Wes Craven, Master of Horror, Dies at Age 76
The world got a lot less scary today: Wes Craven, the celebrated director of the horror classics A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and nearly two dozen other features has died at the age of 76. Hollywood Reporter has announced that the filmmaker passed away after a fight with brain cancer.
Wes Craven received a Master’s Degree in English and Psychology from Johns Hopkins University before moving into the film industry, where he originally worked behind the scenes in pornography (under aliases) before making his directorial debut with 1972’s The Last House on the Left, one of the most notorious horror movies ever produced. The film was a loose remake of Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 classic The Virgin Spring, in which two young women are brutalized and murdered by a gang of degenerates, who then fall victim to the vengeance of the parents of one of their victims.
The shocking violence, pseudo-documentary style and jarring transitions between disturbing realism and hokey comic relief made Wes Craven a noteworthy director in a genre which, at the time, had few luminaries. He spent most of the rest of his cinematic career working within the horror genre, directing multiple classics, including The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, and his fair share of misfires (The Hills Have Eyes Part II, Vampire in Brooklyn).
Craven, who also directed the Oscar-nominated drama Music of the Heart, was often celebrated as a master of suspense but also as one of the most cerebral filmmakers working within the horror genre. Many of his films deal with the disturbingly thin line between morality and amorality, and what forces otherwise decent members of society to cross that boundary. His film series A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream also blurred the lines between fiction and reality, in which the protagonists frequently either suffered from or were empowered by their awareness of the inherent falsehoods of their existence within imaginary and so-called “real” life.
With the sad and truly heartbreaking passing of Wes Craven, the horror genre and cinema as a whole has lost one of its most distinctive and fascinating storytellers, whose dreams – and nightmares – have inspired audiences and filmmakers for decades. His films elevated horror, in no uncertain terms, forcing audiences and critics to acknowledge the artistic validity and cultural value of the medium. He was truly a master, and he will be missed.
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William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.