Wes Craven: My 10 Favorite Movies from a Master of Horror

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Wes Craven, one of the biggest and most respected directors in the horror genre, passed away Sunday after a battle with brain cancer. After briefly teaching English at college, Craven got into the movie industry and never looked back. He introduced iconic horror characters and reinvented the genre when it was at its lowest. And no matter what, he put his everything into any film that was associated with his name. Sure, he had some bombs. But in a career that lasted over 40 years, not everything will be a hit. And no matter if he was the director, producer, or writer, Craven added his own unique touch to his work and left a mark that will never be forgotten. He was even great in his cameo roles as himself in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Craven was a true genius that the film industry, and the world, will miss. He was simply a one of a kind. And with that said, here is my list of Wes Craven’s 10 best works.

10. Wishmaster

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Craven served as the executive producer for this 1997 horror film that was directed by Robert Kurtzman. Wishmaster focused on an ancient jewel that unleashes an evil djinn who seeks to capture the soul of a woman and then open a portal that would allow other djinns to roam the Earth. The movie was not a huge success, but I personally enjoyed it and thought it was a unique and original horror movie. The film spawned three sequels, but the original is the only one to carry Craven’s name in the credits.

9. Swamp Thing

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Before there was a boom of comic book movies, Wes Craven directed this 1982 film based on the DC Comics character. Swamp Thing starred Ray Wise as scientist Alec Holland, who transforms into the title character (played by Dick Durock) after his lab is destroyed by the evil Dr. Anton Arcane. The Swamp Thing then goes after Arcane and tries to stop him from taking over the project he was working on. Adrienne Barbeau, a cult actress of the time, also stars in the film opposite the creature. The movie wasn’t great by any means, but was one of the first comic book movies made and still holds up pretty good to this day. Swamp Thing also displayed just what a young Wes Craven could, and would, do as a film director.

8. Red Eye

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Red Eye is an often-forgotten thriller from Craven that was released in 2005. It starred Rachel McAdams as a hotel manager who gets caught in the middle of an assassination plot on a red-eye flight by a terrorist, played to perfection by Cillian Murphy. Craven left the horror genre, but kept the tension tight in this underrated film and led a great cast to make a pretty good film that made the viewer sit on the edge of their seats the whole time.

7. Shocker

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This 1989 horror film starred Mitch Pileggi, known best as Walter Skinner on The X-Files, as Horace Pinker, a man convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of multiple people. But after he is electrocuted in the electric chair, he does not die, but instead becomes pure electricity. He continues his murderous ways afterwards until his “electric spirit” is captured, ending his reign of terror. Craven and Universal Pictures had hoped Shocker would launch a new franchise, but initial reception was poor. The movie did however find a larger audience after it was released on home video.

6. The Serpent and the Rainbow

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This 1988 horror film was loosely based on a book by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, who wrote about his experiences in Haiti researching the story of Clairvius Narcisse, a man who reportedly was turned into a zombie from the use of Haitian voodoo. The movie starred Bill Pullman as a ethnobotanist and anthropologist who is sent to Haiti by a company to investigate the Haitian drug that is supposedly responsible for the zombie transformations.

5. The People Under the Stairs

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The People Under the Stairs is a 1991 urban horror film that revolves around a group of people that break into a house in the ghettos of Los Angeles and are evenly attacked by the brother and sister that own the house. They realize that they can’t leave the house and have to try to survive while fighting of the two owners and their “children” that live under the stairs. Craven mixes in elements of comedy that blend perfectly into this unique movie, which was also written by Craven.

4. The Hills Have Eyes

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This 1977 film focuses on a family that becomes stranded in the Nevada desert while traveling on vacation and becomes the target of a family of deranged savages. The Hills Have Eyes is a great, original film that touched on the basic fears of being in an unknown environment. Craven directed a sequel eight years later and then was the executive producer on a remake and its sequel in 2006 and 2007, but none of these films matched the primal fear that the original instilled in its audience.

3. The Last House on the Left

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This 1972 exploitation-horror classic was directed by Craven and produced by Friday the 13th‘s Sean S. Cunningham. It told the basic story of two young girls who get abducted on their way to a concert. They are kidnapped and then beaten and raped by a gang of thugs and then eventually killed. The gang then go to a nearby house and stay overnight but the owners of the house slowly realize they are that this gang is responsible for their daughter going missing. They decide to exact revenge on the gang and kill them all off one by one. The rape/revenge horror drew controversy upon its release but built a cult reputation due to the home video boom of the 1980s and 1990s. A remake was made in 2009 that Craven executive produced.

2. Scream

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Scream may be Craven’s most influential and important film. The 1996 slasher film about a group of kids killed off one by one came out in a time when the horror genre was at its lowest. The slasher characters of the 1980s were getting stale and not drawing money at the box office like they previously had. So Craven took everything that he knew about the horror genre and satirized the clichés of horror films. It was a unique film with characters that pointed out the events of previous horror films and intertwined that movie knowledge into the story of this film. The movie was a success and spawned three sequels, all directed by Craven, and a TV series that Craven served as an executive producer on. This film is also the first of a long line of teen slashers like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, that were released in the 1990s Not to mention that without Scream, there probably wouldn’t be the Scary Movie franchise, which was a comedic parody of the Scream movies and others like it.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

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Craven’s masterpiece is the 1984 horror film that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, one of horror’s most iconic villains. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, the kids on the titular street are all suffering . They are being attacked by a burnt man wearing a striped sweater, a fedora, and a glove with razorblade claws on it. After a few of the kids die mysteriously in their sleep, Nancy, one of the kids, searches deeper into the origins of this man and finds out that he was burnt alive by the parents of their town and has returned to kill the children of his killers. The film starred Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, the leading lady that would face-off with Freddy more than once, a young Johnny Depp in his feature film debut, and Robert Englund as the iconic Freddy. The film would go on to spawn a franchise with seven sequels, a remake, a crossover film with Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series, a television series, and countless collector’s items for fans to purchase. There is also another remake in development right now. And while Craven was not involved with all of the films, he created a character in Freddy Krueger that has become a household name and will live on forever. And a movie that is easily one of the best in the horror genre.

RIP Wes Craven. Thank you. You will be missed.

Daryl Karpinski Jr.

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