Sunday Matinee: Wes Craven

sunday-matineeLegendary master of horror Wes Craven passed away last weekend at the age 76 from cancer.

The first movie that Craven directed was way back in 1972 with The Last House on the Left, his unofficial remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. The movie was extremely controversial where it was censored and banned in several countries but was a big hit in the U.S. Roger Ebert was one of the few critics that gave the movie a positive review.

The movie followed two young girls who travel to the city for a rock concert only to run into a group of fugitives who rape them, take them out into the woods, rape them some more and then horribly kill them. The criminals then end up at one of the girls’ parents house for the night where the parents discover what has happened to their daughter and get revenge. The movie was remade recently.

Craven’s next big horror film was the 1977 The Hills Have Eyes. Craven had to cut the film to get an R-rating and the original cut has been lost. A family is traveling and gets lost in the desert where a messed up “family” of mutated folk attack the traveling family. The film has gone on to cult status and it spawned a terrible sequel from Craven and more recently a decent remake and a remake sequel that Craven wrote.

Craven would go on to make several mediocre horror films, some made for TV, others for theatrical release. Stuff like Deadly Blessing, Chiller and Swamp Thing helped payed the bills. It wasn’t until 1984 that he made the movie that he would forever be remembered for. A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Everyone should be familiar with Craven’s most iconic monster, Freddy Kruger. One time child murderer, killed and burned alive by the angry parents of his victims, Freddy now attacks the children in their dreams. The movie would kick off a long franchise that ran for eight movies and one remake. The last film before the remake even crossed over with another successful franchise, Friday the 13th. The original Friday the 13th was directed by Craven’s buddy Sean Cunningham. Cunningham helped Craven make The Last House on the Left by producing the film.

After A Nightmare on Elm Street Craven would direct an episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and several episodes of The Twilight Zone before he would direct a couple of my favourite horror films. In 1988 Craven adapted The Serpent and the Rainbow, a non-fiction book about Haiti and pharmaceutical drugs and turned it into a horror thriller about trying to discover the drugs that make people into zombies (no not the flesh eating ghouls that inhabit current horror movies).

Bill Pullman is hired to discover the drug so his pharmaceutical company can make a new pain killer that could help with surgeries. He ends up running afoul with Zakes Mokae who first tries to scare Pullman off, then starts using black magic to stop him.

Craven would try another undead killer in Shocker but it was really another twist on the Freddy Kruger formula. 1991’s The People Under the Stairs I think is one of my favourite of Craven’s films.

In a poor predominately black neighbourhood, young Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams) has just had his 13th birthday. His mom is sick and needs surgery and on top all that the landlords are trying to evict them. Leroy (Ving Rhames) talks Fool into helping him and his partner rob the landlords, the Robeson’s. They get Fool to dress as a boy scout and case the house. Security is tight but strangely all the windows have locks on the outside of the house.

Once inside the house Fool discovers Alice, the young daughter who lives in terror of her “parents”. Mommy (Wendy Robie) and Daddy (Everett McGill) return home killing Leroy and forcing Fool to flee further into the house. The basement is full of discarded children who have gone feral and then there’s the Roach in the walls. Fool has to make strange friends if he wants to get out of the house and save Alice. The movie is fun kinetic tension as Fool has to out think and out run the deranged man and woman.

Wes Craven’s last big contribution to the horror genre was 1996’s Scream. The movie had a deranged killer making phone calls asking the victims horror movie questions before killing them. The film was a huge hit and spawned off into three sequels that Craven also directed and now a TV series. Craven would also make a couple more horror movies over the years like Curse, Red Eye and My Soul to Take with varying results. Still the legacy of horror that he leaves behind helped changed horror movies and he will be missed.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.