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Richard Roeper Blog

Horror Film Director Wes Craven Dies at 76

August 30th, 2015
Wes Craven (pictured in October 2010)|Matt Sayles/AP file photo

Wes Craven (pictured in October 2010)|Matt Sayles/AP file photo

You’re terrified. You try to scream, but no sound comes out. It feels like you might be in a dream, but maybe not—maybe it’s real. Why won’t anyone help you!

And then you wake up, and now you KNOW it was just a dream—but it’s still the middle of the night, and you really don’t want to go back to sleep, because you’re afraid that same terrible dream might be waiting there for you.

Wes Craven tapped into that nearly universal experience and so many other hot-button fears when he wrote and directed “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (1984) a low-budget, mind-bending, supernatural horror film that became a box office smash, spawned a seemingly endless and bloody parade of sequels and spinoffs, and greatly influenced future generations of scary movies.

Craven, 76, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles after a battle with brain cancer.

In addition to the “Elm Street” franchise, Craven was the prime creative force and/or the co-creator behind such iconic, scare-the-bleep-out-of-you films as “The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Last House on the Left,” “The People Under the Stairs” and the “Scream” series, which managed to smartly and respectfully satirize the horror genre while also providing some legit and gruesomely effective ‘gotcha’ twists and turns.

Yes, Craven was a master of horror and he’ll always be best known for creating movies that have scared multiple generations—but his contributions to the popular culture were myriad.

Craven had an eye for talent. As the Hollywood Reporter noted, Craven “discovered Johnny Depp” while casting the original “Nightmare,” he cast Sharon Stone in her first starring role in the 1981 film “Deadly Blessing,” and “he gave Bruce Willis his featured role in an episode of the 1980s version of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ ”

In 1999, Craven directed “Music of the Heart,” with Meryl Streep in an Academy Award-nominated role based on the true story of a violinist who created a music program in a high school in East Harlem.

Roger Ebert’s three-star review noted, “[Craven] might seem like a strange choice for the material. Not at all. He is in fact a cultured man who broke into movies doing horror…[but] this movie shows he can get Meryl Streep to Carnegie Hall just as easily as a phantom to the opera.”

Craven published a cloning-theme thriller, Fountain Society, in 1999. In the brilliant anthology film “Paris Je T’aime” (2006), in which 22 directors directed short segments set in various districts in Paris, Craven helmed “Pere-Lachaise,” with Emily Mortimer as a woman who ends things with her fiancé, who then turns to the ghost of Oscar Wilde for advice.

And how about this: Craven earned his undergraduate degree in English and Psychology at Wheaton College. Who knew! (Craven went on to get his Master’s from Johns Hopkins University. He was a teacher for a short while before getting into the movie business, reportedly working under various pseudonyms in the adult film business.)

For all of Craven’s contributions, from the fantastically twisted to his more erudite work, there’s little doubt his most enduring character is Freddy Krueger, who routinely shows up near the very top of the list of the most memorable horror villains of all time.

He’ll see you in your dreams.

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