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Thursday December 8th

Director’s Cut: Wes Craven

<p>(Photo courtesy of IMDb)</p><p><br/></p>

(Photo courtesy of IMDb)


By Maia Venuti
Staff writer 

Wes Craven was an American film director, producer, editor, screenwriter and actor. He directed nearly 30 films and TV shows throughout his career, but he is best known for the “Scream” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” franchises. He has been revered for his contributions to the world of horror spanning across his 45 year long career.

Something really interesting about Craven and his directorial style is his love for sequels, and his success at creating sequels and franchises. He was able to write characters that are engaging enough to recur in the sequels, which is remarkable for the time considering how 80s horror was usually riddled with one-dimensional and poorly-written characters. However, I believe the real reason Craven developed such massive film franchises was because of his ability to create captivating villains. 

Craven has written two of the most iconic and beloved psycho killers in the history of American horror: Freddy Kreuger and Ghostface. While these two characters are very different from each other, they are both incredibly pliable. For example, you can take a multitude of different situations and place one of these crazed killers in the mix and it would work. The pliability that Ghostface and Freddy Kreuger possess is why Craven was able to create entire franchises centered around these characters. 

Supernatural slasher film “A Nightmare on Elm Street” centers around high schooler Nancy Thompson and her friends after becoming the targets of the spirit of a serial killer who kills them with a bladed glove and finds them in their dreams. While writing “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Craven used the classic tropes that defined the era, such as sexualizing violence against women, including a young female protagonist, and of course, teenagers paying for their sexual promiscuity with their lives. Unsurprisingly, this film was heavily inspired by the teenage slasher sub-genre that overtook the horror genre in the late 1970s, with Craven using tropes from John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), as well as “Friday the 13th” (1980). 

The first “A Nightmare on Elm Street” film in the franchise was a massive success from the minute it was released. By 1985, the film had raked in $26 million dollars in box office revenue. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was absolutely revolutionary when it first came out, with audiences all around the world sucked into the nightmarish world of Freddy Kreuger. In horror, there are very few places a person can find temporary relief from the thing chasing them, so characters often find safety in things like daylight or sleep for instance. Craven knew that the cliche killer maniac slaughtering sexually active teenagers was an effective and popular formula, but it started to go stale by 1984. So, Craven took this very simple formula and created a villain who only kills in the places once seen as safe.

In the months after the release, Craven was approached by the film’s production company, New Line Cinema, about making a sequel. However, Craven was opposed to this, wanting “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to be a stand-alone film. Craven’s original ending to the film was actually a happy ending, but he was pushed to change it to be an ending that would allow for a sequel film. This was his one regret with the film, and because they forced him to make the film’s ending better for a sequel, Craven refused to direct the film. From this point on, Craven had nothing to do with directing or production of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. 

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” is a terrific movie that really showcases Craven’s brilliance as a writer and director. The film shows his creativity and talent for taking a well-known trope and flipping it completely on its head. I never fully understood why the franchise took such a downwards turn after the first film, but knowing that the original director and genius wasn’t making the sequels makes sense. It is sad that the production company took this movie from him by making Craven change the ending as it prioritized profit over what the creator wanted. 

Twelve years after the release of the first “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Craven struck gold yet again with the release of “Scream” (1996). Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Craven, the original “Scream” is a murder-mystery slasher where an unknown deranged serial killer, going by the name of Ghostface, goes about murdering high school students in their small town. The film has a star-studded cast, starring Neve Campbell, Matthew Lillard, Courtney Cox, Drew Barrymore, Henry Winkler and David Arquette. “Scream” is different from most horror movies at the time because of the incredibly self aware writing style. The main characters are all horror movie fans, having watched the slashers from the 70s and 80s, and are aware of horror tropes, dangerous settings, and how to “beat” the killer.  

This movie is not only self aware in terms of the characters, but also shows Craven’s self awareness as a director. He was very aware of the fact that he created so many tropes in horror with “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), as well as the tropes created by the subsequent films that he was not involved in. It’s obvious that Craven was able to make fun of himself and his work, which is why I think “Scream” is so great. His ability to not only take a joke but make a terrific film that is highly critical of the tropes he helped create is beyond brilliant. Craven directed four out of the now five films, and the only reason he did not direct the fifth installment, also called “Scream” (2022), was due to his passing in 2015. 

Craven was an incredibly talented and visionary filmmaker. He was able to push the boundaries of horror beyond what was thought possible, and his work is revered by all in the horror world. He is a founder in the modern horror genre, and his work will continue to be appreciated for decades to come.

 





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