“One … two… Freddy’s coming for you, three… four… better lock the door, five… six… grab your crucifix, seven… eight better stay up late, nine….ten … Never Sleep Again.”
Our nightmares just got a little less vivid on Sunday. That’s because we’ve lost the man who has so expertly painted them for almost 40 years. Of course I’m talking about Wes Craven. For most of my life he was the Master of Horror.
It didn’t start with Freddy Krueger. I guess you could say it began with 1972’s The Last House On The Left. But it was certainly Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare On Elm Street that made Wes Craven a household name, and one that more than a few folks likely cursed over the years for disturbing their dreams.
It did indeed begin with The Last House On The Left, a film Craven wrote and directed. The film found a cult following but never attained the kind of popularity he would find 12 years later when A Nightmare On Elm Street took the horror community by storm. Freddy Krueger would become an iconic image in the genre from that moment on. The film not only launched the successful career of Craven but made Robert Englund a household name. The film also launched the career of a young teenager who was unknown at the time. Craven must have seen something in the young man. Of course we’re talking about Johnny Depp. Tons of sequels and remakes followed, but Craven had little to do with most of them. When he did return, it was always to turn the series back on its head. With A Nightmare On Elm Street III: The Dream Warriors he gave Freddy an origin story that would add to his legend. In New Nightmare, Craven broke down the walls that separated film from audience with a clever story of the film’s cast and crew being haunted by Freddy Krueger, who wants to come out and play one last time.
Depp wasn’t the first future star Craven discovered. He gave Sharon Stone her first staring role in a feature film gig in Deadly Blessings. For a Twilight Zone revival episode in 1985, he cast an unknown actor named Bruce Willis as the star. There’s little question that he had the knack for finding young talent.
For most creative people, that would have been a career in itself. Not for Wes Craven. He would continue to bring out films that created new film rules and would leave countless imitations trying to capture his magic. Of course I’m talking about such genre classics as The People Under The Stairs and the Scream films. Both broke the rules and reestablished Wes Craven as a master. Both unfortunately and fortunately for us, Craven was in the process of bringing both films to the small screen as television shows. We’ll never get to see what innovations he had in store for us there. But these projects are still on track, and he was very involved in the development. They will continue to be his legacy. But he will not get to direct, which he was scheduled to do.
He did get to revisit The Hills Have Eyes and Last House On The Left as a producer.
Most important to Wes Craven’s legacy are the many other writers, directors, and actors he inspired along the way. He was known to have been incredibly patient and supporting of young talent, and that doesn’t include the countless people he inspired without ever having met him. His films established conventions and rules that are followed to this day in the genre. And with so many filmmakers out there nourished by him, these conventions will continue for a very long time.
Wes Craven died of brain cancer at only 76 years of age. It’s amazing to me that he continued to work so much right up until the end. Most of his fans never even knew he was ill. He wasn’t going to let a little thing like brain cancer keep him from creating. Now we won’t let a little thing like his death keep us from enjoying his many frighteningly wonderful creations from making our lives better. Craven lives on in our nightmares, and somehow that’s not such a bad thing after all.
Over the years we’ve covered many of Craven’s projects. Take a moment to relive those reviews with us now: