A Look Back at Wes Craven's Greatest Films

Wes Craven


Wes Craven: A Study of the Horror Master

American horror film director Wes Craven died on August 30th of this year and has left us with a long and impressive history filled with scares and nightmares for many years to come. Any horror fan says goodbye to Wes Craven with a very heavy heart. We will be discussing his most well-known films including The Last House on the Left, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and the Scream series.


Wes Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio and was raised in a strict Baptist family. Craven earned an undergraduate degree in English and Psychology and a master's degree in Philosophy and Writing. He then taught English at Westminster College for a brief time and was a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology (later named Clarkson University) in Potsdam, New York. He also taught at Madrid-Waddington High School in Madrid, New York. During this time, he purchased a used 16mm film camera and began making short movies. When his friend Tom Chapin informed him of a messenger position at a NYC post-production company run by his brother, Craven decided to move to Manhattan.


He wrote, directed and edited his first feature film, The Last House on the Left, in 1972. A horror about the abduction of teenage girls who are taken into the woods and tortured by a gang of murderous thugs. Then the distraught parents decide to exact revenge on the thugs. His characters often use elaborate booby traps to capture the villain, and this is first seen in this film. His protagonists are often ordinary characters caught in extraordinary and horrific circumstances. The story is inspired by the 1960 Swedish film The Virgin Spring, directed by Ingmar Bergman. It was censored in many countries, and was particularly controversial in the United Kingdom. The film was refused a certificate for cinema release by the BBFC in 1974 due to scenes of sadism and violence. The film was eventually given an '18' certificate with 31 seconds of cuts on July 17, 2002, and was released in the UK on DVD in May 2003, 30 years after the film was made. Despite this, it became a box office hit at the time and launched Craven’s career, grossing over $3 million domestically. The film was remade into a 2009 film of the same name.


A Nightmare on Elm Street


Craven reinvented the youth horror genre again in 1984 with the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), a film he wrote and directed. While casting A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven discovered the then unknown Johnny Depp. Set in the fictional Midwestern town of Springwood, Ohio, the plot revolves around several teenagers who are stalked and killed in their dreams (and thus killed in reality) by Freddy Krueger. The teenagers are unaware of the cause of this, but their parents hold a dark secret from long ago. The film is credited with carrying on many tropes found in low-budget horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, originating in John Carpenter's 1978 horror film Halloween, including the morality play that revolves around sexual promiscuity in teenagers resulting in their eventual death, leading to the term "slasher film".


According to Craven, his vision of Freddy Kruger came from a childhood memory. When he was 10 years old, he looked out the window of the apartment he lived in and a drunk man dressed similar to Freddy was looking directly at him and continued to stay there looking at the window for several minutes. This scared him so much that he decided this will be the look for Freddy. Craven had also been bullied at school by a child named Fred Krueger, and named his villain accordingly. Craven wanted to make Krueger different from other horror-film villains of the era. "A lot of the killers were wearing masks: Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason," he recalled in 2014. "I wanted my villain to have a 'mask,' but be able to talk and taunt and threaten. So I thought of him being burned and scarred." He also felt the killer should use something other than a knife, which was too common in horror films of the time. Thus the hand of blades was born. "In Nightmare, all the adults are damaged: They're alcoholic, they're on pills, they're not around," actor Robert Englund, who plays Freddy, has observed. Englund adds that "the adolescents have to wade through that, and Heather is the last girl standing. She lives. She defeats Freddy." It is a bit of a feminist movie with strong female characters, but you could look at it more as a youth power film as well.



The Scream Franchise

In 1996 Craven reached a new level of success with the release of Scream in 1996. As the film neared completion during the production phase, the Weinstein brothers changed the film's title from Scary Movie to Scream. They were inspired by the Michael Jackson song of the same name. Bob Weinstein considered Scary Movie to be an unsuitable title as, in addition to the horror and violence, the film contained elements of satire and comedy; Weinstein wished for that to be better conveyed by the title. Scream received acclaim from critics, who appreciated the shift from the teen slasher films of the 1980s. The film was considered unique at the time of its release for featuring characters who were aware of real world horror films and openly discussed the cliché that Scream attempted to subvert (ie. the ‘do you like scary movies’ line we all know and love). Scream marked a change in the genre as it cast already-established and successful actors such as Neve Cambell and Drew Barrymore. This helped the film find a wider audience, including a significant female viewership. The first film, which sparked the phenomenal trilogy, grossed more than $100 million domestically, as did Scream 2 (1997).


Between Scream 2 and Scream 3 (2000), Craven was offered the opportunity to direct a non-genre film called Music of the Heart in1999, a film that earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. It was his only foray outside of the horror/thriller genre and his only film to receive Academy Award nominations. In 2012, the New York City Horror Film Festival awarded Craven the Lifetime Achievement Award.



Wes Craven once said, “You don't enter the theater and pay your money to be afraid. You enter the theater and pay your money to have the fears that are already in you when you go into a theater dealt with and put into a narrative. Stories and narratives are one of the most powerful things in humanity. They're devices for dealing with the chaotic danger of existence.”





Actors posted tributes on social media including actress Courtney Cox, who starred in Craven's Scream and appeared in the franchise's three subsequent films. She said on Twitter: "Today the world lost a great man, my friend and mentor, Wes Craven. My heart goes out to his family. x" Rose McGowan, who also featured in the original Scream, said: "Thank you for being the kindest man, the gentlest man, and one of the smartest men I've known. Please say there's a plot twist."


These classic horror films will live on in our hearts and mind, so if you have not seen these movies, please do! And keep the lights on….


Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB, Twitter

Posted by Samaria S on 9th September 2015
Category: Review

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