovecraft film called From Beyond. While it wasn’t the cult success that Re-Animator was, it is a fun, bizarre film that reunited not only them but the writer, Dennis Paoli, and actress Barbara Crampton.

Combs had a very small role in Gordon’s Robot Jox, but their next proper reteaming was with 1991’s The Pit and the Pendulum, the first of their collaborations dealing with Edgar Allan Poe. Combs popped up as a weird inmate in Gordon’s Fortress, and then they reformed the full team of Gordon, Combs, Paoli, and Crampton in 1995’s Castle Freak.

Combs had another small role in Gordon’s David Mamet play adaptation Edmond, but then they returned to one of Combs’ great loves, Edgar Allan Poe, in an episode of “Masters of Horror” called “The Black Cat.” It was an offshoot of Combs’ one-man stage show, Nevermore. Combs has been steadily working since, but Gordon has only made one additional feature, Stuck, so hopefully audiences will have a chance to see them work together again.

8. Larry Cohen and Michael Moriarty

Most people who remember Michael Moriarty now have vague memories from “Law & Order” or his recurring role in the children’s movie series Shiloh. Before all that, however, he was a daring experimental actor doing socially conscious work disguised as exploitation horror movies. The man who made those movies was the icon, Larry Cohen.

Their first collaboration was Q, the Winged Serpent in 1982, with Moriarty playing a small-time New York criminal who knows where to find the nest of a giant Aztec monster attacking citizens of the city. They amped up the crazy for their next teaming in The Stuff, a dark satire that skewers advertising and the FDA, telling the story of a strange new food product that is turning people into zombies.

They then teamed for a one-two punch of sequels. First was It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive, the trilogy-completing film that showed what happened to the mutant babies from the first films when they were all grown up; Moriarty’s intense and unusual performance is a standout. Second, they made a theatrical sequel to a very popular Stephen King TV movie A Return to Salem’s Lot, in which Moriarty plays a borderline sociopath recruited by the town’s vampires to write their story.

Both continued to work regularly, though not together, until nearly two decades later. Moriarty gave a tour de force performance as Jim Wheeler, the truck driver serial killer, in Cohen’s episode of “Masters of Horror” titled “Pick Me Up.” Moriarty has only been in five films since, and Cohen hasn’t directed anything else, so it may be their last collaboration. If so, what a fun way to go out…

7. Lucky McKee and Angela Bettis

Director Lucky McKee is one of the few male directors consistently creating horror films focused around strong, complex female characters, and he found his muse with his first feature theatrical film, May. Angela Bettis played the troubled but hopeful outcast with the dark hobby, and audiences immediately connected with her pathos.

Four years after that film, they reteamed for a “Masters of Horror” episode called “Sick Girl,” in which Bettis plays a similar role to the outcast in May, but with the addition of insects and some gruesome body horror elements. McKee’s next two films, The Woods and Red, were bigger films, and Bettis doesn’t appear in them; however, McKee found a way to sneak Bettis into The Woods, casting her vocally as the disembodied voice in the woods.

One of their most powerful collaborations, however, was their most recent. An adaptation of a Jack Ketchum book, The Woman is a gut punch of a movie with powerhouse performances from Bettis, Pollyanna McIntosh, and Sean Bridgers. The film deals with gender roles, deviant sexuality, and societal norms in thoughtful and disturbing ways. Both the actress and director are still active, so there’s a chance audiences may get another chance to see more of their intelligent, subversive work.

6. Guillermo del Toro and Doug Jones

Due to Guillermo del Toro’s love for the humanity of monsters, it comes as no great surprise that he has partnered with Doug Jones so many times. Jones’ remarkable physical skill and ability to emote through any level of make-up he is put under makes him the perfect muse for del Toro’s vision.

Their first collaboration was in del Toro’s Hollywood debut, Mimic, in which Jones played the enormous mutant insect. It was seven years before they worked together again, this time on Hellboy with Jones playing the super-intelligent fish-man Abe Sapien. He returned for the second film, this time taking on the vocal performance from David Hyde Pierce.

In-between the sequels, though, was perhaps Jones’ greatest challenge. In the dark fantasy fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth, Jones played both the titular faun and the nightmare-inducing Pale Man. That performance led to a semi-regular appearance on del Toro’s vampire TV series, “The Strain,” in which Jones played The Ancient, another make-up-heavy role that he brought fantastic life to.

In del Toro’s upcoming The Shape of Water, Jones plays a mysterious aquatic creature captured by the American government. Though only a trailer has been released, the imagery looks spectacular, and if this performance is any indication, the fruitful relationship between del Toro and Jones will continue to bring audiences riveting work.

5. Darren Lynn Bousman and J LaRose

Many people know Darren Lynn Bousman, the hardest-working director in horror with a whopping eleven feature films, two anthology entries, and a handful of shorts in just twelve years. But who is J LaRose? By the time audiences recognized LaRose for his role as the chained man in the opening of Saw III, he’d already worked with Bousman three times, in a short film, a feature called Identity Lost, and in the short version of Repo! The Genetic Opera.

