Remembering Wes Craven: a revolutionary career

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A horror icon has moved on from this mortal plane.

Wesley Earl “Wes” Craven passed away this past Sunday, August 30th, in Los Angeles after a battle with brain cancer.  What makes the passing even harder for many of us horror fans is the fact that it was not common knowledge that Mr. Craven was sick in the first place.

A staggering filmography that includes some of the greatest horror films in cinema history is only a slice of the Wes Craven story.  A man who made his directorial debut at the age of thirty-two with one of the most disturbing exploitation horror films of all time, The Last House on the Left, Craven went on to helm three more classic horror films before he decided to absolutely destroy the genre as a whole and create one of the most horrifying villains in the history of film.

Neither The Hills Have Eyes, Deadly Blessing or Swamp Thing could have prepared us for what was to come from the mind of Wes Craven.

1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street was an instant success and the film’s antagonist, the razor glove-wearing psycho maniac Freddy Krueger,  became a world-wide terror overnight.  Suddenly, Wes Craven wasn’t just OUR favorite director, he was on the minds of anyone and everyone.

This is a man who reinvented the horror wheel with A Nightmare on Elm Street and continued to push the boundaries of terror for the next twelve years before completely reshaping the scare scene again with Scream.  A man so smart, he had the intestinal fortitude and savvy to actually make fun of the very genre he had helped bring to the forefront of American cinema.

To choose a favorite Craven film is simply an injustice to the rest of his film catalogue.  While most will revere the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes or the Scream franchise (a series I love to death), if you haven’t seen the insanely awesome Shocker or the haunting The Serpent and the Rainbow, you are missing out on some real gems.  Also, let’s keep in mind that this is a man who directed a Meryl Streep-headlined Music of the Heart, the lone film in Craven’s canon that received Academy Award nomination.

For me, personally, Wes is an inspiration.  A former taxi driver who got his big break after his thirtieth birthday, Craven was the epitome of a self-made man.  Wes loved horror and loved those that he worked with.  He was a boundary breaking, genre crashing and pop culture igniting filmmaker who also, by all accounts, was a hell of a gentleman and friend.

Rather than dedicate an essay to the genius that is Mr. Craven, I thought it would be appropriate to speak with the people who grew up with Wes, who learned from Wes- the fans of the films that he created.

 

Rest In Peace, Wes.  You will be missed.

 

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For those of us who came of age in the 80s, the Mount Rushmore of horror looks like this: George Romero, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven.  Amazingly, Craven managed to release at least one horror film in five different decades, some of which are objectively benchmarks of the genre, and one of which—A Nightmare on Elm Street—is arguably among the top ten horror films of all time.  And he did so after a late start to filmmaking.  Of the Big Four, only Carpenter was as prolific.

The legacy Wes Craven leaves in his wake is monumental and it intersects my own path through life in ways big and small.  He’s among the artists whose work set me on course toward becoming a writer and a fledgling filmmaker in my own right.  I’m not a fan of everything he did, but the movies of his that I do like, I like a lot and they influence me profoundly.

When you get down to it, he and his peers helped me escape the things that terrified me in real life when I was a kid and they inspired me to find a creative outlet and to be brave.  But most importantly, Wes Craven is responsible for so many of my fondest memories—good, scary fun inside video rental stores, movie theaters, my living room, out trick-or-treating, you name it, he was involved.  And in that capacity, Wes Craven will live on.” – Jason Thorson, Ravenous Monster

 

Thank you for so many favorites, Mr. Craven.  I look forward to seeing you again when I get my all-access pass to that Great Monster Convention in The Sky.” –Steve Mezo, Tattooed Steve’s Storage Unit of Terror

 

While I could praise Craven’s work for the whole of this short piece, I will instead point to something most critics overlook: how Craven was able to make GOOD horror films popular with the general public.  His films are often able to satisfy critics, seasoned horror fans, and the movie-going public all at the same time.  This was achieved not by trying to appeal to all groups at the same time but by joining together elements that appeal to each group (and somehow making it all work!).

