I was raised on horror films, and I don’t think it was on purpose. If my mom had access to a DeLorean with a flux capacitor, she might rethink exposing me to such films as Halloween and Aliens during such impressionable years. When I was only five years old, I was visiting my godparents in Maine, and remember sitting in the bathtub with my god-sister Lisa. Suddenly, with a fanfare of maniacal laughter, her older brother Jerry busted into the bathroom to see if he could scare us. It worked. I hadn’t seen the films—there would’ve been four of them by then—but I knew who he was dressed like. The red and green striped sweater, the pullover latex mask that mimicked the aesthetic of burnt skin twisted into a devious smile, and the plastic replica of the claw. I suppose it’s a good thing I had a good handle on my bowel and bladder control by then, otherwise I might’ve needed a shower after my bath to mark this first visit from Freddy Krueger.
|"The ultimate back-scratcher. |
Get yours today!"
It was six years later when I finally sat down to watch my first Freddy movie. My older sister had me out to her place to stay the weekend, and since she worked at a video store—remember those things, when you actually had to drive there?—I was promised any movie my heart desired. Little did she know I desired to never sleep again. Wes Craven's New Nightmare, said the box cover. We popped in the VHS tape, and I wondered why my sister insisted on spending the duration of the film in her garage. She was missing out on a great movie. This Freddy Krueger dude was every bit as scary as I imagined him. It wasn't until I was much older that I got an explanation for her absence: My sister had seen the original A Nightmare on Elm Street at the drive-in when it came out in 1984, and upon seeing the infamous blood geyser sequence, did not sleep on her bed for the next eight days. The mere idea of a villain who taunted, stalked, and killed you in your dreams was enough for her to maintain her distance from a sequel a full decade later.
|"Aw, someone got |
blood on my knife!"
This was the power Wes Craven held over us, and will continue to hold over us well after his death. The power to enrapture and stimulate the imagination of eleven year old masochists, and frighten the ever-loving shit out of adults old enough to know better. He was that amazing, that gifted of a storyteller. The warped prism of his mind projected a light on the horror genre unique enough to change it forever. Not just once, but twice. With A Nightmare on Elm Street, his gift to us was a face not even a mother could love, and a series built on ideas instead of a body count with the always en vogue silent killer. With Scream, Craven reminded us that no genre is above satire, and that Quentin Tarantino wasn't the only game in town who could make us rethink the way we see movies.
Perhaps it's because he never saw a film until he was in college. Perhaps it was a deep-seeded need to rebel against an oppressive religious background. Perhaps it's just God-given talent. Wes Craven was never short on originality. Even when playing in tune to a song that had been established by others before him, such as Ingmar Bergman (The Virgin Spring became Last House on the Left) or Mary Shelley (Frankenstein inspired Deadly Friend), Craven always managed to reach deep into the catacombs of his psyche and find a way to show us something utterly special. Not one person reading this who has seen Deadly Friend will ever be able to forget—or not laugh at—the image of Anne Ramsey being decapitated by a basketball. And no one can say that they didn't feel as if Craven had a direct line into the deepest recesses of our nightmares. The shot of Fred Krueger's face and hands descending from within the wall over Nancy's bed. The line of drool left on Mari Collingwood's face after her rape. The closeups of Kristy Swanson's blackened eyes filled with hate and confusion. The fast plunge of the dagger into Drew Barrymore's chest while her parents listened in agony. Close your eyes and let those images follow the cold chill running up your spine into your brain.
Wes Craven's good friend and fellow master of horror, John Carpenter, coined a phrase while describing his equally iconic film, Halloween: "Evil never dies." Thankfully for us, neither does genius. Mr. Craven, you will live on, and one day my son will know and appreciate your gift for touching that nerve which makes our hair stand on end. We will always miss you, and we will never forget.
R.I.P. Wes Craven (1939-2015)
—Blake O. Kleiner