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Wes Craven: 6 times the horror movie maestro scared us to death

Wes Craven fueled our nightmares for decades and virtually created the horror movie industry as we know it today.
/ Source: TODAY

For decades, Wes Craven fueled our nightmares — in the movies, and literally: His "Nightmare on Elm Street" collection of films were at times goofy and endless, but they were never not horrifying.

The late director, who died Sunday at 76, left behind reels of terrifying tales full of any number of malevolent moments, but here are six times when he really left us screaming — which is how we think he liked it.

"The Last House on the Left" (1972)

After years of directing X-rated movies, Craven moved into horror with this bare-bones movie about revenge after a sexual assault (it was remade in 2009). Criminals attack and kill a group of female friends in a horrific manner ... but they make their biggest mistake when they go to one of the girls' homes for refuge. The girl's parents realize what has happened and exact revenge on their daughter's killers in a similarly gruesome manner.

Tag line: "To avoid fainting, keep repeating: 'It's only a movie. It's only a movie.'"

"The Hills Have Eyes" (1977)

Don't you hate when this happens? You take the family on a trip across the Nevada desert, get stranded and ... end up being pursued by a group of cannibals. (Maybe they lost all they had in Las Vegas.) Worst moment: When one character is forced to eat the family's pet as punishment. (Warning: Trailer has some strong language. Plus carnage, but you expected that.) And yes, there was a 1985 sequel and a remake in 2006.

Tag line: "They wanted to see something different, but something different saw them first."

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)

The movie that spawned no fewer than eight sequels, as well as burned high school janitor and child killer Freddie Kruger, helped resurrect the genre too. Not just another crazy-murderer-chases-nubile-young-folks movies, "Elm Street" also found a way to terrify its characters within their dreams. Bonus: It gave us one of Johnny Depp's earliest roles!

Tag line: "Whatever you do, don't fall asleep!"

"The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1988)

Craven continued his exploration of dreams and nightmares with this rather un-PC film about a researcher with few ethical issues who gets hired by a pharmaceutical company to create a new kind of anesthetic based on Haitian voodoo. The result: Zombie-making drugs! Scariest moment: When a particular body part gets nailed to a chair. Scarier: The character lives and comes back for more.

Tag line: "Don't let them bury me! I'm not dead!"

"The People Under the Stairs" (1991)

When a family gets evicted from their apartment, they discover strange children in the basement who apparently violated a "see/hear/speak no evil" rule their landlords had set up. Oh, and the kids are not all right — they're cannibals. By the end, there's a small fortune in gold discovered, an explosion and the kids are freed. Which may not be the best idea.

Tag line: "What goes on in this house is a sin. But what goes on under the stairs is a nightmare."

"Scream" (1996)

Cleverly understanding that the horror movie genre needed a tweak, Craven created the "Scream" franchise (four movies and a TV series and counting) by making a frightening film that also played with some of the cliches of the format. (The young innocents who end up tormented by a ghost mask-wearing slasher have seen enough horror movies that they know there are rules to surviving such a film. Notes one character, "Number one: you can never have sex"). Do those rules get broken? Of course.

Tag line: "Do you like scary movies?"

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