More than any other famous death in the last year – more than Robin Williams, more than Satoru Iwata, more than Christopher Lee – the death of Wes Craven has shaken me to my cultural core. I have been a insatiable horror fan ever since I stumbled across a daytime broadcast of Night of the Living Dead. Despite the less terrifying time of day, commercial breaks and good-natured jibes from my siblings, I was obsessed. It wasn’t long before I began hunting down every last horror title I could come across, and none fascinated me more than Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Sure, it wasn’t a perfect movie (much less a perfect franchise), but there was something about it that latched voraciously to my adolescent psyche and refused to let go. I have to imagine that it was the fantastically grotesque imagination of it all: not some creeping thing that goes bump in the night, but the ultimate embodiment of inevitability. No matter what you did – no matter how smartly you went about it – your body would invariably betray you to sleep: offering you up to that disfigured madman stalking your dreams.
Like Romero’s Zombies, there was ultimately no escaping Freddy Krueger. Sure, you could run. You could hide. You could even stick yourself with a drip bag of caffeine. Sooner or later, he would find you, and you’d be his.
There was more to it than just that, though. Freddy wasn’t some instinctive, shambling thing, barely clinging to life. He was wickedly clever. Krueger wasn’t just going to kill you, he was going to make a game of it.
That right there – the perverse fun of it all – was why the franchise survived the genre lull in the late 80s and 90s. While the movies did get progressively (and drastically) worse, they were infinitely more interesting than any of the dime-a-dozen kills from Michael’s or Freddy’s poorer installments. You just couldn’t help but love watching Freddy dispatch a fresh batch of teens with morbid exuberence.
It should really come as no surprise the the very best of the franchise – A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dream Warriors and New Nightmare – were all guided by Craven’s razor-clad hand. The third movie, although directed by Chuck Russell, was still written by Craven, which shows in Freddy’s horrific on-screen antics (not a caricature, like they would become, but genuinely witty and terrifying). The other two were directed by the man himself, which shows in their dark imagination and exquisite execution.
Far from being a one trick pony, Craven lengthy career boasted a broad spectrum of nightmarish masterpieces. He directed all four Screams, lending the films (in all their imperfect brilliance) his trademark blend of grotesque comedy. He also introduced the world to The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left and Redeye, any one of which would be enough to cement one man’s career in the annals of cinematic history.
Craven died on August 30, 2015 after a protracted battle with brain cancer. He was 76. His career in film and television spanned four decades and innumerable horrors, leaving an undisputable mark on cinema, and especially the horror genre.
Goodbye Wes. Thanks for every nightmare and hopelessly sleepless night.