It’s been a week or so since the sad passing of Wes Craven. For me Wes created some of the most iconic horror films that I have ever witnessed. I must of been about 11 years old when I first saw Scream in the 90’s and that scared the hell out of me. As I grew older I watched Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and Shocker these truly scared me growing up. Wes stayed faithful to the genre that made him who he was and he also was part of the regeneration of the horror genre. Even re-introducing the slasher genre to the MTV genre sprouting a ton of copy cat films. There will never be another Wes Craven and cinema has lost a true giant. As a tribute here are my top 5 Wes Craven films:
5. The Hills Have Eyes
“The Hills Have Eyes” is really one of the better horror movies from the ’70’s. It actually is such a standard and simplistic movie, that actually doesn’t have much story but almost instead entirely relies on purely its simple concept of a family being stranded in the middle of the dessert, who get attacked by a couple of deformed freaks, due to nuclear testings being held around in the area. It sounds cheap and campy but the movie actually successful achieves at it to become a great, effective as well as original one within its genre.What the movie does well is that it spends time on its build up and atmosphere. Because of this the entire movie basically has an eerie type of atmosphere, even when nothing horror-like is happening on screen. There is a constant sense of danger and unpleasantness. Because of this the simple story of the movie also works out so well. It shows that you don’t need much to create a good horror movie with.The movie is a shocker and slasher but it’s yet not an exploitation movie. It doesn’t exploit its violence or gore, like Wes Craven perhaps still did with his first movie “The Last House on the Left”. Instead it’s a more honest and realistic looking and feeling movie, even despite of its concept.Perhaps the only mistake the movie makes it that it also tells the story too much from the viewpoint of the monstrous villains.
4.The Last House on the Left
The first time I saw this film was before I’d seen a lot of exploitation, and I have to say that I found the whole thing to be quite uncomfortable; though I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it. I have now seen many an exploitation flick, and I will still say that The Last House on the Left is a shocking and uncomfortable slice of exploitation cinema. The Last House on the Left, aside from being a nasty film, is also a rather strange one – and that’s mostly owing to the soundtrack and apparent misplaced humour. The humour seems to be in place to offset the terror, but if you ask me it makes the film even more shocking, as it feels like Craven is having a laugh at the plight of the two young victims. It’s also quite funny. The film would appear to fairly ambiguous other than that, however, as Craven doesn’t force the audience into making a judgement on any character in the film; they are all basically what they are. Wes craven would go on to make a number of important horror films after this one; but none of them manage to capture the raw shock value of The Last House on the Left, and I would not hesitate to call this his best film. The film is gritty and the production values are quite low, which is pretty much what you would expect from a film like this; but that is certainly not a bad thing. The film only runs for about eighty minutes, but the film certainly gets its message across, and Craven also manages to keep it entertaining for the duration, which is to its benefit.
3.A Nightmare on Elm Street/Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
One of the most original horror films ever made. The concept of a killer that haunts your dreams relentlessly and doesn’t stop until he’s killed you is a terrifying experience. If you die in your dreams you die in the real world. Just the way Wes Craven toys with your mind and plays around with whether the characters in the film have fallen asleep or not is brilliant. The atmosphere is very dark and.. well.. dream-like. It’s a very unique and spooky atmosphere to say the least. Along with a very sinister and mysterious dream demon named Freddy Krueger this movie is a real treat. Although done on a small budget the film’s FX are top notch and are very creative. As for the acting, most of it is not that bad. Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund are of course the head of the show and they carry the film with some memorable and stand-out performances.
Wes Craven transcends the horror genre in this film. It is horrible, it is frightening, but it works on many levels besides horror at the same time. The self-referential technique blurring the border between film, film-maker, and real-world works perfectly. It takes the monster freddy, who we thought lived only in the dreamworld of cinema, and pulls him off the screen, into your brain, and maybe even into your living room. The horror of this film serves only to heighten the immediacy of the storyline, and that storyline is brilliant.This film provides an answer to a question that mankind has pondered forever: why does evil exist? Craven has a very operational approach to what often seems an impenetrable enigma. Evil exists whenever we, that is, us, all of us, lack the courage to prevent it. Wherever love is lacking. Heather relies on her love and her courage to defeat Freddy, just as all of us must.This means that Freddy is not a creature, or a force, that lives out there somewhere, trying to get in to our world. Freddy lives in your dreams. He lives inside of every human being. When we give in to fear, or lock love out of our heart, then Freddy can enter.
2.The People Under The Stairs
Full of stunning visuals, slapstick humour and colourful performances by its cast, “The People Under the Stairs” is perhaps the best 80’s movie made in the 90’s. Yeah, that’s right, this movie looks and feels like something that belongs in the eighties, from the outfits the characters wear to the oddball hip-hop song that closes out the movie. It helps, though, that Craven is in top form with delivering some truly nightmarish visuals, aided by one great big set-piece in the house that the film spends ninety-five percent of its run-time within.Adams is a rarity in that he is a kid in a horror movie that isn’t annoying. Quite the opposite, Fool is likable and real enough that you can’t help but cheer him along as he gives the landlord some payback by throwing a brick at him — “Home Alone 2” style — and by sucker-punching his vicious guard-dog when it gets too close. The film is more fun than it is scary, with plenty of witty one-liners, awkward moments and situational humour. Despite looking even more dated than it should, it’s a film that still holds up as simply a good time.
What made Scream so successful is that it was never patronising, and displayed a strong sense of ironic self-awareness. It took every horror cliché in the book and turned them upside down. For the kids that had seen too many movies, there was now a movie for them. The characters did not follow the clichés, but in fact talked about them, and talked about what would happen if they were in a movie. This sense of irony may seem tired now, but when Scream came out it was new and exciting. There was rarely a need to scream ‘don’t go upstairs’ or suchlike in Scream, because the characters themselves were saying that! The idea of the killer being amongst the students adds a fresh dimension to the film, as fear gives way to paranoia at not being able to trust anyone. The subversions of the accepted horror clichés, in particular in the opening ten minutes (I’m not going to give anything away for those who have not seen it) also contribute to making Scream a truly shocking movie. It was this sense of innovation that made Scream such a breath of fresh air for the horror genre, and it is only a shame that Craven’s genius has been ripped off so many times that his work has dated far too quickly. Craven and Williamson have also created a new horror star – but it was not a particular character but just a costume with an iconic mask. The Scream mask has become just as symbolic, perhaps even more so, than that of Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees.