Every generation grows up with incredible talents, talents that shape and influence their childhood. Once in a while, there are creators who along with creating brilliance in their own perspective art, create a spark within other individuals. One of the people who influenced and created that spark within me, was Wes Craven. He was brilliant, an originator of the horror genre, with his creation of the super popular A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series. But sadly, even our heroes are taken from us. After a battle with brain cancer, at the age of 76, Wes Craven passed away on August 30th 2015 in his home.
My earliest memory of the movies, one that would haunt my nightmares for years and years, was with Wes Craven. I was 3, maybe 4, when my parents decided to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street once they put me to sleep. But little did they know, they placed a mirror in a perfect position, so a child (such as this little dude) could crawl out of bed, shimmy down a few stairs on the stairwell, and watch the television in the reflection of the mirror. Totally hidden, I was able to indulge in the movies that my parents were watching.
And then one night, I saw the title screen flash, A Nightmare on Elm Street. I gripped my knees into my little chest, and never looked away. It would be my first ever experience with horror movies, and would shape my passions, interests, and love of film from then on. Even still to this day, and until my forever ends, it will be the genesis for my extreme and unrealistic love of horror movies. That being said, it scared the living hell out of my 4 year old self. I didn’t sleep for days, and any time I was in school and had to go to the bathroom alone, in the dimly lit hallways, was when the real fear struck. I would slowly wander down the hallway, towards the lonely bathroom, just waiting for a bloody body bag to appear and get dragged away, just like in the original Freddy. Even though it never actually happened, and it was a few years later in Kindergarten, I was afraid of secluded hallways in school for years after.
Wes Craven created many terrifying moments, but it was his character creations that put him on the map. Freddy Krueger and Ghostface are two of the most iconic horror villains of all time. Craven only wrote and directed the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, but his creation would go on for another seven films, and a few remakes and crossovers more recently. All of which are enjoyable in their own right, some more so then others. And Scream would end up with four films, and a television show on MTV. A show I actually watched because I love Scream so much. I never wanted to be a murder victim so bad; thanks MTV for ruining everything.
Wes Craven did have a hand in conceiving A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, which is one of the more stand outs of the series, and of course, came back for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which reinvented Freddy to a new generation and excelled immensely at making a great horror film after a series of flops.
When I was around second grade, it became apparent that these films, these ideas that haunted me for years, were stories. They were made up, for entertaining people, to scare people. People actually wanted to be scared, and enjoyed it because they were outside of the television, outside of the world looking in. They were in a safe environment engaging in other people’s fears. Wes Craven ultimately taught me how to be scared, and how to scare people, and was the single most influential writer and director on a young Jay Martell.
From that moment, I started writing horror stories, murder mysteries, and of course, watched every single last Wes Craven movie I could get my hands on. I brought A Nightmare on Elm Street into the lives of so many of my friends, and scared the living crap out of endless people. So many of my friends were unable to sleep for weeks after a sleepover with this guy. I still remember, maybe around 5th grade, bringing along A Nightmare Before Elm Street 4 to a sleepover. The parents rented us The Rocketeer and left us alone, so I slipped out rocket man and inserted Freddy Part 4. Let’s just say a call home to my parents was the least of my punishments. I don’t think I ever set foot in my friend’s house from that point on. But on the bright side, I bet every last one of them remembers it to this day.
Upon reading deeper into his life, I learned something I never knew: how he came up with the idea for the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland and happened to live on a street named Elm Street, right next to a cemetery. As a writer, I’ve spend countless hours staring out the window trying to come up with the next idea, and it makes me smile knowing one of my major influences came up with some of his ideas the very same way. He also is known for discovering some new talent that would go on to great things in Hollywood, most famously casting Johnny Depp in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Little known was Sharon Stone in Deadly Blessing, and shockingly, he cast an unknown Bruce Willis in an early 80’s episode of The Twilight Zone.
