Sunday, August 30, 2015

R.I.P. Wes Craven

Writer-producer-director Wes Craven died Sunday at the age of 76.

It is late here on the East Coast, and I am in shock. It is about 11:15 p.m. as I write this, and I just learned of the death of Wes Craven. The horror master behind such great films as A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and Scream was 76. According to a release from his family, he died of complications related to brain cancer.

It does little justice to Craven to list his credits, though the films he worked on are nearly all exemplary of his particular genius. He was more than his films. He was the influence and impact his films had on a generation of filmmakers such as Sam Raimi, Frank Darabont, and Eli Roth, among many others. He was an absolute legend, and though his last film was 2011’s underrated Scream 4, his impact is felt still in a million places.

Craven on the set of Scream.
On a personal level, Craven’s work was formative for me. As a child who grew up watching way too many horror movies for my age, I loved Craven’s films above all others. I have vivid memories of being 9 years old and sitting in the den of a friend’s house, watching a taped copy of the Scream director’s cut. It was recorded off HBO onto a VHS I only replaced with a DVD last year. I was the Ghostface Killer for Halloween three years in a row. The first time I saw a movie on opening night was the release of Scream 3, and I took a first date to see Scream 4.

None of that, however, compares to my relationship to A Nightmare on Elm Street. To this day, I will argue Freddy Krueger is the perfect horror villain, a creation entirely of Craven’s own making. If one can have scars in a good way, the Nightmare films left them on me. My grandparents were convinced enough of my maturity when I was a child to let me rent the Nightmare on Elm Street films and watch them in the living room during the summer days at their house while my dad was at work.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare
I remember my grandmother taking me to the library, and I checked out a Freddy Krueger novella and a behind-the-scenes, making-of Nightmare on Elm Street book. I was convinced I could copy the formula for fake movie blood and tried, though I do not know now, nor was I probably certain then, just what I planned on using it for. All I knew was the Nightmare on Elm Street people used it, so I wanted to use it. I still cite that book as one of the reasons I have always wanted to be a filmmaker.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, well, there are your good scars. I was maybe 9 or 10. I was up late in an unfamiliar home and could not sleep, so I stayed up, pulled a VHS copy of New Nightmare off the shelf, and watched it all night. One of the clearest movie-related memories of my childhood is the babysitter in New Nightmare being dragged across the ceiling of a hospital room. I was not afraid, just quietly in awe. That image has stayed with me, and I hope it stays with me forever – a good scar.

Maybe I am rambling now. It is hard to put your thoughts together in times like these. The movie world is a worse place without Wes Craven in it, but we are all better for having had him in our world. I feel sorrow for his family, his friends, and anyone who knew him. And I feel shock. Be well friends.

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