Wes Craven Horror Master (2 August 1939 – 30 August 2015)
Wesley Earl Craven
As horror fans already know the death of Wes Craven from brain cancer late last month was a loss to the genre in his younger years would not have looked like a candidate for horror maestro. The director whose fledgling project was the infamous ‘Last House on the Left’ that would eventually bring cinema goer’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Scream’. Wes Craven was brought up in a Baptist family that believed ‘horror’ films to be sinful didn’t see his first film of a more adult nature ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ until his senior college years. At that point he was hooked and after finishing his education gaining a undergraduate degree in Writing and Psychology and a Masters in writing seminars and Philosophy at John Hopkins University. His first real venture into films came in New York as a sound editor. He taught English after at Westminster College to provide for his then wife Bobby Chappel, and his two young children Jonathon and Jessica Craven.
Craven chance came with working with Sean Cunningham who produced while Craven writ edited and directed the notorious ‘Last House on the Left’. Though the film was received generally well for its use of ‘hidden horror’ it clashed with the censors. Especially in the UK where it was banned outright and given the term ‘Video Nasty’. The BBFC did not release the uncut version until 2008 in the UK. The film had got Craven’s name noticed but it caused problems for him in his social circuit of academia with people he had went to college with causing him to lose some friends. He sought several new avenue avoiding the violence and horror of LHOTL. However, after two years and needing money he was convinced whilst in Vegas to go back to the horror territory. The story goes that a trip to the desert had inspired him to write and direct the now infamous ‘The Hills Have Eyes’. In 1981 he directed ‘Deadly Blessing’ and in 1982 ‘Swamp Thing’ both was not received well by critics and did not do well in the cinema. In 1984 he directed for TV a supernatural thriller ‘Invitation to Hell’, however things were to change in the same year when he directed the iconic horror of the eighties ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ introducing pop culture to Freddy. He directed in 1985 the surprisingly good made for TV ‘Chiller’ in 1985 and the abysmal sequel ‘The Hills Have Eyes part II’. In 1986 Craven directed for the reboot of hit and miss reboot of ‘The Twilight Zone’. And the cult sci-fi horror ‘Deadly Friend’ and Wes Kraven goes Disney ‘Casebusters’. 1987 he returns with Freddy and an ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ which is one my favorite of the nightmare franchise. In 1988 came ‘The Serpent and The Rainbow’ with a very nasty nail scene. Wes returned to comedy short lived series ‘The People Next Door’ in 1989 and again to horror with bady Pinker in ‘Shocker’. In 1990 the thriller ‘Night Visions’, and the following year 1991 ‘The People under the Stairs’. In 1993 he collaborates with other horror directors in ‘Body Bags’ returning again with Freddy in ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’. Venturing into comedy and horror in 1995 with actor/comedian Eddie Murphy for ‘Vampire in Brooklyn’. In the same year, he produced, though billed as the ‘Hills Have Eyes III (released as Mind Ripper). In 1996 he returns to cult and celebrity status with ‘Scream’ following it up in 1997 with ‘Scream 2’ and producer for the underrated ‘Wishmaster’. He returns to the director’s chair in 1999 with the surprising ‘Music Of The Heart’ starring Meryl Streep, as well as ‘Scream 3’. In 2004 he directs the low key ‘Cursed’ with one of the few parts for an adult Christina Ricci. In 2005 returns with the taunt thriller ‘Red Eye’. He directs a segment for the movie ‘Paris, je t’aime’. He directs and writes the horror ‘My Soul To Take’ in 2010 and ‘Scream 4’ in 2011. And is producer for the ‘Castle’ Series in 2013 and ‘Scream’ TV series in 2015.
The selections are few of my favorite films of Wes Craven:
Last House on the Left
I didn’t get to see this film in its entirety until 2010 renting it from the local Blockbuster. This had to do with it being banned in the UK until 2008. The story of rape and revenge isn’t a lot of plot to go on but here the gritty camera work and juxtaposition of the ordinary turning extremely nasty was uncomfortable in 1972 and is still uncomfortable today. The actual rape itself isn’t as voyeuristic and long as it was in ‘I Spit on your Grave’ but there was a brutal element to it. The constant attacks on the girls and the explicit castrating fellatio scene created a shit storm at the time. This one is definitely worth catching with the strange moral of don’t look for illegal drugs and an eye for an eye leaves the world blind. The one thing I did like about this film as how easy it is to turn the most balanced into madness. If you haven’t seen this one it’s worth catching.
The Hills Have Eyes
The almost biblical setting of the desert sets the modern family against the almost Stone-age savagery in this retelling of the ‘Sawney Bean’ legend. As the Carter family go head to head with the cannibal clan that live in the desert that they find themselves stranded in. I remember it fondly for the iconic picture of Michal Berryman as one of the bald psychopathic clan. I had this on video for a long time I no longer have the video and need to get either the blu ray or DVD. This strange tale is as violent as LHOTL and shows a style in direction that Wes Craven is gaining. Certainly worth checking out if you haven’t seen the original.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Where would the eighties horror or pop culture be without Freddie Kruger? We had Michael Myers and Jason but Freddie the child molester and murderer with a knifed glove and burnt face plus the red and black top and hat defined the horror of the eighties. And what was worse he got you in your dreams! This Psychoanalytic tale (that introduced Johnny Depp) is more restrained in its use of violence than LHOTL or THHE using an almost mystical filter of its use of light and shadow creating a constant dream state and hallucination feeling to the film. I shouldn’t need to ask whether anyone has seen this one because if you’re an avid horror fan you would have.
The Serpent and the Rainbow
As an aside recently there is a spate of middle-class men trying to find themselves by using Ayahuasca ritual which gives the user a DMT trip. Well the main character in this does this in the beginning of the film. This films exploration of Voodoo and zombie practices ( think ‘White Zombie’ not ‘Night of the Living Dead’) is one of my personal favorites. I remember watching this several times while inebriated on the hash, a great film. Please watch it if haven’t already.
The People under the Stairs
This frantic mad comedy/horror which tackled degeneration to cannibalism, incest, child abuse and general gimp attire before ‘Pulp Fiction’ starred Everet McGill and Wendy Robie both stars of ‘Twin Peaks’ that was extremely popular at that time. This horror romp is fun and inventive as well painful when it comes some of the torture scenes. A nightmare version of ‘Home Alone’ inventive in its approach. If you haven’t seen it do so.
I didn’t like ‘Scream’ when I first saw it but on second viewing I really enjoyed it. Again, Wes Craven redefines the horror genre by giving an almost tongue in cheek analysis of modern horror films. This film loaded with horror film references and a twist on the usual slasher fair. A story in a story that is funny and tense. This film like ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ became a film to express the decade which it was made. Scream was successful in the box office and creating a following for the franchise. Again if you haven’t seen do so.
Thank you Wes Craven for your work within this horror genre and the marvelous films. RIP writer, director, editor, producer, actor, teacher Wes Craven 30 August 2015.