How a single brilliant mind reinvigorated, revolutionized, and redefined cinematic terror
By Alex Stanton, Staff Writer
When asked, you would be hard-pressed to find two people who see eye-to-eye on the words they use to define and attach meaning to the word “success.” The idea of the American Dream is so universal that you don’t even have to be an American to achieve it. For some, success may mean becoming truly independent of their childhood families. For others, success isn’t a word in their vocabulary until they do something that is guaranteed to land them in high school history textbooks. For others still, success might mean a white picket fence and a family with your childhood sweetheart.
There are an infinite number of ways to define success, whether they are realistically obtainable or not. The first thing you’ll learn about this late, great man that I am paying tribute to is his undeniably distinct definition of success: ditching his career as a college humanities professor for a lucrative career in the golden age of porn, followed by three consecutive decades of creating films for a genre that, prior to him, was incredibly stale even for its time.
For those of you who have missed out on watching supernatural horror films for the past 30 years, the man I speak of is Wes Craven, the creator of the genre-defining horror franchises The Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. If that is all you knew about Craven until right now, then it makes it all the more heavy on my heart to let you know that in the final week of August he passed away at the age of 76. You could argue that he died a more desirable death than any of his creations; brain cancer is awful, but it certainly beats the pants off of being branded as a child murderer and being burned at the stake for it—a fate which was met by the most famous abomination against good feelings ever dreamt, Elm Street’s Freddy Kruger.
Despite being the catalyst for an extremely impressive number of watchable horror flicks, you don’t have to go too deep into the filmography of Craven to be able to point out why he had such an influence on his contemporaries and successors. Aside from his many passion projects, he had the gargantuan thriller franchises A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream; the success of his two biggest films can be attributed to the simple fact that he was a certain type of artist. He was, first and foremost, a film buff and a giant geek; however good or bad a movie titled Deep Throat looks on an aspiring film maker’s résumé, you have to get your foot in the near unbreakable door of show business somehow, and he did. Craven was a true artist—he owed his livelihood to his love of the motion picture. He gave back in rather unique ways, the first of which was 1972’s The Last House on the Left. The film achieved a more than acceptable consensus among film critics, which can be attributed to the influence of Italian “Giallo” films of the 60s and—more notably—to the then unprecedented amount of on screen violence. Although critics consider it one of the less notable films in Craven’s film canon, it started a momentum of horror scriptwriting and film-making that wouldn’t slow down for any of the generic, down-right tame jump scare crap that audiences were positively sick of by the ‘80s.
Up until the mid-80s, Wes Craven lived a comfortable life making watchable horror films like The Hills Have Eyes and Stranger in Our House. It wasn’t until Elm Street,though, that he had, for the first time in his career, taken a tried and true formula and made it into something else, giving birth to what is today referred to as the slasher film. Slasher films generally focus on incredibly disturbing characters with dreadful urges to rape and kill everyone in the film. Scream, just as much a classic as Kruger’s seven film main series turned out to be, took established horror conventions and turned them on their head again. Scream was a horror film in the same way that Austin Powers was a spy movie and has since been hailed as a biting satire of Craven’s main genre as a whole, as well as a classic, well-crafted thriller.
I can’t pour my heart onto this page with thoughts of his contributions to film as an art without parroting what has already been said and is plainly obvious. This man did more for horror films than anyone has done for any genre of film ever. His influence can be seen in modern times through the sheer number of major horror movies that are filled to the brim with satire.
The fact that horror films still exist is thanks to Wes Craven. He will be missed by fans of his as well as those who appreciate his near mythical influence on film as a medium.