Fans and friends of horror should all tip their fedoras to the ground as we have lost a man who easily launched three generations of fans into the realms of horror. Wes Craven, who, amongst others gave us films like Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, passed at age 76 after sadly losing his battle with brain cancer on 30th August 2015.
Craven was born in 1939 and was raised in a strict Baptist household, studied English, Psychology, Writing and Philosophy at university and briefly taught English and Humanities before turning his back on teaching and entering the movie business. He started in post-production as a sound editor and is rumoured to have made pornographic films under an undisclosed pseudonym before teaming up with Friday the 13th's Sean Cunningham to hit the world with the long banned Last House on the Left (1972), which gave his name a healthy dose of notoriety. This film was for a long time a much sought after gem for collectors everywhere.
He continued with the horror vein, giving us The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Deadly Blessing(1981), Swamp Thing (1982) and The Hills have Eyes Part 2 (1984) before he struck a gold mine.
And its name was Freddy Krueger.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) assaulted the cinema world with such a fervour that no one could imagine. It, and its various sequels (and an unfortunate remake), are still often imitated, and the fictional serial killer became a rock star as Freddy appeared as toys, in a TV show, comics, Halloween costumes and even a rap song by The Fat Boys. He also turned the company New Line Cinema from a distributor into a film producing juggernaut.
Craven turned his back on Freddy's 80's sequels, but gave us several other genre pieces, like the weird robot thing Deadly Friend (1986) voodoo-tastic The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), and he even tried to replicate Freddy's success with a film that could have been franchised, Shocker(1989), followed by the bizarre trapped-in-a-house-with-crazies film The People Under The Stairs (1991). He even returned to direct an attempted restart/ finisher for the Nightmare sequels in New Nightmare (1993), a fourth wall busting film to try and close the book on Freddy once and for all.
After a career misstep with A Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) he hit the big time again with Scream and its sequels. Like the Elm Street series, Scream created a whole new generation of horror fans, and its combination of genuine scares and self-referential comedy single-handedly reinvigorated horror in the 90s, which was a genre that many thought was quickly going the way of the western and the musical.
In and amongst the Scream sequels, the last of which, Scream 4 (2011) – his last directorial effort – he directed several other horror films like Cursed (2005), Red Eye (2005) and My Soul to Take (2010).
Craven shouldn't only remembered as a director though, as he was an accomplished writer, having written numerous scripts for his directorial efforts as well as two novels, 1999's Fountain Society and 2013's Coming of Rage.
My first experience with Craven was with his greatest creation, Freddy. I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at the Pitt St cinemas in Sydney when I was about 15. I made the mistake of taking a girl to see it, and whilst she squirmed and squealed, I sat enthralled by the story, direction, and if I am honest, the violence Craven offered me. The girl was picked up by her father and I guess was fairly traumatised, as I wasn't offered a lift with her and had to catch the train home by myself. At night. And let me tell you: every man on that train in my mind was Freddy, so by the time I got home I was scared out of my wits, and totally in love with the film. Craven went from being a regular name I may have seen in Fangoria during The Hills have Eyes or Last House retrospectives to a sign of quality, and Freddy became a bigger hero to me than Superman or Batman ever were.
I was a casual fan of horror before that due to the magazines Famous Monsters and Fangoria, but A Nightmare on Elm Street sparked something in me and made me seriously seek out every horror movie I could get my grubby little hands on. My hands are no longer so small, and have a fair bit of wear and tear from the years, but they still have the mind of that young man and his grubby hands scrabbling for more horror.
Today though, my heart is broken as I know that Craven will no longer be offering me anything new, and I feel as though horror cinema has lost one of its true grand masters, and will never be the same.
Please, all of you who read this, go to your shelf and grab your VHS, Laserdisc, DVD or Blu-ray copy of A Nightmare on Elm Street, snuggle up on the lounge with a drink and some snacks, and press the play button on your remote control.
Oh, and whatever you do…