“Horror films don’t create fear, they release it.” So said Wes Craven, the director who died this week aged 76.
With his first film, The Last House on the Left (1972), he released industrial quantities of fear into an already febrile America. The fall of Nixon, the Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle meant old power structures were no longer to be trusted. A new breed of horror filmmakers, like Craven, George A. Romero (The Night of the Living Dead) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), allegorised that malaise in order to better pick through it.
In their films, entrenched authority was incompetent and/or corrupt – and the traditional, nuclear family unit curdled beyond recognition. Mum, Dad and the kids transformed into slavering cannibals in Craven’s second film, The Hills Have Eyes. The nice folks from the local church became the community of weird religious ascetics in Deadly Blessing. Unlike the sensual Hammer movies of earlier days, Craven’s monsters often didn’t creep out of castles. They just sauntered down the street and opened your front door. They were us.