Movies

R.I.P. Hollywood Horror Master Wes Craven

Director of teen-horror classics "Scream" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" dies at 76.

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Sad news for fans of scary movies:  Hollywood fright-master Wes Craven, director of teen-horror classics "The Last House on the Left," "Scream," and "A Nightmare on Elm Street," died yesterday, after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 76.

Craven was a major force in Hollywood's horror scene for decades, starting with his debut, "The Last House on the Left" in 1972. That film, a brutal exploitation shocker about two suburban teenage girls assaulted and tortured in the woods by a murderous gang, was a sleeper hit, grossing $3 million on an $87,000 budget, and it paved the way for decades of teen horror films to come, including "Nightmare" and "Scream," both of which helped redefine the horror genre for their own decades—and specifically the sub-genre of teen horror—upon release.

Craven occasionally dabbled in other types of horror film, but his contributions to the teen horror catalog were what made his name and carried his career. His most successful films managed to tap the teen zeitgeist—the casual druggie spirit and general derangement of the 70s in "Last House," the moody suburban angst of the 80s in "Nightmare," the ironic, media-saturated knowingness of the 90s in "Scream"—and transform it into something both terrifying and thrilling.

New Line Cinema

That Craven's movies were thrilling, even exciting, shouldn't be overlooked. Think of the instantly iconic opening scene to Scream, a masterpiece of pop-suspense that starts with an ordinary teenager left alone in an ordinary home and uses a wrong-number call to swiftly ratchet up the tension, before resolving it in a swift rush of violence. Moments like that are all over Craven's films. He was an unapologetic exploitation filmmaker, especially in his early days, but his movies were about more than delivering blood and guts: They were often remarkably suspenseful as well, as reliant on tension as on gory depiction. Indeed, much of what Craven's films work was the interplay between the suspense and the horror, with the suspense fueling the viewer's imagination about the horrific possibilities of the inevitable shock to come. 

What Craven captured better than any other filmmaker, though, was the sheer terror of adolescence—the moments when teenagers are on their own for the first time, left to fend for themselves without the aid of adults, and forced to face off against the brutality and madness of the world. Craven understood that for teenagers, the world is an inherently scary place, full of terrors real and imagined. His best movies gave form to their fears. The world is a little less scary without him. R.I.P. 

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  1. I guess we’re going to gloss over the explosion of finger-knife attacks that his films spawned in the mid-80’s.

  2. He was totally overrated, anyway.

    Oh, Wes Craven.

  3. What Craven captured better than any other filmmaker, though, was the sheer terror of adolescence?the moments when teenagers are on their own for the first time, left to fend for themselves without the aid of adults, and forced to face off against the brutality and madness of the world.

    Tell me about it. One minute you’re in bed watching Miss Nude America, the next you’re being pulled into the mattress then spit back out in a volcano of blood.

    1. Craven’s evil squirrels are consuming comments now.

  4. Prince of Darkness got to me more than the stabby adolescent films.

    1. Yeah, but that’s Carpenter.

      1. Fuck – I always mixed those guys up!

        1. Yeah, I was gonna say something about leaving out ‘Escape from NY’, but same thing.

    2. It’s so cheesy in retrospect, but younger me was creeped out. Same thing with Event Horizon.

      1. Indeed on both counts.

  5. Weren’t the Scream movies supposed to be comedies?

    1. Weren’t they all?

  6. John Carpenter’s best movies are way better than Craven’s, but Carpenter hasn’t done anything of value in like 25 years.

    So is Carpenter better than Wes Craven because of The Thing, They Live, and Halloween, or is he worse because of everything he’s done since 1990? I still haven’t forgiven him for Ghosts of Mars.

    1. The original Nightmare on Elm Street is better than the original Halloween IMO. In fact Halloween gets my vote for Most Overrated Classic Horror Film.

      But if you’re trying to support the idea that Carpenter is overall better than Craven, Big Trouble in Little China needs to be mentioned.

      1. The Thing is the best horror movie either of them ever made though. Carpenter also had a quite a few other great films in the 70’s and 80’s. I haven’t even mentioned The Fog.

        I think Carpenter was probably the better of the two because there are more great Carpenter movies than great Craven movies.

        1. Carpenter was always entertaining, at least until he went off the reservation.

          *puts on the glasses*

        2. Carpenter at his best is way better than Craven at his best. Carpenter at his worst is probably worse than Craven at his worst.

          Carpenter’s oscillation is wider, but overall, his talent is greater. Craven also created some damn good stuff, but if you were to tell me you found a missing Carpenter movie from 1983 and a missing Craven movie from 1988, I would immediately ask to see the Carpenter one first. It might be amazing.

          1. Here’s something you might appreciate

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dooAjI6yOhg

      2. But if you’re trying to support the idea that Carpenter is overall better than Craven, Big Trouble in Little China needs to be mentioned.

