The late, great Wes Craven is unique amongst our Masters of Horror in that he not only reinvented the horror genre once, but twice. First with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and again over a decade later with Scream (1996) and its sequels. However, Craven's career as a horror film auteur began much earlier than this.
First was the brutal and hard to watch, yet brilliant Last House on the Left (1972). Directed by Craven and co-produced with frequent collaborator Sean S. Cunningham, The Last House on the Left caused major controversy upon its release. In the UK it was refused a certificate rating on grounds of extreme sadism and violence and was eventually banned outright during the video nasties scare in the early 80s. Unbelievably, it did not see an uncut release in the UK until 2008.
Well, despite this controversy it has been recognized by critics (Ebert, Kermode) as a movie of historical importance and has remained significant enough to receive the remake treatment in 2009 (not a bad remake, but also not necessary).
Wes Craven then followed this with the equally brutal The Hills Have Eyes (1977). Now considered a cult classic, the film saw a small family being harassed and targeted by a group of feral savages. This also received the Hollywood remake treatment with good results. This is unsurprising considering it was directed by Alexandra Aja (Haute Tension, P2, Maniac). Craven also directed the sequel which currently has the lowest rating of all of Craven's movies on IMDb (3.7). It's no wonder he has publicly disowned this movie.
His next big splash was of course A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) which introduced us to probably the most recognized and most loved of horror icons - Freddy Krueger. Upon release, A Nightmare on Elm Street was a massive commercial success and was equally loved by critics. Spawning a number of sequels (some good, some not so good) and a remake, there is no denying that with Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven changed the face of horror forever.
Between this and his next big shake up of the horror genre (Scream) Wes Craven was still busy behind the camera. The highlights include the under-appreciated The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) and the superb closing chapter the Nightmare on Elm Street series Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). This also saw Craven first start to dabble in the self-referential tongue-in-cheek meta style of horror that would course through the veins of his Scream series.
The first Scream was released in 1996 which gave the genre a much-needed shot in the arm after stagnating in sequels and direct-to-video dross for the best part of the nineties. With equally successful sequels in 1997 and 2000, the Scream series again confirmed Wes Craven as a true master of horror. Perhaps fittingly, Craven’s last directorial effort before his untimely death was Scream 4 (2011). While not really bringing anything new to the series it played on its strengths and still makes for a fun and enjoyable watch.
Sadly, with Wes Craven’s passing in 2015 there’s no more new material to look forward to. But fret not, he has an oeuvre of some of the best and most influential horror movies of all time. Only one thing left to do: start watching. And remember: if you have seen it, rate it.