Wes Craven and how violence should be personal and terrifying


Wes Craven’s ‘Last House on the Left’ crashed upon an unsuspecting world and left Wes Craven and how violence should be personal and terrifying.

Whether intentional or not – or perhaps predestined – Wes Craven certainly left a lasting impression on the horror community, one that has well exceeded his sad parting from our world. Single-handily, Uncle Wes managed to bring our most unsettling nightmares to blistering life.

Craven had a way of reaching into the cesspool of the collective consciousness and drag out the worst we had to offer. He exposed the dark side of human nature, whereas many chose to ignore it or flee from it entirely. Last House on the Left, his earliest project, was only a preview of the exceeding wealth of raw terror the man had in store for the world.

Now, after reading that, you may think Uncle Wes was a rather dismal kind of guy. Certainly after watching some of his finest cinematic achievements one could draw the same conclusion, but nothing could be further from the truth. Craven wasn’t out to punish society or rag on our underachievements. However, being the creative master that he was, Craven was out to expose the raw terror of daily violence that society had grown so accustomed to.

In other words, and according to Sean Cunningham (director of Friday the 13th), Craven wanted to slap people out of that state of numbness and then shock them by how traumatic violence can (and should) be. In order to do that, Craven had to make violence personal.

Craven’s Last House on the Left crashed upon an unsuspecting world and left audiences maimed in their consciousness. The world was simply unprepared for this level of horror, and Wes Craven was only getting started.

Last House on the Left – courtesy of Rogue Pictures

Last House on the Left came out at a time of Western movies. People were constantly being shot left and right and it wasn’t any big deal to see up to 100 men get plugged fulla lead and drop deader than dead. Kids applauded and cheered as one by one cowboys pulled the trigger and down went another couple of dozen.

This deeply disturbed Craven, so, in order to exorcise his own demons, he turned it about and used it to disturb audiences. “Personal violence” is what LHotL is all about. The common American home – a loving wife, a caring husband, and a daughter blossoming into the readiness of a wide-open future ahead of her, just plump with over ripened opportunities – is suddenly shot all to pieces when the violence up on the theater screen suddenly comes sneaking in through the opened back window.

More from Wes Craven

I’ve just picked up the ARROW VIDEO release of Last House on the Left, and owe a great debt of gratitude for the ground-breaking insight into the mind and imagination of Uncle Wes. And that’s what his proto-foray into exploitation was – ground-breaking. It split the backyard of anyone’s house wide open and exposed a very near-to-home Hell living underneath. It was far too close for comfort, and that’s the lasting impact the movie still holds over viewers today.

It’s a strange little movie in so many ways. It has inappropriate music, inappropriate bits of comedy thrown in, and a couple of cops who are dumber than mud and have no right being in this kind of project. Some may roll their eyes at all this inappropriateness. And then…it strikes! And it strikes hard. It strikes and it refuses to let up. Not to get too philosophical, but perhaps that’s what makes it work. We’re not expecting it to go full-on exploitation, and when it does, by Heaven, we are not ready for it. And isn’t that how horror works best? That unknown dread that strikes without warning!

Still, to this day, I can see why people were puking in theaters while sitting through this movie. Think of that. Wes Craven did it! The same hall where audiences cheered gunshots and death only a week previously, is now become a somber waiting cell of traumatized viewers who now scream, faint and puke over the same kind of violence that’s now become far too personal.

Uncle Wes was not a one-hit wonder though. What began a career in terror with Last House on the Left went on to lead cautious viewers into the isolated wastes of The Hills Have Eyes and was once again a profound success.

But all of a sudden Craven took horror out of isolation and brought it into the American suburb, to one particular street to be exact. Elm Street and its hideous dream demon have left fans screaming and raving for more now for generations. Then, just when you might think the man had used up all those creative juices, he went and reinvented the genre he helped build with a classic return to slasher films, Scream.

Personally, one of my favorites among all of his achievements was seeing Anne Ramsey’s (The Goonies) head get blown up by a basketball in Deadly Friend.

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The man had an incredible career and left us horrors close to home, and for that, his legacy will always be cherished in our hearts.

What’s your favorite Wes Craven movie? Let us know in the comments section below!