Yesterday saw the death of Master of Horror, Wes Craven – a man with a unique style that brightened even further our already colourful horror fan lives. His films were fun, dark, and forced us to face real issues with society.
So in the legend’s honor, here are ten of his horror films that I consider his best.
10. ‘Shocker’ (1989)
This comedy horror starring Mitch Pileggi isn’t exactly loved by many people; but both written and directed by Wes Craven, it is definitely a prime example of his dark comedic tastes and style.
The film sees a murderous TV repairman being pursued by a Lieutenant who has a son that dreams of the killer’s actions and whereabouts. Once being captured and put in the electric chair however, he returns after making a deal with the devil by travelling through electric current to continue his killing spree and to hunt down the boy that put him in jail.
9. ‘Deadly Blessing’ (1981)
Craven really liked to take on projects that didn’t involve what would be his comfort zone – the cis, white, hetro male – and this one is no different, kind of.
Set in Amish country, a man who was once a Hittite but left to marry a city woman is killed under mysterious circumstances by a tractor. Pregnant and widowed, the wife is soon terrorized by the community who consider her an ‘incubus’.
8. ‘Deadly Friend’ (1986)
Ever seen a basketball hit someone in the head with such force that the head explodes? No? Then I suggest you get ‘Deadly Friend’ on your screen.
The film sees a mother and son, Paul, move to a new town with the son’s robotic invention which he plans to do more research on at the local university. Soon he falls for the girl next door, who is left brain-dead one night by her abusive, alcoholic father. Paul soon rectifies this by putting his robot’s computer chip in to her brain and bringing her back to life as a vengeful, super strong killer.
Half deep and half ridiculous, this movie is a mish-mash of it all. Love it.
7. ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (1977)
Starring the great Michael Berryman, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ was designed by Wes Craven to play as part-homage to ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974); many of the props themselves were originally from the set of the Tobe Hooper classic.
The film sees a family left stranded by a booby trap on an unpaved road while they are trying to make their way to California to claim an inheritance. While stuck in the desert wasteland they soon realize they are not alone – a family of feral, inbred, cannibals are on the prowl.
6. ‘The Last House on The Left’ (1972)
This brutal revenge horror was apparently made because Craven wanted to express the violence of Vietnam. Taking from ‘The Virgin Spring’ (1960), the film holds up a mirror to the desensitization people faced at the time due to the violence that surrounded them.
The film sees two teenage girls drive to the city to go to a concert, only to be held captive and brutalized by a gang of convicts while trying to buy weed. By chance of fate, after the girls are murdered for trying to escape, the gang seek refuge in a home owned by the parents of one of the girls.
The parents take it upon themselves make the gang pay for what they’ve done, only to realize too late that they themselves have become as tainted as their daughter’s killers.
5. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984)
Craven made so many amazing films, but it was his creation of Freddy that really earned him acknowledgement from moviegoers. The outlandish horror took an old wive’s tale and, fueled by newspaper stories of Cambodian refugees dying in their sleep (Asian Death Syndrome), ran with it – 500 gallons of fake blood in hand.
Both written and directed by Craven, the film starred Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp (in his first ever role) and Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger; the claw-handed villain that stalks the dreams of young teenagers and kills them in their sleep.
4. ‘Scream’ (1996)
I love a good Final Girl (although I’ve always thought it should be Final Woman for obvious reasons) and Neve Campbell is by far one of my favourites to dawn the title for her role as Sidney in the ‘Scream’ series. Craven’s parody/homage series to the slasher film comes with either a love or hate attitude, depending on the horror fan you’re talking to.
The film sees the small town of Woodsboro fall victim to a serial killer who seems hellbent on hurting everyone close to teen, Sidney, as she tries to cope with the upcoming first anniversary of her mother’s violent murder.
All events, of course, follow the traditional rules and codes of horror movies to the letter…
3. ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’ (1994)
Tens years on from the beginning of the franchise film series saw the arrival of ‘New Nightmare’. Always assuming that Craven got the inspiration for ‘Scream’ from this self-realizing little end number; the film sees the staple cast come back together, along with everyone’s favourite little kid in horror Miko Hughes (of Pet Sematary, at only 27 months old).
The film sees Heather Langenkamp become a “real life” Final Girl as the 10th anniversary of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ nears and she realizes that Freddy is no longer fiction, is out looking for her, and is much more menacing.
This film made such a refreshing change of pace to the Freddy franchise.
2. ‘The People Under the Stairs’ (1991)
I love this Wes Craven film. Both directed and written by the late great, this comedy horror has a real message about society to get across; basically telling the story of racism in America as it was then and still is today; showing an extreme case of how classism and capitalism are further marginalizing vulnerable groups for the benefit of white people that sit above the poverty line.
The film sees a black 13 year old boy assist in the robbery of his landlord’s house when he discovers his entire local community is being evicted due to the greed of this rich, white couple. After becoming trapped in the house, however, he discovers just how twisted and violent the incestuous husband and wife are; not to mention the people under the stairs…
Also, the 90s hip-hop soundtrack is fantastic.
1. ‘The Serpent and The Rainbow’ (1988)
This movie is about my favourite thing, witchcraft! Proper, non-new age, no-nonsense witchcraft – looking specifically at the witchcraft practiced in Haiti. People will roll their eyes when they hear another plot about Caribbean magic paired with zombieficaton, but this is fact people. There are practitioners in Haiti (and other places) that will use mixes of herbs and roots that will give the victim the appearance of being dead when they come in to contact with it. After the person has been seen as dead, their body is stolen by the practitioners and when the person finally wakes they are not like they were before.
I think it has something to do with the lack of oxygen to the brain when the victim’s heart is beating so slow. The horrible truth of it is that these groups of practitioners will keep their “zombies” – the males are used as free workers because they can still mimic and take basic commands, and worst of all, the women are kept as sex slaves; their minds too far gone to even fight back.
It is a disturbing reality to know these poor people are alive and being used this way, but it shows you how powerful and dangerous practitioners are. This film is a great example of that.
Starring Bill Pullman as an anthropologist, the film sees him travel to Haiti to investigate a man who apparently died years before and is now alive, only to be pulled in to the dangerous world of Haitian witchcraft while the country is in the grips of a revolution.
If you ever want to learn about witchcraft (the real, practiced, traditional stuff – that means no Wiccan fluff) Anthony Head did a great series of investigative pieces called ‘True Horror’.
Just promise me to ignore all the bits that involved British Witchcraft.