It is with extreme sadness that I am writing this. I finished the newest Fear the Walking Dead with an emptiness that they yet again missed a major opportunity for social commentary as a friend text me the news: Wes Craven has passed away at the age of 76. I thought it was a joke, some oblique reference I didn’t understand. Immediately I googled the name, “Wes Craven”. There it was. He had passed a way. In real life. It wasn’t a joke.
Immediately I lost control, sobbing violently. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of loss I have never felt from a “celebrity death”. I felt foolish, but why should I? Craven was a genuine master of horror. He was the ultimate reason I pursue horror films as a director.
I was young when I first saw Scream. It was playing at a second run theater and my brother took me to see it. We were the only ones in the auditorium minus one woman sitting by herself in the front row. The opening scene was electric. I’d never seen anything like it on the big screen. The woman in the front couldn’t contain her fear as she yelled “Look behind you!” and “Run, girl, run!” throughout the entire film. It was a magical experience and I knew from that moment on that I wanted to be a director. I wanted to create the films that elicited that reaction from people.
I can barely stop myself from crying as I write this. Craven created some of the most iconic images in the horror genre. From Scream to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Sure, you can say that not every film he made was a classic (Deadly Friend, My Soul to Take). But I’ll be damned if those “stinkers” don’t stand out in my mind more than the next generic horror film released by Hollywood.
Wes Craven was in touch with his nightmares, his imagination and he didn’t hesitate to bring that vision to screen. His most recent directorial effort, My Soul to Take, came out of left field. I sat in the theater unsure of what I was watching. It seemed so slap-dash and messy yet I couldn’t shake the feeling I was watching something truly unique. It wasn’t a carbon copy of Scream as every film since had been. It was something new, something different.
Love his films or hate em’ – that’s what Craven did. He brought imagination to the table. Look no further than his reinvention of his own creation, New Nightmare, to see a real master at work. That film weaves the extreme passion of a horror fan with the real life grief and turmoil one would feel from such extreme loss into a truly horrific collage of film meets reality. That was Craven at his best.
Going back to the original “Nightmare”, Craven presented us with a “what if” that kept us awake at night. It’s not just a boogeyman stalking you in the night, it’s a boogeyman of your own creation. That was Craven’s magical view point. You can’t escape your fear because it’s already inside you.
Even his lesser acknowledged films touch on this subject. The People Under the Stairs deals with urban decay and the idea that the white man, the one we trust, can not be trusted. Everything in a Craven film is never as simple as it seems. This idea is what’s lacking in modern horror. There is no imagination, no commentary, no double meaning.
Finishing another entertaining yet hollow episode of Fear the Walking Dead and hearing this news was too much for me. Wes Craven is THE reason I want to be a horror director. He was a master in every sense of the word. The horror landscape is filled with too much hollow product devoid of any imagination and the creative touch of a master such as Craven, and his loss will be felt infinitely.
I could go on forever about his impact in my life and that of horror cinema, but I will leave it with this: I have and will continue to be truly inspired by Craven’s work. He might be gone from this plane of existence, but we will always have the nightmares Craven gave us.