Friday, September 4, 2015

Top 5 Wes Craven Movies

Wes Craven was undoubtedly one of the most legendary creators ever to make his mark on the horror genre.  This amazing director gave us two of the biggest and baddest franchises in that realm and he was also directly responsible for a number of fright flicks that will be cherished for years to come.  Anyone who lived through the 80s (quite possibly the greatest decade ever) is well aware of this, and Craven was still making waves when grunge hit the scene--and beyond!  I hope you enjoy this tribute to a true master's work, a Top 5 where I discuss my favorite offerings from the one and only Wes Craven.

#5) Red Eye (2005)

Craven is best known for movies about things that go bump in the night, but this tense thriller is one of his coolest features.  It doesn't hurt that the leads are Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams, two top-notch performers who made the most of an exciting script.  Murphy is menacing and manipulative as the villain, while McAdams makes for a gutsy heroine who is intelligent and surprisingly tough.  Most of the film concerns these two playing a nice game of cat-and-mouse while seated beside one another on a red eye flight, but the picture never suffers from the sort of strain that often undermines tales that unfold in a compact environment.  Red Eye is clever and inventive from start to finish and it is bolstered by a nifty score courtesy of Marco Beltrami.  For his part, the director deftly explores his primary characters and the frightening situation that pits them against one another while keeping his foot on the pedal and constantly ratcheting up the tension until the gripping finale.  Red Eye was a bit of a departure for this horror maestro, but he did a fine job with it and I think it is worthy of the #5 spot on this list.  As we move forward, we'll turn our attention to the scary movies that Wes Craven is best known for, but this underrated flight into suspense from 2005 was surely a worthy addition to his legacy.

Craven does a fine job as director, but perhaps the biggest strengths of
Red Eye
are Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams as the stars of the picture.
. . .

#4) The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

In 1977, Craven gave us The Hills Have Eyes, a horrific voyage into violence and terror.  The film concerns a fairly typical family on vacation who take a little detour into the California desert.  Yes, there's an old man who warns them of danger, telling them to stay on the main road.  Yes, they wind up stranded in an eerie expanse of rock and sand where cannibalistic savages lurk.  The sun sets and bloody horror ensues.  Craven is working with a strong script (he wrote it) and he does a great job with the mood and the atmosphere.  Additionally, though Dee Wallace and Michael Berryman are present in early roles, most of the cast consisted of unknowns, and the director was still able to wring sound performances out of them.  The Hills Have Eyes is exceptionally violent, and the family at the center of the picture is brutalized to such an extent that they damn near become monsters themselves.  Those who survive this grisly shocker will emerge with bloody hands and broken minds, and the carnage is laced with quality scares.  It's a simple picture, to be honest, and this film surely came at a time when Wes wasn't working with anything resembling a big budget.  However, the end result is a thrilling and disgusting tale of death and destruction that resonated with audiences.  In fact, The Hills Have Eyes was successful enough to generate a less potent sequel, and a modern reboot took the brutality to new heights and generated a less potent sequel of its own.  It's not classic Craven; he was still earning his stripes at this point, but it is one hell of a horror film and it clearly signified that the director was going to be a tremendous presence in the genre.

Savage and terrifying, The Hills Have Eyes is an ominous chiller
that features a wealth of violence and a handful of big scares.
. . .

#3) The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Here's a fantastic chiller from Craven that is often overlooked despite the fact that it is one of his most ambitious films.  Starring Bill Pullman, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a wicked fright flick that concerns an anthropologist who travels to Haiti to investigate claims that a man has been raised from the dead.  Arriving during a revolution, Pullman's Dennis Alan soon finds himself embroiled in a sinister saga that is ripe with political intrigue and black magic.  Zakes Mokae excels as the villain of the piece, a fiendish madman who wields both the powers of tyranny and voodoo.  The Serpent and the Rainbow is loosely based on a book by botanist Wade Davis (a Harvard graduate) and is thereby billed as being "based on a true story" despite the fact that it doesn't adhere closely to the original text and the book itself was heavily criticized by the scientific community upon release.  Regardless, the picture is filled with spooky imagery and boasts a number of sequences that are guaranteed to make audiences squirm.  Perhaps the most gripping scene in The Serpent and the Rainbow is alluded to in the poster and most of the marketing materials for the picture, and Craven doesn't disappoint when it's time to bury Bill Pullman alive.  In addition to being scary and provocative, this one is surprisingly exciting and moves at a faster pace than many horror films.  The top two spots on my list are reserved for a pair of Craven's grandest successes, films that every fan of the genre will recognize, but the #3 spot belongs to this creepy little trip to Haiti.  Warning: the next time you drop in, don't ask the local witch doctor to show you how to make a zombie.

