R.I.P. Master of Horror Wes Craven

It's hard to type when your hands are shaking over your keyboard. Wes Craven, legendary horror director and father of iconic villain Freddy Krueger has passed away of brain cancer at the age of 76. Born on August 2, 1939, Craven didn't direct his first film until he was in his thirties, after an aborted stint as a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology.

His debut film, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, would be a great indication of the gruesome horrors and heady intellectual heights that his career would soon follow. A lightning rod for controversy, the film was also a staunch credo against the violence of the Vietnam War and the nihilistic 70's, told through a horrifyingly fruitless revenge tale.

He followed that flick with the equally tenacious THE HILLS HAVE EYES, about a suburban family encountering a twisted mirror vision of themselves in the shell-shocked desert.

Although those films were remarkable, he struck true gold with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, the 1984 shocker that revitalized the asthmatic slasher genre and spawned a litany of sequels (as well as an alarming number of rip-offs including the delicious DREAMANIAC and DEADLY DREAMS) including Craven's own wickedly sharp NEW NIGHTMARE. NIGHTMARE's villain, the murderous Freddy Krueger who stalks children in their dreams, would become a lasting figurehead of nocturnal horror and is one of the cornerstones of the Halloween season even now, over thirty years later.

Craven would go on to revive the moribund slasher genre once more with the cleverly postmodern SCREAM franchise (the man really should have bought stock in a mask-making company) - also directing its three sequels.

His films were marked by a unique combination of canny intellectualism (LAST HOUSE is an essential remake of Bergman's THE VIRGIN SPRING, NEW NIGHTMARE concerns the inception of storytelling and fairy tales, NIGHTMARE and many other works concern the subconscious skeletons hidden within superficial suburban households), a great sense of fun, and a keen instinct of how to tap into exactly what scares people the most. In fact, the story goes that Freddy's glove is based on many people's latent primal fear of animals and claws.

Not all of Wes Craven's films are masterpieces (SHOCKER, anyone?), but the true mark of a genius is their willingness to try any and every idea that comes their way, even if they might turn out to be duds. Craven was never afraid of an idea, and the sheer audacity of his films, even the lesser films of his canon, is remarkable to behold. Even his non-genre works (including the nail-biting RED EYE and the Meryl Streep drama MUSIC OF THE HEART) have quite a bit to offer to the right viewer.

This was a man who worked hard at his craft and changed an entire genre more times than you or I have changed clothes. The world of cinema owes Wes Craven an enormous thank you for his massive contributions and it's massively, emphatically sorrowful news that he has been lost to us. His absence will hit like a sledgehammer blow. Or a clawed glove. Or a kitchen knife. Or even a simple, clean shock cut. He was that good.

Craven had recently written and was intended to direct the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" segment for the Weinsteins' Ten Commandments miniseries, was working on a graphic novel based on his idea Coming of Rage, and was the executive producer of Nick Simon's THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS.

Wes Craven is survived by his wife, Iya Labunka, his two children, his stepdaughter, his three grandchildren, and the legions of fans and admirers that he has won himself in over four decades of genre-defining work. I'll be seeing you in my nightmares tonight, Wes.
Below, please enjoy some favorite Wes Craven moments.
Extra Tidbit: What is your favorite Wes Craven film?



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