Here at Biff Bam Pop! we cover all aspects of pop culture – film, television, comics, music, even podcasts – but we have a very special place in our hearts here for horror, and this weekend, we lost one of the giants of the genre, filmmaker Wes Craven. You can read editor-in-chief Andy Burns’ brief memorial here, but if you’ll follow us after the jump, you can read the thoughts of other staffers and contributors to the site. Rest in peace, Wes Craven.
Wes Craven made some of the scariest and most daring horror movies in the 1970s with The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, for me, making a trip to the drive-in irrevocably one filled with terror and nightmares. Speaking of nightmares, Craven did much the same for the 1980s and 1990s by changing the game, not just once, but twice, first with A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels, and then with his New Nightmare. We have lost not just a brilliant writer/director/filmmaker, but also a visionary.
During the early 1980’s I was introduced to Wes Craven in the most perfect of ways and places: the darkened basement of a childhood friend’s house. As a group of ten and eleven year-old kids looking to make the best use of our summer holidays, we’d take turns renting horror films on VHS from the local shop (who didn’t seem to mind that we were well under-age) and, together, we’d gather in the dark under blankets to watch The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing and, our favourite, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven’s films were affecting: we could be his teenage protagonists, and our sleep-time dreams were forever altered in horrifically juicy ways.
Still, there was a depth to Craven’s thought process that showcased much more than the average horror filmmaker. Here was a writer/director who was, at his core, a philosopher and a poet. A man’s whose artistic creations reached beyond the genre he was famously known for, whose messages could be enjoyed by more than just a niche fan base.
The five and a half minute short “Pere-Lachasie” in the 2006 romance compilation film, Paris, Je T’aime, is a highlight in the Craven oeuvre. The famous Parisian cemetery, full of Gothic monuments and tombstones, plays a central, and distinctly Craven-esque, character alongside two soon-to-be-married, but troubled, lovers. Played by the straight-laced and by-the-clock Rufus Sewell, and the governed-by-her passions Emily Mortimer, the drama (naturally) takes the specter of poet Oscar Wilde to shore up the potential dissolution of their relationship. Here, under the pen and lens of the brilliant Craven, it’s an unseemly apprehension that rekindles the light of romance – and tricks those viewers who are horror-averse to fall directly and deeply into his most famous genre.
Rest in peace, Wes Craven. Thank you for reminding us that horror sheds light on humankind’s most uplifting of traits.
David Sandford Ward:
Wes Craven set the bar for horrific slasher-killer films, culminating in his absolutely brilliant and self-aware Scream. Many extol the virtues of his earlier films, and while they are certainly seminal to horror, Scream made us prick up our ears and listen. The only film that comes anywhere close to making fun of the genre, pointing out its merits and foibles, and scaring the living crap out of us is The Cabin in the Woods. Scream, though, excels in a place very rarely touched by horror films: reality. The opening sequence alone still sends a chill down my spine. You will be missed, Mr Craven. Thank you for the fear
Wes Craven. When I heard he had passed away, it didn’t immediately register. He couldn’t be dead – there’s always been Wes Craven! At least for me, since he was scaring the hell out of people long before I was even part of this planet. And he always seemed so immortal and untouchable somehow. I mean, he brought Freddy and Ghostface into the world. What could ever get him? A true loss for the horror and film community, and he will be missed but so fondly remembered. Thank you, Wes, for being one of the reasons I fell in love with the horror genre in the first place, and for leaving so much of your passion and craft behind for us to enjoy.
The incredible thing about Wes Craven was how fearless he was, how unafraid he was to try something new or different. There was nothing like Nightmare on Elm Street when it came out in 1984. Prior to that your Hollywood slashers were silent, relentless hulks. Freddy was different. Not only did he speak, he taunted, he cracked jokes, he spoke in puns. After a while, it became camp, (and even worse, Freddie became an anti-hero and theaters cheered for every teenager mutilated) but in that first movie, it added a level of terror we hadn’t felt before.
Later when it grew old, he added a nice twist with A New Nightmare. Two years before Scream, he introduced our first “Meta” horror film. It wasn’t great cinema, and maybe not even a real risk (In 1994, you could have Robert Englund read a grocery list and it would have sold as long as he did it in character), but Mr. Craven introduced something that we hadn’t really seen very often, and really tapped a vein for the oh-so-ironic nineties. A New Nightmare really laid the seeds for Scream, and when Scream came along in 1996, it redefined the genre again. How many directors can claim that? Two popular series that redefined a genre.
Even his misses were spectacular. I’m particularly partial to Deadly Friend, as campy a movie you can ask for, but it was original; and Mr. Craven found a way to make a really silly plot very creepy. I don’t know if we’ll ever again find someone as willing to take those risks, to put himself out there so readily. And our genre will be worse off for it.
I had the opportunity to meet Wes Craven when he appeared at a local horror convention in 2005, when his latest film at that time, Red Eye, was released in theaters. I was in awe of the man who created one of the most iconic horror characters of all time, Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy soon became one of my favorite villains, a quick-witted monster who attacked when you were the most vulnerable, in your sleep. I remember Mr. Craven being humble and down to earth as he graciously signed a photo and my Elm Street DVD case. Rest in peace, sir, you will be mourned by horror fans worldwide.
Andy Burns discussed Wes Craven on SiriusXM’s National Post Radio on Canada Talks 167: