Wes Craven, one of the true masters of the horror genre of film, passed away yesterday at age 76 after losing his battle with brain cancer. Craven broke ground in the 70’s with his debut film “Last House on the Left”. His next major project in 1977 was “The Hills Have Eyes”. That film was also a grindhouse classic but it also demonstrated his penchant morbid humor. “Stranger in Our House”, his next film, remains one of the scariest made for TV movies ever made. “Swamp Thing” is a sci-fi camp classic that saw him step out of his comfort zone a bit. Some love Swamp Thing and some hate it. The film was based on comic book of the same name. Craven really broke out and made a name for himself with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street a story about a serial killer brought back to life through the dreams of children who live in the neighborhood he used to stalk. The Freddy character is now an icon of horror right alongside Dracula and the Wolfman.
Craven continued doing a mix of film and TV work through the 80’s with 1989’s Shocker becoming a time capsule of the era. The funky little movie owns the trappings of the 80’s from the heavy metal soundtrack to the big hair and sometimes too silly dialogue. It’s far from a perfect film but it is a lot of fun now as a time capsule. “The People Under the Stairs” was an experiment in atmosphere. The film, like Shocker, is imperfect, but the atmosphere is truly unique and deserves a watch. In 1994 Craven came back to the franchise that made him a household name with “New Nightmare”. He agreed to do the film if it ended the franchise. Most fans will tell you that “New Nightmare” is one of the best Freddy films since the first one.
Craven’s follow up to “New Nightmare” was another experiment, and a personal guilty pleasure; “Vampire in Brooklyn“. A constant challenge throughout Craven’s career is the failings of the larger story. “Vampire in Brooklyn” was a failure in its overall story but there are so many great horror/comedy moments in the film that I will always love it. It’s arguable that this film led to a later project that re-invented Craven as a horror icon and reset the horror genre as a whole.
In 1996 Craven discovered Kevin Williamson and his little script for a meta horror film called Scream. Craven’s talents as a director and the great script again created a new horror icon in the ghostface killer. This film started a trend for horror comedy hybrids that continues to influence the genre today. Craven’s final film as director saw him returning to the Scream franchise to direct the fourth film to again put a cap on a franchise he created. Craven’s final project is titled “Home” hits theaters in 2016. He produced that film with Dennis Iliadis (Last House on the Left remake) directing.
Wes Craven crafted some of the world’s most iconic horror characters and directed films that will continue to influence the horror genre, and storytelling in general, for many years to come. No single filmmaker has crafted an icon as significant as Freddy Kruger since the character first hit theaters 30 years ago. Craven inspired and influenced a generation of artists and terrified three generations of moviegoers. His loss is immense, and he will be missed.