Some very sad news today for horror fans. Wes Craven, the man who gave us the two icons of Freddy Krueger and Ghostface, has passed away at the age of 76 in his Los Angeles home. His family confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter and Craven’s verified Twitter and Instagram accounts now carry a photo of him with the caption, “Wes Craven 1939-2015.” Craven had been battling brain cancer for some time.
Craven was originally a teacher before he moved into movies, though at first he made mainly pornographic films under pseudonyms until he broke into horror with The Last House On The Left in 1972, a semi-remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. The horribly realistic and convincing tale of killers who brutalise and kill two teenage girls, only to find themselves in the house of the parents of one of them, was highly controversial and even banned in many places including the UK, though it actually suggests far more than it shows. He followed this up with the just-as-commercially-successful, if less extreme, The Hills Have Eyes in which two families, one consisting of mutants, battle each other in the desert. For a while after his films, many of which he also wrote, failed to do the business at the box office, though his comic adaptation Swamp Thing is full of charm while his supernatural chiller Deadly Blessing is possibly his most visually artistic work.
Things changed when he brought A Nightmare On Elm Street to the screen in 1984, introducing not just a certain Johnny Depp to movie audiences but giving them an instantly classic bogeyman in Freddy Krueger to haunt their dreams just as he does to the other characters in their films. Frightening, yet fun and blackly humorous, it’s easy to see why he became such a icon, though Craven had little to do with the increasingly comical sequels until 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a very clever subversion of the earlier films. Films like Deadly Friend, Shocker, The People Under The Stairs and, one of my favourites, the voodoo thriller The Serpent And The Rainbow, maintained his reputation as a good purveyor of scares and thrills with a lacing of dark humour, but he didn’t have another huge hit until 1996’s redefining of the slasher movie Scream, to which he went on to make three sequels. I fully admit, I’m not the greatest fan of this franchise, but the post-modern antics of Ghostface gave birth to the second big slasher movie boom and their influence is still being felt in horror both in cinemas and on TV today.
The drama Music Of The Heart showed a filmmaker who perhaps wanted to make more films outside the horror genre, while his last chiller My Soul To Take was a big let down, but never mind, the man has given us a very full and always entertaining filmography in which he seemed to often be exploring illusion vs reality while giving us plenty of frights and nervous chuckles. He was also always a big defender of the horror genre against claims that it’s bad for viewers.
RIP Wes. Thank you for the screams and the nightmares.