The Only 3 Movies Wes Craven Finds "Totally Terrifying"

The Only 3 Movies Wes Craven Finds
Image credit: Paramount Pictures, Sean S. Cunningham Films

The horror master names his most frightening influences.

There are very few people whose names are synonymous with the horror genre, but Wes Craven is one of them. He first burst onto the scene with 1972's The Last House on the Left, a movie that shocked audiences with its depraved violence and set off the slasher-flick era of the 1980s. The Last House on the Left also caused some serious controversy: due to the gore and the 'scenes of sadistic sexual violence', it remained banned in Britain until 2002.

Craven went on to redefine the horror genre with staples such as The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street. By 1996, Craven was so well established that he started subverting the very expectations that his films helped set up: that was the year that Scream brought some much-needed levity to the genre with its meta narrative and pitch-black sense of humor.

A few years ago Craven spoke to The Daily Beast about the movies that most impacted his career. Of the ten films discussed, only three had moments that the director found 'truly terrifying' – and they aren't all obvious choices.

  1. Psycho (1960)

The Only 3 Movies Wes Craven Finds "Totally Terrifying" - image 1

This might be the most unsurprising pick on the list, as Hitchcock's classic is still considered one of the all-time great (and still frightening) horror movies. But instead of the classic shower sequence, Craven remembers the terrifying impact of Martin Balsam's detective character being murdered by Norman Bates' 'mother'. Craven says:

'There's a high-angle, sort of canted shot, where the mother—or what seems to be the mother—comes out of the doorway with the knife raised over her head, charges at him, stabs him in the chest, and he's so startled he's not able to move. Hitchcock did a very surreal thing where he put his actor on a lift so he could be flying backwards in midair in slow-motion in a very surreal, dreamlike way. It was utterly terrifying.'

  1. The Virgin Spring (1960)

The Only 3 Movies Wes Craven Finds "Totally Terrifying" - image 2

Not many contemporary cinephiles have seen this medieval drama, directed by the legendary Ingmar Bergman. But if you saw The Last House On The Left, you probably recognize the framework: a young woman leaves home on a pilgrimage and meets some shepherds in the woods. The girl is raped and killed, but when the shepherds gets caught in a storm and take shelter in the first house they can find, they find themselves at the mercy of her parents.

Craven says,

'The father systematically murders each one of these shepherds, and that to me, oddly enough, was the most terrifying because his revenge was done so graphically. There was a young boy that was traveling with these shepherds—he was utterly innocent and he ends up being killed, too. I found that really a stunning thing to be depicted in a movie… how they can transcend from being normal people to being victims to being murderers themselves.'

The plot of The Virgin Spring was borrowed for The Last House On The Left, which replaced the religious pilgrimage with a trip to a rock concert, and the shepherds with violent fugitives.

  1. The War of the Worlds (1953)

The Only 3 Movies Wes Craven Finds "Totally Terrifying" - image 3

When he was young, Wes Craven snuck into a theater with his older brother so they could see this classic alien invasion movie. Although not known for creatures features in his own work, the image of the aliens stuck with Craven his entire life. More than sixty years after that trip to the movie theater, he recalled:

'The scary thing about these saucers is they put out these long sort of…it looks like the goose-neck lamp material that is kind of coiled and you can turn it many different ways, and these things are very serpentine with a kind of snakelike head, and they're just sort of looking around the room to sense the presence of humans. I just remember being totally terrified by that.'

Source: The Daily Beast.