        No ‘Escape from New York’?

        No ‘They Live’?

        Craven was scary Carpenter was awesome. It’s like comparing hard apple cider to blood oranges.


      3. The original Nightmare on Elm Street is better than the original Halloween IMO. In fact Halloween gets my vote for Most Overrated Classic Horror Film.

        Completely agree. My favorite classic was Friday the 13th, but that movie had an unfair advantage because everything is better with bacon.

      4. You know what old Jack Burton always says at a time like this?

        1. *** waves hands ***

          “Yessir, the check is in the mail.”

        2. Everybody relax, I’m here.

        3. It’s all in the reflexes.

        4. Wang (handing check to Jack): “Here Jack. Nothin’ or triple.”
          Jack: “Nothin’ or double.”
          Wang: “Triple. You earned it.”
          Jack: “You’re right, I did. Thanks, Wang.”

    2. I’m more of a Clive Barker fan.

      1. Have you seen all 492 of the Hellraiser movies?

        1. Nope. I’m not a big horror fan. Saw a couple Hellraisers and Lord of Illusions. Like them more than the other horror stuff I’ve watched. But like I said, I’m not a big fan of the genre.

        2. Did Barker have anything to do with those movies other than create the material that influenced the screenwriter?

          Coldheart Canyon FTW.

          1. He wrote and directed the movie as well.

          2. Barker directed the first Hellraiser and wrote it for the screen.

            1. That flayed humanoid in the attic was not half as creepy as the female lead antagonist picking up Johns to be slaughtered.

              1. I liked when he licked his skinless lips.

                1. Only because you have no skin on your lips.

          3. I wish he would finish the so-called “Art Trilogy” already – I loved the first two.

            1. I have not read those. For some reason I thought they were YA material.

              1. No, adult fantasy/horror. He did lots of YA stuff later though.

        3. I watched hellraiser and I want to know why people keep solving the fucking Rubix cube?!?

          1. It’s not just solving the Rubix Cube, it has to be done the right way. Thankfully nobody has done it yet.

              1. If you’re the right person, it mostly just solves itself.

          2. Why do people search for pirate gold in coast lines that have been searched for twenty years straight with no results. The rumor of something good will eventually find someone willing to both believe it and expend ridiculous amounts resources trying to find it.

            1. In the first one I thought the guy knew that he was getting BDSM but it went a little too far.

      2. I’m not a huge Barker fan, but I understand that his books were much better than the movies that were made from them.

        1. The problem is that very few of his best stories would translate well to film. “In the Hills, the Cities” would have to be animated to pull off at the time and the CGI wouldn’t look great even now.

        2. “Midnight Meat Train” was surprisingly good.

    3. My idea of a good horror movie director is Nora Ephron, so I will remove myself from this discussion.

      1. I want to google that name, but I am at work, and so I probably shouldn’t, considering the source.

        1. She directed romantic comedies. That was the joke. Gosh.

  7. The Thing

    That movie fucked my shit UP. Probably didn’t help that I was a little kid when I saw it.

    1. I saw Alien when I was 12. Now THAT was a tad bit traumatizing. I couldn’t eat spaghetti for a month.

      1. I saw Alien when I was 12. Now THAT was a tad bit traumatizing. I couldn’t eat spaghetti for a month.

        That too. To this day, I still have the occasional dream about that creature. Usually involves me being trapped in a large building with it.

        1. Want to talk about traumatizing? My dad had me watch Brazil when I was 10. That movie made me a libertarian. That movie will fuck you up.

          1. My dad had me watch Brazil when I was 10. That movie made me a libertarian. That movie will fuck you up.

            I’m probably destroying what little credibility I might’ve had around here as a cinephile, but I’ve never seen that.

            1. It is really fantastic, one of my favorite movies, now. Well worth a watch, but you can’t watch it TOO intoxicated or you will lose the plot.

            2. It’s basically 1984 as an absurdist dieselpunk comedy.

      2. I saw it when I was about 10. My friend’s parents would always show a no-shit, fuck you scary movie at his birthday party. I saw Alien, The Changeling, Michael Mann’s The Keep, Creep Show, and more. My parents would have never let me see those movies otherwise.

        1. I think 10 was the age when my parents started letting me watch more grownup shit. That’s about the time I first saw Alien, The Thing, and The Shining. All three of those fucked me up but good.

    2. Oops – meant as a response to Irish ?s ESB’s comment upthread.

      1. http://www.outpost31.com/books/who.txt

        I’ve never actually read that, but I proabably will now – thanks for posting it.

    3. Yep. I didn’t scare easily even as a kid but that one did it.

  8. Wait, Wes Craven movies were suspenseful?

    Huh, that’s news to me. I’m not sure if I’d rate anything better than OK.

