Wes Craven Blogathon- The Nightmares of Wes Craven
( The Wes Craven Blogathon kicks off today, with a post on his 2 iconic movies The Last House on The Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Some of the pictures in the post are quite graphic, so do be warned).
Though Wes Craven had directed many other horror flicks, it is through the Nightmare on Elm Street Series, that he is best known. Aptly so, because most of Wes Craven’s movies have often played on some of our worst nightmares. Freddy Kruger is certainly the kind of character who could haunt us in our dreams every where we go. Prior to Nightmare however Craven’s first movie The Last House on The Left, in 1972, was a movie that even by today’s standards is shockingly violent and repulsive at places.
The Last House on The Left , was actually more of a psychological thriller cum exploitation film. The movie has totally gratutious shots of nudity, sex and torture. And quite a lot of the scenes do make you flinch out here. It deals with two teen girls Mari and Phyllis, looking for some pot, being kidnapped by a gang of run away convicts, Krug, his son Junior, Sadie and Weasel. The two girls undergo a series of tortures as they are beaten, raped, forced to have sex with each other and forcibly made to urinate. The irony is that all this takes place in the woods very close to Mari’s home. Phyliss attempts to escape, but is captured and disembowelled, while Maris is again raped, has Krugs name carved into her and is shot dead. The movie deals with how Mari’s parents find out about the act, and take revenge on the killers. The movie has one of the most horrifying acts of violence, where a guy’s organ is literally bitten off.
Craven followed this up with his another horror classic, The Hills Have Eyes in 1977. This dealt with a family of 5 members, Bob & Ethel Carter, their kids, Lynne, Bobby and Brenda, along with Lynne’s husband Doug who are out vacationing in the countryside. Their car is stranded on the road, and Bob goes out to look for help. The problem is that the area is inhabited by a notorious cannibal family, led by Papa Jupiter, who had killed all the livestock on his farm as a kid and then his own sister. Disowned by his father Fred, he teamed up with a whore called Mama, and together with their kids, they waylaid and terrorized the travelers. Interestingly Jupiter’s kids are named as Mars and Pluto. The movie is about how the Carter’s family is attacked by Jupiter and their attempts to survive.
If one takes a look at Wes Craven’s first 2 movies, certain common threads come into picture here. Both movies show a contrast between the civilized world and the savage world. In The Last House, Maris family, is educated well to do, and she is terrorized by runaway convicts. The movie seems to reflect the fears of suburbia residents being swamped by the others. During the 70′s, many white families migrated into the suburbs, as the inner city areas began to deteriorate owing to problems like unemployment, rising crime rates, run down housing. Here too the convicts are shown to be New Yorkers, in a way reflecting the fears of the suburbia residents that they their safety could be engendered.
Also In The Last House On The Left, the trouble for the girls begins when they go out to get some marijuana. Again this seemed to be a kind of comment against the flower power swinging 60′s generation, implying that drugs could be leading to trouble. Also the way the convicts force the girls to have sex with each other, parade them naked, seemed to be a statement against the excesses of the free love Beat generation. While not as popular as the other 70′s slasher classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in a way both movies bought in the realistic violence aspect to the horror genre.
In The Hills Have Eyes, the conflict is clearly more out in the open, between the civilized Carter family and the wild, uncivilized family of cannibals. In fact Wes Craven sets it up in the opening scene, when Fred keeps looking around as he tries to escape from the place, and then another girl Ruby pleads with him to take her away. Here also the family has to fight for itself against a bunch of crazed killers. In both The Last House and Hills Have Eyes, we see that the main characters strike back in the same brutal fashion as their tormentors. The brutal manner in which Maris parents attack their daughters killers, and also the way Doug and Carter family, fend off Papa Jupiters families, seems to show the principle of might is right. Or in a way implying that civil rights are good in principle, but not in real life.
One more stand out feature of both these movies is the rawness quotient. Most of the 70′s horror and slasher flicks, had that raw, edgy feel, with in your face violence. The movies are not slick, unlike the more sophisticated 90′s productions, they had a raw edgy, and a sort of a home camera feel. The camera work keeps going at dizzy angles, bringing a giddy feeling. In fact both of them were X Rated, when first shown, and Craven, had to keep making cuts till it came to R. Even then they were banned for quite some time, due to the high amount of gore and sex.
For those who have seen Wes Craven’s Nightmare On Elm Street and loved it, i would still recommend both these movies. Yes they are typical B movie exploitation stuff, pretty raw, pretty rough, but they actually would help you understand how Nightmare On Elm Street came into being.