Sad news for all horror movies fan like me, on August 30, 2015, Wes Craven (My favorite director) died of brain cancer, at the age of 76, at his home in Los Angeles.
Wesley Earl “Wes” Craven (August 2, 1939 – August 30, 2015) was an American film director, writer, producer, and actor known for his work on horror films, particularly slasher films. He was best known for creating the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise featuring the Freddy Krueger character, directing the first installment and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and co-writing A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors with Bruce Wagner.
Craven also directed all four films in the Scream series, and co-created the Ghostface character. Some of his other films include The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, Red Eye and My Soul to Take.
Earlier this week, the 10th episode (finale of the 1st season) of the MTV TV show, Scream (I’ll have a full review of the 1st season in a future post) was dedicated in his memory with this image:
My top 5 must-see Wes Craven movies (Not in order):
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Craven’s first film was one hell of a calling card. This notably gritty and nasty movie tells the story of two teenage girls who are brutally assaulted by a group of criminals – and what happens when those same thugs happen upon one of the girl’s parents. Viewed now, some may initially chuckle at the dated musical choices and the film’s early, 1970s aesthetics. But few can continue to laugh with how intensely Craven depicts the absolutely brutal, hard to watch acts in this film, whether they are done by the villains or those aforementioned parents. It’s worth noting that this is the first, but far from the last, movie on this list to have been remade in the years since.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Craven’s other 1970s cult film centers on an average suburban family who come across a deranged, savage group, living hidden from society in the Nevada desert. Craven would also direct a sequel to the film and produce a 2006 remake – which is one of the stronger examples among the glut of horror remakes the past decade has seen.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
A few years into a slasher movie deluge that quickly was feeling repetitive, with one Halloween and Friday the 13th ripoff after another, Craven would upend the genre with his incredibly inventive, imaginative story of a vicious killer who was stalking and attacking teenagers somewhere they could never hide from – their dreams. A Nightmare on Elm Street’s impact and influence were massive, leading to a ton of sequels (only a couple Craven would be involved with), merchandise, spinoffs and many films clearly inspired by it – while also helping turn New Line Cinema into a notable player in the indie film world. Perfectly embodied by Robert Englund, Craven’s incredible villain, Freddy Krueger, was evocative and fascinating from the get go, going on to become a true cinematic icon.
Finally returning to direct a new installment a decade after he launched the series, Craven’s approach wasn’t anything resembling a typical sequel. Instead, he came up with an ingenious concept where original Elm Street star Heather Langenkamp played herself, who begins to be visited by a manifestation of Freddy Krueger, the movie character. Going meta before going meta was cool, Craven took the already trippy A Nightmare on Elm Street concept to the next level – and also gave himself a fun role, as “Wes Craven” explains how Freddy is actually coming to life.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) may not have been a big hit, but two years later, Craven would find huge success – and get a commendable career resurgence – from another meta horror film, though one with a much more humorous approach. Perfectly blending his skills with Kevin Williamson’s excellent script, Craven was exactly the right choice for this post-modern story of a masked killer very much influenced by the 1980s horror movies Craven himself helped create. Scream was a major surprise hit, breaking out during the crowded holiday season to become a genuine sensation that would continue to do well for months at the box office. It spawned three sequels, all directed by Craven, which are all pretty damn entertaining. While the concept and real world approach of Scream meant there was never a true returning killer, “Ghost Face”, no matter who was under that robe and mask, resulted in Craven giving the world yet another horror icon.
Red Eye (2005)
Not a true horror film, the thriller Red Eye (I think a very underrated movie) still allowed Craven to use his skills at creating tension and danger, in this story of a woman on a flight who discovers the charming stranger sitting next to her has a diabolical plan she has become a part of. Stars Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy gave great performances, working with Craven to to craft another hit for the director. A pure thriller…