S. Craig Zahler

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S. Craig Zahler
Steven Craig Zahler

(1973-01-23) January 23, 1973 (age 49)
Miami, Florida, United States
Other namesCzar
Alma materNew York University
  • Novelist
  • screenwriter
  • director
  • cinematographer
  • musician
Years active1996–present

Steven Craig Zahler (born January 23, 1973) is an American film director, screenwriter, cinematographer, novelist, comic book artist, animator and musician.

After beginning his career working briefly as a cinematographer, Zahler focused on screenwriting until he made his directorial debut with Bone Tomahawk (2015). He followed this up with Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017) and Dragged Across Concrete (2018), all of which he wrote and composed the music for. He has also authored several novels.

Personal life[edit]

Zahler was born in Miami, Florida, to a Jewish family.[1] Although he is raised as an adherent to Judaism, he turned to atheism later in life.[2] Zahler studied film at New York University.[3] He does not plan to become married.[4]


His debut noir western novel, A Congregation of Jackals, was nominated for The Spur Award by the Western Writers of America and The Peacekeeper by the Western Fictioneers. Corpus Chrome, Inc., A Congregation of Jackals and Mean Business on North Ganson Street all received starred reviews for excellence in Booklist.[5]

As a drummer, lyricist and singer, Zahler, under the stage name Czar, collaborates with Jeff Herriott, as JH Halberd, to write and perform songs as the heavy metal band Realmbuilder, who have three albums on Swedish label I Hate Records.[6] This is following Zahler's foray into black metal with the project Charnel Valley, for which he played drums, wrote lyrics and shared songwriting duties with Worm. The two Charnel Valley albums were released by Paragon Records.[7]

Zahler also wrote the script for a 2011 horror film Asylum Blackout (also released as The Incident at Sans Asylum and The Incident), which was directed by Alexandre Courtès.[8]

In 2015, Zahler made his directorial debut, writing and directing the horror western Bone Tomahawk, which stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, David Arquette and Richard Jenkins.[9] The film was released on October 23, 2015, in theaters and on video on demand.

Bone Tomahawk was met with favorable reception, winning a few awards. The film is 'Certified Fresh' by Rotten Tomatoes, where it has received positive reviews from 90% of critics.[10] The New York Times called it "[a] witty fusion of western, horror and comedy that gallops to its own beat",[11] while the LA Times said "There's a humming genre intelligence at work in the grim, witty horror-western Bone Tomahawk."[12] The Hollywood Reporter called it "[a] handsome Western with horror overtones",[13] and Variety described it as "...a most violent delight",[14] while Leonard Maltin said "[T]his modest feature leaves The Hateful Eight in the dust. It's provocative, original, extremely violent and extremely good."[15] Twitch Film said "[Bone Tomahawk] succeeds in demonstrating the voice of its massively talented creator."[16] At the Sitges Film Festival Bone Tomahawk won the critic's award for "Best Picture", and Zahler was given the award for "Best Director". The Independent Spirit Awards nominated Richard Jenkins for "Best Supporting Actor" and S. Craig Zahler for "Best Screenplay". Kurt Russell won the "Best Actor" award at the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards.[citation needed]

Zahler's second feature film as writer, director, and co-composer was Brawl in Cell Block 99, which stars Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Udo Kier, and Don Johnson. This movie received its world premiere at the 74th Venice Film Festival in 2017.[17] Actors Fred Melamed and Geno Segers both returned from his debut, and were joined by Marc Blucas, Mustafa Shakir, Thomas Guiry, Willie C. Carpenter, and others.[citation needed] The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an "certified fresh" approval rating of 92% based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Brawl in Cell Block 99 rides a committed Vince Vaughn performance into the brutally violent – and undeniably entertaining – depths of prison-set grindhouse genre fare."[18]

The movie made year end best of lists for Newsweek,[19] (Justin Chang) L.A. Times,[20] Collider,[21] JoBlo.com,[22] (Mike D'Angelo) The A.V. Club,[23] and others. The picture was a New York Times Critics Pick[24] and was screened at the Museum of Modern Art,[25] where it was added to the permanent collection.[25]

Zahler's third feature film as writer, director, and co-composer was Dragged Across Concrete, which stars Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Thomas Kretschmann, Laurie Holden, Fred Melamed, Udo Kier, and Don Johnson. This movie received its world premiere at the 75th Venice Film Festival in 2018.[26]

In 2018, it was announced that Zahler would be joining the writing staff of the resurrected Fangoria magazine.[27] As of 2019, he writes a column called "Malignant Growths" about microbudget horror films.

