What can I say about Wes Craven, his work and his legacy, that can’t or already hasn’t been said in a much more elegant manner than what I am able? Easily nothing. However, his work touched my life for so long and in so many ways, I’d be remiss if I didn’t come out of blogging semi-retirement to express my gratitude, and wish him a fond, if not bittersweet, farewell.
I’ve said here more than once that I’ve been a fan of horror for over three decades. Even so, Wes Craven’s work wasn’t my first exposure to the genre. However, it was and continues to be the most impactful. His work is so important because, in my opinion at least, he pioneered identifying what frightened us most and manipulated that knowledge into art. It can be argued that horror fans at the beginning of his career were a bit savvier than those of the 50s and 60s (or maybe kitsch can only work for so long), so giant floating brains and mysterious blobs from outer space didn’t register too high on our Fear-o-Meters. Wes Craven knew that to reignite fear in us, he had to expose us to the horrors around us. The depraved hillbillies in The Hills Have Eyes were just a start. They weren’t monsters, goblins, or ghouls, but real people with real fucked up ideas on romance. Perhaps he ventured out of the realm of reality a little bit with A Nightmare on Elm St.’s Freddy Krueger, but the character hit closer to home for many of us; not many of us will find ourselves in situations where we’re stranded on back country roads as in Hills, but nearly ALL of us live in neighborhoods where we’re constantly warned about the threat of child abductors, child rapists, and child murders. That such a being could not only hurt us while on this mortal coil, but cause us the most brutal harm imaginable beyond the grave shook many of us to our core. Freddy Krueger was an inescapable evil. What can be more frightening than that?
I don’t know if I ever looked forward to being as frightened by a character as I was with Freddy Krueger. The Nightmare on Elm St. series wasn’t just a campfire story set to film, it was a social phenomenon long before MySpace was a possibility in our collective imagining. I look back fondly on the “critical discussions” my friends and I would have immediately after viewing the latest entry in the series; how my cousins and I would pretend how we’d survive if Freddy came after us; how my sister and I, early birds by nature, would make a point of staying up late to watch Freddy’s Nightmares on network TV.
I won’t reduce Wes Craven’s directorial body of work to solely the Nightmare series, even if it’s his most recognizable. The People Under the Stairs was a favorite from my adolescence, which my sister and I still quote to this day; Scream ruled my teenage years and early adulthood; and I couldn’t grasp the breadth and depth of the cultural importance of The Serpent and the Rainbow until a few years ago. Don’t even get me started on the The Hills Have Eyes series (both old and new), which I wouldn’t watch until recently, for reasons. Out of respect, we won’t discuss A Vampire in Brooklyn, though I think in light of the situation, it’s worth a revisit.
There is no list of remembrances, no cataloguing of his work, which will do apt justice to his contribution to American film culture. I also will not be able to adequately convey to you how deep his loss is to us at Nirdy Birds. If you’re a lifelong fan of Wes Craven’s work as we, then you probably already have an idea. That said, let’s all tip our ratty, dusty brown fedoras to a true maestro, and hope to see him in our dreams.