A Tribute to Wes Craven
Today would have been Wes Craven’s 79th birthday. Even though I've never met him, I still miss him, every day. We’ve lost a number of horror greats over the past few years, but his death hit me the most. In a lot of very real ways, he is the reason I got into horror and stayed with it, through its ebbs and flows. His birth snuck up on me, but I didn't want to let it pass without saying anything. I don’t really have much to say outside of he’s missed and loved, but I do want to bring up two moments in my life that he touched.
When I was a kid, horror meant Universal Monster movies. By the 80s, those movies were completely divorced from my reality. With their dark castles and gothic flair they felt more like a fantasy than a horror film. But they were my gateways into the genre, followed by the Abbott and Costello movies and a couple Hammer films like Horror of Dracula. My dad loved these monster movies and so that was my daily horror infusion. By 1980 standards, they were pretty safe.
It wasn’t until I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street (way too young, I might add) that I realized what horror actually was. Three movies defined my childhood: Psycho, Alien and A Nightmare on Elm Street. These movies had a profound effect on me. Two of them I couldn't finish in one sitting because their iconic scenes terrified me so much. But A Nightmare on Elm Street was special. It horrified me in ways the other two didn't and in ways I had never experienced before. For a film filled with the fantastical, it felt the most real to me. They were normal kids, living in the suburbs. And they were being stalked by something they couldn't fight; something that hunted them because of their parents. The way Craven melded the dreams with reality confused my young mind so that I was never really sure if what I was watching was the dream world or the waking world. I think he was incredibly successful with that aesthetic, which I wish the remake had aped.
But the moment that hooked me was Tina’s death. It affected me in ways I'd assume the original viewers of Psycho were affected with Marion Crane’s death. I thought Tina was the heroine because she was the first person we followed; hers was the original point of view. And then her body was lifted in the air, slashes ripped across her stomach. Blood pooled and then oozed out of those horrific gashes in an uncontrolled mess. And then she was dragged across the fucking wall and ceiling?! What kind of shit was this?! I was transfixed in horror. At that moment, horror became real for me. Movies became real. They became dangerous. There was this world out there that maybe I shouldn't see. But, boy did I want to.
It was the first time I became aware of the magic of movies. I both wanted to know how that effect was accomplished and was too terrified to find out. It was also the first time I became wholly aware that there were people involved in the making of movies. Wes was the first director I would know by name. The first director I would seek out movies by. I credit him with fueling my passion for horror movies. Because of him, I devoured any and all horror films I could find. I would stand in the horror aisle, looking at the covers in trepidation. Wondering what new horrors would be hidden in that magical tape. And when my parents wouldn't relent and get me those terrifying movies, I sought out books that they didn't realize were inappropriate.
When the 90s came, my love affair with horror was slowly dying. My parents thought the movies were too violent so my chances of renting them slowed. I started reading Stephen King and lost track of what was out, with a couple notable exceptions. So I missed Scream when it was first theatrically released. It wasn’t until I could rent it that I even checked it out. And holy cow. It brought me back to when I was a kid, first watching A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was like I never left. But instead of the absolute horror plastered on my face, it was a huge grin. Granted, that grin was sometimes hidden behind my fingers as I gasped at what was happening. Here, again, Wes managed to sink his claws into me and drag me back into horror. After that movie blew my teenage mind, I went digging for other 90s movies I had missed. Gems like Candyman and In the Mouth of Madness and Jacob’s Ladder. More mature horror. The 90s seemed to have a different feel. It was more cynical than the joviality of the 80s. There was an edge to this decade. Even the humor of Scream felt different; caustic and a little dangerous.
Since then, I've been a lifelong lover of all things horror. Only a few Horror Masters have truly affected me and at the top of the list is Wes Craven. So thank you, sir. You instilled a love of the genre in me at an early age and, when I needed a little jolt, you brought me back in. It’s because of you that I’m writing about horror. I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment. On this day, I just want to say you are missed.
Thank you for everything.