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Purely Craven

Horror movie icon Wes Craven passed earlier this week of brain cancer. The news was shocking (to those of us in the public), and it brought to an end the career of a man whose movies provided film lovers with so many hours of gloriously dark entertainment. In honor of the man, I've decided to revisit the movies he directed that were my personal favorites. Here we go.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

For those who didn't grow up during the 1980s, it's difficult to explain just how much Freddy Krueger -- the burnt man in a hat and striped sweater who murdered people in their dreams -- loomed large over the decade. Teens flocked to the theaters to see each new Elm Street movie, kids (such as myself) waited anxiously until they aired on pay-cable, and we loved every minute of it. This is where it all started, and the one that bore Craven's fingerprints the strongest. Oh, and it introduced Johnny Depp to the movie-going world, so points for that, too.

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

A story about a man and woman (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie) who live in a big, old, ramshackle house that also contains a plethora of trapped, mutilated children. A teen when I first watched the movie, our window into this treacherous world inside the house are teens and kids, themselves, so it worked really well for me. At times difficult to watch, The People Under the Stairs is Craven at his subversive best.

Red Eye (2005)

Perhaps my favorite of Craven's films, it comes later in his career, and isn't a horror movie, but a thriller. Set primarily on a flight across the continental U.S., Red Eye tells the story of a woman trapped in a desperate situation and having to use all her wits to extricate herself from it and save the day. The direction is taut, the acting superb. Rachel McAdams plays our heroine-in-distress, the beautiful Cillian Murphy our villain. Brian Cox also features in the film, and plays a pivotal role. I love how Craven builds the suspense here.

Scream (1996)

This is when Craven came roaring back with a vengeance. From the now-classic opening scene featuring Drew Barrymore as the oft-used horror plot device of a woman being terrorized over the phone, to the introduction of a new iconic murderer in Ghostface, to the deft injection of comedy into the mix, Scream deserves every accolade it gets. At turns suspenseful, funny and scary, this movie helped introduce Craven to a new generation, and revitalize the horror movie genre at the same time.

Shocker (1989)

Some horror movies are fun. They have their scary moments, their blood, their violence, but in many ways it's all done tongue-in-cheek. Or at least you're never really that scared. Not so with Wes Craven's Shocker. I only watched it once, back when it was out on pay-cable, and once was enough. A serial killer (played by Mitch Pileggi, who went on to play a nasty role on the Dallas reboot) is caught, convicted and sent to the electric chair. But he manages to survive as electricity. It sounds hokey and dumb (which it kinda is), but I swear to you the movie the terrified me as a kid.

Swamp Thing (1982)

If there was something Craven excelled at, it was creating atmosphere. Perhaps no other movie in his repertoire illustrates this better than Swamp Thing. Set in (you guessed it) a swampy region of Louisiana, the film simply oozes its locale. You can feel the heat, the humidity, and the leafy environment brush against you as the characters make their way through the story. And the story, such that it is, is very easy to follow (another hallmark of Craven's films). Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is attacked by the men of Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) and is turned into the swamp thing (portrayed by Dick Durock). Swamp thing has to get his own back over the course of the film. Oh, and Adrienne Barbeau features prominently, which ain't a bad thing.

And those are my favorite Wes Craven films. I'm a little sad there won't be any more, but am happy to have the ones we do. Rest in peace, sir.


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