When Wes Craven, one of my all time favourite horror directors, sadly passed away in August 2015, aged 76, I felt really sad. Although all we horror fans can no longer look forward to a new Craven production, we can of course always savour and revisit the wonderful legacy he left with such classic franchises as A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream.
Wesley Earl Craven was born on 2nd August 1939. He was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, by a strict baptist family, who did not approve of his watching the more extreme kinds of movies for which he was later to become so famous. However, they didn’t mind him watching more innocent, family oriented films like the Disney ones.
Craven graduated with an Honours Degree in Psychology and English, later attaining a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Writing. He then went into teaching, and while he was in this profession he made a short action feature with a student film club in Potsdam, New York. Much to Craven’s surprise, this film actually made a fair amount of money for him, and this undoubtedly encouraged him to pursue film making seriously.
Craven’s first major feature film was the notorious horror The Last House On The Left (1972), on which he collaborated with Sean Cunningham. This movie, about two travelling teenage girls who are viciously attacked and sexually assaulted by a group of psycho killers, shocked audiences all over America, and even made the video nasties list. And the movie’s notorious reputation was only exacerbated by the fact that it came out just a few years after the horrific Charles Manson murders at Sharon Tate’s home.
In 1977, Craven directed his second horror masterpiece: The Hills Have Eyes. This movie centred on a group of tourists who fall victim to a group of dysfunctional cannibal killers in the vast desert. Craven, apparently, got the inspiration for this movie from the 16th century story of the notorious Sawney Bean Clan, who were said to have committed similar atrocities along the costal pathways of Ballantrae, Ayrshire.
When Craven made A Nightmare On Elm Street in 1984, he certainly brought something outstandingly different to overdone slasher genre in the form of the hideously disfigured dream killer, Freddy Krueger. The Elm Street series of movies – although becoming a bit too facetious for some horror fans with all those Freddy wisecracks – went on to become one of the largest, lucrative franchises in American cinema history.
In 1988, Craven temporarily departed from the slasher genre to make The Serpent and The Rainbow. This was a voodoo/zombie movie reminiscent of the kind of films made so famous by such directors as George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci.
Twelve years later, Craven repeated the success of his Elm Street franchise when he made Scream. The creepy white mask that the black-hooded killer wore in this movie, and in all the sequels, became so synonymous with the Scream franchise, and has even become a popular item to wear with Halloween trick-or-treaters.
Aside from all the aforementioned movies, Craven did make some pretty good lesser-known films like Deadly Friend (1985), Cursed (2004), Dracula 2000 (2000), My Soul To Take (2010), and many more.
The tenth episode of the Scream TV series was dedicated to Wes Craven’s memory.