Culture

Hollywood Loses a Horror Great: Wes Craven (1939-2015)

Wes Craven/Photo © DFree/Shutterstock

Iconic horror director Wes Craven passed away in his Los Angeles home on Sunday night following a battle with brain cancer. He was seventy-six years old.

The genre-bending, innovative director is best known for reinvigorating - and in many ways redefining - the teen horror genre with 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street," which introduced Craven's most enduring creation, Freddy Krueger.

Born in Cleveland on August 2, 1939, Wes Craven had a winding and interesting road to Hollywood horror fame. After obtaining a master's degree in Writing and Philosophy from Johns Hopkins University, Craven briefly taught English at Westminster College and was a professor of Humanities at Clarkson University before attempting to break into filmmaking. Wes Craven worked under various pseudonyms on what he described as "many hard-core x-rated films" before his big break with the controversial "The Last House on the Left" (1972), which Craven wrote and directed.

Beginning with that film, over time Craven developed a reputation as a talented and innovative genre director who was unafraid to push boundaries and shock audiences. However, it was "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and the introduction of Freddy Krueger that introduced audiences to the full range of Craven's skill. Combining his fascination with deconstructing the horror genre and his biting wit and gallows humor, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" marked Craven as one of the most original creators in the crowded horror boom of the 1980s. He would later say in an interview with CNN, "For three years I was unable to sell it. I basically went broke. So when the ["A Nightmare on Elm Street"] got made and was a financial success, my career went from the basement through the roof. It was a wonderful feeling."

Endlessly curious and never satisfied to simply let a genre lie, Craven would return to the Elm Street franchise with 1994's "New Nightmare." "New Nightmare" was a meta-deconstruction of the Elm Street mythos, poking fun at the long string of sequels to "A Nightmare on Elm Street," and was a pre-cursor to the trope that eventually brought us Craven's "Scream" (1996). "Scream" cleverly twisted and toyed with audience expectations of the slasher genre - a genre Craven helped pioneer - and spawned multiple sequels, spoofs, and a recent TV series as well as influencing a generation of horror filmmakers.

Wes Craven will be remembered as an endlessly innovative and influential filmmaker who boldly bent and reshaped the horror movie genre, playfully manipulating audience perceptions along the way.