I know I pretty much say it with every passing of someone from the horror genre, that because of the work they did and the fans that refused to let their work and their memories die, but for a filmmaker like Wes Craven, that statement really is true. Not everything Craven directed was a masterpiece. Far from it. Then again, it would be pretty tough to do that when you work in the business for over four decades. But how many filmmakers can say that they made quite an impact in the genre, not just once, or twice, but at least three times in their career? Not too many. And the funny thing is that those three groundbreaking features and so different from each other. Of course, I’m talking about Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream.
I’ll say right now, I’ve never been a fan of his directorial debut, Last House, mainly because it is just way too dark for my personal tastes. Craven wanted to make a cinematic equivalent of the feelings of what was going on in Viet Nam at the time, and he really did that in spades. While most critics tore it apart, Roger Ebert seemed to understand what Craven was trying to do, evening writing “There is evil in this movie. Not bloody escapism, or a thrill a minute, but a fully developed sense of the vicious natures of the killers.” It is a tough movie to watch, with no hope of a happy ending. But it makes an impact. Then with Nightmare, Craven gave us one of the most memorable horror villains of all time with Freddy Kruger. And then in the 90’s, when slasher films had pretty much all died out, Craven stepped in and made them popular again, creating a whole new series.
Of course, he did make a few other memorable titles over the years. I’ve always been a fan of the original Hills Have Eyes, considering that to be on the same darkened path as Last House. And while Serpent and the Rainbow had a few issues here and there, I think it is a striking film, with some incredible visuals, and well worth seeking out.
Craven showed that he could make a film outside of the genre, when he directed the 1999 film Music of the Heart, with Meryl Streep, which I happened to think was an entertaining film. While he probably wished he could make more movies outside the genre, he understood his role there, saying “If I have to do the rest of the films in the genre, no problem. If I’m going to be a caged bird, I’ll sing the best song I can.” And he never shied away from trying.
Craven died this past Sunday from brain cancer at the age of 76 years old. He has become just as immortal as those characters he created on the screen for us. For as long as we watch them, and be entertained (or shocked and/or scared) by them, then he will be remembered as much as they are. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.