Top 10 Films Of Wes Craven

The late Wes Craven reinvented horror at least three times; he was the genre filmmaker others followed. Dan Grant remembers his best work including Scream, The Last House On The Left & A Nightmare On Elm Street.

In the pantheon of great horror directors, Wes Craven is arguably the best there was. You can make an argument for names such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and Sam Raimi but I’ll take Craven’s ten best and put them up against anyone’s. The man was brilliant and he knew what scared us. Here are, arguably, his ten best films.

10. The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Wes Craven - Top 10 FilmsCraven wrote this film after he read an article about a similar situation where two burglars broke into a house and when the police arrived, the burglars were gone but they found children trapped in rooms and in the basement. This is one of Craven’s funnier films but make no mistake about it, it has its terrifying moments. It’s also kind of deep in fairy tale lore. While not a truly horrific film, it still has enough here to jolt you from time to time.

9. Shocker (1989)

Shocker, Wes Craven - Top 10 FilmsBefore Peter Berg directed films like Battleship, he did a bit of acting. Here, he is the main protagonist in Craven’s tip of the cap to films like The Hidden. The premise is that a particularly brutal serial killer is put to death in the electric chair, only to now be able to inhabit bodies and use them to kill for him. Horace Pinker is the killer and he is straight up mean and nasty, the modern day Boogeyman. Craven uses a lot of the same techniques that made A Nightmare on Elm Street so good. There’s dreams where it shows the killer’s next moves, a few one liners and a killer that is certainly a distant cousin of Krueger. This isn’t one of his best, but it is a good effort from Craven.

8. Deadly Friend (1986)

Deadly Friend, Wes Craven - Top 10 FilmsFor some reason, the studio that produced this film decided they knew more about horror than Wes Craven. They imposed their will on the production and made this a much more light film tonally. Craven and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder) were much more interested in a darker film and one much higher on the horror quotient. This is still a good film but it could have been so much better. Craven clearly seemed to like the modern take on Frankenstein as he not only has a lot of homages to the classic Mary Shelley story, but it has a person brought back life, although in this one she is more undead than reincarnated. Yet in spite of the troubled production, Craven still managed to direct a very good film with hints of horror. It’s just too bad that the original cut wasn’t allowed to be seen.

7. Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Serpent and the Rainbow, Wes Craven - Top 10 FilmsWes Craven downplayed this film, not that he didn’t like the finished product, but he said it felt to him more like a TV production than a feature horror film. I strongly disagree. “Don’t bury me, I’m not dead” is one of the more effective tag lines for a film. It sucks you in right away. Although this film is purely fiction, it is actually based in reality. Voodoo is very real. It’s a religion practiced in places like Haiti and New Orleans. And you can Google real life cases where people have been buried alive only to wake up later to find themselves trapped hopelessly in a coffin. There have been times where the bodies were exhumed and there were claw marks on the coffin, clearly those people woke up AFTER THEY HAD BEEN BURIED. That premise is enough to scare most people. Craven takes you on a journey here. He paints with a very heavy and detailed palette. Craven shows that he respects the subject as he gets incredibly detailed and takes the audience deep into the world of voodoo. This, in my opinion, is one of his more unnerving films.

6. Scream 4 (2011)

Scream 4, Wes Craven - Top 10 FilmsWith the exception of part 3, which I thought jumped the shark a little, all the Scream films are brilliant. Scream 4 is the reboot so to speak and as reboots go, it’s one of the best. Kevin Williamson, the writer of the first, returns to pen this one and the results are magical. Part of the allure of the Scream films is that they are completely self aware. One of the coolest lines in the film is where they say, the first rule of remakes is don’t F*** with the original. Craven is aware of this and although he treads very carefully around this very notion, he also knows that at this point, we need something more than just a remake of the original. Craven basically works a miracle here as he not only stays true to the series but in some ways he usurps the quality of the original. This is Craven at the top of his game. The strength of Craven as a filmmaker is evident as we will see that even though this is an incredibly well made film, the films in the top 5 all deserve to be there.

5. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Wes Craven's New Nightmare - Top 10 FilmsThere is no two ways about it, Craven cares about Freddy. He cares about how he was supposed to be, not what he has turned into by Bob Shaye. Freddy was not even remotely funny in the first one. He was a brutal, maniacal, sadistic, bent-on-revenge murderer. He wanted to slice Nancy in two and he did that to Tina (actually sliced her into many pieces). But in the mindless sequels to come, he became Eddie Murphy. And there was nothing frightening about the sequels. They made money but they weren’t true horror films. But this one goes back to its roots and is almost as scary as the first one.

This story is about the film character of Freddy becoming real somehow. He has been a part of Lagenkamp, Saxon, Craven and Englund’s life for so long that he has somehow become real. And now what was once a simple film character actually haunts the cast of the original. We even get to see Rod (Tina’s boyfriend from the original) at one of the funerals. And what makes the story scary is that now Freddy has decided to come after Heather’s kid.

This film goes back to all the techniques that made the first a classic. There is excellent direction to make us fear what is under the bed. The lighting is classic horror film lighting and the music is perfect. Craven cares about Freddy and in here he shows us how much. This is a film way ahead of it’s time.

4. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven - Top 10 FilmsThere are many who will say this is Wes Craven’s best film. I can understand why. In the 70’s, Craven had the pulse of America. There was a lot of change happening and not a lot of it was good. Like Tobe Hooper from three years earlier, this film is the classic it is because of the low budget and the implied gore. Also similar to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the horrible conditions the cast had to endure to make the film. Guerilla film-making was much easier 40 years ago. Today, you could never get away with the stuff they did then. But it also added to the aesthetic of the film. The Hills Have Eyes is a cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear everything. This film is brutal, it’s violent and it doesn’t apologize for being that way. Craven told the story he wanted to tell and because there was no one telling him what to do, it left him alone to make a classic.

3. Scream (1996)

Top 10 Unmissable Movie Beginnings - Wes Craven - Top 10 FilmsAt this point, horror was dead. The only good horror film of the 90’s was Craven’s New Nightmare. Then this film came along and a genre was born. It’s a film that obviously benefits from Craven’s iconic status in the horror genre. He directed this with a very subtle eye and at other times, he pours it on thick. “I want you to go down to the Mackenzie’s and call the police.” This line was uttered in Halloween and it was also said by Casey’s dad. There are lines and homages to films like Psycho, Friday the 13th, Halloween and a plethora of others. This film is almost 20 years old and it single-handedly ushered in a new breed of horror film. Craven made three masterpieces, all twelve years apart. This was his third and final brilliant film.

2. The Last House on the Left (1972)

Last House On The Left, Wes Craven, horror - Top 10 FilmsIn some ways, this film deserves to be in the number one slot as Craven’s best, it really is that good and that iconic. This is without a question, the most disturbing film I have ever seen. It is brutal, unflinching and completely raw in how it is filmed. This is the very definition of low budget, guerilla film-making. It’s also blessed with three giant names from the horror industry. Beside Wes Craven, you have Friday the 13th director Sean Cunningham producing and Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part 3, and Halloween H20 director Steve Miner serving as a PA. Craven has gone on record as saying that this is an incredibly horrific film to watch and that he wasn’t necessarily comfortable with how he made it. But whatever measures he took to make the film, they worked. If you like your horror to be disturbing, macabre, hard to watch and very, very unsettling, you won’t find a better film. Last House is one of the all time greats.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Nightmare on Elm Street, film, horror, wes craven - Top 10 FilmsNew Line is the house that Freddy built. This is a true statement. If there was no Freddy, chances are The Lord of the Rings would have been produced by another production company. Freddy was Craven’s baby. He wrote him, he created him and he based him on a school bully who used to torment Wes as a kid. In fact the name Krueger also appears in Last House. At this point in horror, most of the movies were about killing kids because they were lost in the woods or because they were having sex or any number of reasons. Craven blew the lid off this with a killer who could enter your dreams. 30+ years later, we all know Freddy and his story, but in 1984, this film kind of rocked the industry. Krueger has gone on to become one of the most recognizable characters in film history.

Written & Compiled by Dan Grant

Over to you: what are your top 10 films of Wes Craven?

On a personal note, I’m saddened by Craven’s death. Like many of you reading this, I am a giant horror fan and Craven has given me so many thrills and indelible memories over the years. Along with guys like John Carpenter, Sam Raimi and Tobe Hooper, just to name a few, these men terrified me and thrilled me at the same time. Although Craven is not here to read this, I have to say, thank you Wes, for entertaining me and making me think and for helping me fall in love with horror. You were a true inspiration and a giant of unequivocal status. I hope you are scaring everyone in your afterlife.Dan Grant, Sep 2015.

About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

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  1. Dan Grant Reply

    Here’s a terrific tribute to him from some who knew him well.

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/scream-writer-kevin-williamson-pens-819296

  2. Wendell Reply

    Great list. I’d probably put Scream at the top and find a spot for S2. I’d also have Last House lower because as disturbing as it is, I thought it flinched a lot with all the slapstick comedy from the cops. Just didn’t work. RIP to a genre giant.

  3. Dan Grant Reply

    IMO, Last House defined the 70’s for horror. It deserves to be number one before it deserves to drop. But that’s just my opinion. Scream could definitely be considered for the top and I liked Scream 2 also.

  4. Callum Reply

    Good stuff Dan. I haven’t seen all of Craven’s films, in fact I’ve only seen three (Scream 1 and 2, and Nightmare On Elm Street) but now I have the tools to discover the best of the rest!

    • Rory Reply

      Although I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as Scream 1 and 2 you might want to check out the third film which ties up some loose ends. After that, it’s The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left as the must-sees.

  5. Rory Reply

    Have to say I’m surprised by the inclusion of Scream 4. If Craven jumped the shark with Scream 3, he jumped the Sharknado with Scream 4 (it had run its course after the trilogy for me and was one postmodern slasher too many).

    But I think your top 5 are spot on. My order might be different but I don’t think you can argue against these been Craven’s best.

  6. Carver Reply

    Nice list.

    My top 10:

    10. Cursed
    9. People Under The Stairs
    8. Scream 3
    7. Serpent
    6. New Nightmare
    5. Scream 2
    4. Scream
    3. Nightmare On Elm Street
    2. Hills Have Eyes
    1. Last House

    RIP Wes.

  7. Dan Reply

    I actually put Scream 2 up there with Scream in terms of that franchise. The sequel includes some great scenes that make it as good as the first (I love the tutorial on horror sequels and the whole sequel rules thing). Plus, the performances are that little bit better with everyone eager to bring their characters back to life, especially Arquette, Cox and Kennedy.

    So, Scream 2 would make my top 10 as would Craven’s terrific thriller Red Eye. Out goes Deadly Friend and Scream 4 in my list I think.

    How would I order the top 5..?

    Hmm…

    1. A Nightmare On Elm Street
    2. The Hills Have Eyes
    3. Scream
    4. Last House On The Left
    5. New Nightmare (or maybe Scream 2)

  8. Dan Grant Reply

    Thanks for all the comments guys. As for Scream 2, I like it immensely. And it should perhaps be on here in place of 9 and 10. But I kind of figured that two films from each series kind of made the point. Having said that I do think Scream 4 is the best Scream next to the original. As for Scream 3 it just didn’t work for me. The killer imo, should have been someone we know. Not saying it should have been Dewey, but imagine if it was someone like that? It would have made the whole thing so much more interesting.

    As for his other films, LHOTL and NOES, imo, are his two best for reasons I’ve already mentioned, but I understand why others would feel that any number of films could be in that top slot. The man was just a pure auteur when it came to horror.

  9. Kendrick Reply

    Great list. Craven has left a brilliant legacy. My favorite is Last House but I love Hills and Nightmare.

