Wes Craven (1939-2015)
“The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself.”
As readers of this site know, I grew up with horror films and movie monsters. It was and still is one of my fascinations and obsessions. Growing up in the 80s, two movie monsters dominated the genre—Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. While Jason was basically a carbon-copy of Halloween’s Michael Myers (quiet, slow and basically unstoppable), Wes Craven’s monster, Freddy, was quite original and in a class all his own. I loved Freddy, conceptually and characteristically. He was witty, charming and downright deplorable. He had an awesome unique weapon, attire and mythology. Surprisingly, Craven created Krueger when he read accounts of seemingly well bodied and sound minded Asian kids mysteriously dying in their sleep. Taking those stories and making a modern
movie cultural monster is and will ever be Craven’s greatest legacy.
However, I must admit, despite liking some of Craven’s other genre pictures as a kid, revisiting them now is not so rosy. I don’t want to speak ill of the man himself but as a film connoisseur I have to say that he didn’t make the best films. You can read our reviews of Swamp Thing and Deadly Friend to know a little of what I mean. I can equate Craven’s directorial career to that of Tod Browning’s. Browning has made dozens of films but is really only known for Dracula and Freaks. In time, Wes Craven will probably only be revered for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream as his bona fide classics. Granted, I think he deserves more recognition that just those two but the lasting impression he’ll give film history books will be those two.
I actually really like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, his first two features. (I just learned that he started is film career in porn under various aliases—kinda hope those titles are revealed actually) Craven displayed a raw and gritty panache with those two films. They were both very grindhouse-esque and hard to watch because of their shockingly exploitative natures. To add to Craven’s influence both of those films were remade fairly recently and I enjoyed those as well.
But I watched a lot of Wes Craven schlock growing up and enjoyed them too. Swamp Thing was on constantly in my house. I also had a hard time watching certain scenes in Serpent and the Rainbow (male readers who’ve seen this feature know what I’m referring to). I also had a lot of fun as a pre-teen watching Shocker and The People Under the Stairs. These two I recently rewatched and ended up disliking them—but at the time I loved them!
Then, Scream happened. I have a lot of love-hate emotions over the arts and culture of the 90s. While some movies tend to age alright (even Pulp Fiction aged oddly), Scream reeks of the 90s. To make matters worse, it ushered in a whole new era of teen-orientated water-downed horror movies, especially slashers like I Know What You Did Last Summer. If anyone out there over the age of 35 still like those late 90s/early 2000 horror movies, I’d love to hear your reasons for it. Frankly, I was on the fence at the time if I even liked them despite being a huge horror fan. I can watch them but they leave a bad taste in my mouth. But I digress. Scream was an awesome horror hit and did influence a whole new era of slasher films but they all paled in comparison to Craven’s Scream. I still enjoy Scream but I just wish they didn’t make any sequels. The opening scene with Drew Barrymore is one of the best horror scenes in modern times and ranks up there with any of the classic horror films.
I didn’t see any other Craven films after Scream (besides its sequels) because like I said, he left me cold. Plus the critics weren’t so fond of him anymore either. Cursed, A Vampire in Brooklyn and Red Eye all tanked critically and commercially and I just never got around to trying them out. And even now after his demise, they are only good for future Schlocktoberfest entries and not a “wish-I saw-more-of-his-work” kinda of way. Maybe it’s because his films are geared more for a teenage audience only and as I grew up they just didn’t jive with me anymore. His teen-centric features all seem to do better commercially (further evidence that Scream is now an MTV show) while his other movies all seem to flop. So one can argue that he was the John Hughes of Horror.
Still, he was a horror pioneer, gave us the iconic Freddy Krueger and Ghostface and should be placed in the pantheon as a master of horror. He was an intelligent writer and producer and his contributions to all of cinema should be celebrated. Rest in peace, Mr. Craven. Thanks for all the nightmares!