Remembering Wes Craven

I was most saddened to learn of the passing of Wes Craven today. I was a big fan of his films and he was an extremely smart and kind gentleman whom I didn’t get to know in person as well as I’d like.


Like many film fans who grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s, Wes Craven’s name became synonymous to me with cutting edge horror. When I grew up in a VHS less house, I really could only dream of the horrors behind the forbidding posters or video box art of movies like ‘The Last House On The Left’, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and ‘Deadly Blessing’. These were films I was not really allowed to see, but as a young horror obsessive I needed to know everything about them.

Check out these tag-lines…

‘To avoid fainting, keep repeating, IT’S ONLY A MOVIE, IT’S ONLY A MOVIE, IT’S ONLY A MOVIE…’


‘The Lucky Ones Died First’


‘If thine right eye offends thee, pluck it out…’


Imagine a wide eyed 10 year old me looking at those VHS covers in a video shop and trembling at the mere thought of what the films contained. Indeed the first film (Wes Craven’s debut) was one of the infamous video nasties in the UK and I didn’t see it until way later at a special cinema showing in 2001. (Indeed I actually watched my first Ingmar Bergman film because of Wes, as ‘Last House On The Left’ is a loose remake of ‘The Virgin Spring’.)

Even before I actually saw any of his movies, the mere synopsis on the jackets were enough to give me nightmares. I boned up on Mr Craven in the pages of STARBURST and my well thumbed ‘Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film’ and so knew every terrifying detail about his early films without seeing a frame.

The first encounter with the actual work was seeing ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ sometime in 1985 around the house of a friend of my older brother. Their parents had rented out this 18 certificate movie and we were going to watch it in the afternoon. It felt so illicit and exciting watching it and I wish sometimes I could return to this more innocent time where these horror films felt so dangerous and visceral to me.

The first ‘Nightmare’ quickly became a landmark horror movie and what distinguished it then is what still marks it out as a classic now. It’s the sheer twisted imagination of the premise; the idea of lucid waking nightmares bleeding into the real world makes Freddy Kruger a much more formidable and interesting foe than any of his slasher rivals.


That Wes Craven was able to rip a film from the headlines (with echoes of the mass hysteria surrounding the infamous McMartin case) and create a solid gold horror premise that is surreal and ambitious even within it’s limited budget, was a masterstroke.

From that point on, I had to see every film of Craven’s. My favourites of his early films include the original ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘Deadly Blessing’ and I do have a fondness for the sometimes campy and overwrought ‘Deadly Friend’ (which became a victim of Craven’s success and had nonsensical gory dream sequences added because of the ongoing success of ‘Elm Street’.)

Craven also had his imprint on the two other great ‘Elm Street’ movies. The second sequel ‘Dream Warriors’ is co-written and produced by him and generally thought of as one of the very best instalments. Then in 1994, Wes also wrote and directed the fascinating, forth wall breaking and truly underrated ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’ which took the characters into a daring meta direction that felt ahead of it’s time.

Like many genre directors Wes had many other interests, (he was a former English teacher, had a degree in philosophy and was a keen birder) and thus he was not always happy just being a ‘horror guy’. It’s very telling during his career how often he tries to break out of the box with deviations on the horror theme; with ‘Swamp Thing’, ‘The Serpent & The Rainbow’ and later thriller ‘Red Eye’, not to mention his one non genre film, the Meryl Streep movie ‘Music Of The Heart’.

His actual genre work is nothing to sniff at though and my favourite of his movies is also his most overtly political. 1991’s ‘The People Under The Stairs’ is a great little movie that manages to spin an urban treasure hunt storyline into deeply creepy Brothers Grimm territory, all garnished with an angry anti capitalist streak a mile wide. If you only know Wes from either Freddy or Ghostface, I urge you to track this one down. It’s such a gem.

In the late nineties, Wes scored his biggest hit of all with ‘Scream’. I vividly remember seeing this opening weekend in London and saying out loud ‘That’s the kind of movie I want to make’. Eight years later I tried to do exactly that with ‘Shaun Of The Dead’. I would frequently evoke Craven’s film when pitching ours as an example of a successful horror that mixes laughs with jolts.

The intertextuality of ‘Scream’ was a surprise to some, but in reality there was a winking side to Craven’s movies that goes all the way back to 1977’s ‘The Hills Have Eyes’.

That film began a series of funny intertextual references between horror film directors that became a game of one-upmanship. In the first ‘Hills Have Eyes’, there was a ripped poster for ‘Jaws’ on the wall of a ravaged trailer, as if Craven was saying ‘that’s not scary, this is scary’. Then in response Sam Raimi featured a ripped ‘Hills Have Eyes’ poster in the cabin in ‘The Evil Dead’. Craven’s reply to this was to have his characters watching ‘Evil Dead’ on television in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. Finally Raimi responded once again by putting the iconic razor glove of Freddy Krueger, in the basement of the cabin in ‘Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn’.

