When Wes Craven died of brain cancer this past August, the tributes began pouring in from film critics and scholars, and of course, horror movie fans. Most casual movie watchers know (and have seen at least a few) of his more famous horror movies like the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises. But many fans, and certainly many younger fans, never saw some of his important earlier works. What better time than to spread the word about a few lesser-known, cult classic Wes Craven must-sees.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Written and directed by Craven, this early film managed to be both an exploitation movie, popular at the time, as well as an ironic commentary on the genre. It’s about a gang of crazed sadists who torture two young women. The film is very brutal and violent, but it also has a shocking and disturbing sense of realism that set it apart from other movies from that time. The monsters are human in this horror film.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Craven wrote and directed this film, which, like The Last House on the Left, also features a group of savage people, this time a family of incredibly creepy, inbred hillbilly-types torturing a suburban family on a road trip through the desert. The film mixes extreme violence with some dark humor, as evidenced by a ripped Jaws poster (released two years before) hanging on the wall in a particularly brutal scene.
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Directed by Craven, this is a voodoo-themed psychological horror movie about an anthropologist who travels to Haiti to investigate a drug that supposedly turns people into zombies. The movie is full of disturbing psychedelic imagery and the anthropologist, played by Bill Pullman, suffers in ways guaranteed to make you squirm. How about being paralyzed and buried alive…with a tarantula?
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Craven wrote and directed this movie, which can best be described as a horror-comedy. The wild plot features a bunch of creepy cannibalistic white children who live under the stairs of a house. The twist is that they are the children of a black guy’s mean white landlord, and are discovered when the guy and his uncle go to burglarize the house. Many film buffs view this movie as Craven’s commentary on the social inequality of the Reagan years…with the kids representing the true have-nots of society.
Red Eye (2005)
Directed by Craven, Red Eye is more of a thriller than a horror film, but like any Wes Craven film, it will get under your skin and address your deepest fears. A woman, played by Rachel McAdams, sits next to a terrorist on a red-eye flight. He tries to involve her in an assassination plot but she resists. She manages to stab him in the throat with a pen…but you don’t think he dies without a fight, do you?