For my money William Friedkin is one of the most talented directors working today. Not everything he does clicks (with the public or box office-wise, for that matter) but as far as I am concerned he’s made one of the best crime thrillers in recent memory with 1985’s To Live And Die In L.A. Some might suggest that I am crazy, and bring up 1971’s The French Connection, but for my money To Live And Die In L.A., with its combination of a talented director, an outstanding cast and great music hit all the right notes.
Interestingly enough, Friedkin also directed one of the best horror movies, The Exorcist, ever put on celluloid.
And while the movies that Wes Craven created, particularly A Nightmare On Elm Street, managed to tap into The zeitgeist in a way few other films have done besides being visually interesting, though more often then not his movies were products of the time that they were made; which is another way of saying that they don’t age particularly well.
If in doubt check out Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. While the idea of cannibalistic mutants preying on hapless tourists is always potentially interesting, the movie has not aged well (though Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake…pretty good, almost brilliantly so).
Let’s contrast that with the The Exorcist. It’s not only one of the scariest horror movies ever made–I think that Craven’s The Snake And The Rainbow was probably his most effective movie as far as terror goes though it doesn’t have the single-mindedness of Friedkin’s classic.
I also had the feeling that Craven was a horror director less because he actually wanted to do it, that it was a niche that he happened to fall into (which isn’t an insult by any means. John Carpenter did some groundbreaking horror films, though recognized, and at times seem embittered by the fact, that it limited his ability to move into other types of filmmaking).
So, while Craven was known as a maker of horror films, it never really felt to me that he committed to the genre to the degree that other directors, such as Carpenter (or even Friedkin himself) have demonstrated.
So Wes Craven will always be known for the horrors that he helped to bring to grisly life, though I am not at all sure that that’s what he would have wanted.