Wes Craven 1939-2015


It is with a heavy heart that we report that Wes Craven, the
man who influenced the horror genre in countless ways, has passed away at the age
of 76. His representatives have confirmed Craven’s death from brain cancer, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1939, Craven brought a Midwestern
sensibility to the genre he would redefine, even reportedly setting his “A
Nightmare on Elm Street” on a real thoroughfare from his upbringing. Raised in
a strict Baptist family (and how that religious upbringing would influence “The
Last House on the Left” and “Nightmare”), Craven went to Wheaton College and
earned a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Writing from John Hopkins

He worked as a sound editor and reportedly in the porn
industry under a directorial pseudonym before making his film debut with the
landmark “The Last House on the Left.” Controversial to the point of calling
for its banning from our culture, “Last House” was a terrifying tale of revenge
based on Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring.” Most importantly, it was made
for almost nothing ($87,000), helping to usher in the era of DIY horror. Critics
dismissed and even derided the film, but its cult following grew almost
immediately. Similar success would follow with “The Hills Have Eyes” in 1977
and “Swamp Thing” in 1982, but it was the story of Freddy Krueger in 1984 that
would change everything. Craven claimed that he was inspired to create “Nightmare”
after reading a news story about a man who was convinced he would die in his
sleep, telling everyone that he was doomed to do so and staying up for days to
avoid his fate. When he did finally succumb to sleep, he died. Combine that with the “sins of the parents shall be visited upon the children” concept of “Elm Street” and Freddy Krueger was born.

Made for $1.8 million (and featuring an early appearance by
Johnny Depp), “Nightmare” made over $25 million in 1984, an unheard of number
for a horror film. It spawned not just a franchise but an industry, including eight
sequels, video game appearances, comic books, toys, and dozens of imitators.
Hating the script for the awful, rushed “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s
Revenge,” Craven left the franchise, returning in 1994 for its best
installment, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.”

Between his “Nightmares,” Craven would have some misfires (“Chiller,”
“The Hills Have Eyes Part II”) and some underrated nightmarish visions (“The
Serpent and the Rainbow,” “Shocker,” and “The People Under the Stairs”). He
arguably hit his career low with “Vampire in Brooklyn” before crafting the
biggest hit of his career in 1996’s “Scream,” another film that launched an
industry, even being adapted into an MTV series that currently airs (the season
finale is Tuesday night). Unlike “Nightmare,” Craven would direct all three
sequels to “Scream,” and, also unlike “Nightmare,” every film in the franchise
has some value. Craven brought a professionalism, wit, and skill to everything
he did, even a notoriously mishandled disaster like “Cursed.” One of his best
films came late in his career, the 2005 thriller “Red Eye,” and Craven spread
out to drama a few times with “Music of the Heart” and an installment (even if
it is horror) in “Paris, je t’aime.”

He Executive Produced the TV series “Scream” but 2011’s “Scream
4” will be the final film credit for Wes Craven. Watching part of “Never Sleep
Again”—a documentary about the “Nightmare” series just yesterday—a searched the
web to see what Craven was up to now, hoping he had one more masterstroke in
him. I feel like he would have loved what’s happened to modern horror with the
resurgence of boogeymen in films like “It Follows” and “The Babadook”.

One final note: My first interview, a decade ago, was with
Mr. Craven, someone I idolized most of my horror-loving childhood. He
immediately put me at ease, and surprised me by discussing how much he was into
bird-watching as a hobby. He was witty, funny and incredibly easy to talk to. I
wish I could have met him again and thanked him for that talk. He will be
dearly missed.



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