The late Wes Craven is widely regarded as a master of horror. Of all the modern horror directors, he may have become the most mainstream, being the creative force behind not only the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but the Scream series as well. He has directed numerous horror classics but a lot of his compelling works have fallen through the cracks. Sure, some of his films work better than others, but he always brought a sense of intelligence to whatever he did. He always had something to say. Here are five overlooked Wes Craven movies that you simply have to check out. If you have seen them, but weren’t sure what to make of them, give them another shot.
I’ll have to admit, the first time I saw Shocker I thought it was pretty bad. It didn’t seem to have much in the way of narrative plot, it just kind of kept on going. At the time, it felt like a bland attempt to recapture the magic of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Looking back now, I see pretty clearly that I was wrong. Shocker is a very different movie. It’s not as linear, which is true, and doesn’t approach the level of depth of some of Craven’s other movies but it is a lot of fun, nonetheless. Horace Pinker is a memorable villain and lead character and Jonathan has a compelling arc. It’s in some ways the story of a hero’s journey. Jonathan undergoes loss after loss, learns that his life and background are completely different than he thought and still keeps going. Jonathan’s journey, the kick-ass villain, and the excellent soundtrack make Shocker worth checking out.
It might not be Craven’s greatest work and it has a very different tone than the comic book on which it is based, but there’s something charming about Swamp Thing. It’s a very campy adaptation, but it is well aware of that fact and plays it up admirably. While the effects are certainly dated, stuntman Dick Durock actually gives a fairly genuine performance as the titular monster-hero. Adrienne Barbeau is also great. She is a lead that offers the sexuality of an old-school horror comic but also comes into her own as an intelligent and capable character. Louis Jordan is delightfully cheesy as the villainous Arcane. The entire production has the atmosphere of a more expensive Troma film but taken as such, it’s entertaining and hard not to enjoy.
The People Under the Stairs
The People Under the Stairs showcases what Craven was capable of at his best. It’s got a point, it’s got a message, but at the same time it is not a morality play and is a whole lot of fun. It’s made to point out classism and racism, as a young boy nicknamed Fool attempts to save his poor community from the rich, white developers by robbing them blind. It’s not easy, of course. This house is booby-trapped and the two people that occupy it are insane. They’re intense Christian fundamentalists who hate all races and abduct children only to physically mangle them if they do anything deemed Un-Christian. Moreover, they force their charges to live in the basement away from any kind of light or life. This clearly romantic couple also happen to be brother and sister. The movie can be disturbing one moment and riotous the next. It really is a black comedy more than anything and as such it works very well.
One of Wes Craven’s smartest, slickest and unfortunately most overlooked movies, The Serpent and the Rainbow is based on the supposedly true accounts of anthropologist Wade Davis. Davis went to Haiti in order to try and get to the bottom of the local zombie stories. The focus of the movie is about the drug that is reported to bring the dead back to life, and examines whether or not that’s actually what it’s doing. Overall, it’s a fascinating real-world application of zombies, especially considering how bogged down that sub-genre had become by 1988, when The Serpent and the Rainbow was released. It’s as much a political thriller as it is a horror movie and remains one of the director’s best efforts.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
In the academic side of the horror community, New Nightmare is gaining some traction. But it still isn’t as celebrated as it should be. Some of this comes down to the fact that it is the seventh movie in a franchise, and no matter how good it is people will always sort of view it as that. Then there’s the fact that it’s incredibly different from the series as a whole, and people aren’t sure what to make of it. This is unfortunate, because it is an intelligent, sophisticated film. It offers everything that people expect out of a Nightmare on Elm Street feature. At the same time it is about the genre, the industry, the nature of storytelling itself and is one of Craven’s absolute best.