Monday, August 31, 2015

Wes Craven 1939 - 2015

Wes Craven; director, writer, producer, and actor…has passed away at 76. 

Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio and raised in a strict Baptist family. After earning degrees in English and Psychology, and a Masters in Philosophy and Writing, Craven taught as a humanities professor before taking his first job in the film industry as a sound editor. 

After leaving the academic world, he spent time as a pornographic film director. In 1972 he directed his first feature film, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, in which two teenage girls who are taken into the woods and tortured, shocked audiences into remembering his name forever. He would follow up with another shocker, THE HILLS HAVE EYES in 1977. 

From there, Craven collaborated with Sean S. Cunningham to create what would become one of the most iconic characters in not just the horror genre but in all of film, Freddy Krueger. Krueger, a mythical serial killer who used a glove armed with razors to kill teenagers in their dreams, would be the centerpiece for Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET in 1984. The film was met with rave reviews and went on to make a significant impact in the horror genre, and would spawn a franchise consisting of sequels, a TV series, and an eventual crossover with another horror franchise, FRIDAY THE 13th. Just as Freddy Krueger’s name would become synonymous with nightmares, Craven’s would be associated with horror. 

His long list of notable directing credits would include SWAMP THING (1982), CHILLER (1985), THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II (1985), THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988), and THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991). He would prove his diversity and his skill as a filmmaker in 1999 when he stepped out of the horror genre to direct the drama MUSIC OF THE HEART with Meryl Streep and Angela Bassett, which was nominated for an Oscar. 

In 1994, he deconstructed the genre he had revitalized with WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, which poked fun at the Freddy Krueger franchise and famously looped back on itself by using the original cast members playing themselves. Craven starred as himself in a well-received concept of a movie-within-a-movie. Craven would take his sense of humor a step further when he launched a new horror franchise, SCREAM in 1996…which launched another iconic film character in the “ghostface”. With tongue firmly in cheek and plenty of love, Craven parodied the genre that he had created. SCREAM would spawn three sequels, with SCREAM 4 finishing as his last big-screen directing gig in 2011. 

He would be a good sport and appear as himself in films and TV shows over the years, including Kevin Smith’s JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001). He created a five-issue comic book series called COMING OF RAGE in 2014, and served as a producer for the 2015 SCREAM TV series. He received the New York City Horror Film Festival Life Achievement Award in 2012. 


In the late 1980’s, this Blogger and his brother got in trouble with Mom when she found the Freddy Krueger glove we had created out of an old work glove and cardboard knives. She wasn’t a big fan of Freddy, but she recognized who the glove represented right away…and that speaks towards Wes Craven’s knack for using iconography to generate fear. From Freddy’s knives and hat to the whiteness of the SCREAM ghostface, Craven struck a chord with us all with just one glance. As a filmmaker, he created and un-created the horror genre and still made it seem like new. He understood what made a movie work and manipulated audiences like only a master could. He believed that fear wasn’t something to run from, but to plow into…and from that basis anything was possible. Wes Craven may be gone, but the nightmares will go on forever. 

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