I can’t believe how hard this is for me to write. Nine hundred words about a man who I didn’t even know. About a man who I had the chance to take a photo with so many times, but instead, I elected to be the “cool” horror fan, and wait until next time. What a fool I was.
Wes Craven, beloved genre director behind such titles as The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, has died from a battle with brain cancer. None of his fans knew. I can say this with full honesty because I subscribed to his newsletter just a few months ago to keep up to date for all the latest from the genre icon, and there was no sign of trouble. Craven was signed on to a multi-series deal with SyFy–which I covered fairly extensively–thus continuing the network’s winning streak with 12 Monkeys, featuring him behind the camera, and having Craven oversee pilots for The People Under The Stairs and We Are All Completely Fine. There was a third project in development for him at the network, too. I hope you can forgive me as I write this, because I am in total shock.
Wes Craven was my favorite and most beloved horror auteur. Ask anyone in the horror space and John Carpenter is probably their number one choice, with a rogue cinephile going with Tobe Hooper or David Cronenberg instead. But mine was Wes. Always intelligent and deftly political, Craven was without a doubt my director of choice. How do I sum it all up? How do I put my utter disbelief into a handful of words at the loss of this man? Because, no matter who you are, you know who Wes Craven is. He created Freddy Krueger. He directed Ghostface into the zeitgeist. And to anyone who knew his work, his thought process, his intelligence, Wes Craven was unparalleled.
Before Craven directed The Last House on the Left, a film that lives in infamy even until this day, he was a college professor espousing philosophy to unsuspecting students. As a director, I would argue that he continued to teach until the end of his life. The reason that Craven was my auteur of choice was because of this. No matter what he did, you could believe that his work had something to say.
For Americans who were angry over the struggle in Vietnam? Please see The Last House on the Left. Upset during the Nixon era? Feast your eyes on The Hills Have Eyes. Ronald Regan not speaking your truth? A Nightmare on Elm Street has something for you. The kids aren’t all right? Feel free to Scream along with the rest of the country.
I loved Wes not only as a horror fan, but as a woman, because I often felt very strongly that he spoke for my side. Wes was my hero in the genre space. Back in January of 2013, I wrote a letter to Glamour magazine pretending to be a student looking for two articles by Wes that were no longer in their online database. My e-mail read something like this:
“Hi, I’m looking for two articles written by Wes Craven; one for the August 2005 issue of Glamour called ‘What Scares Men About Women’ and one from summer of 2006 called ‘Seven Kick-Ass Women Who Made Me a Better Man.’ I can’t find them in the database. I’m writing a paper for school and it would help me out a lot if I could get a copy of them maybe via a PDF? Any help would be wonderful. Thanks!”
To my shock and awe, they not only replied, but sent the attachments to these articles that were both penned in promotion of Red Eye, a thriller that I think is vastly underrated. From one of those select articles, these words were written:
“There’s something liberating and fun about watching the damsel—not the knight—slay the monster on film. When a woman kicks ass in real life, it generally doesn’t involve roundhouse kicks to the groin of a trained assassin, but we guys are just as impressed. Here’s what I’ve learned from a few of the industrial-strength women I’ve known in my lifetime.”
And here’s what I’ve learned from a master of the genre that means the most to me: real, true horror exists in the world and it’s your job to talk about it, no matter how painful or upsetting those facts can be. You are not a victim; you can fight back and, often times, it’s entirely possible that you are the smartest person in the room. Human suffering is a real problem, and it matters that you shed light on it. Who are you going to be at the end of your movie? Wes asked all of us this simple question, repeatedly. And my answer always was: A stronger person for have experienced one of his films.
Selfishly, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t so sad that I’ll never have a photo taken with Wes. But I know the things that I’ve been taught by him and the lessons that have been learned. And that’s the beauty of cinema; that no matter what, the frames–and the screams–live on forever.
Rest in Peace, Wes. I loved your work. And I’m so grateful that you were here.
Featured Image Credit: Mick Garris via YouTube
Clarke Wolfe is a correspondent for Nerdist and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. Follow her on Twitter @clarkewolfe.