It's been two years since Wes Craven passed away. One of the true masters of horror, Wes was known for his ability to craft a scene so intense that it'd have everyone sitting on the edge of their seats with fear. He created the iconic Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and helmed the Scream series, making true classics of the genre that will forever be remembered. Today, I want to talk about the individual sequences that became some of the most terrifying moments in cinematic history and should be remembered as a part of this man's incredible legacy.
5.Cursed — The Parking Garage Scene
Appropriately titled, Cursed was a film that went through a thousand problems with the studio that rendered it almost completely unwatchable — with the exception of one incredible sequence.
This scene is a masterpiece of tension building, with Jenny going to her car after a Halloween party. Upon arriving at her car she comes across a pool of blood and some paw prints, a clever way of informing the audience that a werewolf is lurking nearby but we don't know where. That is, until the wolf pops up behind Jenny and throws her around like a rag doll. From there it's a game of cat and mouse where the wolf is almost never seen until the end. Jenny eventually seems like she's safe after getting into an elevator, but that doesn't save her for long. The tension building here is slow and methodical; every action slowly builds until the end of the scene and all without either character speaking a word. Instead, Wes uses the framing to tell us where everyone is and just how terrified they should be.
4' Red Eye — 'If You Want Your Dad To Live'
Red Eye is one of Wes's lesser-known films that certainly doesn't get listed alongside his more famous works. Starring Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams, this two-hander film relies on a lot of tension building, specifically from the two seats where the actors solely work off each other. No scene does it better than the reveal of Cillian's plan. It's so carefully shot, which is impressive considering that it's all inside the plane with nowhere else to go.
The moment Cillian says the line "If you want your dad to live" is when (effectively) Cillian and Rachel become the only two people on the entire plane. Everyone else falls out of focus and is rendered pointless. It's a slow build to the payoff of the wallet being dropped. In that moment we not only realize just how serious this is, but how well planned everything is. It kicks the tension up and grabs everyone's attention instantly, from then on the film will not be letting you go for even a second.
3. New Nightmare — 'Skin The Cat'
New Nightmare is easily the best of all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies. After staying away from the series that made him into a household name for nearly 20 years, Wes returned with a new nightmare that took everything about the original movie that worked and ramped it up a thousand times.
This scene is a direct copy of the revolving room sequence from the original movie, except unlike last time we have to watch what Freddy is doing to Julie. He's not just killing her, he's torturing her and the poor child that's unable to help his babysitter. It's very carefully set up to mirror the death of Tina's character in the original — and it works. The buildup here is so well done that it can't really be improved.
2. Scream — Phone Call
This is arguably the most iconic scene of the '90s, one of the greatest horror sequences of all time. It made people invest in caller ID and turned the phrase "What's your favorite scary movie?" into a terrifying question that would send a chill up any fan's spine (and I put it at second on this list).
It's a great scene, a testament to how much actors trusted Wes. While preparing for this scene, Wes and Drew Barrymore would talk about Drew's love of animals and, in particular, a story that broke her heart about someone lighting an animal on fire. To mentally prepare herself for this scene, Wes would tell her: "Drew, I'm lighting the lighter."
The camera choices are perfect, and little touches like the swing that still moves or the popcorn container left on the stove help build the tension perfectly. At no point in production did Drew meet the guy on the phone. No one did — he was offset with a cell phone and a script and that was it. No one knew his name, he just terrified them over the phone. Wes carefully kept the actors apart and managed to keep Drew in the right emotional state for the very intense shoot.
This scene is so well done and so realistic that cops actually turned up on set because the phone calls were real, and they thought there was someone calling the house to terrorize the person living there. Wes builds everything just right, shows exactly what we need to see and uses camera angles so well that this scene would be the best thing he ever made, but there's one more scene that scares me so much I can't watch it again.
1. Last House On The Left — "Piss Your Pants"
Last House On The Left is Wes's first feature film and it's truly a disturbing watch. It follows Krug and his merry band of criminals who want to commit the worst crime possible, so they kidnap two women, torture, rape and kill them in the middle of the woods. This film is full of some intense moments, from the almost escape that ends in a character's brutal stabbing, to the shooting of another major character in the middle of a lake. It's a dark and gritty film but everything gets all too real when Krug tells Phyllis: "Piss your pants." If she doesn't, then her friend Mari will get cut.
What follows is, naturally, Phyllis pissing her pants. It's a dark intense terrifying moment that demonstrates how these characters are not kidding and not going to hold back; they are now in charge and nothing good can happen after this moment. The tension only increases as the film continues, but this scene is the scariest purely because of its simplicity and the pure power those three little words give this terrifying villain.
Of course, at the end of the day these are all personal picks. When it comes to Wes Craven, there are so many great terrifying scenes from the nearly 30 horror films directed by the man. Maybe you were most scared by Kirby's phone call scene at the end of Scream 4 or the first official dream sequence in Nightmare On Elm Street was the one that got you. Heck, maybe it was that scene in Hills Have Eyes where the cannibals kidnapped a baby. I don't know, but I think we can agree that two years later, the loss of Wes Craven left a hole in the #horror genre that won't be filled any time soon. We miss you Wes, and all the nightmares you gave us.
What Wes Craven scene do you think is the scariest?