As much as A Nightmare on Elm Street shaped my childhood, there were other Wes Craven films that replaced it as I got older. At the peak of my adolescence, the final chapter of the Nightmare series (until then), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, gave me the chance to share in my first horror movie theater experience. At the ripe age of 12, a large group of my friends and I snuck into the R Rated New Nightmare (It was super easy back then), and it became my first horror movie experience with friends. The girls screaming, the boys pretending not to be scared, and little old me, hiding behind the seats popping up behind the girls to scare the popcorn out of their laps. It seems so simple, some may not even care to remember their first group horror experience in the theater, but mine will always be special to me. And no matter what you say about it, New Nightmare is a great movie.
Yet still, there is one other Wes Craven experience which tops everything for me. It is the single most enjoyable movie theater experience in my life. Not the best movie, but the most enjoyable and memorable experience I have had inside of a movie theater. It was watching Scream for the first time.
In 1996, I was a freshman in high school, and the movie theater that I grew up going to my whole life up until that point, Rutgers Cinema, was going out of business. There wouldn’t be many experiences there after Scream, so we all got together for this and made it a big event. In 8th grade, my group of friends split up, some going to this high school, some to another (Catholic school kids go to different catholic high schools). It wasn’t like public school, where we all stayed together. It had been a few months since the split, and we all got back together to do what we loved to do most, watch movies. Except this time we all brought the ladies, and when we snuck in, had nearly an entire row filled with our crew. It was the theater experience you see on commercials, the kind that you never get to experience in real life. The kind where everyone screams at scary points, everyone laughs at funny points, every single person is highly engaged enjoying themselves, and the girl I just met clinging onto my arm to save the day. After everything Wes Craven had done for me, he was now presenting me with my first chance to land a lady.
Scream really opened my young eyes to exactly what a filmmaker could do with the movies. How they can break the fourth wall, and find different ways to laugh at itself all while making it violent and as brutal as possible. It took teen horror and while spoofing it, made it a serious horror film with inventive death scenes and real stakes. As the series went on, and characters began to be killed off, it was one of the first times I realized, that no one was safe. And in my opinion, Scream single handedly saved the horror genre from the depths of the 90’s.
From Scream, he went on to direct Scream 2 and 3, and produced a number of successful films (at least in my eyes). Production wise, he produced numerous “Wes Craven Presents” films and several other popular titles. Films like, Dracula 2000, Wishmaster (Yes!), They, Feast, The Hills Have Eyes remake (sadly, I hate to admit, I loved more than the original), and The Last House on the Left remake. Even with a splash of his influence, some of these films came out excellent. Far better than they would have fared without his help and mind. And in the mid 2000’s, Red Eye and Cursed were born, two films that are under appreciated and undervalued in my opinion. Especially Cursed, which is a great little werewolf movie.
His last two films, Scream 4 and My Soul To Take, were as far from the Wes Craven film as any could be. It really goes to show you are not remembered for the last thing you say or do. When you are as talented as Wes Craven was, your body of work will forever speak for itself. Craven has influenced my life more than any other filmmaker ever can or ever will, and showed my childhood self what movie magic really was. None of his movies are my favorites of all time, and nothing he did was the absolute best in his genre, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t arguably the greatest mind the world of horror will ever know.
Wes Craven was an originator, a filmmaker who created new thoughts, influenced new generations, and showed the world how to enjoy horror movies. His sense of humor eventually seeped into his films, and gave birth to the influence and need for comedy within a horror film. His first few films, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, and the original A Nightmare on Elm Street were straight horror, but as he gained more confidence more of himself was injected into his films, and the true Wes Craven film was born.
As one of the most acclaimed directors of all time, Wes Craven will forever be known as one of the godfathers of horror. Without him, I would not be writing this article, and I’m sure his influence extends to an endless amount of writers and horror writers. He will be forever missed, and thank you Wes Craven, for all you have done for the industry, and all you have done for me.
WES CRAVEN GREATEST HITS
All things Wes Craven, Writing, Directing, Producing, his influence touched all of these memorable films. A countdown of all Wes Craven’s Greatest Hits.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The Serpent and the Rainbow
The Hills Have Eyes (Original)
The Last House on the Left
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Thank you Wes Craven, Rest… In Peace.