Wes Craven: Horror Maestro
As you all know by now, one of the horror greats has died. Upon hearing of his passing not long ago, I felt the need to do something in writing of my thoughts and feelings for his films. It won’t be all of them, but a selection I have chosen. This is the man who brought us Freddy Krueger, and the man who reinvented the genre with the Scream movies. He also kept in the genre his whole entire career (with the exception of one movie), and explored all sorts of horror within the horror!
My favorite films of his were:
The Last House on The Left (1972)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Swamp Thing (1982)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Serpent & The Rainbow (1987)
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Now of course there were many others, but those in particular were the ones I was highly entertained watching. Some others include The Hills Have Eyes Part II (super cheese), Vampire in Brooklyn (Eddie Murphy as a vampire whaaat?), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (the reinvention of Freddy for which I always had mixed feelings for), and the Scream series (1 through 4). Sometime in the late 1990s during his Scream regime, he made only one non-horror called Music of the Heart. Believe it or not that film got nominated for Best Actress Meryl Streep. It’s proof that Wes had potential for a lot more in movies as well!
His later stuff kind of died down. He made a werewolf movie called Cursed that was cheesy but a little fun, but everyone forgot about it. He also made Red Eye with Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy. I never got around to seeing it, but it looked decent. He made Scream 4 not long before he died. I still haven’t gotten around to seeing that yet, but I am sure it is just as entertaining as the others.
For the movies I will go over about him, I have selected:
Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent & the Rainbow, and Scream.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
I must say that this is one hell of a notorious movie and an interesting start to Wes’s career in horror.
In the early 1970s, there hadn’t really been any slasher movies at all. It wasn’t even a genre yet. All you really had prior to this movie were Psycho, Blood Feast, and Murder a La Mod that explored those themes.
When I first saw this, I was forewarned by others about what would happen. 2 cute young girls, Mari and Phyllis, decide to go out to a Blood Lust concert (cool, Metal-sounding name!) for Mari’s 17th birthday. On the way, they ignore the radio news talking about the escaped convicts and decide to pick up some weed. They are in the city and come across a burned-out dude who says he’s got good shit, and then leads them to the Manson-like group of sadists. From this point on, it gets really ugly. The leader of the group, Krug, along with his sick cronies, rapes, humiliates and tortures the girls from the night until the next day.
Meanwhile, Mari’s parents are concerned and 2 dimwitted cops go on a search to find her. The movie begins to feel bi-polar at this point – switching from a stilly comedy to terrifying scenes of horror. After another rape, and a death, this sad song plays (sang by David Hess who plays Krug), and the viewer just feels horrified at what just happened.
Now the killers’ car has broken down right at Mari’s house, but they don’t realize it. The parents think they are traveling business people, and let them stay the night. The parents figure out who they are, and soon set up a Home Alone-style trap to get total revenge on them. By the end, the parents are even more brutal to the killers than they were to the girls!
This movie leaves you shocked (and to this day will still shock people). The movie explores dark themes, and an extreme amount of unpleasantness that no other movie at that time ever did. What makes it worse is that it’s not fake and unrealistic like most horror movies with monsters, zombies, and supernatural serial killers. These are things that happen in real life that sick people really do to the vulnerable, and STILL DO. So because of that, this film will remain timeless for that reason. While it bombed as a movie, it still stands as a movie that left a huge scar in the genre and a stepping stone to the later horror that would ensue a year later in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Wes’s second movie takes us out to the southwest United States. It starts out in a seedy, hick-town where a family traveling through in an RV breaks down in the desert. Earlier, we are forewarned that there are strange people in town, so you know something isn’t going to turn out so good.
When they break down in the desert, the dog runs away, and the dad and son-in-law try to look for help. Soon you realize, they are purposely being watched by these ugly cretins that live in the hills. They kill the dad, attack the family, and I am pretty sure they rape one of the girls, and then steal the baby.
The son-in-law goes on a quest to save the baby, and confronts more of the cretins, who plan on eating the baby. Things get really ugly at the end. Again, like in Last House, you are left with the impression “Holy shit, that was so fucked up!”
