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Wes Craven

By Jarrod Sarafin     June 03, 2007


Wes Craven
© Wescraven.com
It’s not often that someone of the past will get to choose the director whom will remake one of his films. Yet, that’s exactly what happened this week. Famed horror director Wes Craven has the choice of whomever in terms of directing remakes of his films. Earlier this week, Craven chose Dennis Iliadis to helm the remake of his first movie, The House on the Left.
 
That in itself points to the personal freedom and the clout that Wes has in the industry from over 30 years in the business by his own personal choices.
 
The ability to choose the directors of his remakes spurn out of the recent development where he made a deal with Rogue Pictures to write and direct his first horror project in 12 years. He has also formed Midnight Pictures, a Rogue-based shingle that will concentrate on horror films with budgets under $15 million. The first picture under the Midnight banner is the above mentioned House on the Left remake.
 
Wes was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 2, 1939 to devout Baptist parents Paul and Caroline Craven. Not much is known of his past other than the fact that it’s been said he had a “unhappy” childhood being raised in the devout Baptist settings. Of course, that explains why we don’t know much about it. As soon as he could get out of the house, he did. He initially left home to study English in Wheaton College. He fell ill around this time and ended up leaving school before returning with a focus on psychology. In 1963 he took a degree in writing and psychology and in 1964 he took a Masters from J. Hopkins University. While he was a humanities college teacher at Clarkson University, Wes married Bonnie Broecker, mother of both his children, Jonathan and Jessica. Later on as his movie career was blossoming, his marriage with Bonnie failed and the two children stayed with her.
 
Craven’s first directed film (as said above) was his horror movie The Last House on the Left. He would write and direct it and Sean S Cunningham would produce the film. For those of you whom are not horror fans and have no idea who Cunningham is, he’s the man who created the Friday the 13th Original and helped produce/create the series of movies.
 
Yes, that’s right. Wes Craven (The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise) and Sean S Cunningham (Friday the 13th franchise) worked together on ‘Last House’ together. There ya go, you now have a trivia question to ask your friends. Hah.
 
Want to know how dark Wes Craven’s first film was?
 
Here’s the basic plotline for The Last House on the Left:
 
Teenager Mari Collingwood's parents have allowed her to celebrate her birthday by going to New York to see a rock concert with her friend Phyllis. While attempting to purchase marijuana to properly commemorate the occasion, the girls are kidnapped by Krug (played by David Hess), a dangerous escaped felon, and his criminal associates. The gang takes the two victims into the countryside and subjects them to rape, humiliation, torture and murder. After leaving the girls for dead, and finding themselves stranded on a lonely country road, the villains seek shelter with a hospitable couple, who are none other than the parents of the violated Mari. The gang attempt to pass themselves off as business travelers and all is well, until the increasingly suspicious parents discover the truth about their guests and set out to exact their revenge, in one case when the mother bites off the penis of one of the villains.
 
No doubt about it, it struck a cord with 1972 audiences as you can well imagine.
 
It would be five years before Craven again made a directorial feature film and I’m pretty sure most of you know which movie that was..
 
The Hills Have Eyes (the original) was released on July, 22, 1977 with a budget reported at $230,000. Right about this same time, another little known director named John Carpenter, was creating Halloween with a $300,000 budget. Obviously, these two directors were making some right choices with their perspective career choices early on. Craven has publicly stated the original concept for the Hills horror movie came from the Scottish legend based on the Sawney Bean family.
 
More trivia for you Maniacs.
 
In Evil Dead (I spotlighted Sam Raimi a few weeks ago), the basement scene has a The Hills Have Eyes poster in it. Wes Craven, who obviously loved the Evil Dead movies, caught it early on in his viewing of it. As a show of fellow respect, in his next film A Nightmare on Elm Street, he had Evil Dead playing on a television. There ya go. Another trivia question/answer for you.
 
Obviously, it’s the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise that most of mainstream audiences of the generation X know Wes Craven from. Craven didn’t just stop there though. As we all know, he would reach an entirely new generation a decade later with the Scream franchise. What does this say, maniacs?
 
Craven has reached 3 different generations with shocking and cerebral type horror movies which is his style.
 
70’s generation= The Last House on the Left & The Hills Have Eyes
80’s generation= Nightmare on Elm Street films
90’s generation= Scream franchise
 
This is exactly what great directors do over time. They reach into the audiences mindset and make powerful impacts in the industry that transcend the time and different generations of audiences.
 
 A lot of people insult the Nightmare series after the 7 some odd installments of the Nightmare franchise and the irony here is that Wes Craven would be one of the insulters. He doesn’t consider anything but A Nightmare on Elm Street & New Nightmare (his films) to be official cannon. He considers all the other films too cartoonist and not faithful to his original concept. In fact, the plot for New Nightmare was originally set to be the story for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors but New Line rejected his idea at the time. This contributes to the fact that he only directed two Nightmare films…The first and the last.
 