    1. Between Craven and Barker, I’m not sure who was less horrifying. Craven was campy and Barker would beat his concepts to death.

    2. Huh, that’s news to me. I’m not sure if I’d rate anything better than OK.

      Then clearly you have never seen Vampire in Brooklyn.

  9. All of those teens or “young adults” who watched and were terrified by Craven’s films (and others, tbf), gee, could those be the parents who are now coddling children and pushing all the “I have a right not to be offended” policies?
    One wonders.

    1. As long as they don’t set the neighborhood perv on fire in the junkyard, everything will be just dandy.

    2. *Sigh*

      And what about the rap music and violent video games, amirite?

      1. That’s like saying Lovecraft caused people to become eugenicists and racists.

        1. Well he did but the rest is non-sense.

        2. Think of all the potential civil engineering and geometry geniuses he ruined!

  10. Nightmare on Elm Street is a brilliant horror movie from a fear point of view. It’s one of the few things that when you have a nightmare about it, telling yourself it’s just a dream doesn’t help. Love that series.

    1. I’ve always said it was a brilliant idea. Anything is possible in the dream world and there is no escaping it.

      1. I’ve always said it was a brilliant idea. Anything is possible in the dream world and there is no escaping it.

        Did you ever see The Cell? Most of the movie takes place in the subconscious of a comatose serial killer played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Say what you will about the premise or that Jennifer Lopez played the lead; visually, it was a very striking film.

        1. I haven’t seen it. I’ll check it out. I like to watch horror movies when my wife is out. She hates them.

          1. I haven’t seen it. I’ll check it out. I like to watch horror movies when my wife is out. She hates them.

            My daughter doesn’t like them either, but she’s been dropping hints that she wants to see Crimson Peak when it comes out in October. I haven’t seen anything yet by Guillermo del Toro that I didn’t like, so it’s definitely on my list, and hopefully I’ll be able ot get her to go with.

          2. It’s been a while but I don’t think The Cell is horror. I didn’t care for it myself.

            1. I’ll still watch it. Sometimes I enjoy watching movies just to see how bad they are.

            2. It’s been a while but I don’t think The Cell is horror. I didn’t care for it myself.

              Definitely not horror. More like psychological thriller/fantasy.

              1. This.

                I thought the opening scene was cool, though.

              2. I thought it was a pretty cool attempt at looking at what goes on in the mind of someone who is completely fucked up. The part with the horse was crazy.

                1. The part with the horse was crazy.

                  I haven’t seen it in years, but now that I’m remembering individual scenes, I might have to watch it again.

  11. I think that Craven would be more highly regarded if he didn’t have so many sequels to dilute his brands. Nightmare was a great horror film, but the sequels were crap and made the original look buffoonish in retrospect.

    Scream was mostly in the script, and even managed to not have totally awful sequels, but Craven’s only contribution was not-completely terrible direction.

    1. The sequels are a selling point in my point of view. I’ve had birthdays dedicated to watching Nightmare on Elm Street and all its sequels. There is a lot of play in being able to host a marathon dedicated to a single series.

      1. I find the Friday the 13th movies better to binge on. You don’t have to skip the 2nd one and there is nudity.

        1. Unlike Star Wars?

          1. Chewbacca never wears clothes.

            1. Really? I always imagined him with a thong on under all that hair. Because he liked to feel a little sexy.

              1. The Human Gaze

  12. Have you checked the children?

  13. This is what comes of hanging out with Lou Reed. That’ll learn ya, Wes.

    Or not….since you’re dead and all. RIP.

  14. Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder” is not too bad, either.

    And speaking of horror, best-selling self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer has died.

    1. How can everybody talk about horror and NOT mention George R. Romero? I saw the original NOTLD when I was 11 in 1980 on the local UHF channel they showed every year around midnight at Halloween. I have always loved monster movies but that one is the only one that truly gave me nightmares.
      Granted, after Dawn of the Dead, everything he has touched has been shit.

      1. One of my favorite things about Dawn of the Dead is the Italian progressive band Goblin. Going to see them in May, I can’t wait.

        1. If you like Goblin, I hope you watch a *lot* of Dario Argento movies.

      2. Uh, he\ did plenty of good work after Dawn. I’d say his movies stayed at least pretty good up through The Dark Half, and then he took that seven year hiatus before making Bruiser, which was…painful. You could see Romero in the movie, some of his usual impulses, but otherwise, it was…sad. It just wasn’t right. And it’s just been worse and worse since.

    2. How is PBS going to fill it’s air time now?

    3. I liked Jacob’s Ladder, but the end was a bit of a letdown.

  15. A real horror story is going to be when New England signs my favorite football player of the last twenty years who was just cut by my beloved Buffalo Bills.

    1. Have you checked the children?

      No one seems to want to check the children here.

      Why won’t they check the children?

