UNITED STATES—When I heard the news late Sunday about the death of horror director Wes Craven I was left num. This is a man who literally reinvented the horror genre in my opinion on two occasions: in the 80s (the explosion of the horror genre) and the 90s (with the reinvention of the genre). This was a guy who grew up noting he wasn’t really allowed to watch horror flicks so to see him manifest such dark material left people scratching their heads.
I’ll be honest I was not a fan of some of his earlier works, “The Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes.” I’m just not a lover of torture porn, horror films, but I am a fan of horror (that follows the rules of suspense, narrative and scares). I have invested my writing skills, particularly on the screenplay front because of iconic horror classics. He totally changed the genre in 1984 with the release of “A Nightmare on Elm Street’ which may be the most original idea that I can imagine. A boogeyman that can kill people in their dreams? Pure genius!
I’ll admit the first is a classic, but it’s apparent where Craven’s strokes of genius appear throughout the franchise. His co-writing credit on “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” makes it a sequel that comes damn close to outdoing the original and his deliciously scary “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” introduces a terrifying element to the dream stalker. The character of Freddy Krueger reinvigorated an unbelievable idea for a story idea during my senior year in high school and was the birth of my fledging career to become a screenwriter.
I’m dying to share the idea that I came up with, but if I told you, I’d seriously have to kill you! Let’s just say it changes the entire dynamic to the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. The flick was rebooted in 2010 to no success whatsoever, and looks to get another go around in the coming year or so. Guess we’ll see what happens.
Not only did Freddy become an iconic character, but Craven became responsible for crafting another iconic villain alongside screenwriter Kevin Williamson with the brilliant “Scream” which changed the game of horror in 1996. I mean seriously, as a child of the 80s I grew up watching all the horrid horror flicks of that decade. By the time the 90s came around, the genre was seriously dead, but “Scream” changed all of that.
The series which decided to utilize the meta-narrative and poke fun of the tropes of the horror genre introduced audiences to new rules to the genre and the iconic Ghostface character whose resemblance to the ‘Scream’ painting was all too uncanny. I think what sold audiences so well on that franchise is that eerie threat of receiving a menacing phone call, in addition to making characters who the audience felt were acting in a manner similar to what they’d do in a horror flick.
While “Scream” will always be a classic, I love “Scream 2” for setting the stakes even higher. Craven’s ability to craft that super suspenseful scene in the car with Sidney and Halle being trapped might be one of my top-edge of your seat moments in horror history. The feeling of watching that scene in a packed movie theater left audiences reeling. You felt as if you were in that vehicle with the characters, only a smart director can craft such a technical feat.
As a filmmaker Craven utilized the art of subtlety in a way that many filmmakers aren’t capable of grasping. Particularly in the horror genre; at times what you see is horrific, but sometimes what you don’t see is just as horrific. I mean you love the character of Freddy just as much as you love the protagonist Nancy in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” That is no easy feat to accomplish. I mean he seriously made people question the depth of how traumatic one’s dreams can be on the body. Sleep deprivation is no joke; we may have thought so post 1984, but after Freddy was unleashed it changed the ballgame.
Wes Craven you will always be a director whose work I thoroughly enjoyed and is well regarded as inspiring me as a filmmaker. Why? Originality is something that is not easy to come by in Hollywood; an industry that is known for not taking as many risks as possible. Sometimes pushing an idea when no one except one person believes it is the key to shining a lot on something that can be beyond special, but a game-changer. You will indeed be missed!