1994’s New Nightmare was a critical success within the circles but it only grabbed up 18 million in box office success. Perhaps, that spelled the time for a change and Wes Craven was set to the change with the generational tide. After his next film, Vampire in Brooklyn bombed. Craven set to work on a new concept that covers the same arena as his previous hits, albeit with a twist to appeal to the new generation of teenagers. This would of course be the Scream franchise. Scream opened up on December 20, 1996 on 1,413 screens with a budget at 14 mil. It would go on to gross 103 mil here in the states and worldwide, 173 mil. Just like that, a new franchise of horror was created. The concept for Scream could be viewed as satire towards the horror genre and yet it was also a horror film at the same time. In one imaginative swoop, Craven brought back the slasher genre to a new generation just as visionary Carpenter did in the 70s with his creation of Michael Myers.
 
That’s how the mind of Wes Craven works.
 
Most of Craven’s horror genre specific films delve into the world of reality, dreams, and the dissection of reality when viewed from outside the cerebral box. Nightmare on Elm Street brought dreams and reality together in horrifying effects having the two cross over. Skip the next six films (as Craven does) and New Nightmare expands on the blending of the dream world and reality. Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow is also about a man who can’t see and distinguish the difference between nightmares and reality. Likewise, his concept of reality in the Scream series is also skewered. The villains in the Scream franchise blend the world of reality with movies, more specifically horror movies of the past. At one time, villain Loomis actually says it aloud. “Life is a movie.”
 
That’s the Craven stamp on the world of cinema and horror. Remember, the man has a Masters in psychology and he loves to play with the effects of the mind when dealing with conceptual ideas of horror. It’s usually the dark recesses of the mind within which are the true villain of his characters.
 
Craven hasn’t done just horror though and it’s easy to forget that fact. In between the releases of Scream 2 and Scream 3, Craven jumped at the opportunity to direct a non-horror genre film and it turned into a critical success (even if mainstream audiences never caught attention of it). While working with Miramax, he jumped into production on Music of the Heart (1999), a film based on the Oscar-nominated documentary "Small Wonders" , starring Meryl Streep and Angela Bassett. For her performance, Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. In the same year, in the midst of directing, Craven wrote and published his first novel The Fountain Society.
 
He also directed an aspect on Paris je t’aime which was released last month on May 4 (the same day as Spider-Man 3) here in North America under a limited release. The two hour film is broken into 18 different parts with 18 different directors all centered on Paris.
 
 
Movies Wes Craven Has Directed
 
The Last House on the Left (1972)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Summer of Fear (1978)
The Evolution of Snuff (1978)
Deadly Blessing (1981)
Swamp Thing (1982)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Hills Have Eyes II (1985)
Deadly Friend (1986)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Shocker (1989)
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
New Nightmare (1994)
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
Scream (1996)
Scream 2 (1997)
Music of the Heart (1999)
Scream 3 (2000)
Cursed (2005)
Red Eye (2005)
Paris Je t’aime (2006)
 
 
What’s he working on now?
 
Wes Craven is currently working as a producer (credit) on, Shocker (2009), the remake of his 1989 horror.
 
So, what are your thoughts on Wes Craven? Let’s hear your thoughts on the man.
 
That’s going to do it for this edition of Star Spotlight. Talk to you later, Maniacs.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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1 
peak37pt 6/3/2007 1:23:15 PM
First time commenting for me, and it's about my favorite director! I just graduated from Film School and hope to one day be working for him. I agree with you completely about how great directors reach out to each generation. The long lived horror films are ones that comment on a real fear in each generation (Nightmare, Scream, Last House, etc) and he really knows how to write it. Not only is he a great director, but he is a great storyteller. Whether he writes them or finds a writer, they are usually memorable. I also like how he treats female leads with complete respect. Instead of the virginal victim in every horror movie like in Friday the 13th, his female leads are strong and smart, from Nancy to Sydney to Lisa. He creates a strong, well written lead in every generation as well. So yes, Wes Craven is a hero of mine. Anyone else?
jppintar326 6/3/2007 2:31:42 PM
I went to Clarkson University and there have always been stories that Craven based Elm Street on a street in nearby Potsdam, NY. I actually liked Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4 to the first one. I never cared much for the non ending he put in. 2 had the same problem. 3 was the best of the movies, with 4 slightly below it. The others are forgettable.
peak37pt 6/3/2007 7:42:02 PM
Actually, he wanted Nancy to win and drive away happy with her friends at the end of the first one, it was Weinstein's idea to leave it like that to be more scary I guess. He hated that they changed it. So yes, I agree with you about number one, but I would have rather Wes' ending. I do love 3 and 4 though as well, they were crazy. Lawrence Fishburne was even in number three! I also love four for the whole church battle ending.
sasquatchb 6/4/2007 11:41:01 AM
Weinstein had nothing to do with the Elm Street Series. Maybe you mean Bob Shaye?
peak37pt 6/4/2007 5:29:42 PM
Damn, you're right. I meant Shaye. :)
GentlemenDeath 6/4/2007 9:58:01 PM
I believe he is a very underrated director and very typecasted. It is like, you hear Wes Craven and you think of horror. Rightfully though, i beleive that is where he belongs and should stay. I would really like for him to go back and do movie like his earlier ones. Add some scream, nightmare, house and even swamp thing and you should have a hit. Craven is a good director, It will be good when he comes back and directs something he wrote.
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