Wes Craven 1939-2015. The legendary director, writer and producer died of brain cancer in Los Angeles on August, 30th. (Insert every sad emoji possible here). You will be loved, remembered and missed for generations.
As I am sure you are aware by now, we have suffered a great loss in not just in the horror genre, but in the film community as a larger whole. Wes Craven has died. Any of you who are on this site are well aware of his contributions to the genre we love, as he was one of the most influential horror filmmakers in history. Craven was born in Cleveland, OH, and being from northeast Ohio myself, I know the horror of growing up a Browns fan. It’s no wonder that he grew into the horror genius we all know and love. Most people will remember Craven for A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the creation of Freddy Kruger. Freddy was a change from the normal teen slasher films. A killer that was not only relentless and unkillable, but also one with personality, as opposed to the silent murdery type we were used to. But, Craven accomplished so much more than just Nightmare; he innovated and changed the genre so many times throughout his career. We here at Blood Over Texas love Wes Craven for all the joy, laughter and pants-shitting terror he’s given us over the years, and we are saddened by his passing. We extend our deepest sympathies to those closest to him, and to all horror and film fans. We will miss a man that created some of the films that meant so much to us throughout our lives.
Now, let’s take a look at some of his best non-Nightmare related films and some of those films’ impact on the genre. If you haven’t seen these consider it your homework for the week. (check out the photo gallery at the end)
“Horror films don’t create fear. They release it.” — Wes Craven
The Last House on the Left (1972)
His directorial debut, Craven wrote, directed and edited this film. The Last House on the Left is inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film called The Virgin Spring, and is essentially a parent’s revenge story. The film is incredibly graphic and violent, and was heavily censored in some parts of the US and overseas, and out an out banned in some countries. An innovative take on the explotation-horror genre, Last House paved the way for films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil Dead. Last House was accomplished on a modest budget of under 90,000 dollars. To put that in context, Texas Chainsaw cost around 300,000.
“What you want to do is you want to put your audience off-balance. You have to be aware of what the audience’s expectations are, and then you have to pervert them, basically, and hit them upside the head from a direction they weren’t looking.” — Wes Craven
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Inspired by the Scottish legend of Sawney Bean, The Hills Have Eyes is about an incestuous cannibal family living in the desert and preying on travelers. The film is again confrontational in its imagery, with graphic depictions of cannibalism. This film also is the beginning of the reference game we see played by Craven and Sam Raimi in their films, starting with a Jaws poster in Hills. Raimi then references that with a The Hills Have Eyes poster in Evil Dead, and then so on and so on. Remember the glove above the door to the work shed in Evil Dead 2? That game started here.
“The horrors of retirement. These are scarier than any horror movie I can dream up.” — Wes Craven
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Based off the non-fiction book of the same name, The Serpent and the Rainbow is about the actual creation of a zombie in late 1970’s Haiti. With all the Romero zombie films and the Return of the Living Dead series on it’s second installment, Craven took the zombie sub genre back to its roots and told a story that is inspired by actual events. The streets over run with shambling corpses is frightening, but impossible. Being paralyzed and buried alive? So much more terrifying because that actually happens.
“‘Happy wife, happy life’ is a mantra it seems unwise to ignore.” — Wes Craven
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Another strange family cannibal type story, this is one of the first major horror releases to feature an African American protagonist. A story about a poor family being thrown out of their home by a vindictive landlord that turns incredibly creepy when a boy discovers his landlords have a house full of stolen children that live in the walls! Often overlooked, this film, like much of Craven’s work, eschews the supernatural for a terrifying reality. An undead killer is one thing, but finding out your neighbors are keeping kidnapped children in the basement is a whole other level of frightening. I shudder at the thought.
“I’ve always felt like (Scream’s) Sidney or (A Nightmare on Elm Street’s) Nancy could never go back to that state of mind that they were in before, but that’s the life of a warrior, and in a sense, there are no more civilians anymore. You’re a warrior. You’re in combat. Because the whole world’s in combat.” — Wes Craven
I am old enough to have seen Scream on it’s first run in the theaters. Remember how heavily Drew Barrymore was advertised as the heroine of the movie? And how did that turn out? We all know the plot of Scream, but it is an incredible film when taken without the baggage that all the I Know What You Did Last Summer‘s and Scary Movie’s forced it to carry. Horror films, especially the slashers, were mired in a swamp of sequels and formulas. Scream takes those formulas, and not only acknowledges them, but makes a the rules a sarcastic joke. Even with the self referential humor, Scream still delivers an interesting story. Sometimes the rules are followed, sometimes they’re not, so we are still left guessing.
The Last House on the Left played an important role in the creation of the slasher film, both in content but also by it’s low cost and high box office. Scream tears down the stagnant, preachy rules that followed the genre up to that point, and completely changed the way audiences looked at horror films. Wes Craven was an innovative, strong voice in horror throughout his life. His talent will never be replicated, and we as film fans are all the poorer for his absence.
— Eric Harrelson
Please enjoy some behind-the-scene photos of the master of horror, Wes Craven, making the horror: (click on the photos to see a larger version)