We here at TVSO were quite saddened to hear a couple weeks back about the passing of horror movie master Wes Craven. While, Craven certainly dipped his toes into the mainstream of film-making later in his career, and while he also made a few stinkers (Deadly Friend, anyone? Okay, the Kristy Swanson throws a basketball at Ann Ramsey's head scene does kick as
s), Craven inspired a whole generation of movie-makers on the rise with the work be produced during the 70's and into the 80's
. He created iconic horror movie characters that we as a entire culture have been unable to surprise to this day and he set the standard for edgy mega-violence in the horror genre.
Here are our Top 5 Wes Craven Movies (we've leaving out the bad ones and only talking about the good ones, here....)
SWAMP THING (1982)
A major departure for Wes Craven from the edgy mega-violent exploitation/horror pictures he had previously made like Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing was based on the comic book creature created by the great Len Wein. The film received mostly positive reviews when it was released in 1982. Ray Wise, best known, in the role of "Leland Palmer" from the early 1990's television series Twin Peaks, played scientist Alec Holland who is secluded out in the southern swamps working on an experimental growth serum. When things go awry and Holland is almost murdered by the serum, he is mutated by it into a giant, muscle-bound Green-Giant rip-off who vowed to seek revenge. Also starring in the film is actress Adrienne Barbeau, who at the time of the film's release, was best known for character-actress work in the films of horror master John Carpenter. Swamp Thing doesn't have the edgy mega-violence that Craven had been known for, in fact, it was rather tame by 1982 conventions, even more so today, but what makes the film memorable is its oddness and weird characters such as Swamp Thing himself, but also madman Louis Jordan who plays Dr. Arcane and his henchmen who, one, he turns into a mutant midget pig-man. There are elements of The Island of Dr. Moreau here, but that isn't a bad thing, per say.
PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)
Wes Craven's People Under The Stairs
marks Wes's first entry into really light fare horror territory, and yet, the movie really has some wonderful moments. Whereas, Swamp Thing
is totally memorable for it's off-the-wall weirdness and man-made character distortions, People Under The Stairs
, at the end of the day, is really no different. The plot line features a little African-American boy who upon learning that his family is being evicted from their Los Angeles ghetto apartment building decides to visit his landlords only to discover things are really odd at their house. We're instantly creeped out inside of their house, and we understand this just by experiencing Craven's visual relay to us of the layout that there is something very dark, creepy, and gross going on inside. As it turns out, the landlords host an entire basement of hideously deformed kids who they have turned into cannibals. Overall, People Under The Stairs
is really a very weird movie, but is completely memorable because of the over-the-top character performances by a collection of great working character actors of the late '80s. Craven employs a young Ving Rhimes in a featured role as well as a young A. J. Langer, who a couple years later, would become well-known for her role of "Rayanne Graff" on My So-Called Life
. In addition, Craven casts the under-rated talents of Everitt McGill in the role of the creepy landlord, who in the film's finale gets suited up in a full BDSM Pulp Fiction
Gimp costume and goes around his entire house blasting holes in the wall with a shotgun. McGill not only shines in People Under The Stairs
in the role of "Daddy" but he comes to the film off the heels of completing work on television's Twin Peaks
as well as actress Wendy Robie, who, plays "Mommie" in Craven's film. Robie and McGill played a husband and wife on Twin Peaks
, but here, while we the audience think they're husband and wife, really, they're something else going on with them in People Under The Stairs
. It's just a gross movie, it really is.
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)
Written, edited, and directed by Wes Craven and produced by Sean S. Cunningham, the guy who invented Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th
, Last House
cemented Craven in popular culture as a master of horror. Yet, this horror didn't feature a sea monster or a giant ape climbing the site of the Empire State Building, this was potentially real horror--the stuff that nightmares are made out of. Last House on the Left
was a low-budget indie film made by Craven and Cunningham for a budget of $87,000 dollars and it was shot in New York City
and in Connecticut in 1971. The film was a major box office sucess and secured future ventures for both Craven and Cunningham in the years to come. Banned in some countries for its extreme violence and misogyny, Last House on the Left
is the story of two girls who travel into the city for a rock concert only to be kidnapped and raped, degraded, and killed at the hands of three sleazy psychotics on the loose. The movie is mega-violent, gross, twisted, perverted, sleazy and guaranteed to make you puke. When the film was released into theaters in 1972, a marketing campaign was set into motion for the advertisements for the movie which featured the phrase, "It's only a movie, It's only a movie, it's only a movie..." The 2006 remake of the movie might as well have aired on the Disney Channel though, geez. Avoid it like the city...
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Perhaps, if there is one movie that Wes Craven will always been known for it will be A Nightmare On Elm Street. With Elm Street, Craven created arguably the most iconic horror movie character of the last 50 years. While, generations of horror movie fans will always be loyal to Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, even the Creature from the Black Lagoon, it's Freddy Krueger, who will be forever cemented in the minds of generations to come. The film was an instant success at the box office and went on to make even more money landing smack in the middle of the VHS video store boom of the mid/late 1980's. The film would further earn loyal devotees through multiple-viewing of it on pay cable networks like HBO and Cinemax as well. Although Craven didn't make, but one of the sequels that followed (Wes Craven's New Nightmare, 1994), A Nightmare on Elm Street not only spawned a horror movie character icon, but also a movie franchise that is today, still being played around with in Hollywood.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
Arguably, the most violent exploitation/horror movie
of the '70s, Craven's The Hills Have Eyes
isn't just a genre picture, but a total masterpiece of film. The Hills Have Eyes
is about a family out on vacation together in a car and camper in the desert who upon breaking down are stranded in the middle of nowhere and are attacked by a family of mutant hill-dwelling cannibal psycho-killers. The film is one of the most violent and disturbing pieces of cinema still today, and it hasn't been out done to date. Craven attempted to follow-up The Hills Have Eyes
almost a decade later with a sequel, but, that propensity for mega-violence had left him, and while a sequel to the film likely seemed like a great idea (especially in a time of career slump), it ended up simply lampooning the original in many ways, resulting in Craven in the end, disowning it altogether.