As a hardcore horror fan I cut my teeth on the films of John Carpenter, George Romero, and Wes Craven. They were just the trio of horror masters that were always there from the time I started exploring the horror world, and I always took them for granted as wizards of cinema that would always be there. Sadly our horror icons are mortal, and Wes Craven has passed on. His death will surely rattle the horror world for a long time, and that’s because Craven was an important face of the genre right until his death, and he’ll be important long after he’s died. We can take solace in the fact that Craven affected a ton of people, and will live on forever through his vast and unique library of horror films and thrillers.
True, he’d stumbled on occasion with films like “Shocker,” and “Cursed,” but when he was on point, he’d deliver a horror film that would change the entire genre for a long time. He did so through a ghost faced slasher, a clawed dream demon, and an exploitation film about psychotic hippies. Craven always seemed like such an affable and good spirited individual with a smile permanently plastered on his face. He seemed to enjoy creating horror films that would haunt us and make us think at the same time. It’s a shame we won’t see anything new from Craven anymore, but we can celebrate the diverse output of really interesting and often celebrated horror movies that continue to influence generations. With respect to the legacy of Wes Craven, these are five of his films that are essential viewing for any movie buff interested in horror 101.
Here’s to you, Wes. Thanks for entertaining us, scaring us, and enlightening us. May you rest in peace.
5. New Nightmare
The precursor to “Scream,” Craven’s revisiting of the “Nightmare” universe is criminally underrated. It’s a brilliant and very compelling look at celebrity culture and how actors can often times become engulfed in their past work finding it difficult to separate their own life from the fictional characters that made them so notable in the first place. Heather Langenkamp returns one last time to play herself in a world where “Nightmare” is just a movie, albeit a popular one. Here, she struggles to grieve the death of her husband and finds herself dealing with a son who may or may not be psychologically tormented by the death of his father.
What begins as a slow descent in to madness, transforms in to a fight against a supernatural foe as the essence of the character Freddy Krueger has been inhabited by a monstrous being that’s taken on his form and decides to terrorize Heather and destroy her life. There are wonderful meta-moments that Craven would practice later on, as well as some wonderful bits of symbolism that involve the dream world and Heather’s struggles to maintain her son’s dwindling mental state. There are appearances from Craven himself, as well as Jon Saxon and Robert Englund, and it’s a wonderful finale to a very unique horror series.
4. Last House on the Left
Love it or hate it, “Last House on the Left” is that quintessential shock horror film that should be viewed by any aspiring horror buff. It’s indicative of what kind of filmmaking can be accomplished on a low budget, and explores the more interesting undertones of a generation left cynical by the summer of love and the Vietnam war. Craven goes full on brutality mode with the grainy and grimy fight for survival between two girls and their psychotic hippy brood that delight in stalking them and hunting them down before viciously murdering them. Craven’s film is a surreal mind fuck that signals some of his future staples, including nightmares, the powerlessness of parents, and the strong often self destructive desire for revenge. With “Last House,” Craven brought with him a new wave of dark and dreary horror movies that would change the canvas for a long time.
3. The Hills Have Eyes
Yet another really of Craven’s staple horror movies, “The Hills Have Eyes” garners Craven’s signature breaking down of the family unit. Set in a dessert wasteland, “The Hills Have Eyes” pits a psychotic inbred cannibal brood against an average American family. Based on the legend of Sawney Bean, Craven’s film is never afraid to get down and dirty, unfolding a vicious survivalist exploitation tale that devolves in to murder, kidnapping, and xenophobia.
Love it or hate it, you have to appreciate how Wes Craven kind of injected the fun back in to horror. The nineties were slim on horror, and what we had were serious ventures. Horror was taken very seriously in the nineties. Almost too seriously. Craven kind of came along with “Scream” and showed us that horror could be fun again, and that yes, slasher movies fucking rocked. A hodgepodge of horror movie influences, mixed with a meta-narrative, “Scream” a good party movie that ended up becoming one of the most influential horror movies of all time. “Scream” packs a ton of really memorable moments from the gut wrenching opening, the shocking reveal in the finale, a ton of really funny monologues, and a lot of references to classic horror movies. I really hope this movie inspired people to look up movies like “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” and “Psycho,” because without them we wouldn’t have “Scream.”
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
If you watch “Never Sleep Again,” it should serve as no surprise that Craven’s film starring the clawed dream demon known as Freddy Krueger wasn’t just a slapped together horror movie for a quick buck. It’s meticulously crafted, brilliantly constructed, based on a true story, and really packs a wallop with a villain that’s cerebral and primal at the same time. Introducing the world to Robert Englund, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the quintessential horror movie of the eighties that dropped us in to a world where the safety of our beds were no longer guaranteed. Even when we dropped off to dream land, no matter how close we were to a gun, or loved ones, Freddy dominated your sub-conscious and could prey on you whenever and however he pleased.
Englund plays Krueger a child killer who comes back for vengeance by manifesting in to the dreams of teenagers. Through this landscape of the mind, he’s able to victimize them to his hearts desire, until young Nancy decides to stop him once and for all. Through this process she unearths some secrets about her family and her town that were thought long hidden. Through “Nightmare,” Craven put forth a humongous legacy and pop culture phenomenon of the decade, and introduced us to yet another Hollywood notable: Johnny Depp. Despite the varying quality of the sequels, no horror film has yet to accomplish the level of sophisticated horror that Craven did. “Nightmare” is an important horror film, and an important film, period. It should serve as the basic introduction for any aspiring horror buff.