Being a horror fan is interesting. It can often feel like you’re an outsider, even among people who consider themselves cinephiles. There’s even a question on OKcupid about “Do you like scary movies?” I have always marked yes. Most of my matches say “no.”
Horror films are the boondocks of cinema. Often looked at as crude, socially unacceptable, pieces of junk. They’re mean, violent, and negative. And I love them.
The horror world lost of one its masters yesterday in Wes Craven. Craven was interesting even within the world of horror film directors. Mainly because he was somehow able to stay mainstream through his entire career. From making low down dirty exploitation films in the beginning during the late 60s and 70s. Creating a culture milestone with Freddy Kruger in the 80s and again with Scream in the 90s. Perhaps in the 00s he never hit Kruger or Scream levels again (even with Scream 4) but films like Red Eye and Cursed (A werewolf movie that I know not everyone loves, in fact most people think it’s garbage, but it has a werewolf giving someone the middle finger, so I have a soft spot for it.) still kept him around.
After the 80s many of the mainstream horror heroes really struggled, even Craven for a small period of time, but he was able to come back with Scream in a big bad way.
Even his films that didn’t work, had something interesting, if it were a performance, a certain shot, or one really haunting scene. Swamp Thing is not great, but the scene where Arcane’s assistant turns into a Pig Man is forever burned into my brain like so much trama. Serpent in the Rainbow has a ton of potential to be a classic, not quite there, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t nightmare moments.
Nightmare… I can’t truly speak on what a Nightmare on Elm Street, as a series and as a touchstone means for me. It’s everything. It’s what I strive for when I write my own horror scripts. It’s hard to articulate it. It’s one of those films I buy again and again with every new special feature or edition (along with Halloween and Evil Dead)
What it is about that series, that character, this creation by Craven that stuck in the cultures head, that buried itself deep? Craven hit on something, and he hit it out of the park. Eventually Kruger would become a self parody, a shadow of his former self, until Craven returned to the series, giving us one last look at the original Kruger (before a Freddy vs Jason film, I grant you), that scary, mean Kruger who gets a glee out of killing you. That Nightmare fuel.
Craven being a former English professor was something of a thinking man’s horror filmmaker. Sometimes that may have gotten in the way, but when it worked it worked. Last house on the Left being about the death of the 60s, Nightmare being about the divorce home of the 80s, etc.
To hear Craven talk about horror films was to hear someone talk about this low down dirty disrespected genre, with the eloquence and respect it deserves. We lost a voice that elevated the genre and tried to show everyone else why it was important and what it meant to be scared.