Monday, August 31, 2015

R.I.P. Wes Craven 1939 - 2015

At 7AM this morning I saw the news ticker across the bottom of my T.V. screen as I watched the morning newscast. Wes Craven was gone.....but certainly not forgotten.

I first heard of Craven through an ad in Fangoria magazine. The movie was "The Hills Have Eyes" but I can't really recall if it was an article on the movie or an ad for the soundtrack in Fangoria's soundtrack section. I didn't experience Craven's craft until 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street". I was instantly taken by the film and all it's nuances. I hadn't seen anything like it before unless you count Phantasm (1979) which I've always kind of thought ANOES was similar to. While Phantasm scared me, Nightmare and it's main character Freddy Krueger, scared me to death.

This film opened me up to the world of Wes Craven and I needed to see more of his work. I do know that after ANOES I went directly to The Hills Have Eyes. While the film was gritty and unsettling, it still didn't hit me like Elm Street did. With Elm Street I didn't know what was real or a dream (of course a running theme throughout the series) and the imagery is simply outstanding and frightening. That shot of Freddy with the out stretched arms slowly coming down the alley to get Tina is forever burned into my brain. I believe it was then I saw The Hills Have Eyes II and I was left feeling flat. The film just didn't have that "umph!" that Elm Street had and that I really wanted to experience again in a Wes Craven film.

Finally, one day while browsing the horror aisle at my local video store I saw the title I was looking for. The title I had read about but no one seemed to have on their shelves for rent (remember kids this was the mid - late 80's, we couldn't stream a movie on the internet you had to go out and rent a tape and if the store didn't have it in stock you were screwed). The Last House on the Left was the game changer for me. I had read about it so I knew what I was getting into, we I thought I did. By today's standards the film may have lost some of it's impact but still to me, it retains plenty of it. It was the film that seemed to get referenced all the time when people talked about Elm Street....and with good reason.

Last House was an assault on my senses. I hadn't seen such brutality on the screen until I popped that tape in the VCR. The film was extremely gritty, more so than Hills Have Eyes. The movie was full of squirm in your seat scenes which I admit bothered me the first go around. Hell they are still squirmy scenes which is a testament to Craven's ability as a director and story teller.

For me Craven's films were a series of ups and downs, good and not so good but always entertaining. When Craven returned in 1994 with Wes Craven's New Nightmare I was excited to see what he was going to bring to the Krueger family dinner table. Craven did not disappoint although some didn't like the film, I thought it was a nice return to that dark uncertainty that was found in the original Nightmare film. 1996 would be the year that really brought Craven back into the mainstream of the horror genre. Scream was an instant hit in theaters and a very nice tribute to the slasher film genre from a man who helped shape the genre in the 80's. While it might not be one of my favorite films of the Craven cannon, it is still one that has its frightful place on the shelves of many a horror fan.

Wes Craven will be missed. I will miss seeing his name pop up on new projects or seeing that he will be making an appearance at a horror convention. Although I never got a chance to meet the director, I have always heard some many great stories from those who have. He was described as one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet.....which seems about right. Usually it's the nice ones that have the ability to scare the pants off us!