21 July 2024

Wes Craven was born on August 2, 1939 in Cleveland Ohio. After earning a masters in Philosophy from John Hopkins University in Maryland, Craven worked as a sound editor before moving into directing.

His debut feature was the 1972 grindhouse exploitation flick The Last House on the Left. A gruesome revenge tale based on an ancient Swedish legend, Last House was a sort of horror reworking of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960).

Rough, gritty and wonderfully disturbing, Last House tells the story of a group of thugs who rape and murder a young woman...and then get their comeuppance at the hands of her parents-turned-vigilantes. It proved a propitious start for the man who would give the world Freddy Krueger over a decade later.

A testament to its nerve and verve, Last House on the Left remains as intense today as it was in 1972. Certainly, its marketing campaign gave us one of the most clever taglines to date - "To avoid fainting, keep repeating: it's only a movie...only a movie...only a movie..."

More polished than Last House but similarly memorable was Craven's next feature, 1977's The Hills Have Eyes. The story was about a suburban family on a road trip who get trapped in the California desert. Call Triple A, right? No dice. Turns out there's a group of savage cannibals who live in the barren hills nearby. And they just LOVE some fresh city meat...

Boasting some excellent performances - most notably from the always reliable Dee Wallace - and making the most of its striking visual landscape, Hills Have Eyes is in many ways Craven's personalized response to Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The following year, he directed the witchy Stranger in Our House AKA Summer of Fear for television. The excellent Halloween treat aired on October 31, 1978 and was a fine vehicle for Linda Blair.

Craven marched forward. He filmed Deadly Blessing in 1981, a sort of supernatural slasher, before moving on to the science fiction-fantasy-horror Swamp Thing (1982) based on the popular DC Comics character and starring John Carpenter muse Adrienne Barbeau.

By this point, Craven had achieved a respectable amount of career success. Yet, he still encountered some trouble getting the first Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) movie made. Told that the tide had turned against the horror genre, Craven persevered and New Line Pictures finally agreed to produce it.

Based on the frightening real-life Brugada Syndrome, Elm Street tells the story of a group of teens who are plagued by nightmares in which a mutilated psycho stalks, tortures and kills them.

Turns out the maniac is none other than the restless spirit of Freddy Krueger, a child killer who was murdered by the vengeful parents of his victims. Seems Krueger wants revenge on the descendants of those who put him down, and it appears he's more than capable of carrying out his threats...from beyond the grave or not.

Elm Street was an immediate commercial smash and one of the better horror films of the mid eighties. It inspired a number of sequels, none of which matched the original. Craven would return to the series with Wes Craven's New Nightmare in 1994.

His output varied wildly in the ensuing years, including the blatant misfire Deadly Friend in 1986, the adequate Voodoo horror Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) and the underwhelming Shocker in 1989.

But Craven would live to slash another day. In 1996, he directed Scream, a box office home run and popular fan favorite. Like his Elm Street series, Scream would spawn several sequels, assuring Craven his place in the genre Hall of Fame.

Chiller 1985
Deadly Blessing 1981
The Hills Have Eyes 1977
Invitation to Hell 1984
The Last House on the Left 1972
A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984
Stranger in Our House 1978
Swamp Thing 1982
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