Monday, August 31, 2015

Farewell to a true master of horror, Wes Craven

My first Wes Craven film was Vampire in Brooklyn in 1995. I saw it at the age of 15, which is still just about young enough to like just about every movie you see. I don't remember much about the film from my initial viewing, nor could could I tell you how my opinion of the film evolved over time because my recollection is that it was one of the worst films I had seen in a theatre. I never have walked out of a film, but this one really, really tested that resolve.

Little did I realize that a year later, Craven would release one of my all-time favorite films, SCREAM. I've written a number of tributes to SCREAM on this blog in the past including this meditation on writing lessons from SCREAM and a tribute to the film's lead character Sidney Prescott, my pick for horror's greatest heroine. And then there's this piece about why I like Wes Craven's characters. Most recently, I defended the lowest-grossing Nightmare on Elm Street sequel - Wes Craven's New Nightmare, as it celebrated its 20th anniversary.

I wrote the first of those posts during the inaugural year of this blog. Soon after I published it, I gained a new Twitter follower - Wes Craven. Okay, Hollywood being what it is, it's more likely it was one of his assistants or his social media team - but at the time I was thrilled at the fantasy that I was a DM away from asking Mr. Craven to do an interview. I never had the guts to try, figuring I'd wait until I'd interviewed enough "big fish" so that my request wouldn't be laughed at out of hand.

Alas, I'll never get that chance. Wes Craven died yesterday of brain cancer at the age of 76. As I looked over his filmography, one fact jumped out at me - five of his best films were released after he turned 55: Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Scream, Scream 2, Music of the Heart and Red Eye. In an industry that often over-values youth and what's new, Craven not only reinvented horror at least once in his social security years, but also proved this Master of Horror could handle mature drama and turn out a tight thriller. (Red Eye tends to be underrated. I'll grant that the third act is a come-down from what lead to it, but most of it still works remarkably well.)

The closest I ever got to my Craven interview was this talk with his creative executive Carly Feingold. It's worth a read for the look behind the scenes of some of his later films.

It felt like Craven had at least one more great film in him. It's awful that he left us so abruptly. His illness wasn't publicly known and he was still booking projects. There was an intelligence he often brought to the horror genre that is frequently absent in other films of that ilk. Some of his best movies are streaming on Netflix, so spend an evening this week watching a few of them in tribute.

Or perhaps the sleepless nights that result from those viewings are an even finer way to honor the man. Rest in peace, Wes Craven.

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