Monday 26 September 2016

5 times horror director Wes Craven proved he was the master of the genre

Published 31/08/2015 | 19:57

Freddy Krueger
Freddy Krueger

Iconic film director Wes Craven has died at the age of 76 following a long and prosperous career boasting genre-defining films from his first, The Last House on the Left, to the cult classic Scream. He will probably be best remembered, however, for creating iconic monster Freddy Krueger for A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. Here are five times he has proven he is the Master of Horror...

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The world was just getting over the trauma of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (both the original and 1978 remake) when Wes Craven once again made the natural state of sleep a most terrifying prospect in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

It's a wonder anyone slept in the 80s once iconic monster Freddy Krueger arrived on the scene.  Halloween's lumbering real life Mike Meyers had nothing on Freddy, the spirit of a serial killer with a face disfigured by fire who wore a glove with blades which he used to kill his teenage victims - in their dreams!

Staying awake meant safety but sleep is something that cannot be avoided and much of the terror lay in not knowing whether a character was in a state of wakefulness or not.  It was relentlessly tense.

And once they died in their dreams, they died in real life - the premise was highly original and utterly terrifying. It's hardly surprising Freddy's exploits spawned seven Elm Street sequels and a TV series.

Here's the iconic bathtub scene, best watched when you're not heading off for a relaxing bath...

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Thirteen long years before Freddy arrived, Craven shocked audiences with his graphic, visceral debut, a film about a group of teenage girls heading to a concert, who end up being brutally attacked, raped and murdered by a group of drugged up escaped crims.

The twist in this particular tale, however, is how those crims get their bloody comeuppance at the vengeful hands of the middle-class mother and father of one of their victims after they accidentally crossed paths.  The monsters were the cookie cutter parents.  It was horrifying.

The extent of the violence in the film was shocking at the time, and it is still absolutely terrifying.  In 2004, esteemed critic Roger Ebert wrote, "There is a moment of such sheer and unexpected terror that it beats anything in the heart-in-the-mouth line since Alan Arkin jumped out of the darkness at Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark."

Most of the scenes available are too disturbing to share.  Here's the rather ominous trailer instead.  The voiceover advises, "To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie.  It's only a movie...'"

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Here the monsters were the nuclear family of mum, dad, and kids - who just happened to be cannibals. If you feel slightly uneasy driving across vast, deserted landscapes like, say, middle America, or the midlands, it probably has something to do with this movie, which has spawned countless imitations ever since.  

A family take a road trip to California, where their car breaks down in an area closed to the public and it soon becomes clear it's inhabited by the aforementioned cannibals.  There's a baby amongst them which ramps up the dread. A genuinely nerve-shredding film.

One of the more disturbing scenes - you have been warned...

Scream (1996)

What was this?  Craven killed off big name protagonist Drew Barrymore within the first 20 minutes.  Anyone who managed to avoid that serious spoiler was in for a treat.  Apologies if you haven't seen it, but you've had 19 years... The film wasn't an instant hit by any means, but it was a grower and is now a cult classic. 

Scream tackled those old horror cliches, with the characters discussing the horror tropes that the film tried to subvert.  It was clever and tied in a rather enthralling murder mystery into proceedings.  However, above anything, it's extremely tense and genuinely frightening.

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

A young boy called Fool believes there's gold in the home of his family's landlord and, after they're evicted from their home, he breaks in to find the treasure, but it's not gold he finds inside.  Instead he discovers the mansion is maze of corridors and rooms run by an incestuous brother and sister who have collected a group of kidnapped boys and removed their eyes, ears and tongues and consigned them to a sealed basement where they live together.

The tone of this weird flick is comedic and camp and was a slight departure for Craven, but given it's a social allegory about ghettos and their impact on the inhabitants it's a film that's still unsettling even if it lacks Craven's trademark shocks.

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