Total Recall: Wes Craven's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Scream 4 director.

Wes Craven

Horror is one of Hollywood's most consistent money-making genres, and it's been a terrific gateway for some of our most well-respected actors and directors -- but unless you're really good at playing a homicidal maniac behind a mask, it's hard to make a consistently successful career out of scaring people. Though his filmography has certainly weathered its fair share of ups and downs, Wes Craven is a notable exception to the rule: starting with 1972's Last House on the Left, he's demonstrated an uncommon gift for freaking out filmgoers around the world. In honor of his return to the Scream franchise this week, we decided to lock the door, close the curtains, and take a peek (through our fingers, natch) at his best films, Total Recall style!


59%

10. The Serpent and the Rainbow

The years immediately following his Nightmare on Elm Street breakthrough weren't especially kind to Wes Craven; he tried to prove he was capable of more than horror (the short-lived sitcom The People Next Door) while searching for new franchises (Shocker) and raiding his past for cash-grab sequels (The Hills Have Eyes II). One small bright spot during this period, however, was 1987's The Serpent and the Rainbow, which followed a scientist (Bill Pullman) on his nightmarish quest to uncover the truth about a Haitian herbal toxin rumored to turn people into zombies. While it wasn't a huge hit, Rainbow represented a more cerebral -- yet still plenty scary -- turn for Craven, something appreciated by critics like the Washington Post's Desson Thomson, who observed that the director "seems wiser and more story-conscious -- but thankfully still full of the same surprises."


61%

9. The Last House on the Left

The original poster warned that The Last House on the Left "rests on 13 acres of earth over the very center of Hell" -- and included instructions for avoiding fainting spells while watching the movie. Pretty standard stuff for this kind of grisly exploitation fare, but Last House is a tad more deranged than most, plunging the audience into a sickening succession of nightmarish random violence, sexual depravity, and bloodthirsty revenge. As an artistic statement on the costs of violence, it boasts arguable merit -- and for sheer revolting spectacle, it's (thankfully) hard to match. "It isn't artistically adroit," admitted Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader, "but if success in this genre is counted by squirms, it's a success."


63%

8. Music of the Heart

After rejuvenating his career with the first two chapters in the Scream trilogy, Craven took a surprising turn into uplifting, reality-based drama with 1999's Music of the Heart, the story of a Harlem violin teacher (played by Meryl Streep) whose dogged determination (and incredible luck) helped save a school arts program -- and put her fundraising concert on stage at Carnegie Hall. It's just the kind of true story that Hollywood loves to coat with corny melodrama, and while most critics agreed that Craven wasn't immune to that impulse, they ultimately felt that Streep's performance -- which earned her an Academy Award nomination -- helped distinguish Music from similar films. As Eleanor Ringel Gillespie wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Streep's extraordinary performance makes this the rare inspirational movie that actually is, well, inspirational."


64%

7. The Hills Have Eyes

Throw together a "no nukes" message with 89 minutes of stereotypes about rural people and you've got The Hills Have Eyes, Craven's gleefully deranged 1977 hit about a traveling family (whose members included a young Dee Wallace) stalked and murdered by a pack of cave-dwelling mutants in the Nevada desert. Featuring a truly memorable performance by Michael Berryman as the brutal clan member known as Pluto, Hills has spawned a number of sequels, a remake, and a sequel to the remake, but none of them hold a candle to the sadistic original. Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle was part of the wave of critical applause, writing that "Inventive story ideas and humorous touches give this horror picture an enduring relevancy and stylistic flourish."


64%

6. Swamp Thing

After making a name for himself with unabashed horror movies like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, Craven made a bid for crossover territory with 1982's Swamp Thing, an adaptation of the DC Comics series about a scientist (Ray Wise) whose experimental formula ends up turning him into a hulking mound of sentient plant matter. It sounds campy, and it definitely is, but Craven has always had a pretty sharp knack for this stuff, and particularly in the context of pre-CG comic book films, Swamp Thing earned a surprising level of admiration from critics who appreciated its so-bad-it's-goodness -- as well as Craven's taste in leading ladies. Cole Smithey fell into the latter camp, reminiscing, "Oh yes, Adrienne Barbeau. Thanks for the memories."

Comments

EDWARD R.

Edward Rodriguez

Red Eye was just incredible.Murphy and McCadams were great in it.

Apr 13 - 04:50 PM

Dave J

Dave J

After seeing and liking "28 Days Later", it's hard picturing Cillian Murphy as a bad guy even though he was great playing as "The Scarecrow" in Nolan's Batman film!

Apr 13 - 04:56 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

Murphy is without a doubt the highlight of the movie. He can definitely play one evil dude. With that said, Red Eye is a real edge of your seat thriller until around the third act where it all falls apart.

Apr 13 - 09:51 PM

Dave J

Dave J

The very first "Nightmare on Elm Street", "The Serpent on the Rainbow", "People Under The Stairs", "The Hills Have Eyes", "The Last House On The Left", and the first "Scream" are all great films!

Apr 13 - 04:52 PM

Nine Oh Two

joe schmoe

People Under The Stairs is pure awesome.

Apr 14 - 04:06 PM

Dave J

Dave J

No complaints about that!

Apr 14 - 04:49 PM

Dave J

Dave J

After seeing and liking "28 Days Later", it's hard picturing Cillian Murphy as a bad guy even though he was great playing as "The Scarecrow" in Nolan's Batman film!

