Nationality: American. Born: Wesley Earl Craven in Cleveland, Ohio, 2 August 1939. Education: Wheaton College, B.A.; John Hopkins University, M.A. Family: Married, one son, one daughter. Career: College humanities professor, left to work as a messenger in
Last House on the Left (+ ed)
The Hills Have Eyes (+ sc, ed)
Stranger in Our House ( Summer of Fear ) (+ sc)
Deadly Blessing (+ co-sc)
Swamp Thing (+ sc)
The Hills Have Eyes, Part II (+ co-sc)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (+ sc) ; Invitation to Hell (+ co-sc)
Chiller (+ co-sc)
Deadly Friend (+ co-sc)
Serpent and the Rainbow (+ sc)
Shocker (+ sc)
Night Visions (for TV) (+ co-sc, exec pr)
The People under the Stairs (+ co-sc, exec pr)
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (+ co-sc, pr, role as himself)
Vampire in Brooklyn (+ co-sc)
Scream (+ exec pr)
Scream 2 (+ exec pr)
Music of the Heart
Scream 3 (+ exec pr)
Together ( Sensual Paradise ) (Cunningham) (asst-pr); You've Got to Walk It like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat (Cunningham) (co-ed)
It Happened in Hollywood (Cunningham) (ed)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (co-sc, exec pr)
Flowers in the Attic (co-sc)
Bloodfist II (advisor)
Nightmare Cafe (TV series) (creator, exec pr, sc of pilot)
The Fear (role as Dr. Arnold); Wes Craven Presents Mind Ripper: Live in Horror, Die in Fear (for TV) (exec pr)
Wishmaster (Kurtzman) (pr)
Don't Look Down (Shaw—for TV) (pr); Carnival of Souls (Grossman) (exec pr)
Dracula 2000 (Lussier) (pr)
Fountain Society , Simon & Schuster, New York, 1999.
Interview with T. Williams, in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Fall 1980.
Interviews in Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 24, 1982, and March 1985.
Interview in Starburst (London), April 1982.
Interview with Paul Taylor, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1982.
"Fairy Tales for the Apocalypse," an interview with C. Sharrett, in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 13, no. 3, 1985.
Interview with E. Caron-Lowins, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), April 1985.
Interview in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), July 1985.
Interview in Time Out (London), 29 August 1985.
Interviews in Hollywood Reporter , 5 February and 26 August 1988.
Interview with A. Martin, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), November 1988.
"Entretien avec Wes Craven," with T. Jousse and N. Saada, in Cahiers du Cinéma , January 1993.
Hardesty, Mary, "Wes Craven's Recurring Nightmare" (interview), in DGA (Los Angeles), vol. 19, no. 5, October-November 1994.
Grünberg, Serge, "Entretien avec Wes Craven/La mort des marionettes," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 491, May 1995.
Williamson, Kevin, and Tod Lippy, " Scream / Writing Scream / