Tribute to Wes Craven


By Kate Hole- Reporter 

Horror legend,Wes Craven, died earlier this week due to brain cancer, aged 76.

Wes Craven was a teacher and academic before entering the movie business as a sound engineer, then moving on to direct pornographic movies. His first feature film was “The Last House on the Left” in 1972. This was also considered ‘pornographic’ by many and the violent movie was censored for over 30 years. It follows parents taking revenge on the people who raped and murdered their daughter. This was a change in horror as it contained no ghosts, monsters, or schlocky tropes as seen in Hammer horrors and others popular at the time.

Where other films were watched for thrills and escapism this film was bleak and brutal. It was perfect for an early 70s audience faced with the violence of Vietnam, the end of the 60s and the realisation that love is not all you need. The film may have not made much money but it changed the landscape of horror. Other films emerged which showed the horrors hidden beneath the respectable façade of America, and how anyone can commit horrific acts when pushed.

Craven’s next genre defining moment was “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984, giving Johnny Depp his first big film role.

The villain was the instantly recognisable Freddy Krueger, a horrifically burn-scarred child murderer who kills people through their dreams. Craven was inspired by stories in the LA times where victims complained of recurring nightmares and then died in their sleep, and also by high profile child molestation cases in the US at the time.Nightmare_9

This surreal reinvention of the teen horror genre again prompted multiple imitations, including the 5 sequels which became sillier and the antagonist more or a joke with each one. Craven tried to distance himself from his creation but then in 1994 he went on to write, direct and star in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”, the film-within-a-film with the original cast being stalked by Freddy and having to make another sequel to kill him for good.

Then with Scream in 1996 Craven resuscitated the dying horror genre with the cool and self-aware horror movie which knows it’s a horror movie. Scream was different because it acknowledged that the audience knows as much and more about the tropes of horror films as the characters do. Previously it would seem that no character in a horror film had seen a horror film, making their reality slightly unbelievable.

In Scream though horror films are referenced throughout. The new breed of horror movies spawned by this somewhat detract from the importance of Scream if watching it for the first time today but at the time it was ground-breaking.

It’s not just other horror movies that have been greatly influenced by Wes Craven but also popular real life scare attractions. Jason Karl, director for AtmosFEAR UK scare entertainment said “The People Under The Stairs provided very early influence on several of our scare entertainment projects, including one at Scare Kingdom Scream Park [Nr. Preston]”

Wes Craven stated that “horror films don’t create fear, they release it”.

May you rest in peace Wes, but may your creations always haunt our nightmares.

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