I loved this running gag between horror directors. So you can imagine my answer when we got word that Craven wanted to use a clip of our film ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ in ‘Scream 4’.


I can’t tell you how jazzed I was when I saw our film being watched in ‘Scream 4’ and Ghostface actually said the title aloud. My face lit up with glee when I saw the above scene in the Cinerama Dome on opening night.

Through the use of that clip I came to e-mail back and forth on occasion with Wes and he couldn’t have been sweeter and more complimentary. I geeked out as much as I could in return. The photo at the top of the article is actually one he sent to me last year.

I had actually met him briefly before at a Masters Of Horror dinner back in 2005 and not knowing whether he’d seen my movie or not, I was just too nervous to speak to him. I wish I had.

Years later I went to a screening of ‘The People Under The Stairs’ at Cinefamily where Wes did a Q&A. It was great and he was witty, charming and incredibly smart in his answers to the crowd. He got (rightly) mobbed by fans after the screening, so rather than get in the scrum, I decided to duck out and head home. I mailed him later to say that I was there and had thoroughly enjoyed it and he said he wished I had stopped to say hi.

I wish I had too, as that was the last I saw of Wes.

We had made plans to meet up for a quieter lunch another time, but that didn’t pan out and now I am sad and regretful that I never really got to sit down and talk with him at any great length.

I am thankful for the many movies he left behind, for my tiny part in his last completed film and happy to have got to tell him how much I enjoyed and was inspired by his work. He was a true maestro of genre and a class act.

Rest In Peace, Wes. We willingly give you full permission to haunt our waking dreams forever.


UPDATED: With thoughts from the aforementioned horror wunderkind Sam Raimi. Reprinted with permission.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 15.02.52

  • nvey

    Wes Craven was a Great Man. RIP.

  • nvey


  • Andy

    I just finished my first supercut with clips from The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim. I was heavily inspired by your early edits Gun Fetish and Wheels on Wheels. Check it out!

  • Rocío Rocha

    This is what I call a truly cinefile tribute. Greetings.

  • Joe Leon

    Those posters and ads in magazines were definitely part of the mistique all these classics had, I connected profoundly with your anecdote. Around here, though, I had to follow up on those movies through Starlog, Fangoria and Comic Scene.

  • Brandon Krum

    In Honor Of Wes Craven Legendary Horror Director, Watch This Obituary Death Video. #RIPWesCraven –

  • Joseph Brunetta

    Such a lovely tribute. And I loved the Raimi/Craven nods. I’d add Craven casting Ted Raimi in “Shocker” (and killing him off in the film) to the bunch.

    As a lover of cinema I always defend the horror genre as being a great gateway, when I was a kid, to understanding the power of film. As a kid you at least understand fear–know when something is scary, understand why it’s scary, etc.–and Wes Craven was a pivotal filmmaker in opening that door for me (and leaving it open like a horror movie cliffhanger). “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was the first R-rated horror film I rented as a child. I realized with the exception of “Vampire in Brooklyn” I’ve seen every Craven film in a theater since “The People Under the Stairs.” I was so excited when Craven was going to film “Scream” at my high school while I was there–a kid in the video program, excited to have one of the filmmakers who opened the door to loving film actually film a movie of his while I’m here on campus! Unfortunately that didn’t come to pass as the school board (partly at the urging of a lot of adults in the community) vetoed having the film shot at my school, objecting to the content of the script. It was dispiriting, and the adults who objected said doing so meant that they are putting a stop to such content being seen by kids. Luckily “Scream” became a huge hit and a modern classic, and Craven gave these idiots a wonderful “no thanks” in the end credits.

    I saw “Red Eye” again a few weeks ago, in honor of the film’s 10th anniversary, and it held up wonderfully. I saw an advance screening of it originally, not knowing much about it, and was blown away by it. It was a great tribute to Hitchcock without tripping over itself trying to emulate him. That’s something Craven wasn’t guilty of, trying to amp up his style in service of the possibilities of what could be done with his camera. Craven serviced his story, his characters, and tried to be as invisible as possible. I remember in “Red Eye” the reveal of Cillian Murphy’s character seemingly coming out of nowhere when I first saw it. When a couple weeks later I saw the movie a second time (this time paying for a ticket), I realized Murphy’s character was in the shot all along. It was just that Craven framed and focused the shot (focused as in both camera on-screen action) to not draw attention to certain aspects until called upon by the action of the scene. It’s graceful filmmaking, obviously shot with a whole lot of consideration.

