From Dreams to Horrific Reality: Wes Craven’s Vision
Wes Craven was a pioneer. For most he is known as the creator of 1984’s "A Nightmare on Elm Street," which birthed the horror movie icon Freddy Krueger. This is in addition to the slew of important horror movies he directed—"The Hills Have Eyes," "The Last House on the Left," "Scream"—which influenced future filmmakers and spawned unavoidable remakes and spin-offs. When Mr. Craven passed on August 30, 2015, at the age of 76, a big hole was ripped into the canvas of horror cinema. And whilst many tributes have surfaced in the last few days, most seem to fall into the fashion of simply listing favorite Craven titles from over the years. There is nothing wrong with such an outpouring of fandom, but for those interested in something deeper, a little more probing is required.
In my latest video essay “In Memory of Wes Craven,” the concentration on characters’ faces and emotion is given slightly more weight and gravitas than some of the more grotesque imagery. This is because Craven was more interested in what made us tick individually, and as a society, more than he was interested in whatever new death trick Freddy Krueger had up his sleeve. The “horror film” as a vehicle for this thesis is most apt because it taps into that primal fear we all have of death. For some people death is a jarring notion; for others it’s an inevitable fate, but when we’re thrust into the unnatural state of murder ("The Last House on the Left") or are threatened by some supernatural force of evil ("My Soul to Take"), we are universally bound by the immediate, sheer feeling of terror. Terror is an equalizer. Craven understood this and he was a craftsman at building those scares, film after film. The reason so many other horror filmmaker imitators come and go with little impression is because they forgot the basic landscape and vulnerability of the human condition.
Craven pioneered this landscape for decades and it’s hard to imagine another filmmaker making any new headway in that territory anytime soon.