      1. *** checks children, then realizes ***

        the comments are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!!

        1. It’s more along the line of The Usual Suspects, and the troll was one of the commenters all along.

          Or maybe Fight Club and John realizes he was Troller Durden the entire time.

          1. The horror. The horror.

  16. Jurassic Park was the horror-thriller that most marked my childhood. A couple years ago my brother showed it to his then-girlfriend’s six-year-old, thinking it would freak him out. Nope. Kid was fascinated, glued to the screen, but didn’t even flinch.

    Stupid desensitized kids.

    1. No guns for *them*!

    2. (not really a horror film per se, more of a monster flick kinda, but I don’t know much about cinema taxonomy)

    3. Jaws gets the award for fucking up my childhood. I could never do drugs and swim in the ocean at midnight after that.

      1. Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ remake is what got me. I think I was about twelve when I watched that, and it was the unedited version that includes the ‘larva baby’ dream sequence. That transformation scene at the end fucked me up for life.

        1. Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ remake is what got me.

          I’d forgotten that one. Definitely a nasty piece of work. I was an adult when I saw it, but if I’d still been a kid, I’d have probably had nightmares.

        2. Videodrome affected me far more than The Fly. God damn I love Videodrome. And The Brood. And Rabid. And Dead Ringers. And The Dead Zone.

          I think I might like Cronenberg.

          1. Or you are totally gay for Canada.

            1. Oh shit, I am! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

          2. Videodrome was hard to watch… because it was bad. I think I dozed off a couple times and I’m sure I didn’t miss anything worth seeing.

      2. Jaws gets the award for fucking up my childhood. I could never do drugs and swim in the ocean at midnight after that.

        It’s funny, two of the movies that are renowned for leaving lasting impacts on viewers – Jaws and The Exorcist – didn’t really frighten me, even though I was younger when I saw them. Not taking anything away from them – they were both good movies – but they just didn’t really push the right buttons with me.

        1. Agree about Jaws – other than one or two shocks it’s not scary at all (but yes, it’s a great movie).

          Exorcist, OTOH – holy shit. Non-stop terror for me.

          1. The book is better.

      3. Yeah, Jaws fucked me up good. And Poltergeist, where the guy tears his own face off. After those two, nothing else really scared me much.

        1. And Poltergeist, where the guy tears his own face off.

          That’s the scene that did it for me. Strangely, the clown under the bed didn’t really bother me as much. Of course, looking back on it now, as an adult – and given how much more convincing today’s special effects are – it seems almost hokey. Still good stuff though.

    4. Movies don’t seem to do it for kids these days. You gotta go with video games now. My son damn near jumped out of his chair a number of times playing Amnesia: Dark Descent.

    5. My little one used to be terrified of dinosaurs, particularly t-rexes. It was so bad, she was freaked out by the t-rex in Will Ferrell’s Land of The Lost remake.

  17. Did anyone see Under the Skin with ScarJo? It’s supposed to be good surreal horror.

    1. I keep thinking I want to see it, but then thinking against it because it seems like one of those weak artsy movies. If anyone says otherwise, I might check it out.

      1. It was mediocre. Given that they ditched the central concept of the novel, the whole thing sort of disappeared up it’s own ass at a certain point.

        1. disappeared up it’s own ass

          I’d have thought you would appreciate that. Like, artistically.

        2. This is exactly what my concern was, though I’ve never read the book.

          1. The book is very good. It’s told from her limited point of view and is much more of a horror novel than a science fiction property.

            1. I’ll take that under advisement. My reading list is full of nonfiction right now, but I’ll get through it all eventually.

      2. Some of the takes were done with hidden cameras to catch candid reactions to a marginally disguised Johannson, which is a neat trick.

        This guy liked it, and I like his reviews.

    2. Ah, Under the Skin.

      If you haven’t read the novel and just approach the movie as its own thing, you might find it boring and pretentious like I did. Though as always with this type of thing, there’s the possibility the movie went over my head and I “just didn’t get it.”

      (Also, if you only want to watch it because you heard ScarJo gets naked, it’s not very impressive on that level. Species and Lifeforce blow it away in the T&A department.)

  18. The scariest movie I ever saw was The Stuff, even though it’s not really very scary, just mildly creepy in places.

    The thing that got me was that I watched it on TV while I was sick, and by the time I fell asleep that night I had a fever. Fever always gives me horrifying and disturbing dreams. So the dreams I had that night were all about the Stuff. And even though the fever was gone the next day, I was severely haunted by the memory of the dreams.

    I dreamed about the Stuff several more times over the next month, and then occasionally for years afterward. Some of the worst dreams I have ever had in my life.

    No other movie has ever affected like that.

    The state of mind one is in while watching a movie can have a much greater effect than anything in the film itself.

    1. Yes. Acid and The Deer Hunter didn’t go over too well with my crowd.

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