by Patrick Bromley
It's not unusual for movies to go through different filmmakers during the development process. But because horror is such a finite community, there are clear names and faces to everyone attached to a movie -- when a movie goes through multiple directors, there's a good chance we know each of them. Maybe you already knew about some of the "almost" movies on this list. Maybe you knew about all of them. It's still fun to read through them and imagine "What if?"
John Carpenter - Universal originally hired John Carpenter to direct Firestarter, the movie adaptation of Stephen King's 1980 novel. But when The Thing came out and didn't make any money, Universal fired him off the movie. Crazy, right? Carpenter was fired off a movie for directing one of the BEST HORROR MOVIES EVER MADE. Firestarter was eventually directed by Mark L. Lester, who directed a pretty generic version of the story despite an ideally cast Drew Barrymore and George C. Scott doing some crazy entertaining overacting. Carpenter would go on to make his own Stephen King adaptation with Christine, a fine movie that ranks as neither the best King adaptation nor one of Carpenter's best.
Tobe Hooper - While working through the supplements on Scream Factory's incredible Blu-ray release of Lifeforce, I was surprised to learn that Tobe Hooper was originally set to direct The Return of the Living Dead. When Menahem Golan instead offered him a big budget to direct Lifeforce (then called Space Vampires), Hooper left the project and hand picked screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (who, incidentally, also wrote Lifeforce) to direct. Here's a situation in which everyone wins; O'Bannon got to make his directorial debut with a horror comedy classic, and Hooper went off to make his brilliant space vampire movie. It's the only case on this list that resulted in two great movies.
Bubba Ho-Tep and, most recently, John Dies at the End) actually did direct sections of Silver Bullet, an underrated werewolf movie based on Stephen King's novella Cycle of the Werewolf. How much Coscarelli can be credited with directing is up for debate; some claim he's responsible for ALL of the movie's non-werewolf scenes, while others say it's not quite that much. What is not disputed is that he directed a number of scenes in the movie while waiting for the special effects department to come up with a werewolf design to be approved by producer Dino De Laurentis. Eventually, production on the film stalled enough that Coscarelli recused himself and Daniel Attias was hired to take over. Faced with throwing away everything that had been shot and abandoning the movie or approving the terrible bearwolf, De Laurentis relented and Attias finished the film. This explains why Silver Bullet has one of the worst werewolves in movie history. And if Coscarelli directed as much as many say, it also explains why Silver Bullet is really good.
Joe Dante - John Carpenter was looking to change things up with Halloween III, which was to be the first movie in the series NOT to feature Michael Myers and would kick off a more anthology-style approach to the sequels. Joe Dante -- fresh of the success of The Howling -- was hired to direct, and chose British writer Nigel Kneale (of the Quatermass series) to pen the script. But then Dante left to make another movie; no word on which one, but it was around the time he directed a segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie and came close to doing Jaws 3, People Nothing, a proposed comedic sequel that eventually became Jaws 3-D. Carpenter's friend and collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace was chosen to take over, and the script began to change a lot. Eventually, it became so different and had so much new violence that Kneale sued to have his name taken off. The finished version is one of the better '80s curiosities -- one that's just now getting respect after years of being written off as a trashy, ugly experiment. It's impossible to know what a Dante-directed version would have looked like; while his sensibilities are a lot more "fun" than Season of the Witch's eventual darkness, it's possible that he would have made the movie even crazier. But he was also planning to direct the Kneale version of the film, which would have been very different. I'm not upset that Dante never got to make a Halloween movie and I like the Tommy Lee Wallace version, but of all the movies on this list, this is the one I'm most curious about.