Wes Craven Dead At 76
Veteran horror film director Wes Craven, whose A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream movies pumped fresh blood into the terror genre, has died following a battle with brain cancer. He was 76.
Craven, according to a statement released by his family, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles.
His survivors include his wife, Iya Labunka, a producer and former vice president of Disney Studios.
Craven’s first directorial offering was 1972’s shocking and brutal Last House on The Left, in which a husband and wife extract vengeance on the thugs responsible for raping their daughter. One reviewer described the film as “sickening tripe” and was so repulsed he walked out before the end.
Five years later, Craven unleashed The Hills Have Eyes, the story of a family who are eaten by cannibals while stranded in the desert.
Craven also directed Vampire in Brooklyn, The People Under the Stairs and The Serpent and The Rainbow, but these movies never came close to matching the level of sheer fright generated by his 1985 release, A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Starring Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon and Johnny Depp, in one of his first roles, the film pumped fresh blood into the horror genre and introduced the world to Freddy Krueger (Englund), the razor fingered burnt bogeyman who kills teenagers in their dreams, and causes them to promptly die in the waking world.
The movie grossed more than $25 million at the domestic box office, and allowed Freddy to become one of the biggest icons of horror cinema.
Though other directors shepherded Elm Street sequels to the screen, Craven returned to helm 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The director, Langenkamp, Englund and Saxon all played themselves in a story depicting Freddy as an evil force terrorizing the people responsible for his creation.
In 1996, Craven unleashed Scream, starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the film became an instant hit, and raked in more than $100 million on the domestic front.
It also poked fun at the genre and recounted the rules which one must not do in any horror pic. According to the movie’s mythology it was not a good idea to say ‘I’ll be right back” in a horror film before venturing into a dark cellar. In all likelihood, those who embarked on such a seemingly foolish and senseless trek would be dealt a swift and bloody death, and therefore would not “be right back.”
The screenplay sprang from the pen of Kevin Williamson – who would go on to script films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, and create TV’s Dawson’s Creek, Vampire Diaries, The Following and Stalker.
Craven helmed the three Scream sequels, which continued to rake in bucks, and served as executive producer on MTV’s Scream TV series. However, in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Craven expressed disappointment that the infamous Ghost Face mask, worn by the killers in the movie series, had been ditched.
It’s also well worth noting that Craven directed 1999’s Music of The Heart – a film which was more than a few worlds away from the mythology of Scream and the nightmarish landscape of the Elm Street adventures.
Meryl Streep played real life violinist Roberta Guaspari, who founded Opus 118 – a Harlem music school geared towards inner city kids. The film, which earned Streep an Oscar nomination, manifested after Craven, following the success of the first Scream, made a three picture deal with Miramax. According to the deal, he was allowed to pick out a movie of his own choosing. Music of the Heart, for the filmmaker, was the perfect story to bring to the screen.
Whereas today’s Hollywood seems to be stuck on remakes, Wes Craven, when it came to making movies, took chances and tried new ideas. He didn’t know whether A Nightmare on Elm Street or Scream would be successful, but he took a risk and delivered some truly innovative, memorable and terrifying visions. More directors should take a leaf out of his book, and come up with the type of fresh and edgy material that has allowed Craven to be a director who will never be forgotten.