When iconic horror director Wes Craven passed away last August after battling brain cancer, the entertainment world was shaken off its axis. We had lost a legend, the man many consider to be the Master of Horror. Craven got a late start to the directing game, but boy did he take advantage of his genius, earning everything he got as a filmmaker. The Cleveland, Ohio native was always ahead of the curve – stretching boundaries and rethinking the genre more than any other contemporary horror director.
Today would have been Mr. Craven’s 77th birthday.
Craven’s horror resume reads like a Greatest Hits playlist. The man who created Freddy Krueger and the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise also created the franchise that completely reshaped the horror genre for a new generation – the SCREAM series was a box office and pop culture powerhouse and Craven directed all four of the films in the collection.
SWAMP THING, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN and THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW kept Craven in the spotlight for decades. Craven also contributed to the 1985 film, THE TWILIGHT ZONE. One of my favorite Craven films, CURSED, isn’t one of his most critically acclaimed, but it is one of his most fun movies and simply oozes with the pop culture finesse that only Craven has mastered.
Of course, it never hurts to enter the scream scene by directing one of the most controversial horror films ever.
1972’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, based on the 1960 Swedish film THE VIRGIN SPRING, was a brutal exploitation film that tore at the moral fiber of filmmaking and completely burst through those boundaries that Craven was so crafty with stretching throughout his career.
In the latter portion of his illustrious career, Craven whipped up a fun title called MY SOUL TO TAKE, which continued his streak of creating horror films aimed at the younger audiences and starring young up and comers (Max Thieriot, Denzel Whitaker). It worked twenty-six years earlier when the world witnessed a young unknown named Johnny Depp get eaten alive by his bed in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and the SCREAM franchise is a roll call of hot, young actors and actresses who ensured that theater audiences for these films wouldn’t just be hardened horror fans.
Craven brought a brand of horror to the mainstream that audiences had never seen before. It wasn’t all about the scares. It wasn’t even all about the stories. It was about the humanity. Questions about morals and convictions were prominent in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. Racial awareness and social commentary ran wild in THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS. SCREAM pointed the finger directly at the horror genre, announcing the rules of the genre and walking the thin line of “the fourth wall”, something Craven also did masterfully in WES CRAVEN’S A NEW NIGHTMARE. VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN was an urban horror-comedy starring and produced by Eddie Murphy. A lot of Craven’s work had a far less-than-subtle nod to the urban lifestyle that he was familiar with. Craven had a knack for attracting audiences of all races, and it’s clear that his work as a cab driver and also living in the urban landscape directly affected his filmmaking and directorial decisions – all for the better!
On this, the first birthday of Wes’ since his passing, let’s not only celebrate the man who created some of the greatest films in horror history but also acknowledge the fact that Mr. Craven reshaped the landscape of the genre in a way that quite possibly has never been done, with the exception of Mr. Alfred Hitchcock.
A true master of his craft and, by all accounts, one of the nicest gentlemen on the scene, Wes Craven will forever be remembered as the Master of Horror.