RIP Wes Craven

RIP Wes Craven (1939-2015)
Filmmaker Wes Craven, best known for intelligent and provocative horror titles such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and The Last House on the Left, has died at the age of 76. He had been diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away at his home in LA, leaving behind his wife Iya Labunka, and his two children Jonathan and Jessica.

Craven’s impact on the landscape of shock cinema came early in his career with searingly gritty and subversive titles such as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. These films presented levels of violence and graphic realism in ways rarely seen before. What became clear though was that despite the brutality of his work, Wes Craven’s films were intelligent and strangely philosophical; he frequently addressed themes such as familial strife, generational conflict, class, race, teenage angst, dreams and man-made monsters. While at college he studied literature and psychology before moving on to earn a Masters in philosophy. Prior to his work as a filmmaker, he was an English teacher. Much like George Romero and David Cronenberg, he was a genre director who approached horror from an intellectual perspective and frequently laced his films with subtext. Craven once said “Horror films don't create fear. They release it”, and throughout his career he addressed the nature of fear, the relationship between horror films and their audiences and the cathartic aspects of violent cinema and how it addresses primordial fears and anxieties.

My introduction to horror, proper, was through Wes Craven. At the not-so-tender age of 16, my dad took me to see Scream. Prior to that I wasn’t overly familiar with the genre. The myriad references to other horror titles in Scream had me racing to the video shop and rifling through the pages of Empire and Shivers. I subsequently discovered classic slashers such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, before delving headlong into their precursors in the work of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. I lapped up the barrage of 90s teen slasher flicks that came in the wake of Scream (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend etc.) and these will always hold a special place in my morbid heart.

In Craven's obituary on the The Guardian's website, Stuart Heritage spoke truth when he said Craven “dictated the genre so confidently no Hollywood horror director isn’t deeply indebted, no audience member left untouched.” Craven has left an indelible mark on horror cinema, and it just won’t be the same without him.

Comments

Kelvin Green said…
I think the first Craven film I saw was Nightmare on Elm Street, just after it came out on VHS. I was five or six and probably shouldn't have been watching it, but you can blame my brother for that. Anyway, Craven has been part of my life from an early age, so I'm shocked and saddened at the news of his death.
James Gracey said…
I remember catching a glimpse of A Nightmare on Elm Street (the bathtub scene) at my cousins' house when I was about 7 or 8. When my aunt realised what they were watching, she ordered me out of the room. The damage was done though and I had nightmares for weeks! I also caught bits and pieces of The Serpent and the Rainbow, Deadly Blessing and Shocker on TV. It wasn't until after seeing Scream that I investigated Craven's work properly though. Since then I've grown to admire him - as a filmmaker as well as a person. He will be missed.

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