I’m not a huge Wes Craven fan. I like the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” just fine, and “The People Under the Stairs” is a fun romp of a horror movie. “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” fucking rules. The majority of his films have just never had much appeal to me. Either they are too nihilistic in a really deprived, sadistic way or they are just straight up bad (total judgement call, I know). But liking a man’s films and having an incredible amount of respect for them are two different things.
Craven’s body of work is often incredibly challenging. “Last House in the Left” is a fucking hard film to sit through. It’s the epitome of feel-bad ’70’s grind exploitation flicks. Just a few months ago, my pal Judd and I were discussing films we never want to sit through again and “Last House on the Left” made the top of the list. It’s up there with gems like “I Spit on your Grave” and “Thriller: A Cruel Picture”. It is so fucking removed, nihilistic, and bleak in it’s portrayal of violence and humanity; an ugly movie in every way (and originally it was to be XXX rated, which would have just put it way over the top). I kinda hate “Last House on the Left”, I even kinda hate talking about it, because it reminds me of how I felt after finishing it for the first time. It was not good. That feeling is exactly what Craven was going for; sheer fucking disgust, misanthropy, and hopelessness. These themes continue through “The Hills have Eyes” and into the ’80s. Fuck, just writing the titles “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills have Eyes” makes me want to have a shower. Few movies have that sort of lasting impact on people.
Creating iconic monsters rarely happens. Honestly, there hasn’t been a single one since the Jigsaw Killer in the “Saw” series (I fucking hate having to give “Saw” credit for anything, it hurts my soul). Craven helped create two: Freddy Kruger and Ghostface. Unless I am mistaken, that puts him in an elite crowd of one; the only horror director to create multiple monsters that have crossover
over into everyday pop culture*. A testament to the strength of these character is that if you use an inflation calculator on the top grossing slasher films of all time, Wes Craven related projects take up 6 of the top 10 slots, with “Scream” one and two at the top of the list. I fucking hate the “Scream” films, but I cannot deny their box office draw in the ’90s, nor can I think of a single horror franchise more parodied than “Scream” (this probably has to do with how easy it is to parody the character, but if that was the sole reason Jason (of “Friday the 13th” fame) would end up just as parodied. So, I’m assuming box office power pushes “Scream” to the fore-front). I would love to see a list of the top grossing horror directors of all time; he has to be near the top (google failed me on this one).
Wes Craven had balls. He did things his own way even when it threatened his career (he was told multiple times that if he included the Richard Gere scene in “Scream” he would never work again). Maybe more importantly, he never stopped working. He was still writing and directing (or working as a producer) until he died. Yes, the quality had severally decreased over the years and often his name was found in the credit of remakes of his earlier works or on direct-to-video dreck with gems tossed in here and there (“Red Eye” is supposed to be a decent crime/thriller. I haven’t seen it). He was always trying to find the next big monster to enter the pop-culture subconscious (“Shocker” was an attempt at that and while it made a moderate amount of money it didn’t earn enough for him to continue with the series. I assume his attachment to “Wishmaster” was an attempt at that as well, though his named is gone from the series after the first one). This sort of work ethic has to be admired in anyone, and given the amount of critical (and sometimes financial) duds in his filmography, the opinions of critics had little effect on him. In an age of safe movie making, Craven’s singular vision and the way he disregarded his critics is something that should be admired.
Wes Craven changed a genre. The majority of his early works are horror movie standards; they are what came first. Do I like most of his contributions to Horror? No, I really don’t, but I don’t have to like something to respect it, and see the grander influence it has had and will continue to have for decades to come. In 50 years, people will still be disgusted and deeply saddened for humanity by “Last House on the Left” and will still be watching the Johnny Depp blood geyser from “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. Craven has left behind a legacy that demands to be respected. Just don’t invite me over for your memorial marathon. I’ll pass, thanks. – SHANE
Nightmare on Elm Street 3 Trailer