Hard Ticket to Heaven: Wes Craven (1939-2015)


Wes Craven (1939-2015)

“The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself.”

Wes__07-2smaller_cropI was it utter shock to read about Wes Craven’s passing this morning. I had zero idea he was sick or had brain cancer. I must admit I was saddened quite a bit.

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!



12 thoughts on “Hard Ticket to Heaven: Wes Craven (1939-2015)

  1. I’ve been waiting all day for this post! 😉 First of all, I have a thing for Deadly Friend… I keep meaning to review that some October. But I’m with you on Scream. I do think the first one is really good (I love Drew Barrymore so that helps). But I’ve actually not watched any of the Scream films in years – I’m sure they haven’t aged well (especially Courteney Cox’s hair, just like in Friends). It’s all about Elm Street! Elm Street should be up there with the likes of The Shining – it’s an absolute classic. I love it so much. I always preferred it to Halloween & far prefer the series to the Friday the 13th films. I was very sad to hear that Craven had died this morning. A Nightmare On Elm Street was my first proper horror film (at a party where I played spin the bottle for the first time. Shit – the only time. I’d like to have played that more!). God you guys must hate my long comments. Nice post! It’s okay to point out that not all his films were brilliant – I doubt I’d like The People Under The Stairs that much if I watched it again. I liked Red Eye but don’t think you would – I understand what you mean by Scream sort of starting the “PG-13” kind of horror thing nowadays & Red Eye felt like that. Maybe… Was Scream really the start of all that, though? Oh god, I’m still typing….


  2. Who is this you are talking about??

    And…… FUCKING FINALLY @ “even Pulp Fiction aged oddly”…. I said something to that effect on someone’s site a year or so ago and everyone reamed my ass for not saying it’s the greatest movie of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wrote in my Inglourious Basterds Cinemea Culpa that Pulp Fiction isn’t as “cool” as it was when I was in high school. It definitely didn’t age that well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Agree with you about the uniqueness of Freddy Krueger. Think Nightmare on Elm Street is such a classic cause it is quite unique, combining a straight slasher with more supernatural elements. Freaking incredible film.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very sad news indeed. We can’t all live forever, but this came as a surprise. I didn’t know he was ill either.
    The People Under the Stairs… man I loved that movie growing up, but you’re right, it’s terrible. I watched it again for the first time in years last October and it was rough. Some things are better left as memories I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Schlocktoberfest XI – Day 28: The Last House on the Left | Hard Ticket to Home Video

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