Wesley Earl “Wes” Craven (born August 2, 1939) is an American film director, writer, producer, actor, perhaps best known as the director of many horror films, including the famed A Nightmare on Elm Street, featuring the iconic Freddy Krueger character and has directed the entire Scream series, featuring Ghostface. Some of his other films include, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes (and it’s sequel), The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs, Red Eye and the recent My Soul to Take.
Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had a strict Baptist upbringing. Craven earned an undergraduate degree in English and Psychology from Wheaton College in Illinois, and a masters degree in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to landing his first job in the film industry as a sound editor for a post-production company in New York City, Craven briefly taught English at Westminster College and was a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York. He then left the academic world for the more lucrative role of pornographic film director. In the documentary Inside Deep Throat (2005), Craven says on camera he made “many X-rated films” under pseudonyms, learning his directing craft. While his role in Deep Throat (1972), is undisclosed, most of his early known work involved writing, film editing or both.
In 1972 Wes Craven directed his first feature film The Last House on the Left, a written and directed by Craven and produced by Sean S. Cunningham who would go on to invent the Friday the 13th series.
The story is inspired by the 1960 Swedish film The Virgin Spring, directed by Ingmar Bergman, which in turn is based on the 13th century Swedish ballad “Töres döttrar i Wänge”. The Craven film was itself remade into a 2009 film of the same name. Written by Wes Craven in 1971, the original script was intended to be a graphic ‘Hardcore’ film, with all actors and crew being committed to filming it as such. However, after shooting began, the hard decision was made to edit down to a much softer film. This script, written as Night of Vengeance has never been released; only a brief glimpse is visible in the featurette Celluloid Crime of the Century, and a sample is available in the UK DVD release.
Craven produced the first of his mega-franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street movie on an estimated budget of just $1.8 million, a sum the film earned back during its first week. An instant commercial success, A Nightmare on Elm Street also met with rave critical reviews and went on to make a very significant impact on the horror genre, spawning a franchise consisting of a line of sequels, a television series, a crossover with Friday the 13th, a remake and various other works of imitation.
The film is credited with carrying on many tropes found in low-budget horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, originating in John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween, including the morality play that revolves around sexual promiscuity in teenagers resulting in their eventual death, leading to the term “slasher film”. Critics and film historians argue that the film’s premise is the question of the distinction between dreams and reality, which is manifested in the film through the teenagers’ dreams and their realities. Critics today praise the film’s ability to transgress “the boundaries between the imaginary and real”, toying with audience perceptions.
Craven’s works tend to share a common exploration of the nature of reality, where A Nightmare on Elm Street, for example, dealt with the consequences of dreams in real life, New Nightmare “brushes against” (but does not quite break) the fourth wall by having actress Heather Langenkamp play herself as she is haunted by the villain of the film in which she once starred. At one point in the film, we see on Wes Craven’s word processor a script he has written, which includes the exact conversation he just had with Heather – as if the script was being written as the action unfolded. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), portrays a man who cannot distinguish between nightmarish visions and reality. In the Scream series, characters frequently reference horror films similar to their situations, this concept was emphasized in the sequels, as copycat stalkers reenact the events of a new film about the Woodsboro killings occurring in Scream.
His films have tended to waver between hit-and-miss throughout the 90’s to present, however, he is always worth watching.