Wes Craven is one of the major maestros of the horror genre, having provided it with two of its most lucrative franchises (Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream) as well as some grindhouse classics (The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes) and underrated, innovative gems (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, The Serpent and the Rainbow). He’s had a wide range of movies and some misses as well as some hits, but it has all made for a pretty interesting career.
Shocker may not be one of Craven’s most well put together movies, at least not from a story standpoint, but it is a very entertaining movie. It seemed to be done as an attempt by Craven to create a new horror antihero like he had done for A Nightmare on Elm Street—a Freddy Krueger for the 1990’s. It didn’t ultimately work, and Horace Pinker is not nearly as well remembered as even Krug. He did find that sort of success a few years later with Scream, proving you can’t make a slasher franchise happen by forcing it. But Shocker is an entertaining enough movie on its own. There are a lot of weird plot points and mixed acting, but it’s a pretty fun and imaginative body-hopping movie if nothing else.
9. SWAMP THING-
Swamp Thing is one of the most brilliant, subversive and scary comic books ever written. But this movie was made in a time when those things would never even be discussed as things to be included in a comic book movie. This was a time when comic book movies were meant to be light, pulpy entertainment and nothing else. They were supposed to be campy. Craven made Swamp Thing specifically for those times and so this is about as light and fluffy a Swamp Thing as you could get. Still, because it’s Craven, he manages to get a surprising amount of depth and a genuine performance form the mossy title character.
8. THE HILLS HAVE EYES-
Known as one of Craven’s more classic movies, The Hills Have Eyes isn’t as innovative as some of the movies that followed it or even the film that directly preceded it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good film, because it is. The plot is very simple but very effective. Rich, white people stop in the middle of nowhere. In the desert their RV breaks down and there is nowhere that they can go. But there are people lurking in the rocky hills. Mountain dwellers who will eat whatever they can get their hands on. Only a few of them seem to love what they do, while others revel in it. It’s gritty and gory and great grindhouse but much of it does seem like borrowed plot points from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Craven’s Last House on the Left.
7. THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS-
Wes Craven’s version of Rich Man, Poor Man is memorable for its sheer lunacy if nothing else. But it also a solid story, if not one dripping with insanity. A rich, white incestuous brother and sister own a ghetto in which all of the residents are about to be evicted. Young African-American Fool is part of a plan to rob the landlords of their infinite riches, but gets trapped in the house and sees how psychotic, crazy and even deadly the landlords are. The house is also populated with their abandoned “children” who have been mutilated and left to starve in the basement because they were not “clean” enough to live like human beings.
6. SCREAM 2-
A solid follow-up, Scream 2 does for sequels what Scream did for horror movies, which turns out to be the most perfect direction this sequel could go in. Like the first, it never lets the self-awareness overtake the story. There’s another, very late-90’s angle to the movie in which the killer (one of them, anyway), aware of the generation he is a part of decides that he is going to blame the movies for his action and plans to be caught so that he can have a widely televised trial. Which, in the age of OJ, is easy to picture.
5. THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW-
Simply one of the best movies Craven ever made, The Serpent and the Rainbow is an innovative and surprisingly realistic zombie film that traces the genre back to its voodoo roots. It’s about the supposedly real chemical mixture that hollows people out and turns them into mindless slave labor. It’s also a political thriller and these sequences (particularly a torture sequence involving Bill Pullman’s character) are some of the most horrifying in the film. It’s a shame more people aren’t aware of this one, because it’s really expertly made.
4. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT-
The Last House on the Left is one of the best that exploitation cinema has to offer and a horror director couldn’t ask for a better debut feature. A couple of teenage girls are kidnapped, dragged into the woods, raped and murders. The killers’ car breaks down. They are forced to take refuge at the closest house, which happens to be the home of one of the girls they just murdered. Her parents slowly begin to piece together what has happened. They take vengeance out on the murderers that is as violent as what these people did to their daughter. It was the more realistic side of vengeance movies like Death Wish, in which violent revenge was glorified. Last House on the Left shows that they’ve taken their revenge, but it doesn’t bring their daughter back to life, and now they have blood on their hands they’ll never be able to wipe off.
3. WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE-
It’s not Nightmare on Elm Street 7. At no point does it even feel like the seventh entry in a franchise which virtually no sixth sequel (except maybe Halloween H20 can say). It feels fresh. It’s insanely smart and is both a respectful homage and a commentary on the movie that spawned it. It’s a commentary on horror and on storytelling in general. It presents the notion that Freddy is the latest in a long line of horror figures dating all the way back through Hansel and Gretel to the earliest stories in mythology, the epitome of evil itself. Many actors from the original films play versions of themselves. The whole thing could have turned to self-serving comedy, but it’s very serious and very effective. Freddy gets a bit of a redesign here, harkening back a little more toward Nosferatu and it’s one of Krueger’s scariest appearances and the only time Robert Englund is truly unrecognizable under the makeup.
In 1996, Scream revived the horror genre and once again made it interesting to mainstream audiences. Which is ironic, because the movie was actually made for the hardcore audience and those utterly familiar with horror movies. It sort of focused on the fact that you can comment on the movie all you want, you can shout at the characters what to do, but if actually faced with the same situation, your reactions might not be all too different. It’s a movie that remains relevant but is slightly dated at the same time by the fact that it is not at all a movie that could have been made in the post-Columbine era. If the release was pushed back just a few more years, there would be no Scream at all. And it has had so much influence in the years since its release, that it’s actually pretty hard to imagine where the genre would be without it.
1. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET-
The concept is perfect. A killer that can stalk you in your dreams and kill you for real. You can’t escape him. Nobody can avoid sleeping forever. Just that simple concept and the film is terrifying already. Then you take into account that there are great, sincere teenage characters. A heroine who is willing to confront her worst fears head-on, who is willing to fight for her survival more than any other “final girl” we had seen in horror films up until that point. Then you have the backstory, that the dream-stalking boogeyman was once a very real child murderer who was trapped and killed by the angry parents of the children he murdered. And that’s what’s really at the core of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s the sins of the parents coming back to haunt their children. Up until maybe the very, very end, everything works. All these elements come together just right to create one of the best horror movies ever made.