Film projects[edit]

Zahler told Variety that on June 22, 2006, he began his career at NYU film school as a cinematographer.[28] In 2004, he wrote six scripts, including a western that topped the prestigious Black List entitled, The Brigands of Rattleborge,[28] which Park Chan-wook was set to direct.[29]

On September 7, 2007, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Warner Bros. had acquired the film rights to the anime Robotech with Tobey Maguire attached to star in and produce the film, while Zahler was set to write the script.[30]

On March 25, 2011, Sony's Columbia Pictures picked up the script of the film The Big Stone Grid, written by Zahler and produced by Michael De Luca.[31]

On September 5, 2012, it was announced that FX was developing a martial arts drama, Downtown Dragons, with Zahler set to write and executive produce.[32]

On October 30, 2012, Zahler was set to make his directorial debut with a horror western film Bone Tomahawk from his own script. Two years later, the picture went into production in California. The film stars Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins.[33]

On June 27, 2013, Warner Bros. acquired the film rights to his crime novel Mean Business on North Ganson Street. He will write the script of the film which is set to star Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx.[34]

In 2015, Zahler told Creative Screenwriting, "I’ve had maybe a minimum of 21 different screenplays optioned or sold, and not one of them was made in Hollywood. I had one [The Incident] made by a French company in Belgium, but the other 20 or more – and some of those have been optioned multiple times, I had a television series that was at FX that went to Starz that went to AMC – none of them have been made."[35]

On May 10, 2016, 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights to Zahler's western novel Wraiths of the Broken Land. The screenplay will be written by Drew Goddard and the film will be directed by Ridley Scott.[36]

On February 1, 2017, Variety confirmed that Zahler would direct Dragged Across Concrete, a film about police brutality. The film stars Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, who previously worked together in the former's 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge.[37] The film premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2018,[38] before receiving a release in the United States on March 22, 2019.[39]



Year Title Director Screenwriter Composer Notes Rotten Tomatoes[41]
2011 The Incident Yes Also known as Asylum Blackout n/a
2015 Bone Tomahawk Yes Yes Yes Winner of "Best Director" and "Critic's Award" at Sitges Film Festival, and "Best Feature Film (Avant-Garde & Genre)" at BAFICI[42] 91% (95 reviews)
2017 Brawl in Cell Block 99 Yes Yes Yes 90% (93 reviews)
2018 Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich Yes 70% (46 reviews)
2018 Dragged Across Concrete Yes Yes Yes 76% (145 reviews)

Short films – Cinematography by S. Craig Zahler

  • August Roads (1995)
  • Warsaw Story (1996)
  • Lucia's Dream (1997)
  • Rooster (2003)


As a metal musician, Zahler is better known by his stage name Czar. As a soundtrack composer and as one half of the synthesizer duo Binary Reptile, he uses his real name.

Charnel Valley (Czar and Worm)

  • The Dark Archives (2005, Paragon Records)[43]
  • The Igneous Race (2007, Paragon Records)[44]

Realmbuilder (Czar and JH Halberd)

  • Summon the Stone Throwers (2009, I Hate Records)[45]
  • Fortifications of the Pale Architect (2011, I Hate Records)[46]
  • Blue Flame Cavalry (2013, I Hate Records)[47]

Jeff Herriott & S. Craig Zahler / Binary Reptile

  • Bone Tomahawk (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2015, Lakeshore Records)
  • Crawl into the Narrow Caves (2017, Lakeshore Records) (as Binary Reptile)
  • Brawl in Cell Block 99 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2017, Lakeshore Records)
  • Dragged Across Concrete (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2019, Lakeshore Records)


