Wes Craven, the “Master of Horror”, has died at the age of 76, leaving behind an envious body of work that has both defined and re-shaped the horror genre.
Having made his directorial debut in 1976 with The Last House on the Left, Craven became best known for his work on slasher horror films such as The Nightmare on Elm Street before redefining the horror genre with his wildly successful Scream series, which has since spawned several sequels and a spinoff TV series executive produced by Craven.
Here are just five of the most defining films from Wes Craven’s extraordinary career.
The Last House on the Left
Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, itself based on the Swedish ballad Töres Döttrar i Wänge, Wes Craven’s directorial debut is a tough and bitter exploitation-horror that follows two suburban girls who are taken into the woods and tortured by a gang of sadistic escaped convicts.
Despite receiving heavy censure for its use of confrontational violence, the film was major box office success in America, with Stephen Chapin’s score, which juxtaposed nightmarish scenes with upbeat tunes in a suitably jarring fashion, a particular highlight.
The Hills Have Eyes
An eventual cult classic, which spawned a panned sequel that Craven himself later disowned and a 2007 reboot featuring a more supernatural bent, Craven’s first major film once again targets middle-American families as a suburban clan are set upon by a family of savages after their car breaks down in the Nevada desert.
Set against the harsh backdrop of Nevada’s unforgiving desert terrain, the film is both stylish and inventive, but is perhaps most notable for kicking off a game of intertextual references between Craven and Evil Dead-director Sam Raimi that lasted well into the late ‘80s.
Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, Craven’s first real foray into the world of science fiction tells the story of a pioneering scientist who is transformed into the titular reptilian monster when his lab is sabotaged by an evil paramilitary doctor.
Often seen as a failed attempt by Craven to show Hollywood studios that he could handle big budget movies, Swamp Thing eschews the director’s usual focus on the problems of family and society in favour of pulpy entertainment. It may not be perfect, but there’s a lot of fun to be found if you know where to look.
Nightmare on Elm Street
The film that introduced the world to one of its most iconic, terrifying monsters – no, not Johnny Depp – this truly nightmarish slasher horror serves as the perfect allegory for the trauma of adolescence in American society, pitting a group of socially anxious teens against Freddy Krueger, a horrifically scarred child murder who stalks his victims in their dreams.
This highly imaginative film is undoubtedly the best example of Craven toying with the boundaries between the imaginary and real, whilst also providing the requisite shocks to keep fans of the genre more than entertained.
The most meta horror film of all time? The first of Craven’s still-kicking Scream franchise is credited with reviving a horror genre that had been left, if not dead, then gasping for its last breaths by a string of direct-to-video duds by openly subverting the cliches the genre had become so reliant upon.
Starring Neve Campbell as a high school student who is targeted by a mysterious killer known as Ghostface, this fiendishly clever horror flick deftly mixes wry self-reference and ‘whodunnit’ mystery with gruesome chills and spills, resulting in Wes Craven’s most defining moment in an outstanding career of filmmaking.