Yesterday came the incredibly sad and painful news that iconic horror director Wes Craven had passed away after losing a battle with brain cancer. Craven was only 76 years old but the legacy of his work has left a footprint in history that can never be denied or ignored. Horror may not be what it is today without the works of Wes behind it.
I want to take this platform to share a few thoughts and memories I have of Wes and his films. After all, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is the very first horror movie I remember seeing at the age of six or seven. Clear as a cloudless sky, I remember watching Rodney Eastman’s character Joey practically salivate over the woman in his waterbed. Moments later, Freddy bursts through the bed, pulling Joey in and then sealing it again, this time with Joey inside, causing him to drown. My mom immediately changed the channel and so I never knew what happened next.
That visual gave me nightmares for days and haunted me for years. Little did I know that this memory would give rise to my love of horror and become one of the most important moments of my horror life.
When I was 15 and able to drive, the video store was basically my second home. I would go there all the time and scour the horror section for whatever I could find. Luckily, my parents were pretty cool with it, so they put a note on the account that allowed me to rent R-rated films. I don’t know if that was legal or whatever, but it worked and I could rent any horror movie I wanted.
Like nearly every person on the planet, I knew of Freddy Krueger from pop culture. Yeah, I’d seen him in NOES 4 when I was a kid but I never really watched a Freddy film before. And so, on one video store trip, I rented Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Yes, I went totally out of order but it was new and it caught my eye. Plus, I didn’t think I needed to see the others beforehand.
In a weird way, I’m very glad that I went down this route. Not only did it introduce me to Freddy Krueger and Heather Langenkamp as herself AND as Nancy, it introduced me to Wes himself. Seeing Wes onscreen made him all the more real, all the more tangible. Before, he was just “a director”, a guy behind the camera who brought me a story but let the characters bring it to life. Keep in mind, that was my 15-year old self and how I thought back then. I now recognize the error of my ways.
Seeing Wes changed all that. Suddenly, it was important for me to know who made a film, who put their heart and soul into it. Because of watching him, I would forever now look at who was behind a film, who crafted it, shaped it, moulded it, and presented it for me to appreciate and digest.
Because of this, I went on a Wes Craven binge, watching nearly everything he released. I asked the video store clerks to bring up his name in the computer and I simply went down the line of his films, renting them two to three at a time, devouring them as eagerly as Freddy tried to devour Kristen in The Dream Warriors.
This pathway led to me doing the same for John Carpenter, George A. Romero, and more. It was because of Wes that I loved film not just for the stories on the screen but for the people responsible for delivering them to me.
A few years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to take part in a very small Q&A with Wes at the University of Michigan at a class I attended. That interview still lives on this site, which makes me happy. It’s a piece that I’ve offered to the world that ensures he will live on in the great vast internet ocean.
Later that day, I got a call from a friend who told me that Scream 4 was filming mere minutes from my place. I hopped in the car and drove into the neighborhood, parked on the street, and walked a few blocks to the set. From my vantage point across the street, I could actually see Wes in the director’s tent, intently focused on the monitors in front of him, wearing headphones to ensure nothing could distract him. After the scene wrapped, he approached many of the cast and crew, taking the time to speak with them and answer their questions and concerns.
It was so wonderful to see him make the effort to do this. Sure, it’s in his job description but he did it with a smile and never raised his voice. He seemed ever calm and in control of himself, a stark difference from his films where chaos and terror could occur at any moment.
I could go on and on about the additional impacts Wes had on my life, such as the Nightmare on Elm Street NES game, the “1… 2… Freddy’s coming for you” ditty and how it gets stuck in my head all the time, the genital empathy I felt for Bill Pullman in The Serpent and the Rainbow, the joy of seeing the crazy The People Under the Stairs, laughing at the delightful meta-ness of the Scream franchise, the social commentary of The Last House on the Left… The list is nearly endless.
But it’s not even remotely close to how endlessly Wes Craven shaped and influenced horror. With each film he released, whether they were a winner or a dud, he brought something new to the genre. For that I thank you, Wes. Many of my nightmares are a direct result of you and your work. Here’s hoping I have many more.