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Wes Craven, the legendary horror director, died on August 30th 2015 after a long battle with brain cancer. Unfortunately, there’s no plot twist in this story. Wes Craven left behind nearly 50 years of genre-defining films and an immortal artistic legacy. While some of you may be familiar with his cult classics like Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Hills Have Eyes, the most underrated Wes Craven films are equally as engaging, surprising, and hard-hitting to older and younger audiences alike. To truly appreciate the man who defined the slasher film, take a look at the most underrated Wes Craven films that you need to see.
Written and directed by the master himself, Swamp Thing tells the story of scientist Alec Holland (played by Ray Wise) who transforms unwillingly into the monster called Swamp Thing. The transformation is orchestrated by the evil Anton Arcane through a laboratory sabotage. As the film progresses, Swamp Thing assists a beautiful woman named Alice (played by Adrienne Barbeau) and confronts the evil and ruthless Arcane in a battle for life or death. The science fiction film is based on the DC Comics character of the same name. Craven’s dip into the science fiction realm proves to be a success, and he brings suspense, beauty, action, and art to the genre.
Chiller is Wes Craven’s 4th television movie, formally known as “Wes Craven’s Chiller”. The original title reflects Craven’s ever-growing popularity during the period. The film follows the life of corporate executive Miles Creighton (Michael Beck) who dies and is cryonically preserved with the hope that he will eventually be revived. After ten years pass, the cryonic procedure proves to be a success, and Miles returns–without his soul. Any Wes Craven fan can immediately see why the director was interested in signing on to direct Chiller; Craven was always fascinated with family and human dynamics. His ideology for the film begs the question: what is the effect that a shell of a man could have on society, and on himself? Ask yourself this question while you watch the events that occur in Creighton’s confused and soul-searching dystopia.
Deadly Blessing isn’t the masterpiece critics of the time wished for, but it is still one of the most underrated Wes Craven films. The chilling psychological and supernatural horror film perfectly compliments Craven’s extensive repertoire. He took an average community story and transformed it into an eccentric, palatable vintage horror film that resounds in its genre.The film features a young Sharon Stone in one of her earliest screen appearances. Craven took an artistic approach to this film, and in a beautifully directed scene, drops a spider into Sharon’s mouth (her one condition in filming was for the spider to be defanged). Deadly Blessing tells the story of a strange figure committing crimes of murder in a contemporary community. This average community finds itself next to another that believes in ancient evil and curses. Wes Craven juxtaposes traditional superstition with contemporary, creating a film that juggles the beliefs of two different worlds.
The Serpent in the Rainbow
The Serpent in the Rainbow stars Bill Pullman and is loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis. In the book, Davis recounts his experiences in Haiti while investigating the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was allegedly poisoned, buried alive, and revived with a herbal brew, allowing her to become...a ZOMBIE. I’m not kidding. Don’t you want to read that novel now? But before you read the book, take a look at the film, which borrows the basic premise of Davis’ book, and adds a more suspenseful to it, with the ever present Craven plot twist.
Invitation to Hell
Invitation to Hell is a made-for-TV story that attempts to blend supernatural horror and science fiction elements; and many critics would say that it failed to do so. We say it is a valiant effort, and an interesting addition to Craven’s canon. The plot follows scientist Robert Urich’s experiments with a new spacesuit designed to detect non-human lifeforms for a proposed expedition to Venus. The film was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, despite TV censorship and low production values.
Wes Craven directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for Shocker. Even more, he had his first acting appearance in the film as a neighbor; the first of many cameos to come. Wes Craven muses with the idea of a serial killer, Pinker, brought back to life by the electricity in his electric chair. The serial killer then carries out his vengeance on the football player who turned him into the police. According to Wes Craven himself, it took the film 13 submissions to the MPAA to receive an “R” rating instead of an “X”. Intrigued yet? Some of the scenes that were cut include someone spitting out fingers, a more graphic electrocution of Pinker, and a longer scene of a possessed coach stabbing his own hand. I don’t know about you, but my understanding of an “X” rating, and the 1980’s understanding of an “X” rating, are extremely different. Just that in itself puts Shocker on the list of most underrated Wes Craven films.
People Under the Stairs
Wes Craven takes an interesting and terrifying look into Urban Decay through the vision of his original screenplay, People Under the Stairs. People will keep you up at night, searching for cannibalistic children in your walls. The film follows two adults and a juvenile burglar as they break into a house occupied by a brother and sister who have a deadly secret: they kidnap children and won’t let anyone who enters the house escape.
Wes Craven served as the executive producer on this 1997 horror film directed by Robert Kurtzman. It is the only film in the Wishmaster series to have Craven’s name attached to it. Wishmaster follows the story of a djinn (an omnipotent, supremely evil entity) who is released from a jewel and seeks to capture the soul of the woman who discovered him. Once this is accomplished, a portal opens, and thousands of djinn are released to inhabit the earth. Because of Wishmaster’s success, three sequels were ordered to create a series; but we recommend the first film, as it has Wes Craven’s special touch. He twists your deepest dreams and desires into the world’s worst nightmare, reminding us of a gnarled version of Aladdin’s genie. Be careful what you wish for.
Vampire in Brooklyn
Eddie Murphy and Wes Craven team up? What? You’ll have to see Vampire in Brooklyn for yourself to believe this dream-team (you never would have thought of) mash-up. Craven’s attempt at a comedic-horror film was a success with audiences and critics alike, thanks to its biggest stars Eddie Murphy and American Horror Story’s Angela Bassett. Eddie Murphy wrote the screenplay for the film, while Wes Craven’s vision came alive in the direction. Wes Craven infuses classical with contemporary to put a unique comedic spin on the terror of vampires. The only thing missing, in my opinion, is Nicolas Cage screaming “I’M A VAMPIRE”.
Last House on the Left
Contemporary audiences may have seen the 2009 remake, but the original film is a must-see. The movie that started it all, Last House on the Left is Craven’s first directorial and screenwriting debut. This brutal horror masterpiece is a staple of grindhouse and revenge cinema. Last House on the Left will always be viewed as the defining film of Craven’s extensive canon. The exploitation-horror film follows two teenage girls who are taken into the woods and tortured by a gang of murderous thugs. This one might not be an underrated Wes Craven film, as it gained a large cult following, but it's one that is often overlooked.