He returned very briefly in Saw IV, then teamed up with Bousman for both his “Fear Itself” episode “New Year’s Day” as well as appearing in the feature version of Repo! The Genetic Opera in a different role from the original short.

He popped up in small and sometimes uncredited roles in Bousman’s Mother’s Day, 11-11-11, and The Barrens, and had a role in both entries in the musical horror series The Devil’s Carnival. Most recently, he can be seen in Bousman’s horror noir, Abbatoir. With no sign of either of them slowing down, viewers are bound to see another of their collaborations soon.

4. Dario Argento and Asia Argento

Though there are some examples of famous parent-child teams of directors and actors (like John and Angelica Huston in The Dead), oftentimes a family team-up might seem like nepotism (like Francis Ford and Sophia Coppola in The Godfather Part III). Other times, you get edgy performances that can only be captured by family members with their own language who know exactly how to get the best from each other.

Asia Argento first acted for her father in 1993 with the film Trauma, playing a woman trying to solve her parents’ murder after escaping from a psychiatric facility. They followed that film up three years later with The Stendhal Syndrome, another film in which a woman tries to solve a series of murders while dealing with a debilitating psychological disorder.

She joined her father again to create a dark, brooding version of The Phantom of the Opera in 1998; they would reteam many years later for another famous literary horror adaptation, Dracula 3D. She also joined the cast of Mother of Tears in order to help her father complete the “3 Mothers” trilogy that he began in Suspiria and continued in Inferno.

Though they’ve not always had the best off-screen relationship (she ran away as a teen), the work they bring to the screen is undeniably thrilling.

3. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell

This is likely one of the most famous collaborative teams in horror history, due mostly to the Evil Dead movie franchise. However, their working relationship extends back into their teenage years. Starring in Raimi’s amateur comedy and horror films, like 1977’s It’s Murder!, Campbell also appeared in Within the Woods, the short test concept for what would eventually become Evil Dead.

He played the villain in Raimi’s over-the-top crime comedy Crimewave, and had a cameo as the final on-screen face of Darkman in the first film of the series. Though his scenes in The Quick and the Dead ended up on the cutting room floor, he had a regular role on both “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess”, series produced by Sam Raimi.

Campbell had small but funny roles in all three of Raimi’s Spider-Man films, playing a wrestling announcer, a movie usher, and a restaurant manager, and he’s nearly unrecognizable under make-up for a cameo in Oz the Great and Powerful.

Eventually, it all came full circle when Starz greenlit a television continuation of the Evil Dead franchise called “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” Raimi came back to direct the pilot, and Campbell returned as the dense but effective Ash. The show is a bit hit for Starz, currently shooting its third season, and audiences can expect that, as long as Raimi is making movies, Campbell will keep popping up in them in one way or another.

2. Joe Dante and Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, and Kevin McCarthy

Sometimes, a filmmaker finds a muse in an actor because that actor captures something distinct and unique about their filmmaking style and message. And sometimes, directors are just loyal to the people who started with them, and they enjoy having fun, talented people around them.

In this case, Joe Dante constantly works with actors he likes on multiple occasions, from Rick Ducommun to Henry Gibson. But by far, his most frequent collaborators have been Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, and Kevin McCarthy.

Dick Miller has been with Dante since the beginning, appearing in Hollywood Boulevard when Dante worked for Roger Corman. McCarthy joined one movie later, in Piranha, and Picardo joined the troupe in 1981 as the villain in The Howling. Since 1981, Dante has made 14 feature films and there hasn’t been a single movie that hasn’t had at least one of those three actors in it. The real question is, when Dante makes the Roger Corman biopic The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes next year, will Dick Miller play himself from fifty years ago?

1. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell

There are few who would argue that the films Kurt Russell and John Carpenter made together aren’t some of the most entertaining and influential films in recent history. Their off-camera friendship brought about those collaborations, so thank God they got along so well.

The worked together for the first time in 1979 when Carpenter cast Russell as Elvis Presley in the TV movie “Elvis”. It was only two years later that they reteamed, bringing one of the most memorable anti-heroes in cinema to life; Russell growled his way through Escape from New York as Snake Plissken, the cool as ice criminal.

The next film they made was not a huge success in theaters, but The Thing went on to be a smash cult hit that is generally considered one of Carpenter’s greatest films. The nihilistic ending, complete with Russell embracing his mortality, still echoes strongly.

Their next pairing was also not a big box-office success, and was much more expensive. The martial arts-comedy-fantasy film Big Trouble in Little China was hilarious, bizarre, and ahead of its time, with Russell delivering a dead-on satire of the John Wayne hero role.

After the failure of that movie, Carpenter went back to the indie world while Russell found success in mainstream dramas and action films. However, not to be dissuaded from getting together and having fun (and incidentally making a movie during that fun), they got the band back together for the sequel movie Escape from L.A. More satirical than the original and nowhere near as dark, the film has its followers but never connected with mass audiences.

Hopefully, with Russell once again a hot commodity thanks to The Hateful Eight and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and with 1980s Carpenter nostalgia at an all-time high, we might just get one more collaboration out of them. And if it happens, it will be the celebration of the decade.

So what other director/actor teams do you love in the horror genre? Let us know in the comments!

Whale and Karloff



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