  1. ^ "S. Craig Zahler Explains How Neither His Films, nor Mel Gibson, Are Horror". March 20, 2018.
  2. ^ Schager, Nick (March 18, 2019). "The Hollywood Filmmaker Making Movies for the MAGA Crowd". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 3, 2022.
  3. ^ Tobias, Scott (March 22, 2019). "The Director Who Doesn't Care What You Think of His Movies". The Ringer. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  4. ^ Godfrey, Alex (February 15, 2016). "Best western: why Bone Tomahawk became a gunslinging cult hit". The Guardian. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  5. ^ S. Craig Zahler. "S. Craig Zahler". Goodreads.
  6. ^ "Realmbuilder". metal-archives.com.
  7. ^ "Charnel Valley". metal-archives.com.
  8. ^ Leydon, Joe (October 2, 2011). "Review: 'The Incident'". variety.com. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  9. ^ "Movie News – Movie Reviews". Entertainment Weekly.
  10. ^ "Bone Tomahawk".
  11. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (October 22, 2015). "Review: 'Bone Tomahawk' Is Western, Horror and Comedy". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Abele, Robert (October 23, 2015). "Pokey, wry 'Bone Tomahawk' cuts to the core of quirky horror westerns". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ "'Bone Tomahawk': Fantastic Fest Review". The Hollywood Reporter. October 2015.
  14. ^ Lodge, Guy (October 2, 2015). "Film Review: Kurt Russell in 'Bone Tomahawk'". Variety.
  15. ^ Maltin, Leonard. "Never A Bad Time for a Good Western: Bone Tomahawk – IndieWire".
  16. ^ Brown, Todd (October 4, 2015). "Fantastic Fest 2015 Review: BONE TOMAHAWK Is One Of The Most Brutal Westerns Ever Put To Film".
  17. ^ Brooks, Xan (September 2, 2017). "Brawl in Cell Block 99 review – Vince Vaughn has a riot in ultraviolent thriller". the Guardian.
  18. ^ "Brawl in Cell Block 99". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  19. ^ "The 18 most unforgettable films of 2017, from 'Brawl in Cell Block 99' to 'The Shape of Water'". Newsweek. December 27, 2017.
  20. ^ Chang, Justin (December 15, 2017). "'Call Me by Your Name,' 'The Florida Project' lead Justin Chang's 12 best films of 2017". Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ "Brian's Top 10 Films of 2017". Collider. December 24, 2017.
  22. ^ "The 10 Best Films of 2017 (JimmyO)". JoBlo. December 29, 2017.
  23. ^ Staff, A.V. Club. "The best of film 2017: The ballots".
  24. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (October 5, 2017). "Review: 'Brawl in Cell Block 99' Features a Revelatory Vince Vaughn". The New York Times.
  25. ^ a b "Brawl in Cell Block 99. 2017. Directed by S. Craig Zahler - MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art.
  26. ^ Lodge, Guy (September 3, 2018). "'Dragged Across Concrete' Review: Mel Gibson Leads Outsize Cop Drama". Variety.
  27. ^ McNary, Dave (February 15, 2018). "Cinestate Buys Fangoria Magazine, Plans Brand Expansion Into Movies". Variety.
  28. ^ a b Ross, Matthew (June 22, 2006). "Craig Zahler early career". variety.com. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  29. ^ Sneider, Jeff (August 29, 2012). "'Oldboy' helmer saddles up for 'Brigands'". variety.com. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  30. ^ "Maguire, WB attack the big screen with 'Robotech'". hollywoodreporter.com. September 7, 2007. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  31. ^ Kit, Borys (March 25, 2011). "Columbia Picks Up Spec Script By S. Craig Zahler". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  32. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (September 5, 2012). "FX Developing Martial Arts Drama Project". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  33. ^ Sneider, Jeff (October 30, 2012). "S. Craig Zahler to direct 'Bone Tomahawk'". variety.com. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  34. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (June 27, 2013). "Warner Bros Acquires Craig Zahler Crime Novel As Re-Team Of 'Django Unchained's Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  35. ^ Zacharias, Ramona (December 14, 2015). "Delivering the Beats: Bone Tomahawk". Creative Screenwriting. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  36. ^ Fleming, Mike, Jr. (May 10, 2016). "Ridley Scott, Drew Goddard, Fox & 'The Martian' Team Set 'Wraiths of the Broken Land'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  37. ^ McNary, Dave (February 1, 2017). "Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn to Star in Movie About Police Brutality". Variety. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  38. ^ Anderson, Ariston (July 25, 2018). "Venice Fest Lineup Includes Coens, Luca Guadagnino and Alfonso Cuaron". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 28, 2018.
  39. ^ Han, Karen (March 22, 2019). "The vicious Dragged Across Concrete can't be apolitical when it stars Mel Gibson". Polygon. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
  40. ^ a b c d e f g "Books by S. Craig Zahler". goodreads.com. Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  41. ^ "S. Craig Zahler". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  42. ^ "S. Craig Zahler".
  43. ^ "Charnel Valley – The Dark Archives – Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". metal-archives.com.
  44. ^ "Charnel Valley – The Igneous Race – Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". metal-archives.com.
  45. ^ "Realmbuilder – Summon the Stone Throwers – Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". metal-archives.com.
  46. ^ "Realmbuilder – Fortifications of the Pale Architect – Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". metal-archives.com.
  47. ^ "Realmbuilder – Blue Flame Cavalry – Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". metal-archives.com.

External links[edit]