By the time you read this, the news will have settled in, and life will have mostly returned to normal. For some of us, however, it’s impossible to wrap our heads around the news. Wes Craven has died of brain cancer at the too-soon-age of 76 years old; then again, if the man lived to 120, it still would have been too soon.
I’ve talked extensively here about my love of horror, but I haven’t told the story of the birth of this love of the macabre. If you haven’t guessed it yet, it all started with A Nightmare on Elm St. I remember on my brother’s 11th birthday, he and some older cousins swiped our father’s copy of Nightmare on VHS (Google it if you don’t know what those are). I understand that my brother thought he was doing the right thing by not letting me watch it with them since I was only 5 at the time, but what my brother didn’t know, hell what I didn’t even know at the time, was that this movie was destined to impact my life, and I’d like to think for the better. That night, after everyone had gone to sleep, I snuck out of my bunk-bed (older brother obviously got top bunk) and watched the masterpiece that brought Freddy Krueger into the world.
It must have been around midnight when the movie finished, and there was only one logical thing to do… watch it again, of course! I was interrupted by my brother just as Freddy slashed open Tina’s nightgown, nearly revealing her breasts. Somehow thinking that at the age of 5 I was interested in the female form more than a wise cracking nightmare killer with a hand of blades, my brother stopped the tape, halfheartedly scolded me and sent me to bed. It didn’t matter anymore at this point, I was hooked.
What Wes Craven did by giving Freddy a personality and such an iconic look galvanized the slasher genre into putting more thought into its antagonists. As great as Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees may have been, who would want to go back to a silent stalker with a knife, when Freddy was out there with a punchline and handful of blades?
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm St., and while I could go on, I don’t want anyone to think that Wes Craven was a one trick pony. After a low period for horror movies, Craven came back and revitalized the entire genre by openly criticizing the laziness of slasher movies with Scream. Who can forget the instantly classic line “Do you like scary movies?” from the opening scene? That, among many other quotable lines, shows how Wes Craven put care and thought not only in the story, but the dialogue as well, which was painfully lacking in other movies of a similar ilk. Scream spawned a franchise of successful sequels, an equally (perhaps) lucrative parody franchise with the Scary Movie films, and most recently an MTV series that reimagines the original movie.
Having two world-renowned, classic, and much loved horror film franchises would be enough for most, but not so for Wes Craven. He wrote and directed the original The Last House on the Left and both The Hills Have Eyes films, and he also directed one of my personal favorites, the cult classic The People Under the Stairs. To say that the man left an impression on the horror world would be an understatement, but I fear anything short of watching his entire catalogue would leave people with an incomplete understanding of Wes Craven’s influence.
With a bladed glove I tip my fedora to you, sir. May you rest among the angels for taking us to hell and back.
RIP Wes Craven
For more from Alex Azar, check out his website www.azarrising.com