Wes Craven passes away at 76
Wes Craven, the most successful director of the Horror genre, has passed away. The man who created A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise was 76. John Kenneth Muir’s profile of Craven from his book Horror Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens, and More is below. In addition, Muir paid tribute to the director yesterday on his own blog, Reflections on Film and Television.
Before becoming one of the horror genre’s most successful directors, Wes Craven taught English at Westminster College and philosophy at Clarkson University. After becoming an editor for Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th) in New York City, Craven wrote and directed his first horror film, The Last House on the Left (1972), a nihilistic remake of Ingmar Bergman’s spiritual film The Virgin Spring (1960).
Craven continued in a “savage cinema” vein with a follow-up film about “white bread” Americans battling desperate desert cannibals in The Hills Have Eyes (1977) before retooling his movie aesthetic and becoming the godfather of “rubber reality” (see Chapter 21). In films of this type, a highly charismatic and usually highly verbal serial killer is able to manipulate the bounds of reality itself to trap and murder his victims. Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) saw Freddy Krueger lording it over teens in the dreamworld, while Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) involved hallucinatory visions and dreams from the world of Haitian voodoo. In Shocker (1989), Craven imagined Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), a serial killer who could move deftly through different channels on the television landscape.
In 1994, Craven reinvented himself again and became the guru of “meta” or postmodern horror. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) was the seventh entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but importantly it reintroduced Freddy as a “real-life” ancient demon. The characters in the film, including Heather Langenkamp (playing herself), came to the Pirandello-esque conclusion that they were not merely real people, but also characters in an ongoing script called life.
Craven perfected his “meta” approach to film in the self-referential Scream series, written by Kevin Williamson which involved a serial killer called Ghostface who knew all the clichés and conventions of the horror film. Similarly, Scream 2 (1997) involved a killer obsessed with sequels, Scream 3 (2000) trilogies, and Scream 4 (2011) remakes and reboots.