Earlier this week film director Wes Craven unfortunately passed away. For over forty years Wes Craven had been making films and his horror films have changed the genre completely. As a horror fan it would be disrespectful of his memory not to commemorate his work. Here are my personal top 5 films by Wes Craven.
5- The Hills have Eyes
The Hills have Eyes was the second film that Wes Craven made and has been one of his most enduring. The plot revolves around a family travelling through a deserted part of the Nevada desert whose car breaks down. In the night they are set upon by a clan of cannibals led by the patriarch Papa Jupiter, played by James Whitworth. Hills is not a film for the faint of heart for its unapologetic violence and intense themes. which earned it a criticism from Roger Ebert for being 'decadent'. The low budget and gritty atmosphere of Hills intensifies the violence. Despite the actual lack of gore this adds to the atmosphere of Hills with it leaving more up to the imagination of the audience. Unlike his two more famous horror movies Hills never managed to get a mainstream following but a major cult following did occur which allowed a sequel and a remake. Hills will definitely divide any movie audience but for those who can stomach intense scenes this can be a cult classic.
4- Red Eye
The second film on our list by Wes Craven is not actually a horror but instead a thriller (and a very thrilling film at that). Red Eye centers around a hotel owner played by Rachel McAdams who happens to sit next to a man that she had been chatting to at the airport bar played by Cillian Murphy. It quickly transpires that Cillian Murphy's character is a terrorist who wishes to assassinate the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security and his family who is staying in McAdams's hotel. Craven managed to create a fast paced and claustrophobic setting for Red Eye with the danger towards McAdams being ever present. Murphy played a good villain and seemed genuinely threatening which added to the atmosphere. The over-the-top ending may ruin the film for some but acclaimed movie reviewer Roger Ebert had this praise for the film regardless:
“After a summer of crashes, bangs, endless chase scenes and special effects that belittle the actors standing in front of them, what a pleasure to see characters in a thriller doing what people like themselves possibly could do.”
Often overlooked by films such as Non-Stop Craven's Red Eye is a good hidden gem.
3- New Nightmare
New Nightmare is the seventh installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and is easily the most inventive. The plot revolves around Heather Langenkamp who played Nancy in the first Nightmare film being stalked by someone playing Freddy Krueger (the villain in the franchise) and she soon finds out that Wes Craven, playing himself, and Robert Englund (who played Freddy Krueger in every Nightmare film bar the remake) are also being stalked. All this is happening while the new Nightmare film is being made. They quickly learn that Freddy Krueger has started to come into the real world. New Nightmare is a good edition to the Nightmare franchise not only for being creative but also because of the idea that it perpetuates that no one is safe. It is quite novel to see Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund and John Saxon (who was also in the first film) play themselves and face their own creation thirsty for their blood. It helps perfectly show how enduring the franchise is, how much it has influenced the horror movie industry and pop culture as well as ending the franchise. It proved to be the last film until nine years later when Freddy Krueger went up against another horror movie icon in Freddy vs Jason.
Not only is Scream a horror movie which gave new life to the genre but it also out the flaws/cliches found in the genre to its advantage. A series of murders revolving around horror movie cliches is occurring in a small town. A voice is talking to teenagers, quizzing them on their horror movie knowledge before murdering them, and a local TV reporter played by Courtney Cox is take advantage of the story. Utilizing all the tropes of a who-dunnit movie and the horror movie Scream manages to create a creepy and heart-pounding atmosphere. With the killer wearing the ghost mask that can be found in any shop and talking down a phone before the days of widespread caller ID the list of suspects could be endless which greatly benefits the movie. Satirizing horror movie tropes Craven managed to create a self-aware film which will actually have you on the edge of your seat, such as one scene where a character is watching Halloween shouting at the movie character that the killer is behind them when in fact the ghost mask villain is actually behind him. The many subtle references to other films is also nice to see like Drew Barrymore's early death referencing Janet Leigh's in Psycho and Wes Craven himself wearing a red and green striped jumper as 'Fred the janitor'.
1- Nightmare on Elm Street
Nightmare is possibly one of the greatest horror movies of the 1980s. The plot centers around Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp, and her friends who are being stalked in their dreams by a burned man wearing a green and red striped jumper and a gloved right hand which has knives on the fingers. Whatever happens to them in the dreams however happens to them in real life. They have to find a way to stop the burned man, called Freddy Kreuger and is played by Robert Englund, as he kills them one by one. Nightmare put the slasher genre on its head by adding a supernatural element to the film. You can easily escape Jason Voorhees by simply running away but how can you run away from someone coming into your dreams? The creative visuals and fantastic prosthetics used to create Freddy Krueger makes Nightmare a truly scary horror movie. Johnny Depp actually made his acting debut in Nightmare as well. Spawning seven sequels, a crossover, a TV series, a cameo in the video game Mortal Kombat, countless comic appearances and a film remake Nightmare is easily one of horror's most enduring series. With Craven putting so much effort into his film it is easy to see why the film transcended cult status and immediately became a mainstream hit.
R.I.P Wes Craven.