Why Horror Directors Make Great Superhero Films, According To David Sandberg

Shazam Zachary Levi looking confused in the mist

There’s a pattern that seems to be forming in the DC Comics film canon, and it’s something that stretches all the way back to Superman: The Movie. As it turns out, some of their biggest ticket directors in the comic realm have backgrounds in horror filmmaking, with Richard Donner and Tim Burton putting in strong efforts in earlier ages, and now Aquaman’s James Wan and Shazam! director David Sandberg getting to continue the precedent in the modern age. All of this builds a case for one pretty awesome conclusion: horror directors are fantastic hires when you want to make a superhero movie.

It’s something that feels right to say after seeing Shazam!, as the mix of superpowered mythos, a heartwarming foster family, and some pretty creepy stuff involving the Seven Deadly Sins all come into frame. While the film is more than likely ok for your kids to see, there’s still some material that might creep them out, as part of the character’s underlying story is the fight of virtue versus evil, with seven figures representing each side of the fight.

While sitting down with CinemaBlend, David F. Sandberg, half of the pair behind the redemption of the Annabelle series with Annabelle: Creation, talked about how the hypothesis of horror directors being particularly adept at the superhero genre could be supported because of the following reason:

Maybe, I mean it takes a lot of work to get horror right. Like a lot of filmmaking skills that all needs to sort of come together. That, I guess, prepares you for other genres as well.

Consider all of the effort that goes into a film like Annabelle: Creation: there’s a lot of effects work, maintenance of the balance of tone and scale, and most importantly, the efforts to make sure the personal story of the characters don’t get lost in the more fantastical pieces of the film’s story. Those are all of the same factors that apply with any comic book movie you can think of.

Spinning all of those plates isn’t easy, and it’s certainly not impossible for a director or writer to pick up on. But if you’re someone like David F. Sandberg, or the many other horror professionals who have jumped from scares to super powers, having experience with the latter helps immensely when you try to tackle the former.

It’s even more amazing when you think about how Sandberg’s previous film, the first sequel in the Annabelle series, operates on a very similar track as Shazam! Both films, at their heart, are tales of orphans who bond through a series of extraordinary events, with one eventually being embued with a special connection to powers greater than themselves. Except while Annabelle: Creation progressed with a more insidious aim at its core and resulted in quite a few fatalities, Shazam! opts for a more friendly and much less scary way of doing things.

Another person who could appreciate the parallels between David F. Sandberg’s theory of why horror directors work particularly well in a superhero project is producer Peter Safran, another teammate from the Annabelle: Creation side of things. Adding some further praise to the efforts that Sandberg had made with Shazam!, Safran said the following:

I think horror filmmakers don’t really get the due that they deserve, in terms of the quality of filmmakers that they actually are. And we’ve found with James Wan, and now with [David F.] Sandberg that these guys can make the jump into the superhero genre really, really well.

Though the deeper historical context of horror directors in the world of superhero films certainly wasn’t lost on David F. Sandberg or Peter Safran, as you’ll be able to see below in the clip from our sitdown at the Shazam! junket.

There’s a lot of moving pieces that go together to make a film like Shazam! work, and thanks to the expertise of Mr. Sandberg, the finished product works as beautifully as it does.

Shazam! is in theaters now. Just say the magic word and use your favorite ticketing app, and you’re there! But if you’ve already seen the film, take a look at our discussion about the end credits scene, and what it means for the series. Also, don’t forget to listen to our ReelBlend interview with Sandberg and Safran, if you’re curious to hear more from the pair. It looks like there’s plenty more fun where this came from.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.