Now of course also like Last House, this film was re-made. So when you bring this film up in a conversation these days, the remake will be mentioned and you’ll hear a lot of “Oh I never saw the original”. Believe it or not, I saw the remake first. I thought it was really good, and then I saw the original. I still think this is great, even if it is a little slow-moving at first. It’s a horror classic that people who love the genre need to see if they already haven’t.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I don’t really need to explain a whole lot with this film other than that this is where it all started. Freddy Krueger is first introduced in this Slasher classic. But unlike other slashers, this guy will kill you in your dreams; which is what gives this film originality among the others.
The dream sequences, to this day are still creepy to me. And unlike the later Nightmare movies, Freddy actually was a scary dude. There aren’t really many boring filler moments like the Slashers before it did. You are kept in close with the main characters, wondering what is going to happen next.
The cast in this film is very good. We got Robert Englund of course in the iconic role of Freddy, the lovely Heather Langenkamp playing Nancy, and John Saxon playing Nancy’s dad. We are also introduced to a very young Johnny Depp, playing Nancy’s skeptical boyfriend, Glen. The deaths are very brutal even compared to the deaths in the sequels. The suspense and creative dream sequences are the highlights of this film. This created a big franchise and deservedly so.
He didn’t direct any of the sequels except for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which brought along a new idea that Freddy is really real, not just a film franchise. It was an interesting concept and I remember enjoying the movie when I first saw it. However, over the years, watching it again on my Freddy binges, I don’t feel the same way. While it is great to see the original cast in this movie, I feel it contains some annoying elements to it that bother me at times, and I felt it was way too long. But the concept worked nicely, and lies as a precursor to Scream.
The Serpent & the Rainbow (1987)
Wes takes us to new horror territory with this film. A young anthropologist (played very well by a young Bill Pullman) is doing some research in Haiti, where zombie-ism (the real life kind through voodoo) occurs. He gets too close. The tribe attacks him and hammers a nail through his scrotum (a very hard scene to watch). But it gets even creepier, when he gets buried alive and becomes a zombie himself…
Now I am very vague with the plot of this film because I saw this one time and can’t remember every detail. But I will say, like the other movies, it left a creepy impression on me when it ended. I would say it’s definitely one of Wes’s scarier films.
Besides that cheesy Tales From The Crypt movie The Curse, not many other films dwelled on this territory. Does this count as a zombie movie? It is hard to say; because this is based on tribes that do this kind of stuff.
I felt this was a bit underrated because it didn’t succeed at the box office or have a cult-following. So to people that are checking out Wes’s other movies that weren’t famous, please see this! It’s a real gem.
For years, I had problems with the movie Scream. The first time I saw it, I was disappointed. I saw it as a spoof of slasher movies (the ones that I held dear), then a real slasher film. Kids my age of that era (1996-2000, 11-15 year olds) saw them as “scary movies” and that they were the greatest, the real deal, and better than the older “shitty ones”. By then, I had been obsessed with my favorite slasher series- Jason, Michael, Freddy, Leatherface, Chucky, Pinhead, etc. So to me, the addition of Ghostface was a joke (that Halloween mask you see at the store every year? Give me a break!) It was followed by I Know What You Did Last Summer, and countless others with famous “late 90s teen heartthrobs” stars in the cast. So again, to me it was like watching Dawson’s Creek with a Slasher movie parody. What a joke! When Scary Movie came out to spoof it, I was glad.
However, years went by, and that style of horror died down. I grew more of an acceptance to the series. I gave the Trilogy a re-watching, and it began to dawn on me that even though I thought they were bad at the time of my “horror elitism”, they weren’t actually THAT bad. They were still entertaining, definitely had some humor thrown in, and the kills were still bloody as ever. But I didn’t think of them in the same realm as my old favorites.
I also came to the realization that Wes did something that no other horror director (especially an old school one) did at that time. He brought it back into the pop culture when it was a dying genre. If you look at the movies before Scream, not all of them were very good, franchises and B-Horror were going direct-to-video and people my age of course would forget about the good movies of the horror past. So Scream brought it all back, and made horror movies fun to see again for my “bored” generation that didn’t want to see the older flicks.
That being said, I give Wes Craven mad props.
It is sad to say the Master of Horror is now gone. He will be missed by horror movie fans all over the world. His Horror legend will live on for many, many years. I am glad he has quite a huge filmography to choose from.
I honestly can’t think of another director that could fill his shoes at the moment.
Let us hope one day someone new (who is creative and original) will come along to bring us more Horror movies.