The recent death of horror master filmmaker, Wes Craven had me pretty upset when I saw the article pop on to my newsfeed last month. Not just because I’m a huge fan, but because I had gotten to spend some time with him in 2004, after I was given the opportunity to be the student producer on the Wide Screen Film Festival. The festival was held at our university, where Craven served as our artist-in-residence. I didn’t know him well, but I was lucky enough to have been given advice from the man himself, which gave me the courage I needed to continue my maze-of-a-path into filmmaking.
I don’t need to write a full history of Craven’s filmography to convince you of how impressive and talented this man truly was. From his humble beginnings, strict upbringing, and traditional education – Craven created a career for himself by learning a brand new trade completely on his own. He ditched his English and Philosophy teaching job to work as a messenger at a post-production facility in Manhattan – all while carting around an old 16mm film camera, where he learned to make his own short films. It has even been rumored that because Craven was raised in such a strict Baptist household while growing up, that he hadn’t seen many films until he graduated from college – especially horror movies.
Craven had chosen 12 of his favourite and influential films to screen, and had even agreed to do a directing workshop live on stage.
For our festival, Craven had chosen 12 of his favourite and influential films to screen, and had even agreed to do a directing workshop live on stage, where we got to re-create the famous first scene from Scream. It’s the scene where Drew Barrymore’s character is killed, and the re-creation was complete with rebuilt house scenery – to spec – and a 35mm Panavision camera. Craven directed the scene while the students sat on the edge of the stage, listening to him give us advice on how he directed the original film. It was something we could only dream of.
Craven re-created the first scene from Scream and gave us advice on how he directed it. It was something we could only dream of.
After the workshop, some of the faculty and I were able to take Craven out for a fancy dinner at a local steakhouse. He sat at the head of the table and had such a delicate demeanor, perfect manners and eloquent speech that you would have thought you were in the presence of royalty. It was hard to believe that this highly educated, former professor was a famous “slasher” film director. Watching how he delicately cut his steak and politely drank from his wine glass – he seemed like a man that couldn’t hurt a fly, never mind dream up such sadistic characters like Freddy.
He seemed like a man that couldn’t hurt a fly, never mind dream up such sadistic characters like Freddy.
At dinner, I had a vey brief one-on-one conversation with Craven, in which I told him that Scream was one of the films that inspired me to write a terribly written horror comedy screenplay in high school – my first ever. But more importantly it inspired me to attend film school to become a writer and director. He chuckled at this, and said, “Everyone’s got to start somewhere.” Then he agreed to take a photo with me – one of which I still have and hold very dear.
After the festival, Craven had stayed in touch with one of my favorite professors, and had even seen some of my films before I graduated. I would never cross paths with him again, but years later, while I was working primarily in post-production (just like he had started out), he would send messages through my mentor to me. He reminded me of his humble beginnings as a post-production messenger, and to keep going, because I would eventually get to be the filmmaker I wanted to be.
I was always dumbfounded by Craven’s generosity towards me, even after only meeting him one time. I will forever be grateful for his words of encouragement, and interest in the film career of a shy girl who wore too much pink. I’m sad to see such a legend go.
This Halloween, I encourage you to celebrate the life of Wes Craven by watching some of his own films, and some of his favourites, as shown at our 2004 festival. Sit back in the dark, and remember the first time sarcasm was introduced into the horror genre in Scream, or the thrill of – and being terrified to fall asleep after – meeting Freddy Kruger for the first time. These films exist because Craven had the courage to follow his passion, do what he loved and share it with the world.
I encourage you to celebrate the life of Wes Craven this Halloween by watching some of his own films, and some of his favourites.
Nightmare on Elm Street – Wes Craven (1984)
Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. While the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.
Blow-Up – Michelangelo Antonioni (1966)
A mod London photographer seems to find something very suspicious in the shots he has taken of a mysterious beauty in a desolate park.
The Virgin Spring – Ingmar Bergman (1960)
A kind but pampered beautiful young virgin and her family’s pregnant and jealous servant set out to deliver candles to church, but only one returns from events that transpire in the woods along the way.
Diabolique – H.G. Clouzot (1955)
The wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress conspire to kill him, but after the murder is committed, his body disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women.
Repulsion – Roman Polanski (1965)
Left alone when her sister goes on vacation, a young beauty finds herself besieged on all sides by the demons of her past.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – Wes Craven (1994)
A demonic force has chosen Freddy Krueger as its portal to the real world. Can Heather play the part of Nancy one last time and trap the evil trying to enter our world?
Scream Trilogy – Wes Craven (1996 – 2011)
Attempting to cope with her mother’s murder, Sydney and her horror movie- obsessed friends are stalked by a murderer who seems to have a hard time letting the past go.
The Bad Seed – Mervyn Leroy (1956)
A housewife suspects that her seemingly perfect eight-year-old daughter is a heartless killer.
Nosferatu – F.W. Murnau (1922)
Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter’s wife. Silent classic based on the story “Dracula.”
Frankenstein – James Whale (1931)
An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.
War of the Worlds – Byron Haskin (1953)
The film adaptation of the H.G.Wells story told on radio of the invasion of Earth by Martians.
Don’t Look Now – Nicolas Roug (1973)
A married couple, grieving after the recent death of their little daughter, is in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond.
*Film information provided by IMDB.com