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My 5 Favourite Wes Craven Films



(Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in October 2014. Wes Craven passed away on August 30, 2015.)

American horror master, Wes Craven, is best known for being responsible for sending millions of viewers to bed with something to be afraid of: a disfigured child molester hell-bent on revenge that can attack you in your dreams. He created not just one, but two incredibly successful teen horror movie franchises and two undeniably iconic movie villains. But will he ultimately be remembered for being one of the most inconsistent American directors working today? After all, Craven has gone from creating the successful A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the oddly fascinating THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, to movie bombs like the horror comedy VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN or that terrible werewolf movie with Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, CURSED. Or how about being possibly one of the most self-referential film makers of all time?

Any way you critique his career, there is no denying that Wes Craven has had a significant impact not only on the genre as a whole (more on that later) but, not surprisingly, on the psyche of his audience goers from teens to adults. Forgiving the slumps in his career, he does have a rather interesting collection of great films to his credit and those films are currently being showcased at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, as part of the series, WES CRAVEN: DREAMS, SCREAMS AND NIGHTMARES. Being a horror fanatic, narrowing down a top 5 of his best should have been an easy task, but the truth of the matter is that he has created more films that I’ve hated than I’ve just barely liked. I’m not denying the impact of such films as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (and it’s now famous “it’s only a film, it’s only a film, it’s only a film…” poster tagline), or the demented desert killers in THE HILLS HAVE EYES, but what I am saying is that his debut feature may have been shocking at the time, but now it just watches as rather slapstick and laughable, and there are better exploitation films out there.

So, it was a tough one, but here are my five favourite Wes Craven films.



Two years after his venture into the porn industry (yes, he directed a very pornographic film called ANGELA THE FIREWORKS WOMAN, that stays classy by using Pachelbel’s Canon during it’s sex scenes) he made a brutally violent and unrelenting little film called THE HILLS HAVE EYES. A vacationing family on a road trip to California stops in a gas station in the desert where an old man tells them to stay on the main road (sound familiar?) and get out of the area before night. Being stubborn, Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) takes an alternate route that causes their car to crash and break down. Stuck in the middle of a nuclear testing site, the family must survive the desert night that’s filled not only with rattlesnakes, spiders and coyotes, but a bizarro family of cannibals.

This homage to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is just as violent and over the top, but not nearly as gruesome. It takes a good 45 minutes for the action to finally get going, but when it does, man, Craven doesn’t let you go. Killing a mother in front of her infant? Oh, and that burn victim is pretty nasty too. Social commentary on nuclear testing? I think so. It also stars Dee Wallace which is reason enough to like it.



Sandwiched in-between the (terrible) “urban fairytale” THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS and the unmentionable VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, Craven directed one sequel to his original film. With no opening credits, NEW NIGHTMARE aims to confuse its audience with its meta approach: are we watching a documentary or a new Freddy Kruger movie? Starring Heather Langenkamp (Nancy form the original Nightmare movie), Robert Englund and Wes Craven himself, NEW NIGHTMARE focuses on those who created the original movie and brings the villain off the screen and into their lives. The sequels that followed the original were terrifying, yes, but there was also this air of camp to Freddy, and unhappy with the direction the character was being taken in, Craven aimed to bring him back to the level of horrifying he originally envisioned. This is one of Cravens earliest examples of his self-referencing nature with far too many references to count, but the one that matters the most?


#3 … SCREAM 4 (2011)


10 years after SCREAM 3, Craven returned to the franchise and created the best sequel in the series. SCREAM 2 did a great job of continuing the storyline form part 1 in the most ingenious way, and part 3 was the weakest of the series. But with SCREAM 4, Craven showed his audience that he really did have respect for both his characters and us horror fans by delivering a formula that, however tired as it may be, it is what earned our love in the first place. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her hometown as her book tour is coming to a close. Woodsboro has been rather dull since she left, but upon her return she finds that a killer is offing high school students once again, and bands together with Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) to find out who is responsible, and of course, why. With a full cast of amazing actors like Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Aimee Teegarden and Alison Brie, I often wonder if I enjoy this one better than the original.

The only thing I ponder more about Craven’s films than if SCREAM 4 is a better movie than SCREAM is whether SCREAM is a better movie than A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. So, these two are equally tied.



Ah yes, the original that started it all and lead to Craven’s eventual own reimagining of this small town terror tale. Girl next door, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is being terrorized by her nightmares. Unable to sleep and wrought with fear that something bad is going to happen, she turns to her friends for help. But when her friends begin to die one by one in their sleep, and the adults in her life shrug off her fears and warnings of a man named Freddy Kruger, she has to fight back against her dreams and figure out who exactly this man with the knives for fingers truly is.

Craven’s iconic horror villain and tale of revenge turned the genre on its head. Where we had movies like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN all getting the attention of teens and horror fans everywhere, Craven’s new film did something completely different: our dreams were no longer safe. Freddy Kruger was a character that actually had personality, he wasn’t simply a masked killer silently stalking the dark woods or abandoned houses; he actually spoke to his victims and we the audience began to learn things about him. A murdered child molester out for revenge on those who killed him buy attacking their kids in their sleep was a scary enough concept as it was, but since Freddy was invading their dreams, anything was a possibility and this allowed for the surreal nature of the film. Every kid already had a reason to be scared of falling asleep, but Craven made sure that reason was now Freddy Kruger, and to this day I still find some of those inventive death sequences terrifying.

#1 … SCREAM (1996)


Ushering in a new wave of 90’s teen horror and spawning numerous rip-offs (I’m looking at you I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER), SCREAM is one of the most intelligent modern horror films of all time. It took everything we knew about the genre and laid it out in front of us, but then so skillfully twisted what we thought we knew about plot devices and tropes that the whole genius of this film was that we never really were able to guess who the killer was. SCREAM is essentially a modern reworking of NIGHTMARE, but instead of a comment on the denial of problems like molestation, murder and alcoholism, Craven takes a look at a whole generation of teens that have been affected or influenced by a genre he helped shape. What if a kid growing up watching scary movies turned out to be a serial killer? Would the movies actually turn that child into a killer or would society blame the movies?

From the tense and violent 12 minute opening scene where Craven kills off a major star (PSYCHO reference, or just a reference to killing off a blonde first, just like in NIGHTMARE?) the movie goes on to make numerous genre references, including the bashing of the NIGHTMARE franchise, and casting Craven himself as the highschool janitor in a green and red sweater named Fred. Neve Campbell is the perfect girl-next-door type Sydney (sounds close to Nancy, doesn’t it?) and Skeet Ulrich as the boyfriend bears an odd resemblance to a young Johnny Depp, who starred as Nancy’s boyfriend back in 1984. The SCREAM franchise pushed the boundaries by showing us that any character at any time could (and probably would) die. Regardless, it always kept you guessing along the way. The final scene, a 42 minute party, is brilliantly directed and written, having all the scares and humour us horror fans want in a movie, plus just the right amount of blood. It’s the perfect 90’s teen horror flick and still remains just as fun to watch today as it did when I was 14 and my dad took me to see it in the theatre.

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