On the morning of Sunday, August 30, 2015 the day dawned magnificently. With that evening’s approach, an uncanny shadow began to cast a dismal hue across the landscape, projecting a bleakness that the next morning’s rising sun would not soon obliterate. How could it? For word had been sent forth that the world had just lost one of the true masters of the macabre with the passing of Wesley Earl Craven after his battle with cancer. He was 76 years old when he departed from this earthly life at his Los Angeles home, leaving behind a wife, two children and a legacy of creative genius.
Wes, as he was commonly called, is best known for directing and/or producing the films, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), during which he introduced us to the deformed abomination known as Freddy Krueger, and the 1996 slasher film, Scream, which was followed by three successful sequels.
Mr. Craven was born near Cleveland, Ohio on August 2, 1939. Although he was brought up in a strict Baptist family, he went on to earn an undergraduate degree in English and Psychology at Wheaton College in Illinois as well as a master’s in both writing and philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. For a short time he served as a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York and taught English at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.
Unknown to many of his fans, Mr. Craven’s initial experience with the cinema began as a writer, editor and director in the adult film industry, during which time he worked under a pseudonym. His first real break however, came in 1971 when he teamed up with Sean S. Cunningham to produce a successful film entitled Together. The following year, he rejoined Cunningham to create his first horror movie, serving as both writer and director of The Last House on the Left.
Over the course of his career, Wesley played a major part in the creation of over 60 productions, including several TV miniseries. The official website of Wes Craven describes his style this way:
“…Wes Craven has become synonymous with genre bending and innovative horror, challenging audiences with his bold visions since the release of his first feature film…Craven has demonstrated that he is a filmmaker with heart, guts, humor – and an unbridled imagination expanding into films, television and literature.”
It would be difficult to disagree with the above assessment. After all, not only was Freddy Krueger a concept borne of Mr. Craven’s vivid imagination, but so were the cannibalistic children featured in the 1991 film, The People Under the Stairs. Further, he had a keen eye for talent and is credited with giving Johnny Depp his first role in a major film when he featured him in A Nightmare on Main Street.
In 1999 he directed a non horror production entitled Music of the Heart for Miramax. The film, an inspirational piece about a school teacher in Harlem, earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for best actress.
In addition to his important role in the film industry, Craven authored two books, which include Fountain Society, published by Thorndike Press and a five-issue comic book series entitled, The Coming of Rage, which word has it, is still scheduled to become a film production.
During the course of his career Wes Craven has received several awards for his work, including the Critic’s Award at the Sitges Film Festival for his film, The Hills Have Eyes and the Gérardmer Film Festival’s Grand Prize in 1997 for Scream. In 2012 the New York City Horror Film Festival granted him its Lifetime Achievement Award.
In addition to his cinematic and literary interests and ambitions, Craven was a nature lover intricately involved with bird preservation.
It is always difficult for those of us left behind when a person of Wes Craven’s stature passes from the scene. Yet, those of us who have loved his work can take comfort in knowing that as long as his masterpieces of horror–those tangible pieces of his vivid imagination remain, he will never truly leave us.
Oh and Wes, thanks for the nightmares!