Horror Film Directors

James Whale - Director

"A director must be pretty bad if he can't get a thrill out of war, murder, robbery."
                                                                                                         James Whale-

A British-born actor, theater and film director, James Whale is perhaps best remembered for his contribution to the horror genre directing such classics as Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and a horror comedy film the Old Dark House. Whale discovered his creative side early in life and studied art but with the outbreak of World War I Whale enlisted into the British Army and became an officer. During the war he was captured by the Germans. It was during his time as a German POW that he developed a strong interest in drama. He lent his talents to the amateur theatrical productions which took place in the POW camp working as an actor, a writer, producer, and even set designer. After the war Wells attempted to find work as a cartoonist however he was unable to secure a steady income. It was then Whales began his theatrical career working as an actor, set designer and builder, stage director and director. In 1928 Wales took over the directorial reins of a then little known play called Journey's End. It was the success of this play that brought Wells to the attention of film producers. His timing could not have been more perfect for it was during this time that motion pictures were making the transition from silent to talkies and the studios were feverishly hiring actors and directors with experience and dialogue. Whale’s first Hollywood contract was with Paramount Studios where he worked as dialogue director for the film THE LOVE DOCTOR (1929). Whale was then hired by British producers Michael Baleen and Thomas Welsh to direct the film version of Journey's End. With the success of Journey's End both in Great Britain and America Whale became one of the top British film directors. Whale would go on to direct a dozen more films for Universal Studios between 1930 and 1936, including such horror greats as Frankenstein(1931), The Old Dark House(1932), The Invisible Man(1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein(1935). It was during this time he developed a style noted for it's highly movable camera technique and German Expressionism influence. Sadly, despite his success as a director, James Whales film career took a nosedive with the release of his film The Road Back(1937). The Road Back was a sequel to Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). During its production the German government which was under Nazi rule at the time asserted that the film gave an "untrue and distorted picture of the German people" and threatened to boycott all Universal films if the film was not altered to show a more favorable impression of Germany. As a result the studio execs caved in to Germany’s demands and ordered a reshoot of the film's scenes and a radical re-edit. Yet despite Universal's compliance with the Germans demands the film was banned in Germany anyway and the German government also persuaded China, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland to ban the film in their countries as well. The Road Back was a disaster for James Whale and marked the beginning of his decline as an A-list movie director. He was then assigned to direct a string of B- rated movies before retiring from film in 1941. With the outbreak of World War II, Whale volunteered his talents to make a training film for United States Army entitled Personnel Placement in the Army. He later teamed up with actress Claire DuBrey and together they created the Brentwood Service Players. Occupying the 100 seat theater the Brentwood Service Players would provide 60 seats free of charge to military personnel and the remaining seats were sold to civilians with the proceeds were donated to various wartime charities.

Whale returned to Broadway in 1944 as director of Hand in Glove, a psychological thriller. The play was a flop and ran for only 40 performances. Whale's final film as director was a short subject based on the one-act play Hello Out There. Whale returned to live in Hollywood in November of 1952 there he settled into a quiet routine with the exception of throwing all-male swimming parties at his home. Tragically on May 29, 1957, Whale committed suicide by drowning himself in his swimming pool. Initially, Whale's death was ruled an accident. It was learned decades later that Whale had left a suicide note which his former lover David Lewis withheld. Lewis finally released the suicide note shortly before his own death in 1987.

Ed Wood

Ed Wood the infamous horror/science-fiction writer and director life’s story reads like a screenplay from one of his B movies that he is remembered for. Edward Davis "Ed" Wood, Jr. was born on October 10, 1924 in Poughkeepsie, New York to Edward Sr., a postal worker and Lillian. It is rumored that his mother had always wanted a girl and that forced her son to dress in girl’s clothes until he was 12 years.  He was musically inclined and learned to play several instruments and created his own quartet which he called Eddie Wood's Little Splinters. Wood’s fascination with the movies began at an early age, his first job he worked as an usher for a movie theater. On is 17th birthday he received a movie camera that he used to film the crash of an airplane. Later this same year when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Wood enlisted into the Marines. Ed Wood had stated that he’s greatest fear during the war was being wounded in combat and the medics discovering that he was wearing women’s clothing under his fatigues.
After his discharge from the Marines Ed Wood joined a carnival was part of the freak show in which he played the bearded lady breasts and reportedly inflated his nipples with air to increase his bust size. It was in 1947 that Edward Wood found his way to Hollywood California where he began to write produce and direct cheap B rated science-fiction, horror, and Western films. His films during this period were noted for having strange plots, bizarre dialogue, and poverty row budgets.
               In 1952 Wood met legendary horror actor Bela Lugosi through a mutual friend, writer-producer Alex Gordon, who was Wood’s roommate at the time. This meeting did not take place in a coffin show as depicted in Tim Burton film's Ed Wood (1996). Facing financial hardship and a lack of work Lugosi would star in three to Wood’s B-rated productions, Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1956), which would be Lugosi last speaking role and Plan Nine from Outer Space (1956) which would be his final film appearance.
During the early 1950’s Wood had a long-term relationship with an actress/songwriter Dolores Fuller. The two live together for some time and Wood cast Fuller in three of his films, Glen or Glenda(1953) an exploitative semi-documentary originally titled I Changed My Sex!, Jail Bait(1954) and Bride of the Monster (1956)  Wood and Fuller broke up after Wood picked Loretta King to play the female lead in Bride of the Monster(1956).

In 1955 Wood married Norma McCarty while filming Bride of the Monster (1956). McCarty would later play the stewardess in Plan Nine from Outer Space (1956). The marriage was annulled when McCarty discovered that her husband was a cross-dresser. Wood married his second wife Kathy O’Hare in 1959, they remained married until 1978 when Wood of a heart attack.
What Wood lacked in talent he made up for in tenacity. The dismal reviews and poor financial performance of his films forced Wood to find another means of support. Wood turned his creative talents to writing sex novels, pulp fiction and horror stories. Although prolific, he did not prosper and struggled with financial hardships, alcoholism and health issues for the remainder of his life.  Wood and his wife Kathleen O’Hare were evicted from their apartment and moved in with a friend. It was there at his friend’s apartment on December 10, 1978 that Ed Wood died from a heart attack at the age of 54.

 In 1980, Ed Wood was posthumously awarded the Golden Turkey Award for Worst Director of All Time. In 1996, Reverend Steve Galindo of Seminole, Oklahoma, created a legally recognized religion with Wood as its official savior. Originally meant as a joke, the Church of Ed Wood now boasts a congregation over 3,000 followers. Woodites, as the church members are referred to, celebrate Woodmas on October 10, which is Wood’s birthday. A number of parties and concerts are held throughout the world in celebration of Woodmas each year.


  1. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts about Ed Wood and his fantastic wonderment's he so lovingly filmed.


    1. Thanks Liz, I am glad you enjoyed my article on James Whale. As for Ed Wood, I am planning to do an entire page dedicated to his life and films. I think he was a truly fascinating person. What he lacked in talent he more than made up for in tenacity. Thanks for your comment.