Apr 13 - 04:56 PM

rle4lunch

Chad W

I don't know if it's just me, but you can feel alot of 'New Nightmare' esque directing and storytelling in the original Scream movie. He was definitely on his game on all these movies.

Apr 13 - 05:14 PM

General Wiz

Carlos Flores

Scream 2 is ny favorite. Hopefully scream 4 will be fesh but it looks like it's going to be down to the wire right now,

Apr 13 - 05:29 PM

doomzdavo

Doomz Davo

Great director. Great list.

Apr 13 - 05:41 PM

jrod1978

jarrod taylor

New Nightmare was very underated in my book.

Apr 13 - 06:09 PM

ap sirius

karl anderson

I very much agree with you...I think it forshadows the same unique take on horror that Scream would later show...

Apr 13 - 06:45 PM

JC Martel

JC Martel

And all the Screams are all way overrated.

Apr 13 - 07:07 PM

Imnotazombie

joey mcsweeney

The screams were great. The thing they had that none of others Cravens movies had was good writing.

Apr 13 - 07:47 PM

harlemworld84

R. H II

i definitely agree w/ you on the writing aspect... scream was an ultimate satire of slasher films

Apr 14 - 04:09 AM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

It's a great movie.

Apr 14 - 10:00 AM

Monti Cristo

Daniel Higgs

I like People Under the Stairs better than most of the stuff on the first page, I'm surprised that it wasn't on there.

Apr 13 - 06:25 PM

tomwaitsjrHAPPYICONOCLAST

Greg Guro

I got a kick out of PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS as well. I remember seeing it in a packed movie theater with a VERY talkative audience. Good times.

Apr 13 - 06:46 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

It wasn't on there because they went by the top 10 tomato meter and it garnered a 56%, lower than #10's 59%. I still liked it more than the majority of the list, and it was campier than all of them put together.

Apr 13 - 08:07 PM

ap sirius

karl anderson

I very much agree with you...I think it forshadows the same unique take on horror that Scream would later show...

Apr 13 - 06:45 PM

tomwaitsjrHAPPYICONOCLAST

Greg Guro

I got a kick out of PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS as well. I remember seeing it in a packed movie theater with a VERY talkative audience. Good times.

Apr 13 - 06:46 PM

Richard H.

Richard Han

Who is Cillian Adams? 0__0

Apr 13 - 06:48 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

He's the amalgam that forms when Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams wonder twin powers activate.

Apr 13 - 06:52 PM

woundedmakers

Steven Bada

lol

Apr 14 - 02:40 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

He's the amalgam that forms when Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams wonder twin powers activate.

Apr 13 - 06:52 PM

woundedmakers

Steven Bada

lol

Apr 14 - 02:40 PM

dethburger

dethburger hates Flixster

Really liked People Under the Stairs too.

New Nightmare was great.

Liked The Hills Have Eyes.

Wes Craven is a pretty good film maker some of the time.

Apr 13 - 06:53 PM

JAKEofMIDWORLD

Jake Almond

I've always been a huge fan of his. He and John Carpenter are my two favorite horror directors. They both did things outside of the genre (especially Carpenter) but horror is their passion and it shows.

Apr 13 - 06:59 PM

manwithoutfear19

Daniel Raimondi

those two directors are the only ones that can scare you

Apr 14 - 09:32 AM

woundedmakers

Steven Bada

@Jake, Its interesting that they are your favorite horror filmmakers, because they are both easily the most inconsistent. In fact I'd argue that both Carpenter and Craven have made more shitty films than good ones. Of course none of this matters, because one of them directed Halloween, and the other NOES.

Apr 14 - 02:45 PM

JAKEofMIDWORLD

Jake Almond

Yeah, well, I don't have to defend my reasons for them being my favorites, but you will also find if you knew anything about the genre or filmmaking in general that they did way more than just Nightmare and Halloween. I can name at least five films from each that are personal favorite films. Therefore they are my favorite directors of that particular genre. With the exception of Hitchcock there is very little consistency within the horror genre. Yeah Craven and Carpenter have had some duds, but I'm sure you haven't seen many of their films or you would understand why they are so important to the genre in the first place. Or maybe they just aren't your faves, which is fine.

Who is your favorite horror director?

Apr 17 - 07:25 AM

JAKEofMIDWORLD

Jake Almond

Sorry have to point this out.

Wes

Last House on the Left (original) - directly inspired Texas Chainsaw style
The Hills Have Eyes - highly influential to the genre
A Nightmare On Elm Street - no more needs to be said
The Serpent and the Rainbow - Scary in a more psychological way
People Under the Stairs - just a personal fave. Weird and entertaining
Scream - Very effective when it first came out brought a new wave of horror for better and/or worse


John

Halloween - you know
Assault on Pricinct 13 (original/not really horror, but good film)
Escape From New York (again, not horror, but def weird and original)
The Thing (classic monster film. Better than the original in every way)
Starman (great Sci-Fi with some strange effects for the time)
They Live - underrated
Vampires - I really dig this action/horror. One of the cooler Vamp movies, back before Vampires went Emo



Apr 17 - 07:40 AM

JC Martel

JC Martel

And all the Screams are all way overrated.

Apr 13 - 07:07 PM

Imnotazombie

joey mcsweeney

The screams were great. The thing they had that none of others Cravens movies had was good writing.

Apr 13 - 07:47 PM

harlemworld84

R. H II

i definitely agree w/ you on the writing aspect... scream was an ultimate satire of slasher films

Apr 14 - 04:09 AM

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