Tribute: Wes Craven R.I.P.
I was a child during the 1980s, and I was not allowed to watch horror movies (Revenge of the Ninja and Commando, yes, but not horror movies). That doesn’t mean Freddy Krueger didn’t find his way into my nightmares. The character had become such a pop culture phenomenon that he was everywhere. It didn’t matter if you’d seen the movies or not, everyone knew Freddy. He ushered in a decade of supernatural slasher icons who would define the home video boom.
I was a teenager in the 1990s, and I was starting to watch horror movies. I ate them up, it later becoming a focus of study at university. During this decade a fresh wave of horror movies were about to be unleashed following Scream, a post-modern take on the slasher trends of the 80s. For the first time in a years the cinemas were packed with one great horror movie after another.
Two major modern trends in cinema, both of them pioneered by one man: writer, director and producer Wes Craven. Today we’re paying tribute to Craven who passed away aged 76 on the 30th August, 2015, due to brain cancer.
Surprisingly Craven was born into and raised in a strict Baptist household. This doesn’t seem to have deterred the career that would become his legacy later in life. His studies learned towards writing and psychology, and this insight into the human mind would help his films tap into some primal terrors and prove popular with viewers for decades. After working as a teacher he moved into the film industry working as an editor on pornography (under a variety of false names) before getting the experience needed to launch his own film career. And his first effort was a doozy.
The Last House on the Left remains notorious almost 50 years after it was released. It was made in collaboration with Sean S. Cunningham, who would go on to create the Friday the 13th series. It was cheap, dirty film that pushed the limits of the actors and audiences with unsettling, graphic and disturbingly realistic violence. Upon release it was met with controversy and censorship, which only generated more intrigue. Many critics maintain that it’s a powerful and effective film, marking it as a great debut feature.
Craven continued to develop his style with The Hills Have Eyes and Stranger in the House to moderate success, but it was an article on sleep studies that sparked the inspiration for his biggest blockbuster. A Nightmare of Elm Street was released in 1984, written and directed by Craven, and was an immediate success. Made for less than $2million, it went on to earn more then $25million in the US alone. Robert Englund, as the undead murderer Krueger, became a fan favourite and the character is one of the most famous names in cinema. Co-star Johnny Depp, in his film debut, launched his cinematic career. The series birthed a franchise that would become a merchandising empire, continuing to this day. Critics praised the film for it’s creative blurring of reality and fantasy to create a sense of dread rarely seen at the time. The sequels and TV series’ that followed varied in quality, but the entries Craven got involved in are easily the best. The Dream Warriors was co-written by Craven and is often considered the best in the series, and A New Nightmare twisted the concept by having Krueger escape the film to attack the original film’s actors in the real world.
Not one to sit back and bank on one success, Craven continued to push the genre into new territory with The People Under the Stairs, The Serpent and the Rainbow and Shocker. After every horror producer and studio tried to replicate the success of Nightmare of Elm Street the genre began to see a lot of repetition. Craven, along with Kevin Williamson, turned this on its head in 1996 with Scream. This time around the masked killer is a teen obsessed with horror movies and sets out to bring them to life, forcing his victims to follow the ‘rules’ of the horror movie. This highly acclaimed take on the genre grossed over $100million and Craven would write and direct 3 sequels before the recent TV adaption took over the brand.
Wes Craven’s understanding of the horror industry and human psychology has made him a legend in his field. He wrote the book on slasher movies, and then rewrote it 15 years later. Looking back over his work, the man had a sick mind…and we fully appreciate it.
Best Movie: This is something that will generate lots of debate amongst the fans. The jolting violence of Last House of the Left, the twisted reality of New Nightmare and the cool wit of Scream are worthy contenders but we’re going with A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s been 3 decades since it creeped into cinemas and it still carries an impact. Robert Englund still draws a crowd at conventions, laughing up the attention, the character is still appearing on our screens and, most important, IT IS STILL SCARY.
Rest in Peace Wes Craven. You cost us plenty of sleep.