Being a horror critic, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of the heavy hitters, opting to focus on lesser known films and filmmakers.  I suggest that when the ‘What to watch this Halloween’ lists roll out the coming weeks we reserve a few extra spots for Craven’s work.”- Brett Mullins, Disturbing Films

 

My older sister took me to see A Nightmare on Elm Street. I tried so hard to hide how scared I was.

Fast forward 20 years and I’m raising a horror loving child of my own.  For his own 11th birthday he points to an advertisement in Fangoria Magazine (the printed kind) and says that the Weekend of Horrors convention in Burbank is on his birthday weekend and that he wants to meet Wes Craven.  In every picture I have from that convention, he has typical middle school picture awkward face.  Except his picture with Wes.  He is beaming.

The experience was fantastic.  I made several new friends I still have to this day.  It was also my first step towards entering the world of contributing back into the community beyond cheering from the sidelines.  It was indirect but it definitely spurred my dreams.” – Stacy Pippin Hammon, Etheria Film Festival

 

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Wes Craven’s films raised me more or less.  I don’t know that horror would mean to me what it does without films like The People Under the Stairs, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Shocker, as my personal favorites.  He will never be forgotten.  Thanks for everything, Mr. Craven.” – Kevin Spencer, Ink Spatters

 

While it wasn’t my first horror film, seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street at the age of eight had a profound effect on me.  I was suffering from night terrors and here was an ordinary girl, not THAT much older than me, going through similar things and beating them.  She was strong and fierce.  And a couple short years later, that character told me that I control my dreams, not the other way around and I haven’t had a nightmare since.  I’ve gotten to tell Heather that story, but I never had a chance to tell it to Mr. Craven, or to tell him that I’m a filmmaker partially because of him and A Nightmare on Elm Street and for that, and so much more, I’ll always be grateful.” – Lori Bowen, Kimyoo Films

 

I remember my first time watching A Nightmare on Elm Street and not being quite so concerned at Freddy Kruger invading my dreams, but that he was going to get me at school of all things!  The Hills Have Eyes had me terrified of the desert and the people who live there and The Serpent and the Rainbow taught me that voodoo and being made into a zombie was real!  The point was, if we saw “from the mind of Wes Craven” on the cover of the VHS box, we knew it was going to be AWESOME and worth repeating.  As I grew older, Wes Craven films became the staple for our weekend; we could all agree on them as being really awesome fun horror and we all truly did enjoy the spooky tales unfolding in front of us, complete with brilliant gore and special effects.  It is actually because of the Freddy Krueger face makeups and the eviscerated Drew Barrymore scene in Scream that I started inching my way into recreating effects and learning to stage a horrific scene, complete with lighting and sound.  So you see, I have Wes Craven to thank for putting on the screen what I could only ever imagine- or run screaming from in my dreams.  I wouldn’t have spent my youth any other way.  You are sorely missed, dear, dear sir.  The world is a much less interesting place without you in it.” – Nez Wilburn, Behind The Screams Radio Show

 

When A Nightmare on Elm Street came out, my mom took us both to the movies. She was to see A Nightmare on Elm Street and I was to see something more ‘child-friendly’ in another theater.  I remember my movie had ended before her movie let out, so naturally I went to look for her.  As I entered her theater, I started walking down the dark aisle trying to look for her and not look at the screen.  Well, I wound up looking at the screen, and at that moment I saw a bloody young girl being pulled around a bedroom ceiling and screaming.  I stopped in the middle of the aisle, jaw dropping to the floor and wanting to look away, but not being able to.  I screamed for my mom- but only because I wanted to find her so I could sit next to her and watch the rest of the movie.

Wes Craven…thank you for your stories.

Thank you for the memories.

Just…thank you.” – Barb Breese, Behind The Screams Radio Show

 

Wes Craven

1939- 2015

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