On August 30, 2015, the filmmaker and horror icon Wes Craven lost his battle with brain cancer at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 76.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Craven was raised in a strict Baptist household and attended both Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois and John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
After graduation, he taught English and humanities at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York and Madrid-Waddington High School in Madrid, New York. During this time, Craven also began making short films.
After moving to Manhattan, the amateur filmmaker became employed as a sound editor for the folk singer Harry Chapin, but later transitioned to pornographic films, where he wrote, directed and edited under pseudonyms.
Craven’s first feature length film The Last House on the Left (1972) was inspired by the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), which in turn was based on the medieval Swedish ballad (“Töre’s daughters in Vänge”).
The Hills Have Eyes (1978) was released five years later and was followed by the sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part II ((1985).
But perhaps Craven is best known for creating the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, which saw nine installments and starred Robert Englund as Freddie Kruger in all but the 2010 remake. However, Craven only wrote and directed the original classic, released in 1984, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), which breaks the fourth wall and is not part of the series continuity.
He would also go on to direct all four of the Scream films, released in 1996, 1997, 2000 and 2010, respectively. Starring Neve Cambell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, all but the third installment was written by Kevin Williamson (Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries).
Craven’s later works included Red Eye (2005), which starred Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Wedding Crashers) and Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins), and his last film My Soul To Take (2010).
Craven had two children with his first wife, Bonnie Broecker. His son, Jonathan Craven is also a filmmaker, who co-wrote the 2007 remake of The Hills Have Eyes Part II and co-produced the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left.
One of Craven’s hobbies was bird watching, and in 2010 he joined Audubon California’s Board of Directors. The National Audubon Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife conservation, founded in 1905.
The nature of reality and the loss of innocence were common themes in the late filmmaker’s work. Freddie, for the most part, is only able to act through dreams, and like Alice in Wonderland, the protagonist in The People Under the Stairs (1991) enters world unbeknown to them.
But, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Craven’s work is that many of his films appear to be self-aware. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’s story revolves around the fact that Freddie is supposedly a figment of the imagination, and the characters in the Scream franchise often have trivial conversation about previous horror films and the various masked killers hope to immortalize themselves as famous murderers.
Coming from a blue-collar family, Craven was always grateful for his success and never shied away from being type casted in the horror genre, stating, “If I have to do the rest of the films in the genre, no problem. If I’m going to be a caged bird, I’ll sing the best song I can.”