The Kenblog: Remembering Wes Craven!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
The cinematic world lost a great one this week with the passing of Wes Craven from brain cancer at the age of 76. The man was a superb craftsman in the world of cinematic horror, giving us such horror icons such as Freddy Krueger and the Mask from the Scream Franchise. He was a writer and director who took potentially schlocky material and elevated with talent, poise, and panache, as well as an immense gift for scaring the hell out of his audience.
His early movie career was populated by grindhouse-like fare such as “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Last House On The Left.” He also did the underrated “Swamp Thing” in 1982. But it was the creation of the ultimate nightmare boogeyman Freddy Krueger in 1984’s “A Nightmare On Elm Street” that would solidify his reputation as a maestro of movie horror. Krueger, embodied by the tremendously talented Robert Englund, was something new on the slasher movie scene: a villain with a personality. In an era of silent psychos like Jason and Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger’s menacing commentary provided an entirely new dimension to the genre. Of course as time went on Krueger became more of an anti-hero as the franchise moved further away from its roots, but Craven managed to convey the balance of gallows humor and terrifying scares with nuanced brilliance. Witness “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (1994) as evidence of Freddy’s return to frightening form. It’s easily the scariest Freddy film since the first and has the clever invention of the actors from the original film playing fictional versions of themselves, Craven among them as the director of the film the Freddy-inspired demon uses to enter our world.
Two years later Craven turned the genre on its ear with “Scream” (1996), ushering in an era of self-aware horror films in which the characters were aware of the stereotypes found in horror films of the past and attempt to put that information to use in evading the killer coming for them. Of course, this being a horror film, that self-realization doesn’t necessarily help the protagonists as much as they would like, but it does make for some entertaining, intelligent filmmaking. Like the Elm Street Series, the Scream Franchise would run out of steam as the series continued, but the first film is a classic of the genre and still watchable today.
In between the two legendary franchises, Craven wrote and directed a number of unusual and entertaining films that, while not achieving the status of Elm Street or Scream, still stand the test of time on their own merits today. If you get a chance, check out “The Serpent And The Rainbow” (1988), one of the most terrifying “zombie” movies you will ever see with standout performances by Bill Pullman and Zakes Mokae.
Or if you like slightly campy horror, may I recommend “Shocker” starring a pre-X-Files Mitch Pileggi as supernatural serial killer Horace Pinker. It’s a little silly at times, but Pileggi commits to the role and Craven’s talents overcome the movie’s cornier plot elements.
Still another underrated gem is “The People Under The Stairs” (1991) featuring a young Ving Rhames as one of a trio of burglars who get more then they bargained for when they break into a home that turns into a house of horrors. Good performances (especially the creepy turn by Everett McGill), some inventive set pieces, and some unexpected moments of humor make this film extremely entertaining.
Craven’s passing marks the end of any era in the world of horror. John Carpenter isn’t working anymore and Sean Cunningham proved to be a one-trick pony with the Friday The 13th series. Craven was still working, overseeing the recent “Scream” television series before he died. There are those who would say 76 years on this earth is the mark of a life well lived. That may be true, but I believe Craven still had a lot to both give and experience in the realm of horror movies and, to me, that marks his death as most untimely. He will be missed and I wish to extend my condolences to Mr. Craven’s family and friends. He will be missed. So Sayeth The Kendog!
What’s your favorite Wes Craven film? Sound off on the comment section below! And remember to listen to my radio show “Dog’s Moviehouse” from 2-3 P.M. on Friday afternoons. You can get to my show live or on podcast by clicking here!