If you've heard the news of the passing of Wes Craven, you've heard him called a master of horror, or something to that effect. The praise is well earned. He didn't just make great films, he altered the way horror was made and helped give it a voice beyond the screen. His films weren't just filled with creatures and things that go bump in the night, but also with concepts that either provoked thought, or simply gave us fits. It's well documented that his first movie, The Last House on the Left, is his commentary on the Vietnam War. His most famous movie, A Nightmare on Elm Street, attacked us where we are most vulnerable, in our sleep. It's safe to say, the man knew how to get under our skin and loved getting there.
My first encounter with a Craven-directed film was actually on one of his excursions outside the horror genre. It was the comic book movie Swamp Thing. Both campy, and bizarre, I loved it as an 11 year old back in 1982. Besides, this was during the days when comic book movies didn't grow on trees. Anything for us superhero fans to hold onto was great. As the years went on, I began to see that it wasn't exactly a triumph of film-making. I also began to pick up the horror vibes that are littered throughout. It just didn't come together, but it's a movie I still relish as "so bad it's awesome!" It's my second experience with Craven as a director that brought me into the fold. Like so many, I was blown away by A Nightmare on Elm Street. I loved everything about it.
Over the years, I would watch movies of his. As I said before, they all offered food for thought. None offered more than Scream. It is an amazing film that came along at a time when the genre appeared to be dying. By the time the opening scene was over, it was resuscitated. By the time we got to the end of the movie, not only was it breathing again, it was moving forward with renewed vigor. Suddenly, slasher flicks were going big things at the box office again. And most of them were Craven knock-offs. Stuff like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend and the franchises they spawned are nothing, if not Scream wannabes.
This was the second time Wes Craven altered the course of horror. The first was with his debut feature, The Last House on the Left. Along with George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, this film brought horror from outer space where it resided during much of the 1950s and 60s plopped it in its audience's collective lap in the middle of suburbia. For better or worse, it practically gave birth to the rape-revenge flick. Very soon after, we saw such films as I Spit on Your Grave and Death Wish cause quite the stir. It's a genre that still persists with such recent entries as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sin City, Lady Vengeance, and of course, the remake to The Last House on the Left.
I've said all this to say this: Wes Craven's place on the pantheon of horror greats has long been secure. I think it should also be said that his accomplishments should place him among the greats across all genres. It takes real genius to be able to continuously figure out what makes us uncomfortable and craft it into films we can relate to.
Thank you, Wes Craven, for making us Scream.
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