Director Wes Craven has passed away

Wes Craven holding up the head of “Ghostface”

Writer/director Wes Craven died over the weekend at his home in Los Angeles.  A spokesperson for the renowed director reports that his death followed a battle with brain cancer.  He was 76 years of age.

Wes Craven was born in Cleveland, OH in 1939 and raised by a strict Baptist family.  Since his parents did not let him attend movies, and doing so might have resulted in his expulsion from Wheaton College, his love affair with the film industry didn’t begin until after he completed his college education.  Armed with a Masters in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University he moved to Potsdam, NY to pursue a teaching career.

Exposure to an art house movie theater and discovery that working in the pornographic film industry paid a lot more than teaching brought about a career change for Wes.  His initial foray into movies was writing and/or editing porno films as he disclosed in the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat.

This is the Google Doodle for Halloween 2008, designed by Wes Craven
This is the Google Doodle for Halloween 2008, designed by Wes Craven

His first feature film was The Last House on the Left, a 1972 release that was both a commercial and critical success.  Filmed for less than $100,000 it brought in over $3 million at the box office.  This in spite of being banned in several countries.  In fact it wasn’t released in an uncensored form in the United Kingdom until the end of a long struggle over cuts demanded by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

His next feature films as director were The Hills Have Eyes, Deadly Blessing, Swamp Thing and Invitation to Hell.  After that, in 1984, he wrote and directed A Nightmare on Elm Street, creating “Freddy Krueger” the evil man who could kill you in your dreams which caused you to die in real life.  A smash hit at the box office, it made Wes Craven a household name.

Robert Englund in 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'
Robert Englund in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

More horror flicks followed including Shocker and The People Under the Stairs.  Retired actress/stunt woman Linda Kaye, best known for her small roles in the first two movies from Quentin Tarrantino appears in Shocker, dying in a very gruesome scene.  She told Tailslate “Wes Craven was like a black swan. He appeared to glide gracefully on the surface, but just under the surface, there was a lot of churning going on to create that illusion of gracefulness. He was a perfectionist, but also pragmatic. We shot my scene when I fell down the stairs 17 times, but when he saw that I was getting fatigued and it started to show, he knew it was time to wrap.”

Mitch Pileggi as the title character in 'Shocker'
Mitch Pileggi as the title character in ‘Shocker’

1995 saw Craven move into horror/comedy with Vampire in Brooklyn, Eddie Murphy’s final film under his exclusive deal with Paramount that had begun with 48 Hrs.  Ravaged by the critics and barely breaking even at the box office, most think of this as one of his worst films.  But the following year saw Craven launch the wildly successful Scream franchise.  The first film cost only $15 million to produce and grossed more than ten times that amount worldwide.  The four films thus far in the franchise have earned over $600 million in box office receipts.

The one feature film where Wes Craven was the sole director (he directed one segment of Paris, je t’aime, a collection of 22 short films) was 1997’s Music of the Heart.  Starring Meryl Streep and marking the screen debut of singer Gloria Estefan, this movie scored two Academy Award nominations, the only nominations for any of his films.  His final effort as director was 2011’s Scream 4.

Gloria Estefan, Meryl Streep and Angela Bassett all starred in 'Music of the Heart'
Gloria Estefan, Meryl Streep and Angela Bassett all starred in ‘Music of the Heart’

Wes Craven was married three times and had two children with his first wife, Jonathan and Jessica.  He is survived by his children and his third wife, Iya Labunka.  She worked as a producer on a number of his films.

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