Wes Craven, the director who revolutionized the horror films of two decades, died earlier today at his home in Los Angeles after a long bout with brain cancer. He was 76.
Craven’s 1984 slasher A Nightmare On Elm Street was a success far beyond its low budget roots. Starring Robert Englund as the supernatural killer Freddie Kruger, the film launched one of the genre’s most recognizable franchises as well as a host of imitators. Although Craven would only be directly involved in the first film, help write A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) and write and direct the 1994 franchise relaunch Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the series was credited as giving studio New Line Cinema the financial footing it needed to produce a number of other genre pictures.
For the 1990s, Craven reshaped the horror genre with 1996’s Scream and its two sequels. Stalked by a knife-wielding killer wearing a mask modeled off of Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch’s famed work “The Scream,” a group of teens actively discuss horror movie tropes and hope that their knowledge of them will save their lives. The success of the first of the films lead to a new cycle of post-modern horror films.
Although Craven has admitted that he worked on a number of porn films at the start of his career under various pseudonyms, his first credited work as a director was the 1972 exploitation thriller The Last House On The Left. Made for a paltry $87,000 the film grossed over $3 million at the US box office, setting the stage for larger things in Craven’s career. Other early films include The Hills Have Eyes and the horror comic book adaption Swamp Thing.
Many of Craven’s films dealt with characters and their perceptions of reality. Freddy Kruger attacked his victims through their dreams and in New Nightmare, franchise actress Heather Langenkamp plays herself being stalked by her fictional co-star. In 1988’s The Serpent And The Rainbow, Bill Pullman plays a character who is plagued by hallucinations that he has trouble distinguishing from reality.
Though best known for his work in horror, he directed Meryl Streep to an Academy Award-nomination for Best Actress in the drama Music From The Heart. He also directed the 2005 psychological thriller Red Eye and a romantic comedy segment in the anthology film Paris Je t’aime,