If a Mount Rushmore were to exist for horror film directors, there is no question that Wes Craven would be on it. Eyes wide open. Certainly not sleeping. It was with great sadness that film lovers learned of his death at age 76 due to a battle with brain cancer. His influence has been inescapable and that is no understatement. When I learned of his death, I was watching the MTV VMA’s (a horror show of a different kind) and the network was incessantly running promos for their TV version of Scream, based on the franchise he directed.
For over 40 years, Mr. Craven’s work was synonymous with being on the cutting edge of the horror genre. 1972’s The Last House on the Left and 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes are hard edged genre classics. 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street brought the slasher flick to new heights. 1996’s Scream both parodied horror movies while being a brilliantly effective one of its own.
These are the obvious titles that will be discussed with his work but allow me to put forth two more that probably won’t be focused on as much. 1988’s The Serpent and the Rainbow is a voodoo infused underrated effort that is definitely worth a look. 2005’s Red Eye is an effective B movie thriller with taut direction and quality performances from Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.
Craven is also responsible for 1982’s fun monster pic Swamp Thing and directing Meryl Streep to an Oscar nomination in 1999’s drama Music of My Heart. There were missteps too. His 1995 Eddie Murphy vanity project Vampire in Brooklyn immediately comes to mind. The Scream sequels tended to go down in quality as they continued on.
Yet few filmmakers have defined and redefined a particular genre as much as Wes Craven. His works have and will continue to stand the test of time. One only needs to look at how many of his pictures have already been remade or spawned sequels. The original editions of Elm Street and Scream in particular stand as hallmarks of horror that will continue to make audiences lose sleep and laugh about it forever. When it’s impossible to imagine a genre of film without the contribution of one man, that’s a legacy of greatness. Few directors can make that claim. Wes Craven was one of them. Sleep well, Mr. Craven.