The entertainment industry was dealt a devastating blow this month when legendary horror movie director Wes Craven passed away at age 76. Craven created some of the most memorable bogeymen in film and it is impossible to understate the impact he had on the horror genre – from his provocative 1970’s boundary-pushing indie films to the franchises he later launched. Though Craven is probably best known for writing and directing A Nightmare On Elm Street, he also inspired a wave of backwoods horror films with Last House on the Left and launched the wildly successful Scream franchise with the help of scribe Kevin Williamson. Throughout his career, Wes Craven continued to find ways to reinvent the horror genre and his revolutionary work will undoubtedly continue to inspire filmmakers for years to come. Let’s look back at some of his most terrifying scenes.
This series will be split into four posts starting with his films from the 1970’s and moving on to his Nightmare on Elm Street series before finishing with the Scream franchise. In between I will look at some of his other work as well.
1- The Last House On The Left: Krug’s Company Killing Phyllis
Loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Last House on the Left follows two teenage girls (on route to score some weed before a rock concert), who cross paths with a makeshift family of rootless criminals who abduct, torture, rape and brutally murder the girls. Last House is a cutthroat, bleak cautionary tale, presented in an honest, albeit provocative, way. Unlike Sam Peckingpaw’s Straw Dogs (made a year earlier), Craven never glorifies the violence in Last House On The Left. Not a single frame is set in slow motion or over-styled for the sake of making it look cool. Instead, the audience is forced to confront the atrocities directly – and the initial rape/murder sequence of the teenage girls ends with one of the most unforgettable and chilling moments in any genre film. Once the killers realize they’ve gone too far, the audience clearly sees the remorse on their faces. Last House is a ruthlessly violent film, but one that still unnerves audiences today.
2- The Last House on the Left – The Ending
The twist in Last House on the Left comes in the second half of the film when the criminals try to find shelter and wind up at the house of the family of one of two victims. In classic “backwoods” horror style, the parents quickly clue in that they’re in the presence of the perpetrators, and take justice into their own hands, only their revenge is even more barbaric than the crimes committed against their daughter. The final half achieves its unshakable effect through a combination of things: oral sex, disembowelment and death by chainsaw. Critics who protested about the level of violence were misunderstanding Craven’s intentions. Last House was extremely graphic, but the violence is never played for thrills. The violence, after all, is the central theme. The film emerged a few years after the Manson Family massacre and in the wake of the Vietnam war, and Craven intended it to be an evaluation of the decay of American Culture, onscreen violence, class divides and the naivete of the free-love-hippie era.
3- The Hills Have Eyes – The Trailer Sequence
Wes Craven’s blood-and-bone thriller about an all-American family at the mercy of cannibal mutants in the middle of the Nevada desert is unrelenting, gritty, dark and downright disturbing at times. Much like Sam Peckinpah’s classic, Straw Dogs, it becomes increasingly difficult to watch the nice family being terrorized. Not for the squeamish, the 1977 shocker’s most horrifying segment is, without a doubt, the trailer raiding scene, where the young Brenda Carter (Suze Lanier-Bramlett) is defiled by the feral savage Pluto (Michael Berryman) as another one of the savages breaks into the trailer and tortures the women of the family, all while trying to kidnap their baby. Craven’s willingness to prolong the sequence of torture caused the MPAA to award his film with their dreaded “X” rating.
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