Monday, 31 August 2015

Waking Nightmares: The Visions of Wes Craven

Throughout his career, Wes Craven created some of the most arresting, disturbing and genuinely haunting moments in horror cinema. That they were contained in some of the genre's most provocative and striking titles, is testament to his power as a filmmaker and a weaver of unsettling dreams... Very unsettling dreams.

Last House on the Left (1972) was Craven's intensely brutal debut

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) demonstrated what happens when you stray from the path

Deadly Blessing (1981) featured some of Craven's most unnerving imagery and ideas. And starred a fresh-faced Sharon Stone

Swamp Thing (1982)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) redefined the slasher film

Fred Krueger, a boogeyman for the Eighties

Freddy stalks a sleeping Nancy

Another haunting vision...

Feverish sexual connotations mix with primal fear

Nancy turns her back on fear and denies it power over her

Deadly Friend (1986) was a disappointing remix of 'Frankenstein' for Eighties' teens 

The Serpent & The Rainbow (1988) combined political subtext and voodoo shocks

Shocker (1989) was Craven's attempt to create a new horror icon/franchise

Bloody visions in Shocker (1989)

The People Under the Stairs (1991), a terrifying exploration of class, race and familial strife

Alice through a bloody looking-glass...

Family problems and monstrous mothers in The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) a postmodern spin on the series and a prelude to Scream

A nod to Tina's death scene from the original film

Krueger appeared 'darker, more evil' in New Nightmare

For Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Craven paired up with Eddie Murphy, who wanted to make a straight horror film, whereas Craven wanted to explore comedy. 

Scream (1996) re-wrote all the rules...

Scream 2 (1997), a fine sequel

Scream 3 (2000) favored chuckles over chills

Scream 4 (2011) proved there was still life in the series

Music of the Heart (1999), surely Craven's most terrifying film...

My Soul to Take (2010) explored familiar themes...

...and images

RIP Wes Craven

RIP Wes Craven (1939-2015)
Filmmaker Wes Craven, best known for intelligent and provocative horror titles such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and The Last House on the Left, has died at the age of 76. He had been diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away at his home in LA, leaving behind his wife Iya Labunka, and his two children Jonathan and Jessica.

Craven’s impact on the landscape of shock cinema came early in his career with searingly gritty and subversive titles such as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. These films presented levels of violence and graphic realism in ways rarely seen before. What became clear though was that despite the brutality of his work, Wes Craven’s films were intelligent and strangely philosophical; he frequently addressed themes such as familial strife, generational conflict, class, race, teenage angst, dreams and man-made monsters. While at college he studied literature and psychology before moving on to earn a Masters in philosophy. Prior to his work as a filmmaker, he was an English teacher. Much like George Romero and David Cronenberg, he was a genre director who approached horror from an intellectual perspective and frequently laced his films with subtext. Craven once said “Horror films don't create fear. They release it”, and throughout his career he addressed the nature of fear, the relationship between horror films and their audiences and the cathartic aspects of violent cinema and how it addresses primordial fears and anxieties.

My introduction to horror, proper, was through Wes Craven. At the not-so-tender age of 16, my dad took me to see Scream. Prior to that I wasn’t overly familiar with the genre. The myriad references to other horror titles in Scream had me racing to the video shop and rifling through the pages of Empire and Shivers. I subsequently discovered classic slashers such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, before delving headlong into their precursors in the work of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. I lapped up the barrage of 90s teen slasher flicks that came in the wake of Scream (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend etc.) and these will always hold a special place in my morbid heart.

In Craven's obituary on the The Guardian's website, Stuart Heritage spoke truth when he said Craven “dictated the genre so confidently no Hollywood horror director isn’t deeply indebted, no audience member left untouched.” Craven has left an indelible mark on horror cinema, and it just won’t be the same without him.