What I Learned from Wes Craven

Many people writing about Wes Craven this week refer to A Nightmare on Elm Street as the film of his that rocked their childhood. While I knew about, and feared, Freddy Kruger, Scream was the first Craven movie that really made an impression on (i.e., scared the crap out of) me.

Wes Craven and Drew Barrymore

With all the people who would go on to blame the Scream movies for their own killing sprees, and all the moral posturing that targeted Craven’s films in particular, he never apologized or allowed his work to be co-opted by anyone with bad intentions. Even Taxi Driver is known as the movie that inspired the attempted Reagan assassination and The Dark Knight is now heavily overshadowed by the Aurora shooting. Regular Joe and Joanne horror fans are so possessive of Craven’s films, however, that we’ll never let the punk-bitches who putz around with butcher knives and play murder take them away from us.

Because, in the end, these movies are all about the survivor. Us. Not them. And in his movies, the villains are ALWAYS d-bags.

“Now see! Don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.”

Even though they shock us with creative, unrelenting violence, Craven’s movies took the “final girl” to a whole new level of self-aware empowerment. And as a young woman, remembering the determination that Nancy and Sidney showed in their efforts to triumph over their attackers would help me fight off whatever demons happened to be after me in my own dreams.

Wes Craven, Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, Meryl Streep
The man himself, surrounded by ladies who dig him.

Ultimately, as an adult, it would be Wes Craven himself who really inspired me.

“I literally remember a conversation along the lines of, ‘Sean [Cunningham, producer of Last House on the Left], I don’t know anything about making a scary movie.’ And Sean said, ‘Well, you were raised as a fundamentalist, just pull all the skeletons out of your closet.'”

The result of the above conversation is one of the most brutal, hard-to-watch films of all time (Last House on the Left, 1972), but it also marked a personal change that few people are ever able to pull off successfully. Wes Craven was raised in a restrictive, Baptist household in Ohio, and that upbringing took a serious psychological toll on him (as it does on many). He went on to make his own way in life, growing in his appreciation for literature and narrative quality, and ultimately turning his childhood trauma into cathartic, thrilling stories that have affected people who may never have taken a second look at a horror movie.

And maybe that’s because he was able to find a way to help people from all different backgrounds identify their own, inner survivor.

Though his first few films were sadistic in that way that only films from the 70s can be, he continuously pressed forward to develop a unique sense of style and humor that made his films special and relatable. Due to the ravages of brain cancer, he wasn’t able to die on set at age 90 the way he wanted to, but he left behind a body of work that is both entertaining and inspiring to future artists and storytellers.

3 replies on “ What I Learned from Wes Craven ”
  1. What a beautiful collection of words to commemorate a legend in the film industry. I too associate my first awareness of Wes Craven’s greatness with Scream. It makes me smile to think that this movie with its iconic mask is part of our childhood. Wes Craven made our little pre-teen psyches overload with fear, which in turn made us feel alive and impervious. So much is oded to Craven’s accomplishments to an industry that I dearly love. Thank you Emily for this post and thanks to Wes Craven for giving us everything.

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