Tribute: Wes Craven

Posted on August 31, 2015 at 10:53 am

We mourn the loss of director Wes Craven, who knew what scared us and knew how much we loved being scared.  His series films included “Scream,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “The Hills Have Eyes.” My friend Simon Abrams interviewed Craven for The Village Voice last year. He spoke about the dream quality of horror.

The power of the nightmare is that it addresses something that is universally recognized. In that sense, it’s very real, but not something that’s normally treated as reality. That’s a profoundly important world, it’s just not easily explained or mapped out by the rational mind of human beings.

And he spoke about his collaborative process in working with actors.

For instance, with Robert Englund, I always encouraged him to make his own. In fact, from casting on, I realized the power of that man. He was ready, and enthusiastic about exploring that persona in a way that came from his own imagination, as well as mine. The physicality of the character, for instance, was not necessarily on the page; much of it was was Robert experimenting and improvising based on a theme.

He described his fundamentalist upbringing and his thoughts about God.

There was certainly a point in my life where I thought, “The God people talk about is a God I can’t touch, I can’t find.” Not to say that I now feel that there’s nothing transcendent in the world. Anything having to do with the living film is astonishing. I don’t have the religious thing of looking to the Pope, or looking to a religious figure for a concept of what God is. But religious teachings of what’s most important in life, or one’s conducts — those teachings have never left me. I was raised on the teachings of Jesus, whether or not he was an actual living man, let alone the son of God. That way of looking at the world has never really left me.

The Washington Post obituary quoted Craven on this subject as well.

“I came out of a very religious background,” he said in 1984. ”As fundamentalist Baptists, we were sequestered from the rest of the world. You couldn’t dance or drink or go to the movies. The first time I paid to see a movie (‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) I was a senior in college. … My whole youth was based on suppression of emotion. As they say in psychological circles, my family never got in touch with their rage. So making movies — these awful horror movies, no less — was, I guess, my way of purging this rage.”

Certainly, his focus on horror was a response or a way of processing the hellfire images and tragedies of his childhood, including the loss of his father when he was very young.

His films were gruesome and graphic, with cannibals, rapists, and serial killers, made even scarier because they took place not in gothic castles but in suburbia and other places that we think of as safe and familiar. What could be more terrifying than a killer who gets you in your sleep? And yet, Craven thought of his films as funny as well as scary, and his fans do, too. He equated comedy and horror as providing the same kind of release.

Craven did make a non-scary movie, “Music of the Heart,” a fact-based story with Meryl Streep as a violin teacher. But his own heart was in horror, and his films will be scaring people as long as there are ways to show them.

May his memory be a blessing.

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3 Replies to “Tribute: Wes Craven”

  1. I honestly started weeping when I saw the news on Twitter. He, along with John Carpenter, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, George A. Romero, and quite a few others made horror movies that were true experiences, not just spectacles. Thanks for posting this set of quotes!

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