Wes Craven directed his first feature film in 1972, and he’s been behind the camera for over 20 movies as of 2011. He’s also served as a writer on 13 projects, as well as being the executive producer of many more. Whether you like Wes Craven movies or not, you have to respect the man’s work ethic.
Fans of horror movies should also respect his contributions to the genre. The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes both assisted the rise of contemporary terror in the 1970s, and Craven is responsible for creating one of the “big three” (Freddy Krueger) of modern movie maniacs. And don’t forget about Scream, the self-referential flick that raked in big bucks at the box office, paid homage to previous slasher movies, and helped resurrect an otherwise flagging horror industry.
I’ve seen 16 of Craven’s directorial efforts, and most have delivered at least a few memorable moments. This article is dedicated to looking back on those movies, with an emphasis on recalling what I liked and what I didn’t. If you’re discovering the films of Wes Craven for the first time, allow my ramblings to serve as a guide through the labyrinth of modern horror.
The Wes Craven Movies I’ve Seen
The Last House on the Left (1972) – I’ve never been partial to movies that interject pointless comedy scenes into an otherwise tense narrative. It irritated me when John Ford did it in The Searchers (the wacky courtship and wedding scenes), and this Wes Craven debut isn’t anywhere near the level of the John Wayne classic. For every moment of rape, murder, or penis biting, there’s a scene of bumbling cop Martin Kove accompanied by goofy music. A highly controversial film for its time, but one of Craven’s weaker efforts.The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – The father of the deranged mutant hillbilly sub-genre, The Hills Have Eyes features Dee Wallace and co-stars stranded in an RV in the Nevada desert and pursued by a family of cannibals. An effective tale of isolation and terror, especially when a baby gets abducted as a potential late-night snack for Papa Jupiter and his kin. The contrast between the civilized and wild families elevates the film into more than a simple hack ‘n slash flick. Michael Berryman would become a horror fan favorite with his portrayal of Pluto. By this point, Craven must have been building up a reputation as a misogynist thanks to two films about women being raped and murdered.
Deadly Blessing (1981) – Sharon Stone and Ernest Borgnine make for an acting dream team in this tale of three young women hounded by a deranged Amish cult. Michael Berryman once again adds his unusual looks to the proceedings, and it provides one of the more compelling arguments for why the peaceful-seeming Amish can’t be trusted.
Swamp Thing (1982) – Stuntman and TV vet Dick Durock gets to play the hero for once in this adaptation of the DC Comics title. I saw Swamp Thing at the drive-in as a kid, and I was thrilled by all the bizarre creatures and outlandish battle sequences. Louis Jourdan didn’t make much of an impression at the time, but Adrienne Barbeau’s magnificent breasts sure did. Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but kids today should still get a kick out of it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Armed with a striped sweater, hat, and clawed glove, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) made his bid for horror movie immortality as a horribly disfigured child molester who kills off teenagers in their dreams. A young Johnny Depp was one of his victims, and Freddy is still racking up victims over 25 years later. Still the best entry in the series, although a Dokken soundtrack was sorely missed.
Deadly Friend (1986) – I was always a sucker for Kristy Swanson, and here she’s a 17-year-old hottie who’s routinely beaten by her father. When he goes too far and leaves her near death, her geeky neighbor steals the body and implants a computer chip in her brain. From there, she goes on a rampage and delivers one of the cooler-looking kills I’ve seen in a horror film (it involves Anne Ramsay and a basketball). The rest of the film is kinda boring, though.
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) – Before he was elected President of the United States and helped save the nation from aliens, Bill Pullman was a scientist who went to Haiti and got caught up in all manner of voodoo hijinks. Co-star Zakes Mokae made a career out of playing mysterious figures with knowledge of the supernatural, and the scenes with Pullman being buried alive should scare the hell out of anyone who’s claustrophobic.
Shocker (1989) – A serial killer (Mitch Pileggi aka Skinner from The X-Files) gets the electric chair, but that doesn’t stop his rampage. My favorite part about this film was Megadeth’s cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”The People Under the Stairs (1991) – A bizarre film about an incestuous couple who live in a former mortuary and keep inbred mutants chained in the basement. The image of actor Everett McGill dressed in full bondage gear and wielding a shotgun has stuck with me through the years, as well as an early appearance by Ving Rhames. The film was uneven, but it made enough of an impression for me to be able to write a few lines about it.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) – Craven delivers an interesting twist to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, as actress Heather Langenkamp comes to believe that Freddy Krueger is stalking her and her child in real life. Craven co-stars as himself, as do John Saxon and Robert Englund. While the original still remains my favorite, those hankering for an innovative metafilm are urged to check it out.
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) – This Eddie Murphy vehicle couldn’t decide if it wanted to be horror or comedy, and it suffered because of it. Skip it at all costs and watch Scream Blacula Scream, instead.
Scream (1996) – With its repeated use of horror trivia and the “rules” of the genre, Scream reinvigorated the box office potential of scary movies and ensured Craven of continued work for years to come. Courteney Cox will blow your mind with her good looks, and Rose McGowan’s rack has never looked better. Despite Neve Campbell’s blandness, the film succeeds thanks to a clever screenplay, excellent supporting cast, and a refreshing new killer in the form of Ghostface. Witness the birth of a franchise.
Scream 2 (1997) – Not as good as the first film. Cotton Weary remains one of the best character names in the history of cinema, though.
Scream 3 (2000) – Not as good as the first or second film. However, it does have Lance Henriksen.Red Eye (2005) – A so-so thriller about a hotel manager (Rachel McAdams) who gets caught up in the plot of a terrorist (Cillian Murphy). Murphy has the looks to effectively play crazy, and McAdams’ hotness kept me distracted throughout the 85-minute runtime. Brian Cox has a small part as her father, although he fails to wear any crazy hats like he did in Troy.
Scream 4 (2011) – Not as good as the first, second, or third film. The “killer uploads to the Internet” angle was especially lame. It’s also depressing when recurring cast members start to show their age (and not in a cute, Harry Potter sort of way).
I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at the Wes Craven movies that I’ve seen over the years, and readers are encouraged to head to Netflix or your local video store and check out the works of one of horror’s elder statesmen. At an age where many of his contemporaries have slowed down or retired, Craven continues to do his part to keep the masses scared silly. While every trip to the plate may not be a homerun, at least he still has the desire to step into the batter’s box.