Unfortunately, we lost a horror icon today, director Wes Craven, 76, to apparent brain cancer. I had no idea he was even battling cancer, so his death came as a surprise to me (I also didn’t realize he was that far in age). As a huge, huge horror fan, Wes Craven is instrumental to that love, so I can’t let his sad passing go by without remarking more elaborately upon it. Some of my all-time favorite horror movies come from his directing. Let’s go over some of the best, in no particular order, briefly:
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I had to start with his most iconic film, didn’t I? The film that introduced us to Freddy Krueger and more importantly, did for sleeping what Jaws did for swimming, i.e., scared the fuck out of us. It spawned numerous sequels, made tons of money, gave Robert England a career and became an ingrained featured in not just horror film history, but American pop culture history.
Somehow, Craven not only re-invented horror once, but twice, first in the 1980s with the aforementioned film, but then again in the 1990s with Scream. He influenced a lot of imitators the next decade. And not only did he manage to make a film that was still terrifying and somehow created a new horror icon that ingrained itself within pop culture, but he made a movie that cleverly balanced satire with said horror. And in that category — blending horror and comedy — Craven was the most successful. He lampooned horror while simultaneously re-inventing it. Marvelous achievement in the history of horror film-making.
New Nightmare (1994)
I find this perhaps Craven’s most wild success here. Amazingly, five sequels after he revolutionized horror with the first Nightmare film and a decade later (and two years before the aforementioned film in this list), Craven managed to re-invent his most iconic character in perhaps, arguably, the best Krueger film in the whole series. It’s fresh, inventive and still scary. It’s on Netflix Instant last I saw, so check it out, folks.
Last House on the Left (1972)
Seriously, look at that date again. 1972! Craven’s first directorial effort and in some ways, his most iconic. Check any list of the most disturbing, controversial or generally fucked up films ever and Craven’s first film has the honor (in my opinion at least, it’s an honor) of being featured at some point. Because it is a fucked up film that helped jump-start the gritty, unrelenting and no-holds-barred horror film-making style of the 1970s. There was already a new revolution going on generally, lead by some newcomers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, but the horror genre specifically was seeing its own revolution, helped by Wes Craven. Not for the weak-eyed.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Five years after his first film, Craven was back with yet another notorious film for being fucked up and IMO, it’s one of the scariest, shit-hitting-the-fan films I’ve ever seen. That’s all I’m going to say.
Red Eye (2005)
One of his most under-rated films and in my view, one of the most under-rated thrillers of the twenty-first century (notice, I said thriller, so I’m stretching the horror paradigm here). First off, this film is automatically buoyed by the brilliant Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams; I’m a sucker for both. But secondly, the tension and the intensity of the film is on point. And it all builds to some great suspense. It showed that Craven still had it.
I’m not sure what else to say. It’s a helluva horror record to leave behind. Let’s rewind: he revolutionized horror twice with two horror icons that transcended the genre and became permanent features in American pop culture (one of whom, Freddy, he re-invented a decade after he created him) and then he created two films that live on in the lore of “most controversial films” of all time and then finally, showed he still had it with a 21st century film starring two great leads.
Rest in horror, Wes. Thank you.