The first and foremost thing I can say about the work of the late Wes Craven was, the man had one of the most original minds in horror. Right out of the gate with 1972’s “The Last House on the Left” he had a film that many considered “torture porn” over 30 years before they even had a name for it, now it’s become a sub-genre. Then in 1982, after the first two Superman films and well before Tim Burton’s “Batman” he made the horror equivalent of a comic book super hero movie, in “Swamp Thing.”
Only to then change the horror world forever in 1984 with the last great ‘slasher’ Freddy Kruger in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” A killer that can get you in your dreams? Which means when you eventually have to fall asleep, he would be there waiting for you? How terrifying was that?
Even his films that most people don’t think of right away when they think of his filmography were amazingly original, like “Deadly Friend” in ’86. A young love-struck genius puts the brain of his robot in his dead neighbor who then goes on a revenge killing spree. Studio interference not withstanding, Craven still managed to make a horror movie with a bit of heart. You felt for the main characters, even though this creepy, weird sci-fi stuff was happening around them.
In 1989’s “Shocker”, one of my favorite video rentals of the early 90’s had a crazy connected story of a serial killer, the son of one of his victims, a driven cop, and tv parts that aid in the resurrection of the killer who is now able to jump from body to body. This was brilliant and hilarious at the time, especially when the killer Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) posses the body of a cute little blond girl, complete with profanity and his signature limp. I still love the originality and absurd final minutes of this movie.
A couple of years later in ’91 my younger brother was roped into he Craven web with one of his favorite rentals, “The People Under the Stairs”. I remember really enjoying it at the time, but for my brother, this was the first horror movie that he loved. Even as disturbing as it was, with the inbreeding and cannibal children, it still always felt like a horror movie for kids in a strange way.
Finally after stumbling on an interesting meta idea in ’94 with the final installment of the ‘Nightmare’ series “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”, he along with screenwriter Kevin Williamson, redefined the horror genre in 1996 with “Scream”. Blending the knowledge of horror movie troupes by the films characters within the confines of an actual horror movie was without a doubt a work of genius. While the series going all the way to a part 4, may have overstayed it’s welcome, there are elements of all of them that still really work for me.
Still the original “Scream” was a turning point in film history that can still be felt today in the horror genre as many attempt to replicate the works of this fantastic writer-slash-director. And maybe one day someone will achieve what he did, by being an original voice and show us groundbreaking techniques in storytelling in some unique way. Though no one, and I mean no one can take the credit for the many times that he was the first through the door. Or the countless ways he was able to entertain and frighten at the same time. Rest in peace Wes, nobody made being scared as much fun as you did. Thank you!
–Robert L. Castillo