  10. Neal Damiano Reply

    Great list Dan Grant,
    I too appreciate Last House on The Left it was so influential to horror genre. It’s included on my top 10 disturbing films list. Can’t argue Nightmare on Elm Street at number 1, simply groundbreaking, innovative, and pure scare!

    Wes Craven defined the horror genre and reinvented it several times. His work here is immeasurable and highly influential. He took horror seriously with a no holds barred attitude, shunning conventional ways especially in his earlier work.. He did what he wanted and for that I respect him. He is one of the greatest directors in horror and a personal favorite of mine. He will be missed.

  11. ArchE Reply

    There are three directors to have genuinely unsettled me in the theatre. Tobe Hooper with Texas Chainsaw, William Friedkin with The Exorcist and Wes Craven with Last House On The Left.

    Craven’s eye for terrifying his audience was truly exceptional, as was his ability to take the genre in directions conventional filmmakers wouldn’t dare to go. Who else would have had the courage to bring back the slasher film? That he did it so well is a mark of his genius.

    A worthy celebration of his finest work, Dan.

  12. CineGirl Reply

    RIP Wes Craven. My favourites remain Scream and Scream 2 but I appreciate why people love his earlier films.

  13. Dan Reply

    Thanks ArchE and Cinegirl.

    Also id like to thank Dan for letting contribute to his site. Writing can be therapeutic at times. Not that losing a director that I’ve never met requires any kind of real therapy but at the same time it’s a good celebration of his life. Dan always does an amazing job getting these articles up with the pictures and so on. Any helps me by making sure that my pieces are edited correctly lol. You’re a good man Dan Stephens.

    • Dan Reply

      Too kind, Dan G!

      Your contributions are a great addition to the site and always welcome.

  14. James Thorpe Reply

    Always thought he was the best of those 80s horror directors even though many say Carpenter was. Craven, though, never made anything like as bad as Ghosts of Mars and Escape from L.A and some of Carpenter’s worst stuff.

    • Dan Reply

      It’s an interesting debate because while Carpenter’s lesser work might be worse than Craven’s (arguably), I think Carpenter has been just as influential (certainly in regards to the slasher genre where Halloween set down the groundwork for things like Nightmare on Elm Street to follow).

      I also believe – in the debate as to who is the better filmmaker – that Carpenter stretched himself a bit more with the likes of They Live and Big Trouble In Little China, breaking into other genres which weren’t strictly horror. These weren’t always successful of course.

      I’d also say Carpenter was a better visual director – really utilising the full widescreen frame.

      But they’re both visionaries and two of the best contemporary American filmmakers. I love many films from each of them.

  15. Dan Grant Reply

    James: I agree with you 100%. Carpenter has made some unbelievably terrific films like Halloween, The Thing and The Fog but his bad films are horrible. And as you mentioned, Wes hasn’t made anything quite that bad.

  16. Ant Reply

    Love Shocker, nice to see it make the list.

  17. Ally Reply

    Definitely agree with your top 5. Nightmare is my favorite.

  18. Peter H Reply

    Passionately written piece about the late horror maestro. I think the top 5 would be most people’s favourites but I’d shift New Nightmare out and put Serpent and the Rainbow in there. The best thing he’s ever done is Last House On The Left but I can appreciate the longevity and commercial viability of Nightmare.

  19. Dan Reply

    Brilliantly said Dan Stephens.

    Debating over who is the better director or who is more influential is kind of moot. Both John Carpenter and Wes Craven are incredibly brilliant filmmakers. If I had to give just a slight slight edge I would give it to Craven. But Halloween is unequivocally better than anything Craven has ever done in my opinion.

  20. Lemony Reply

    great list. wes craven was a genius.

  21. Evan Crean Reply

    Embarassed to say there are a ton of Craven films on your list that I haven’t seen: The People Under the Stairs, Shocker, Deadly Friend, Serpent and the Rainbow, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Last House on the Left. I need to fix that. I love the ones I am familiar with though: Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare, and the Scream franchise. Even though I’m not as personally familiar with Craven, I’m still sad that he’s gone.

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