Written by Patti Pauley
Hard to fathom that it’s been two years since the news that Wes Craven had passed away, shook us to the very core. The father of Freddy and his constant reinventing of the genre to keep it fresh and exciting was a massive loss to the fans and people of the horror industry. Even sitting here writing this now, I still can’t process that the man who introduced me to one of my favorite slashers is truly gone from this Earth and that we will never see another film from the brilliant mind of a true visionary in the genre.
Today would have been Wes Craven’s 78th birthday and on this day that damn well should be declared a national holiday, it sort of already is unofficially for us horror fans, as most of us that have the privilege of a day off today, will be spending the next 24 hours revisiting some of Wes’ best films. And oh man, that truly is an all day ordeal; hell, you’d have to have a few days clear to revisit some of Craven’s finest. However, if you’re looking for the cream of the crop these five Wes Craven movies are the ones to pull from your massive horror collection today in honor of the man who re-invented the horror game time, and time again.
5. The People Under the Stairs
Wes’ 1991 The People Under the Stairs is best described as the perfect American as apple pie nightmare with a side of Twin Peaks. The latter mostly due to the psycho Mommy and Daddy pair (Wendy Robie, Everett McGill) in People also played as husband and wife in the Lynch Primetime dark drama series. The duo’s chemistry is ominously brilliant and Craven made the perfect choice in casting this on-screen couple together again as a batshit crazy brother-and-sister act that has an army of mutilated and abused children living in the basement.
Writer and director Craven formed the idea of The People Under the Stairs from both a dream the icon had and also by a news article he read about a seemingly respectable family who had kept their children locked up their entire lives. The story in itself is both horrific and dramatic with a real tale of terror inside the chaotic paradox of fake smiles from the Robesons’. An extraordinary telling of the real issue of child abuse in America, with a not so hidden moral of the classic saying, “Things aren’t always what they seem.”
Believe it or not, I know quite a few people, and you might as well, who haven’t seen this gem and that should be remedied immediately. No better time than today people!
4. The Serpent and the Rainbow
Of all of the wonderful index of film from Wes Craven, it seems odd to me that The Serpent and the Rainbow often gets the shaft. Not today friends, not today. Released in 1988, the black voodoo magic movie starring President Alien ass-kicker Bill Pullman, was inspired by the novel from Harvard scientist Wade Davis who dug deep into the culture of Haiti’s rich history of voodoo. The movie slowly burns with magnificent detail about the voodoo culture, so much so there really hasn’t been anything since quite like it that, in my humble opinion, tops this psychological thriller as far as voodoo movies go.
The imagery is entertainingly gruesome and my skin crawls every time I revisit this Craven beast. If you’ve yet to see this gem, be warned claustrophobes. There’s a coffin scene you won’t soon forget for years to come.
3. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
The original Hills Have Eyes film from ’77 is the perfect example of a hicksploitation horror movie done
well; excuse me, PERFECT. A family on their way to California lives every road tripper’s worst nightmare and still to this day, I can’t take a road trip through the Nevada desert without thinking cannibals are just waiting for the opportune moment to murder me and my entire family. Seriously, it does wonders for my anxiety. And for the record, I live in Satan’s armpit (Nevada). Thanks Craven for the nightmares…
The Hills Have Eyes is unrelentless, brutal, and isn’t afraid to kill off characters you would expect to actually survive to the end. Such violent brutailty in a movie can be sworn off by some as “torture porn”, but Hills is anything but and cleverly executes instilling the fear into viewers while remaining entertaining as it really feels like we’re watching a true traveler’s nightmare unravel before our very eyes.
It has been stated numerous time Wes reinvented the horror game with the release of Scream in 1996, and never has a truer statement been uttered. Just over twenty years after the movie’s initial theater run, I can still remember my teenage-self sitting amongst a packed theater of enthusiastic horror fans patiently waiting on what my young mind conceived at the time, just another fun horror movie. However, I had no idea what I was witnessing at the time was the rebirth of the slasher genre in the most innovative way possible. A twisted spin on the classic “who done it” mystery thriller turned straight horror was and is ’till this day, a brilliant move on the master of horror’s part to bring horror back to the mainstream audiences that inspired a slew of horror films immediately after such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend. Scream also inspired to breathe life into other slasher franchises like Halloween with the release of Halloween: H2O in ’98. So whether you’re a fan of Ghostface or not, you have to respect what it did for the genre.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Of course, we can’t talk Wes Craven without mentioning the movie that literally saved New Line Cinema from the clutches of bankruptcy, and birthed one of the biggest iconic genre slashers of the 20th century, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The Freddy legacy is more than just a film and a franchise. It’s a loyal cult, and even looking at other franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween, they pale in comparison to the sort of fan following Freddy has built throughout the years. Heather Lankenkamp said it best in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, another notable mention that should damn well be watched today:
1984’s Nightmare film also helped launch the career of A list actor Johnny Depp as he made his screen debut as Nancy’s (Heather Langenkamp) sensitive jock boyfriend who lived across the street; and who also gave us one of the memorable Nightmare scenes not only in the series’ run, but in pretty much all of horror history with that gory as hell bloody bed shot. Also, as many know by now, the idea for the film and Freddy was inspired by true events.
Craven, after reading an L.A. Times article about a family that had survived the Killing Fields in Cambodia, was the initial birth of Freddy. The family made it to the United States, but the young boy in the family still found himself haunted by terrible nightmares while he slept. Craven in an older interview with Vulture, explained in greater detail the origins of Krueger:
“He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Today, on what would have been Wes Craven’s 78th birthday, let’s all tip our filthy fedoras to a man who’s legacy will live on throughout the horror community for eons to come thanks to his many contributions, and his imprint on the genre. How will you be honoring Craven’s legacy today? Let us know in the comments!