Wes Craven's 7 Scariest, Most Influential Horror Films

by Zach Seemayer 12:31 AM PDT, September 01, 2015

When director Wes Craven died on Sunday, he left behind a legacy of horror movie masterpieces that changed both the style and substance of the genre. His films still scare and thrill audiences years later.

In a career filled with creepy brilliance and soul-shattering terror, a few films from his impressive oeuvre stand out as frightful works of brilliance. Here are seven of the celebrated horror maestro's scariest (and most influential) offerings.

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7. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)


This slow-burn thriller takes an entirely different approach to the zombie genre, following Harvard researcher Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman), as he investigates the roots of the zombie legend in Haiti, and finds himself embroiled in violent political unrest and voodoo. Add to all of that is the fact that the film is (loosely) based on a non-fiction novel of the same name, and The Serpent and the Rainbow is still one of Craven's most unnerving and moody works.

6. The Last House on the Left (1972)


Wes Craven's directorial debut, The Last House on the Left was made for just over $85,000 and ended up grossing over $3 million. However the film is as deeply disturbing today as it was when it was released in 1972. And while a slick remake was released in 2009, the low-budget, on-location grittiness of the original gave it an edge that may not ever be topped.

5. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)


Originally given an X rating by the MPAA, Craven's The Hill Have Eyes has been a controversial film since its release. It follows a suburban family who gets stuck in the Nevada desert, only to become the target of a murderous family of deformed and inbred savages that live in the vast, desolate terrain. The Hills Have Eyes became another Craven classic to get remade in 2006.

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4. Swamp Thing (1982)


Based on the DC Comics character, Swamp Thing was Craven's attempt to step back from straight-up horror and prove himself capable of handling large-budget projects with stunts and action sequences. It's unclear if the attempt worked in eyes of producers, but Craven inadvertently managed to master the Creature Feature horror subgenre in the process, creating an inexplicably engaging film with wonderfully disturbing imagery.

3. Scream (1996)


Scream was a brilliant change of pace for Craven -- and easily one of his most successful films -- because he presented a movie universe where horror movies existed. Think of every zombie film you've watched where the characters has never heard of zombies before! It's insane and ridiculous and Craven turned that trope on its head by making every character in the film understand, appreciate and react to the "rules" of a horror movie. It was a spoof without being a spoof, and still stands as a legitimately fun, scary slasher flick. There's something to be said that the first Scary Movie parodied Scream, and only managed to make the same jokes, only more blatantly.

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2. The People Under the Stairs (1991)


Aside from the fact that the title alone is enough to make most people really unnerved, Craven's bizarre and deeply disturbing story of cannibalism, kidnapping and dark family secrets -- set to the backdrop of mild, mid-city suburban life -- has a lasting impact. And there's one line from the trailer that really sums up the spooky mood of the entire film: "She's been feeding that thing between the walls again." Nope! Nope, nope, nope!

1. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)


It might be a cliché to list Nightmare in the top spot, but the truth of the matter is, there's no way around it. The original A Nightmare On Elm Street is a masterpiece, hands down. The story of a disfigured serial killer hunting down children in their dreams made an entire generation of teenagers terrified of sleep. Freddy Krueger is still one of the most iconic horror movie monsters of all time, even after he turned into a laughable (albeit still entertaining) cartoon. Despite no CGI, the film's practical effects still manage to be some of the scariest of all time (next to the 1982 John Carpenter classic The Thing). With Nightmare, Wes changed the rules of scary movies and the face of horror all together, and it truly will stand as his lasting contribution to cinema.

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What's your favorite Wes Craven film?