Last night, prolific horror director Wes Craven died after battling brain cancer. It would be impossible to count the number of ways he changed the horror genre (and the community) for the better, but we can count the ways he changed our own lives. Here’s to you, Wes.
Freddy Krueger was my first fiction hero. I didn’t know my father and was desperately looking for someone to fill that void, and who better than a child murderer to step in and take the place of my dad. This is far too layered for any therapist to work out. Obviously I didn’t understand Freddy’s origin story but I loved the idea that even in your dreams you weren’t safe.
Freddy was omnipresent, both in your nightmares and in your waking life. No, he wasn’t going to slowly but steadily walk towards you in the harsh light of day but rob you of your sleep. He was stalking you 24 hours a day. He was all-powerful, and as a kid from a broken home I wanted some of that power too. It’s better to be feared than loved, at least that’s what I thought.
Is this what Wes Craven thought when he stumbled across the story of the young boy who died in his sleep, the story that gave birth to Freddy Krueger? Or did he, like me, relish the idea that no place is safe. And if you really want to instill fear in people, you provide as few outs as possible. How do you run from the bad guy when the bad guy is in charge of your entire universe? You can’t just slip out the front door when the front door was created by the monster. Again, more power. In a sense Freddy was God and he made the world in his image.
Of course every antagonist must have a protagonist and in stepped Nancy, our knight (night?) in shining pajamas. What’s unique about most horror films is women are the heroes. Sure, you have your tropes, girls running in high heels wearing little to no clothing, but at the end of the day we’re the ones who send the monsters back to hell where they belong. Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Lori in Halloween, Kirsty in Hellraiser…the list goes on and on. So, while I was busy emulating Freddy for his power I was falling in love with Nancy for taking that power back.
Wes Craven gave me two different characters who satisfied two different needs in my childhood. One was a monster who frightened people, the other was a hero who gave me hope. You have to have both sides of that coin or you can’t appreciate either. Thank you, Mr. Craven, for teaching me that fear and love are equally as important and needed in this world and for scaring the shit out of so many people. I’ll see you in my dreams, or my nightmares. – Jenn Tisdale
Wes Craven was more than a director. He was more than a horror movie legend. He was, above all, a teacher. Not only did he teach us to embrace and conquer the darkness within ourselves, he taught us with tact and love. There are few directors I would follow to the end of the Earth, no matter what ridiculous (or even terrible) projects they championed, but Wes Craven was one of them.
So yes, he had some duds. But as a young girl fully immersing herself into the genre, nothing made me feel more at home than Scream. I can still remember the first time I watched it, 15-years-old, downstairs in my parents basement, eating my weight in tangerines. I can’t tell you how many times my best friend and I used to quote Matthew Lillard saying, “My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me.” While many other horror films seemed ripe with objectification and sexualization and other words I didn’t know at the time, but could feel like a pit in my stomach, Wes Craven’s movies were equally full of terror and love. The women in Scream felt real and they felt like people I knew. Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and even the women from Scream 4 (which I unabashedly love) like Jill Roberts had solid interesting story lines. And not just in a “strong female character,” Joss Whedon kind of way, but in an multidimensional having both good traits, bad traits, and complex motives kind of way.
Even when Wes was playing with popular horror conventions and giving us lots of sex with lots of murder, he was always winking and laughing along with us. Unlike many other horror directors (*cough* Eli Roth *cough*), Wes was having fun with his audience, not at their expense.
No one can deny that Wes changed not just horror, but all film and television with Scream. It was one of the first instances of a franchise going full on meta, and it introduced audiences to a lot of tropes that they may not have picked up on, but could probably feel, while watching horror movies. When Randy pulled back the curtain in Scream and explained the rules, I’m sure it forced a lot of horror directors to actually think about the next movie they were going to make, because the audience was armed with knowledge and anything that followed the formula was going to be the worst thing a horror movie can be, boring.
Not that Wes himself wasn’t a big fan of formulas. We can see that in the many Freddy movies, or in his decision to remake his very own classic The Last House on the Left, but even when Wes was going to follow a formula, it was going to be damn good. You can believe what you want, but no one is going to convince me that Freddy vs. Jason is a bad movie. It’s hilarious. It’s exciting. It’s a damn good time. Even his more serious and disturbing films, like House (which is very much an American remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) follows a general revenge film formula, but still manages to keep things fresh and… more disturbing than you ever imagined.
From The People Under the Stairs to The Hills Have Eyes it’s clear that Wes Craven changed the horror game considerably, but what is also clear is that he cared for us and the genre. He wanted to scare us, sure, but he never treated his audience like we were too stupid to know what was going on. I don’t know what the horror community is going to do without him, but more than that, I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. Our horror dad has finally gone to sleep. Sweet dreams. – Kaylee Dugan