Today is the 81st birthday of the film director Wes Craven. He changed the horror genre, gave it a sprinkle of humor, and scare a generation. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Wesley Earl Craven
DATE OF BIRTH: 2-Aug-1939
PLACE OF BIRTH: Cleveland, OH
DATE OF DEATH: 30-Aug-2015
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, CA
CAUSE OF DEATH: Cancer – Brain
BEST KNOWN FOR: American filmmaker, actor, and novelist. He was known for his pioneering work in the horror genre, particularly slasher films, where he mixed horror cliches with humor and satire.
Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Caroline and Paul Eugene Craven. He was raised in a strict Baptist family. Craven earned an undergraduate degree in English and psychology from Wheaton College in Illinois and a master’s degree in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins University.
Craven briefly taught English at Westminster College and was a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology (later named Clarkson University) in Potsdam, New York. He additionally taught at Madrid-Waddington High School in Madrid, New York. During this time, he purchased a used 16 mm film camera and began making short movies. When his friend Steve Chapin informed him of a messenger position at a New York City film production co, where his brother, future folk-rock star Harry Chapin worked. Craven moved into the building where his friend Steve Chapin lived at 136 Hicks St. in Brooklyn Heights. His first creative job in the film industry was as a sound editor.
Recalling his early training, Craven said in 1994, “Harry was a fantastic film editor and producer of industrials. He taught me the Chapin method [of editing]: ‘Nuts and bolts! Nuts and bolts! Get rid of the shit!'” Craven afterward became the firm’s assistant manager, and broke into film editing with You’ve Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Lose That Beat (1971).
Craven left the academic world for the more lucrative role of pornographic film director. In the documentary Inside Deep Throat, Craven says on camera he made “many hardcore X-rated films” under pseudonyms. While his role in Deep Throat is undisclosed, most of his early known work involved writing, film editing, or both. Craven’s first feature film as director was The Last House on the Left, which was released in 1972. Craven expected the film to be shown at only a few theaters, which according to him “gave me a freedom to be outrageous, and to go into areas that normally I wouldn’t have gone into, and not worry about my family hearing about it, or being crushed.” Ultimately the movie was screened much more widely than he assumed, leaving him ostracized due to the content of the film.
After the negative experience of Last House, Craven attempted to move out of the horror genre, and began writing non-horror films with his partner Sean S. Cunningham, none of which attracted any financial backing. Finally, based on advice from a friend about the ease of filming in the Nevada deserts, Craven began to write a new horror film based on that locale. The resulting film, The Hills Have Eyes, cemented Craven as a “horror film director” with Craven noting “It soon became clear that I wasn’t going to do anything else unless it was scary”.
Craven frequently collaborated with Sean S. Cunningham. In Craven’s debut feature, The Last House on the Left, Cunningham served as producer. They pooled all of their resources and came up with $90,000. Later, in Craven’s best-known film, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Cunningham directed one of the chase scenes, although he was not credited. Their characters, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, appeared together in the slasher film Freddy vs. Jason (2003) with Cunningham acting as producer, while screenwriter Victor Miller is credited as “Character Creator”. Later, in The Last House on the Left remake (2009), Cunningham and Craven share production credits.
Craven had a hand in launching actor Johnny Depp’s career by casting him in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Depp’s first major film role.
Although known for directing horror/thriller films, he had worked on two films which are outside this genre: Music of the Heart (1999), and as one of the 22 directors responsible for Paris, je t’aime (2006).
Craven created Coming of Rage, a five-issue comic book series, with 30 Days of Night writer Steve Niles. The series was released in digital form in 2014 by Liquid Comics with a print edition scheduled for an October 2015 debut.
Craven’s first marriage, to Bonnie Broecker, produced two children: Jonathan Craven (born 1965) and Jessica Craven (born 1968). Jonathan is a writer and director. Jessica was a singer-songwriter in the group the Chapin Sisters. The marriage ended in 1970.
In 1982, Craven married a woman who became known professionally as actress Mimi Craven. The two later divorced, with Wes Craven stating in interviews that the marriage dissolved after he discovered it “was no longer anything but a sham.” In 2004, Craven married Iya Labunka; she frequently worked as a producer on Craven’s films.
Craven was a birder; in 2010, he joined Audubon California’s Board of Directors. His favorite films included Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Virgin Spring (1960), and Red River (1948). Craven was an atheist.
Craven died of a brain tumor at his home in Los Angeles on August 30, 2015, four weeks after his 76th birthday. Many actors paid tribute to him, including David Arquette, Johnny Depp, Adrienne Barbeau, Angela Bassett, Courteney Cox, Scott Foley, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kadeem Hardison, Jamie Kennedy, Shane Dawson, Heather Langenkamp, Rose McGowan, Cillian Murphy, Mitch Pileggi, Kristy Swanson, and Amanda Wyss. The tenth episode of the horror series Scream was dedicated in his memory.
Depp stated, “Wes Craven was the guy who gave me my start, from my perspective, for almost no reason in particular. I read scenes with his daughter when I auditioned for the part. At the time, I was a musician. I wasn’t really acting. It was not anything very near to my brain or my heart, which is pretty much how it remains to this day. But Wes Craven was brave enough to give me the gig based on his daughter’s opinion, I guess she had read with a bunch of actors, and after the casting sessions, she said, ‘No, that’s the guy.’ I always think of her for putting me in this mess, and certainly Wes Craven for being very brave to give me this gig. But he was a good man — so rest in peace, old Wes.”
Robert Englund, one of Craven’s most frequent acting collaborators said Craven was “a brilliant, kind, gentle and very funny man.” Neve Campbell, who starred in Scream’s franchise, said, “We lost a great deal of magic yesterday. I’m devastated to hear of Wes’ passing. My life wouldn’t be what it is without him. I will be forever grateful for his brilliant direction, his wicked sense of humor, and his consummate kindness and friendship. He has entertained us all for decades and inspired so many to follow in his path. I loved Wes dearly and will miss him always. Thank you Wes!!!”
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
Scream 4 (13-Apr-2011)
My Soul to Take (7-Oct-2010)
Paris, je t’aime (18-May-2006)
Red Eye (4-Aug-2005)
Scream 3 (4-Feb-2000)
Music of the Heart (6-Sep-1999)
Scream 2 (12-Dec-1997)
Vampire in Brooklyn (23-Jan-1995)
New Nightmare (9-Sep-1994)
The People Under the Stairs (1-Nov-1991)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (15-Jan-1988)
Deadly Friend (10-Oct-1986)
The Hills Have Eyes Part II (12-Sep-1985)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (9-Nov-1984)
Invitation to Hell (24-May-1984)
Swamp Thing (16-Jul-1982)
Deadly Blessing (14-Aug-1981)
Stranger in Our House (31-Oct-1978)
The Hills Have Eyes (22-Jul-1977)
The Last House on the Left (30-Aug-1972)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (13-Oct-2006) · Himself
Paris, je t’aime (18-May-2006)
Inside Deep Throat (11-Feb-2005) · Himself
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (24-Aug-2001) · Himself
Welcome to Hollywood (27-Oct-2000) · Himself
The American Nightmare (11-Sep-2000) · Himself
Hitchcock: Shadow of a Genius (13-Oct-1999) · Himself
Shadow Zone: The Undead Express (27-Oct-1996) · Counsellor
The Fear (1995)
New Nightmare (9-Sep-1994) · Himself
Body Bags (8-Aug-1993)
Shocker (27-Oct-1989) · Man Neighbor
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