Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a minute (do the kidz still say that?) since I’ve squeezed out one of these, but luckily I’ve had a lot of fibre recently and things are moving again, if you take my meaning. Wes Craven is one of my favourite directors of all time but I’ll be the first to admit he’s made a lot of rubbish over the years. He’s one of my favourites because when his films are good, they are second to none. There’s basically three tiers to Craven movies – Iconic, okay, and crap. Most people agree on what’s iconic, everyone disagrees on what’s crap/okay. No matter where you stand, there’s no doubting his place in horror, inventing or reinventing pieces of the genre at least three times, and providing us with some of the best scares, best villains, best heroes, and best movies in horror history.
10. The People Under The Stairs
It’s true to say that most people love this more than I do. I like it, but I don’t have the nostalgic connection to it which most fans have. My favourite thing about it is the Twin Peaks connection – Wendy Robie and Everett McGill star again as another unusual pairing. The story and the film, are fairly unique, but then again we’re talking late 80s, early 90s horror – a time when anything goes, so when we’re talking about a ghetto kid trying to save his family from being evicted by a pair of murderous landlords and their cannibal children, you know you’re on safe enough territory. It’s certainly funny, it’s borders on outright weird, you’d never see anything like it getting made today, and there’s plenty of gore.
9. Swamp Thing
This little seen action/comedy/horror hybrid is well worth a watch for anyone bored with today’s superhero stories and want something a little different. This is certainly a little different, Craven this time dealing with more established stars and a bigger budget than his earlier 70s work. While campy and not going for the jugular as he had been known for, this still has plenty of violence and sexy times and features genre favourites Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise.
8. Red Eye
A late in the game box office and critical success for Craven, this is a surprisingly straight, taut, and effective thriller which holds up well today. Featuring reliable performers Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, and Brian Cox it is another entry in the ‘bad shit happens on a plane’ sub-genre. It has the twists of Scream without the meta stuff and plays out like a modern Hitchcock film, cranking up the tension until the climax. This gets straight to the point, plays its game with no chaff, and remains gripping throughout.
7. The Hills Have Eyes
Here’s an interesting one – I much prefer the remake of this. Craven’s ideas are solid and the story and characters all in place, but it lacks the budget and power to be executed fully. The remake has the money and conviction and it is wonderfully brutal in all the most delightful ways. Still, this is the original and therefore worth giving due attention and respect. Like his previous film, this works as a nightmare scenario of US family values, of how simply and quickly the perfect family can devolve into gruesome violence. The film follows the extended Carter family on a road trip who take a wrong turn and end up being picked off by another family – albeit deformed cannibals. The invention and wit and energy here tends to surpass most modern horror but is only defeated by the lack of money to fully pull off everything required to make it perfect.
6. Scream 3
Often seen as the weakest in the series, while that may be true it always holds a special place in my heart. It was the first in the series I saw in the Cinema and brought along my girlfriend at the time who was also a series fan. The ideas were wearing thin at this point, but there are enough trilogy smarts and in jokes to still make it a fun ride. With Neve, Courtney, David and co all returning, that affinity with the characters is still present and I enjoy the callbacks to the previous entries. The series remains one of the best written and fun in horror, and it’ll always be dear to me, even if it isn’t a patch on Part 1.
5. Music Of The Heart
I imagine I’ll get a lot of heat for this one, but for some reason I’ve always enjoyed the ‘tough kids get won over by teacher’ movies. I don’t know why, but they give me a kick. To see Wes Craven making one, to see Wes Craven directing a Meryl Streep movie, is still hilarious to me, and I think he pulls it off. Sure, there isn’t an original bone in its body, but it proves that Craven can work completely outside horror and make an effective light-hearted drama. Streep even got nominated for an Oscar, as did the title track, but it was a box office flop. It’s a little overlong and probably came out a few years too late, but it’s still one of my under the radar favourites.
4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Craven’s first experiment with meta or post modern horror or whatever the hell you want to call it, sees him returning to his most famous franchise and ostensibly releasing his most feared creation upon the real world. New Nightmare’s set up is that Heather Langenkamp – Nancy from the original movie – is married and has a son, and that the boy’s nightmares about Freddy are somehow bringing the clawed killer into the real world. This means we have various actors, writers, and directors playing themselves while being stalked by Kruger. It’s clever, and it’s violent, with Robert Englund playing himself, playing traditional Freddy, and playing the all new, more vicious Freddy.
3. The Last House On The Left
Englund’s first impact on the horror scene was this low budget exploitation movie about a family resorting to revenge and torture upon the rapists and killers who did the same to their daughters. It’s a film of two halves, each half complementing the other while advancing the plot and showing how violence begets violence. The first half follows a couple of teenage girls heading to a concert but who are attacked by a group of killers, the second finds the killers accidentally stopping off at the parent’s house and seeing the tables turned. It’s not an easy watch and Craven doesn’t hold back in his depictions of torture, rape, and murder. The remake ups the budget and gore and makes for an interesting companion piece, but for me it lacks the gut punch and shock of the original.
My top two picks aren’t going to surprise anyone. Scream is a perfect film in my eyes. I understand why others will disagree with me and I’m not so blind to agreeing with its criticism, but that doesn’t change how I feel about it. It’s my generation’s horror movie and even though I was 13 or 14 when it released it still felt like it was made for me. I understood most of the references, I loved the twists, I recognised most of the characters in myself and people I knew, the dialogue was sharp, and the cast was peppered with people I either already loved or would come to. It gave us two new horror icons in killer Ghostface and heroine Sydney, played by my other world wife Neve Campbell. It’s funny, stylish, and has some great scares and kills, and it’s a movie I’ll never tire of.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street
The only film which could beat Scream is my favourite horror movie of all time. This is the one which got me into horror, even before I’d watched it. I knew Kruger, I knew the plot, and I’d seen bits of it when I was a child, and the artwork in the video stores always intrigued me. It’s one of Craven’s most successful movies, it’s his best work, his most inventive, and it is even critically acclaimed to a certain degree – not always unusual for horror, but definitely rate for one so visceral. The film and its villain gained iconic status leading to a long series of spin-offs and sequels, none of which have matched the skill and precision of the original. Langenkamp and Englund are terrific, the effects are nightmarish, and the idea of someone stalking your dreams (for the sins of your parents no less) remains potent. Horror often bleeds into fantasy, but I don’t think it was ever worked so successfully than with this undoubted masterpiece.
Let us know in the comments which movies you would include in your Top Ten Wes Craven list!