In The Serpent and the Rainbow, Bill Pullman plays
an anthropologist who has the time of his life in Haiti.
. . .

#2) Scream (1996)

Now, there are some who believe that Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson revolutionized the horror genre with this witty slasher flick in 1996.  I'm not one of those people, but I love Scream nonetheless.  I dig the entire series, to be honest, and I do love the way the characters in these films are so aware of the standard tropes that so many pictures in this vein employ.  Smart, edgy, and funny?  Yes.  Riveting and bloody?  Sure thing.  Revolutionary?  Well, I don't know about all that, but I'm still a big fan and I'm putting the first (and best) entry in this series at #2 on my list.  The cast is stellar and Williamson gave Craven one of the coolest scripts that he would ever get to work with.  The first scene is one of the finest openings in the history of the genre and the picture never loses steam.  Scream is ripe with gory kills, big laughs, and shocking twists.  What's not to love?  Neve Campbell offered up a performance worthy of Jamie Lee Curtis and would continue to thrill audiences in all four of the movies this franchise has produced to date.  David Arquette and Courtney Cox also excelled in what may be their finest big-screen roles, and the same case could probably be made for both Mathew Lillard and Skeet Ulrich if Lillard wasn't born to play Shaggy.  Scream isn't Craven's masterpiece (I imagine all of you who are reading this know where I'm going at #1), but it is one of the best slasher flicks of all time.  While it may not be the best slasher flick out there, I'm pretty sure that it is probably the most entertaining slasher flick of them all, and it is surely a fine example of a fantastic director producing a great film in a genre that he cherished.  

Anyone who enjoys a good horror film (and slasher flicks in particular)
should have a bloody good time with Wes Craven's Scream.
. . .

#1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

True story: the first A Nightmare on Elm Street is a genuine horror classic.  A first-rate slasher flick needs a fearsome villain, right?  Freddy is a demented icon, though later pictures would turn him into a bit of a clown.  That doesn't matter, for A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't require Freddy to play for laughs the whole time--he cracks wise here and there, but there's no doubt that he's out for blood.  The Freddy that we meet in this landmark venture is vicious and creepy in equal measures.  A classic horror flick needs an epic score, right?  We've got one here.  What about some grisly kills?  The wicked mayhem that unfolds in this one is very creative and very, very bloody.  We also need a good cast and a strong heroine (dudes can apply for the gig, but it typically works better when we give this part to a chick in slasher fare) to round things out, and once again, A Nightmare on Elm Street is firing on all cylinders.  Hey look, it's John Saxon!  We just raised the ante in a big way, folks.  Yes, Wes Craven was at his very best as a director when he was at the helm for this smash hit, a picture that continues to scare audiences worldwide.  It remains one of the best slasher flicks of all time--if not the very best.  Only Halloween could present a legitimate challenge on that front.  In fact, A Nightmare on Elm Street is so twisted and so expertly plotted that some might chafe at the fact that I've labelled it a slasher flick, but I love slasher flicks so I don't consider that to be a slight.  Regardless, it's a big winner, and I have no problem giving this motion picture the highest of grades.  Wes Craven was a great director and the horror genre won't be the same without him.  A Nightmare on Elm Street was his finest motion picture, and it's a movie that will continue to haunt audiences for years to come.

Over 30 years after it was originally released, this legendary
gem from Wes Craven is still giving horror fans nightmares.

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