    That’s the signature of Craven’s filmmaking, both in terms of his directing and his writing. No matter how much far out the story goes (no matter if it works or not), at the heart is an idea–a real concern–that Craven seems taken with. Whether it’s the Vietnam-era of “The Last House on the Left,” rise of trash-TV in the ’80s that charges “Shocker,” or the class warfare (and racism, religious extremism, etc.) of “The People Under the Stairs,” Craven used the horror genre to play with what he feared about our society.

  • -Movies on my Mind-

    There was no useful room for Wes in this sanitised, PG-13 era of mollycoddled horror flicks. Our generation was creatively inspired by scary films designed to visually and cerebally disturb. That’s kind of gone now, at least in a mainstream sense it has.

    Nice piece, Edgar.

  • Sam Hawes

    This shows my age, or lack thereof, but Scream was the first horror movie I ever saw. As such, it probably would have stuck with me anyway, but I still adore – and am a little frightened by – it all these years later.

  • Phil Blank

    I’m 65, been watching hottor and Sci-Fi since I was a little kid, my mother took me to the first King Kong, I’m older than the date the film was released in the US.

  • Phil Blank

    I didn’t notice during Deadly Blessings, but when I saw the cover you posted, it clicked!

    That old man in the hat and beard is Ernest Borgnine!

  • J Jason B

    Growing up, I couldn’t sleep because of his films. Grown up, I stay awake late to enjoy them.

    Beautiful tribute Edgar!

  • AmberGrindstaff

    The first horror movie i ever watched was Nightmare of Elm Street,Thank you for sharing your heartfelt memories ♡ Rest in Peace Mr. Craven

  • Lukester

    Wonderful tribute Edgar. Thanks for this.

  • S_am_S

    Growing up in a PG household, I have very similar memories of scanning the horror section and marveling at the VHS box art. Sometimes the covers and taglines were more haunting to me as a kid than actually seeing the film years later.

    Scream was the film that was a rite of passage for kids when we were younger. Everyone talked about the crazy garage door scene, but no one had actually seen it. The opening sequence is one of my favorite horror scenes of all time and it holds up so well.

    By all accounts, I’ve heard he was a great guy and this further cements that. Thanks for sharing and I hope you’ll carry on his passion in your work.

  • Joel Vallie

    I remember going to a premiere screening of “Shocker” and getting a ton of promo stuff including a soundtrack with Alice Coopers “No More Mr. Nice guy” on it. I’m not sure how a kid like me got into it but it happened.I had already saw “Nightmare” and Shocker sealed the deal for me that WesCraven would be a director that I would follow for the rest of my life.

    “People Under The Stairs” for me was mind blowing and because of the neighborhood I grew up in a lot more relatable. Maybe it’s the fact that my parents were drug addicts that I was able to watch all his movies at an early age and no one said anything. His movies shaped and molded me in a lot of ways. It’s sad that he’s gone but he will definitely live on through his body of work. RIP!

  • Albarn Demonsvoice

    Along with Romero and Carpenter, Craven seemed like one of the big three directors in horror cinema. I don’t know why I link those guys together but it doesn’t seem right that there’s now only two thirds left. Thank God we still have the films that he made and thank God he had the talent to make them!

    • Jay Louis

      Add Clive Barker to the list, but I agree. It is beginning to feel like the end of an era. Who are the great horror genre filmmakers now? Are they all in Japan?

    • sanjuro

      And Stuart Gordon. His From Beyond is a masterpiece.

  • Teppefall

    No teenager in the 80s will ever forget the original Nightmare On Elm Street. The fact that he brought us a classic in the 70s, 80s AND 90s speaks volumes about his command of the craft.

    Vale Wes Craven.

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  • World’s Finest Comments

    Thank you for sharing this Edgar, your passion for film is very much appreciated by everyone, and I’m sure Wes appreciated your work fondly too.

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  • SarahAC

    Well said, Edgar. Mr Craven was truly a pioneer. May he rest in peace.

  • Andy Ward

    Great words Edgar. I would do the same thing in video rental stores, just look in fear at the vhs cases and my mind would run wild with fear of what they would be about. A real legend, RIP Wes Craven.

  • Ian Morris

    Saw Scream in a cinema in Luton at Halloween. Full of students, some of whom were full of beer. It was a raucous and hilarious showing that will forever stick in my memory as one of my favourite film experiences.

  • sanjuro

    Nice tribute! We can tell if came from the heart of a true genre film fan. I have fond memories of Shocker personally, and obviously of A Nightmare in Elm Street, Scream and The People Under the Stairs. All of which lighted up the 80-90s in their own dark way. Wonderful treats with tricks.

  • Chopper Squad Fan

    I always loved the fact that he wasn’t a horror fan until he was an adult and thenhe became one of the best horror directors ever.