It’s nearly impossible when discussing the best horror movies to not bring up several titles from the “Sultan of Slash,” Wes Craven. The filmmaker created some of the most iconic horror movies of our time, and the industry lost a legend when Wes Craven passed away in 2014. Raised a Fundamentalist Baptist, Craven wasn’t allowed to watch movies, let alone horror flicks, as a child. Even when he attended Wheaton College, he had to sneak off of the campus to go to the cinema (the school had a strict rule against watching movies). Though Wes Craven would end up rejecting organized religion, in John Wooley’s book, Wes Craven: The Man and his Nightmares, the director revealed that his extreme upbringing helped him with the imagery in his horror movies; the sermons he often heard were that of hellfire and brimstone, and he would later incorporate the hellish images from the sermons into his films. Though Craven may not have appreciated his very conservative origins, the horror industry has been forever changed because of it.
Below is a list of eight of Wes Craven’s most popular horror movies (listed in the order of their release). They have all received great reviews from critics and fans, and many of them are considered a staple in the genre.
Top Eight Wes Craven Horror Movies
Last House on the Left (1972)
It wasn’t until Craven attended graduate school that he fully immersed himself in movies, and he fell in love with the industry. He purchased a used 16mm camera and began making short films. He never pictured himself being a horror director, but after his first feature-length movie The Last House on the Left, it was so successful he realized he had a knack for the genre. Which is good since he really didn’t have a choice. The movie was so brutal and realistic, some moviegoers even thought it was a legit snuff film, that he was pigeonholed in the genre. He often described himself as being a caged bird since he wanted to create different types of movies (he would eventually direct the 1999 critically acclaimed film, starring Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart).
Often, films from yesteryear that were once considered controversial, like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, are no longer viewed as contentious—Last House on the Left is not one of these movies. It’s just as hard to watch now as it was over 40 years ago. The film initially garnered an X-rating, and the only reason it was changed to an R-rated movie is because Craven had a friend who worked for the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Before viewing this cult classic just remember the movie’s tagline.
“To avoid fainting keep repeating, It’s only a movie…only a movie…only a movie…”
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Wes Craven’s second film, The Hills Have Eyes, would become another cult classic. His story of a family being stalked and tortured by cannibalistic humans shocked audiences. Like his first movie, this is filled with gruesome violence and edge-of-your-seat tension.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
When most people think of Wes Craven they immediately think of Freddy Krueger. The idea of a killer murdering people in their dreams was very unique, and it quickly became a part of pop culture. A Nightmare on Elm Street is considered one of the best horror movies of all time, and it launched one of the most popular horror franchises (though only two were directed by Craven).
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987)
This is loosely based on the true-life experiences of ethnobotanist Wade Davis. Set in Haiti, The Serpent and the Rainbow takes a look at the world of voodoo and the creation of zombies; mixing fantasy with real terror. Most horror fans will remember the famous Bill Pullman line featured in the trailer, “Don’t bury me…I’m not dead.”
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
This horror-comedy, about a boy trying to rescue children who are held hostage by a deranged couple, has thrilled genre fans for years. A 1991 article from The New York Times describes why this was one of the best horror movies of the early ’90s.
“Though the new movie has its share of blood and gore, it is mostly creepy and, considering the bizarre circumstances, surprisingly funny…Mr. Craven’s screenplay manages to evoke both ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Night of the Living Dead,’ and plays like a stroll through an amusement park’s haunted house. It is full of peculiar noises, floors and walls that suddenly give way, things that jump out of the dark and objects of unmentionable disgustingness that sneak up from behind.”
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
This is one of the highest-rated movies in the Nightmare franchise, and it is the most unique addition. What made this film so unique is that Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp (from the first and third movies in the franchise) play themselves. Audiences also get a treat as Wes Craven co-stars in the film. Audiences and critics alike appreciated how the film made fun of the genre, and of Craven himself, but it didn’t take away from the suspense and scares.
Wes Craven reinvented horror with The Last House on the Left, and he did it again with Scream. Scream plays as both an homage to, and a satire of, horror movies. It poked fun at the horror movie tropes that fans have grown to expect through the years, and it provided plenty of jump-scares and a twist ending. This would become yet another successful horror franchise from the “Sultan of Slash.”
Red Eye (2005)
Blurring the lines between horror and thriller, Wes Craven took terror to the skies in 2005 with his smash-hit Red Eye. Starring Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy, Red Eye has been described as tense and truly frightening.
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Wes Craven was more than just a director; he was a writer, actor, producer, and an innovator. From Last House on the Left to legendary franchises, he created some of the best horror movies of all time.
[Featured Image by New Line Cinema & Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]