Horror Legend Wes Craven’s 10 Greatest Films Source:

The filmmaking world lost a legend when horror mastermind Wes Craven sadly passed away August 30, 2015 at the age 0f 76, after a battle with brain cancer. Craven’s contributions to horror can’t be overstated, as the former pornography editor and writer not only created some of the most iconic characters and films in the genre, but also repeatedly reinvented himself as a defining filmmaker in whatever decade he found himself in (disturbing revenge thrillers in the 70s, teen slashers in the 80s, self-referential meta-commentary in the 90s). While Craven’s filmography is definitely filled with some stinkers, any horror purist will tell you that he is absolutely one of the greatest filmmakers to ever grace the darker side of cinema. Wes Craven had many influential films over the course of his 40-plus-year career, but these 10 stand out as his crowning achievements.

10. Swamp Thing (1982)

An adaptation of the comic book character of the same thing, 1982’s Swamp Thing is no doubt a hokey affair by today’s standards, filled with cheesy special effects and campy dialogue. That being said, Swamp Thing falls into the “so bad, it’s good” camp and is an enjoyable viewing experience that pays more than a passing homage to the science fiction films of the 1950s. Sure, it doesn’t reach the heights of Craven’s best work by any stretch of the imagination, but pulling off a great B-movie is a worthy accomplishment in its own right. Plus, it’s hard for horror fans accustomed to the genre’s liberal use of full-frontal nudity to do much better than the gorgeous Adrienne Barbeau, who bares all here. Source:

9. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Craven’s take on the zombie genre (decades before it overstayed its welcome) took a clever twist by focusing on real world zombie mythology and voodoo in Haiti. Starring Bill Pullman (the President from Independence Day), The Serpent and the Rainbow received mixed reviews upon release, but has emerged as one of Craven’s more undervalued gems in recent years. Unlike many of his more popular works, this film generates its scares primarily through a creepy, dreamlike atmosphere rather than laying on buckets of gore. The fact that the film’s plot is inspired by true events also helps up the creep factor considerably. Source:

8. Music Of The Heart (1999)

It took until 1999 for Wes Craven to direct a film outside of his horror wheelhouse and the result is actually much better than you would think. Music of the Heart is based on the true story of Roberta Guaspari (played by Meryl Streep), a Harlem schoolteacher who teaches the violin to troubled inner-city children. While it’s safe to assume that the film is yet another manipulative biopic designed to beat viewers over the head with inspirational messaging, Music of the Heart is actually heartfelt and emotionally honest and proves that Craven had an eye for character and storytelling; not just for gore. Music of the Heart is the only one of Craven’s films to receive Academy Award nominations, which is rather ironic given that it lies so far out of the director’s comfort zone. Source:

7. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

While the title of Wes Craven’s final outing in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise isn’t exactly brimming with originality, it’s completely justifiable. While numerous sequels to the original Nightmare were made, Craven was only responsible for the first film and had little involvement with the follow-ups. When Craven decided to return to the franchise in the mid-90s, the Nightmare brand had been tainted considerably by the ever-diminishing quality subsequent releases. Titling his return “New Nightmare” and stamping his name on the title was Craven’s way of signaling a return to form for the series and he definitely delivered in that regard. A clever inversion of the series’ mythos, New Nightmare began the meta-commentary fascination that Craven would ride to commercial success with Scream a few years later by casting Freddy Krueger as a fictional villain who invades the real world and the targets the cast and crew making a movie about him. Craven essentially had the first and last word when it came to this franchise, as the reboot from a few years back doesn’t hold a candle to New Nightmare and especially not the first film. Source:

6. Scream 2 (1997)

Craven directed four Scream films in total, but the later sequels are considerably inferior to the first two films (although Scream 4 is admittedly much better than Scream 3). Released only a year after the original, Scream 2 maintains the overall quality of the first film by turning the metafictional commentary attention onto to the nature of sequels in general. Plus, pretty much all of the first film’s principal cast returned, which is a rare occurrence in horror films. While Scream 2 satirizes the frequency with which great films receive bad sequels, it definitely doesn’t fall victim to this fate and stands as one of the better sophomore efforts made in any film genre. Source:

5. Red Eye (2005)

While Craven’s output started to slow down in the 2000s as he got older, the veteran director still managed to make one of his better films in the twilight of his career with 2005’s Red Eye. A psychological thriller set predominately in the cramped interior of an airplane, Red Eye stars Rachel McAdams as a hotel manager who is blackmailed and threatened by the man sitting beside her, a never-creepier Cillian Murphy. Red Eye is simply a taut, well-crafted thriller that showcases Craven’s eye for great suspenseful filmmaking. It’s a shame that he didn’t get to direct anything quite on par with it again prior to his death. Source:

4. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Easily one of the most grotesquely disturbing films in Craven’s catalog, The Hills Have Eyes is an influential film from the late 70s that preys on fears of the era such as nuclear fallout and the breakdown of the family dynamic. Like much of Craven’s early work, The Hills Have Eyes was considered incredibly violent and graphic for its time. While the acting leaves a considerable amount to be desired, the central conflict between two very different (or are they?) families is absolutely riveting. The Hills Have Eyes is now considered a cult classic and a very competent remake was made in 2006 that did justice to the original by also shocking audiences with its brutal subject matter. Source:

3. The Last House On The Left (1972)

Wes Craven’s first feature film is widely considered to be one of the most disturbing horror films ever made, which is quite the accomplishment for a first time director. A rape/revenge flick in every sense of the word, The Last House On The Left is easily Craven’s most exploitative work, an extremely difficult-to-watch affair that includes many graphic scenes of rape and violence against young women. That being said, the film has earned its cult status thanks to its raw style and surprising thematic resonance, as Craven set out to make a film that reflected the time it was made in and the depravity human beings are capable of. Shockingly, the film was originally conceived as being much more “hardcore” and was actually softened in order to secure a release. We can only wonder as to what a hardcore version of Last House on the Left would have looked like, considering how controversial the film already is. Source:

2. Scream (1996)

As already discussed, Craven began his meta-textual streak with New Nightmare, but it wasn’t until Scream that he was able to deliver a commercially-successful stab (pun intended) at the new subgenre and essentially redefine how horror films would be made for years to come. A slasher flick tailor-made for the more sophisticated cinephiles of Generation X, Scream did the unthinkable by deconstructing genre cliches and tropes and using them as fodder for the film’s horror-obsessed killer. Thanks to a smart script by Kevin Williamson, who would collaborate with Craven on every one of Scream‘s sequels, Craven was able to inject new life into an increasingly-stale genre while helping jump-start the careers of actors such as Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Matthew Lillard. Of course, self-aware deconstructions have been taken to their logical extreme in recent years (most notably with 2012’s Cabin in the Woods), but Wes Craven did it first and did it best with Scream. Source:

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Easily Wes Craven’s most iconic film, A Nightmare on Elm Street also happens to be his best. Arguably the best slasher flick ever made, the film took the familiar “killer stalking young teens” to new, exciting places by having its killer stalk his prey in their dreams. Many fans recognize this as Johnny Depp’s film debut, but Nightmare‘s legacy goes so far beyond introducing the world to the future Jack Sparrow. Freddy Krueger is a terrifyingly original villain and a clever reinterpretation of the boogeyman, and the late-film twist is something of a game-changer that re-frames the film as a “children paying for the sins of their parents” tale. Make no mistake: A Nightmare on Elm Street is Wes Craven’s magnum opus and the horror genre would be a much emptier place without his creation. Source:


Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)