Sunday Scaries: A Retrospective on James Wan, the Best Horror Director of the Modern Era

Hitchcock. Carpenter. Craven. These would be names that many horror fans consider to be some of the most important creative minds to put together horror films. While some have tried to copy those greats, only a few have been able to build on their success and take the genre to new places with fascinating stories in terrifying worlds. Through an over twenty-year body of work, writer-director James Wan has proven to be the master of horror for this generation.

Starting his career in 2000, Wan directed Stygian, a small indie horror film about a killer clown, played by his friend and future collaborator Leigh Whannell. (Whannell has gone on to direct a great horror film in his own right in 2020’s The Invisible Man) Through this project, a partnership was born, and what spawned out of it was one of the most successful horror franchises of all time, as both write the script for Saw. Centered around a sadistic game of gory riddles and bloody twists conducted by the notorious serial killer Jigsaw, it was an overnight success and would go on to have multiple sequels, and a reboot (Spiral) released this year.

After the success of Saw, Wan moved on to the creepy feature about a haunted doll with Dead Silence. The film was received as with less enthusiasm than his previous effort, but you could see the groundwork for what was to come in 2010 with Insidious. Built as a haunted house film, we slowly start to realize that what we are watching is actually a possession film, with the Patrick Wilson character being cursed for the majority of his life, thus leading to his son’s possession. It’s a wonderfully scary family drama that landed another hit for Wan and made me never want to see a scary movie at night again, as well as listen to the music of Tiny Tim. Though two sequels and one prequel were made, they just never were able to capture the magic of the first film.

Three years later, he made what is arguable his best film to date with The Conjuring. Based on the “real-life events” of Ed and Lorraine Warren, we follow one of their most notorious cases involving the haunting of a house owned by a family in Rhode Island. With truly some of the best scares of the decade and his strongest direction, The Conjuring was considered by many to be one of the best films of 2013. The film was also able to create two more sequels and spin-off films, though just like Saw and Insidious, they proved to be lesser films because they just couldn’t repeat what Wan was able to create the first time. Maybe it was lightning in a bottle but for some reason, the first entries in all of those series are just the best.

Wan has gone on to make some big action films like Furious 7 and Aquaman in-between some making sequels to his horror films or producing new works. Yet with the newly released Malignant (reviewed by Joey here), we see him return back to his roots, with a horror surprise debuting on HBO Max and in theaters this weekend. Seen as possibly his most ambitious horror film to date makes me excited to see it, with the potential to scare my pants off like he has done so many times before. His ability to make us truly terrified and wanting more is what makes him so special. Though his stories may be seen as done before, there is a freshness to his interpretations and they are usually just as emotionally character driven as they are scary. It’s what all the greats of the genre have done and it’s heartwarming to know that Wan is here, carrying the torch for the next generation of horror directors to create truly terrifying, sinister with each new piece of work.

What do you think of James Wan’s horror films? Do you consider him the master of horror of our time?  Let us know!


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