Monday, August 31, 2015

Wes Craven (1939-2015)

Without necessarily being a great filmmaker, Craven was a historic figure in the horror genre. What set him apart from other horror directors was an evolving sensibility that resulted in him making three very different game-changing films over a quarter-century. The first was the reputedly Ingmar Bergman-inspired Last House on the Left (1972), which not only set a new standard for relentless cruelty  but also inspired the epochal "Repeat to yourself: It's only a movie..." ad campaign. In 1984 Craven made A Nightmare on Elm Street and created Freddy Krueger, giving the era's serial-killer boogeymen a new glib irreverence that made Freddy a cultural icon and aligned him with the subversive TV horror hosts of yore, so that it was natural for Freddy to became one. Finally, at nearly a polar remove from Last House on the Left, came Scream (1996), a film that was arguably more immediately influential on the horror genre than anything Craven had done before. Resented by some fans, Scream was a definitive pop horror film, as much a crowd pleaser as a crowd spooker. Scream 2 was more of the same and a much underrated film, one of the most purely entertaining sequels ever. The third Scream couldn't keep up the pace and Craven declined from there, with the modest thriller Red-Eye the only real highlight of his last decade. His record as director and producer was decidedly mixed -- the "Wes Craven Presents" tag never really inspired confidence -- but his three milestone films, augmented by many more obscure fan favorites and sleepers, make his place in movie history pretty secure.

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