Wes Craven (1939-2015)

Whether you love horror movies or absolutely hate them, one thing is certain – Wes Craven turned the genre on its head and reinvented it into something new and exciting.  Or maybe I should say, more terrifying.

Classic horror movies from the 1930s and 40s mostly featured monsters like Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, and the Wolfman.  Those films were scary enough in their day.  By the time the 50s came along, many horror movies focused on the supernatural, alien invasion, and atomic radiation-created gigantic creatures.  But as the 60s dawned, slasher films began to take their place in filmdom.  The horrific attackers weren’t beings who looked decidedly inhuman or animalistic.  No, in the new kind of horror film, the threat was a normal-looking man or woman.  While some mainstream directors tackled the idea of the boy-next-door-as-killer (Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom), a great number of the movies were low-budget fare.

But in the 70s, new filmmakers pushed the boundaries as no one really had before.  They included George Romero, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter – and Wes Craven.

While Craven’s films had their share of violence and, well, gore.  But they also featured storylines that were intriguing and blurred the line between fantasy and reality.  A Nightmare on Elm Street movies gave us the demonic villain Freddy Krueger, who could invade the dreams of teenagers and kill them as they slept.  Scream and its sequels made fun of the horror/slasher genre – jeering at the conventions that appeared in almost all of them – while at the same time using many of those themes.   But Craven also knew when and where to put the little “twist” into a movie.  Just as you were sure you knew where the story was going, he would change the rules to create a new surprise – and a new scare.

During his career, Craven concentrated mostly on horror films.  But every now and then, he’d take on much milder fare.  He directed an episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color titled Casebusters, about a young brother and sister stumbling on a mystery while visiting their grandfather.  Craven also directed the Meryl Streep movie Music of the Heart, based on the true story of a violin teacher in Harlem.  And he ventured into mainstream suspense with the movie Red Eye, starring Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.

If you’re a horror movie fan, you’ve probably seen many of Wes Craven’s films – probably more than once.  But if there are some you’ve missed, click on Craven’s highlighted name above or on the highlighted titles.  And if you’re new to the genre and are curious, be prepared for a wild ride by a master storyteller.