Nightmare's End: Wes Craven in Memoriam

Scott Wallace
1st Sep 2015

Perhaps being a horror auteur isn’t a particularly prestigious niche to carve out in the world of film, but the late Wes Craven, who just yesterday passed away at 76 following a long battle with brain cancer, earned our respect doing just that.

Ever since his first feature as director, 1972’s deranged The Last House on the Left, Craven was a master at going further and into stranger places than any other horror filmmaker had before. The inspiration for The Last House on the Left was, surprisingly, Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring.

Along with films like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Craven listed among his favourite films the aforementioned Bergman arthouse classic (one of the Swedish director’s most morally complex) and Robert Mulligan’s tender adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. As his list of favourites shows, there was a lot more nuance and subtlety to Craven’s work than the pointless gore fests into which many of his classic movies have been re-made.

Arguably, the pinnacle of Craven’s career was A Nightmare on Elm Street. The 1984 film started a franchise, but there is still nothing as delightfully weird as the film that originally gave us the iconic Freddy Krueger. Full of frightening ambiguities and more atmosphere in the opening scene than most horror movies have over their entire duration, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror classic that broke the mold of the still-young slasher genre.

That’s the same genre that Craven revitalised in the knowing and wry Scream in 1996. Never has a horror movie been so self-referential (truly “meta”) without being ham-fisted. Everyone in the film seems to have some idea that they’re in a horror film, but the equally self-aware villain Ghostface still gets them anyway.

Scream is a remarkable film that is completely tied into the time when it was released, but still holds up upon watching it today. Its distinctive cock-eyed attitude is still so prescient that only this year it has been adapted into a successful MTV TV series.

There’s something special about every film in Wes Craven’s oeuvre - from the nigh apocalyptic The Hills Have Eyes to the uncharacteristic but no less tense thriller Red Eye. Now would be a perfect time to revisit his classics and appreciate all the new ground that he broke in the horror genre.

Like his finest creation Freddy Krueger, Wes Craven may be gone, but he’ll always be in our nightmares.