Filmmaker Wes Craven, responsible for several of the most influential horror films ever made, has died aged 76.
A statement from Craven’s family revealed that the seasoned director, writer and producer had been suffering from brain cancer, and passed away on Sunday 30 August at his home in Los Angeles.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Craven had a strictly religious upbringing which kept him largely sheltered from movies and popular culture throughout his childhood.
However, he fell so deeply in love with cinema as an adult that he quit a comfortable career as a college humanities professor to seek work in the film industry.
Initially working under various pseudonyms as a director of pornographic movies (he is known to have worked in some capacity on ‘Deep Throat’), Craven made his official directorial debut with 1972′s ‘The Last House on the Left.’
A key film in the rejuvenation of horror in the 1970s (notably a collaboration with producer Sean S Cunningham, who would go on to create ‘Friday the 13th’), ‘The Last House on the Left’ became a huge hit, and also the cause of massive controversy owing to its realistic tone and level of violence which was largely unprecedented at the time.
Initially banned in Britain, it was available only in a series of censored versions until the BBFC finally passed it uncut with an 18 certificate in 2008. The film has subsequently been hailed by critics and academics as an intelligent commentary on Vietnam-era America, and is celebrated for its memorable tag line: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating it’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…’
Craven would go on to more notoriety with 1977′s rural horror ‘The Hills Have Eyes,’ but really made his mark with 1984 classic ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ which took the ailing slasher subgenre to a whole new level.
In casting wiry actor Robert Englund against type as Freddy Krueger, a sadistic child murderer reborn as an almost omnipotent dream demon, Craven by accident or design created one of the most iconic, instantly recognisable horror movie characters of all time.
The film spawned a series of sequels; Craven was not involved in any beyond co-writing the first draft of the screenplay for ‘Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors.’
As the series went on Freddy grew progressively more comedic and less threatening, until Craven came back on board as writer and director for 1994 meta-sequel ‘New Nightmare.’
Having made films which helped define the genre in the 1970s and 1980s, Craven made it a hat trick and rejuvenated horror in the 1990s with ‘Scream’ in 1996. A post-modern slasher film littered with direct references to notable genre entries, ‘Scream’ inspired a slew of similarly self-aware horror films.
Craven would remain as director for the entire ‘Scream’ series, including 2011′s ‘Scream 4,’ which proved to be his final film. His final credit was as executive producer on MTV’s recent ‘Scream’ TV series.
Craven’s work took him beyond fright films, with such films as Meryl Streep drama ‘Music of the Heart’ and suspense thriller ‘Red Eye.’
However, there’s no question that horror cinema was where he made his greatest mark, and that he will be remembered - and sadly missed - as one of the boldest, most innovative and intelligent filmmakers ever to have worked in the genre.
Our deepest sympathies to all the loved ones he leaves behind.
Picture Credit: WENN, MGM-UA, New Line Cinema/Palace Pictures, Dimension Films