Wes Craven: film industry mourns loss of an icon

Wes Craven at the premiere of his final film, Scream 4. Picture: Getty Images.
Wes Craven at the premiere of his final film, Scream 4. Picture: Getty Images.

HIS graphic films may not have always appealed to the majority, but Wes Craven, who died from brain cancer today at 76, had an undeniable impact on audiences and film history by helping to define the horror genre.

Shunned by friends after creating the cheaply made but twisted The Last House On The Left (1972), the sweet natured and articulate academic continued to explore the dark side of human nature with the equally sadistic The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

His creation of the dream haunting, teen killer Freddy Krueger (played fearlessly by Robert Englund) in A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) became an iconic 1980s villain, racking up huge numbers at the box office.

Krueger�s grotesquely burnt appearance and crudely home-made razored glove terrified generations of moviegoers, including this one whose first encounter with the ghostly villain was at five years old � and against his mother�s wishes.

Sneaking into the neighbours� house, the teenage occupants popped the VHS of the original Nightmare into the player and my childhood was changed; I became petrified of the dark and refused sleep with the light off.

Its power to terrify fascinated and intrigued me and I continued to obsess over the series, other horror films and films in general.

After a list of Nightmare sequels that became increasingly convoluted, Craven reclaimed his creation with a meta take titled Wes Craven�s New Nightmare (1994), putting himself, cast and crew of the original film in danger of an evil entity that takes on Freddy�s guise.

The complex, clever and geniously scripted film was a precursor to box office hit Scream (1996), which he directed just two years later, as well as its sequels.

Tapping into an expert balance of humour and horror, Craven still got under the skin of a now film-savvy audience with Ghostface, who quizzed his victims about horror movie hits over the phone before killing them.

Interview footage of his actors is consistent in their praise for the auteur and his surprisingly calm demeanour, despite the content of his films.

It was apparent he was a gentle soul who loved to push the envelope, but always with substance.

Craven, who earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology, was interested in exploring what scared people, and why, as well as the impact of bloodshed.

Craven nurtured and helped launch careers; Johnny Depp made his acting debut in the original Nightmare, Hancock and Battleship director Peter Berg starred in 1989�s Shocker and Meryl Streep was Oscar nominated in his only dramatic outing Music of the Heart (1999).

His last film was Scream 4 (2011).

The horror genre, and film industry in general, has suffered a major loss; our nightmares will never be as scary again.