For over 40 years, Wes Craven defined the American horror film, bringing to life Freddy Kruger, Ghostface, and Eddie Murphy as a vampire in Brooklyn. His passing marked the end of a great legacy, one worthy for a look in a special Halloween edition from Top 10 Archive!
Not Everything He Touched was Horror Gold
Despite being synonymous with the horror industry, Craven did step away for one film. That film being Music of the Heart, a 1999 bio-pic about Roberta Guaspari, a musical instructor who taught in Harlem during the dark years of the 1980s. The film starred Meryl Streep in the lead, with Angela Bassett and Gloria Estefan in supporting roles. The film received OK reviews, and Streep received several award nominations, but we can’t help but get goosebumps wondering how the guy behind The Last House on the Left could end up directing, well, quite the most gushy effeminate drama.
His Best Friend Created Friday the 13th
Craven’s producer for The Last House on the Left was Sean Cunningham. If you’re a horror film fan, you’ll know that name well: Cunningham created cinema’s other iconic scream king, Jason. Cunningham produced and directed Friday the 13th, a movie about a mysterious killer who preys on teens at a summer camp. The film became a huge sensation in the 1980s, spawning countless knockoffs, sequels, and satires. Strangely enough, Jason doesn’t even appear in the first Friday the 13th movie, and doesn’t even don his signature hockey mask until the third installment. The creations of Craven and Cunningham were often compared, with the two characters finally battling it out in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason.
He Had Many Flops
No filmmaker is perfect, I mean, come on, Spielberg has The Terminal. Coppola has Jack. Lucas has… too many to mention. Wes Craven’s had his share of flops on the big and small screen. That includes 1989’s box-office disaster, Shocker, which New Line thought would be the next Nightmare on Elm Street. That same year, Craven rolled out a TV comedy called The People Next Door, which was so bad the studio killed the show halfway through its season. Highlighting Craven’s career of potential Razzie winners are Vampire in Brooklyn, My Soul To Take, Deadly Blessing, and another failed television show, Nightmare Café.
Wes Craven’s Two Nightmares
Craven gave the world Freddy Krueger, the unforgettable villain from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Not surprisingly, Elm Street spawned many sequels over the years, but Craven had little to no involvement in most of them. He directed just two of the nine Kruger films, writing and directing the original and the seventh installment, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and only taking writing credit for the 3rd installment, Dream Warriors. Even with Craven’s limited input, the Elm Street franchise has earned almost half a billion dollars.
The Molder of Horror Icons
Though Craven’s career was long, his largest feats included his hands in creating three of horror’s most iconic franchises – The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream. Craven wrote and directed 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes, the story about a family trapped by mutated cannibals in the desert. Seven years later, Craven rolled out A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film about a disfigured murderer who torments his victims in their dreams. In 1996, Craven appealed to a whole new generation with his direction of Scream, a movie about a group of teens who are hunted by a horror film enthusiast. The three franchises have 12 sequels, 2 remakes, and 2 spin-off TV series between them all.
He Breaks Out With The Last House on the Left
Released in the summer of 1972, The Last House on the Left established Craven’s reputation within horror cinema. Craven wrote, directed, and edited this film about two teenage girls who are kidnapped and tortured by a group of sadists. The film was shocking in its depiction of violence and sexuality, but still generated a tremendous profit that received the attention of big studios. The movie has since gone on to be a cult classic, with a remake and plenty of films borrowing elements and concepts from it.
His Start was X-Rated
The film industry was already hyper-competitive in the early 1970s, making it hard for aspiring filmmakers to get work. To get by, Craven worked on pornographic films to earn money and build connections. Because of the stigma that porn had–and, arguably, still does–Craven relied on pseudonyms to stay in the business while not ruining his chances of moving into the mainstream.
He Stumbled Into Film
After purchasing his first 16mm camera while teaching, Craven soon fell in love with the medium, creating short films in his free time and quickly learning the art of cinematography. His entry into the film industry was thanks to Harry Chapin, a hit folk singer best known for “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Chapin hired Craven as a sound editor in the late ’60s and, from there, Craven moved into film editing, starting with “You’ve Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Lose That Beat” and, subsequently, film-making.
He used to be a Teacher
After he finished receiving a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins University, Craven became a college instructor at Westminster College in Pennsylvania, Clarkson University, and the Madrid-Waddington Central School in New York. What did he teach? English and humanities. Luckily for moviegoers, he didn’t teach long, instead jumping into film during his stint as an educator. We can’t help but wonder what kind of teacher he was, given his films’ tendency to focus on slaughtering teenagers.
Hailing From Ohio
Wes Craven was born in Cleveland on August 2nd, 1939. According to an interview with The New York Times, he grew up in a conservative, religious home. Nonetheless, his father suffered from alcoholism and died at the age of 40. Afterward, Craven pulled away from organized religion, as you can probably tell from his movies. His disdain for religion even forced him to leave a funeral service for a friend out of sheer discomfort. And, yes, his real name is Wes Craven.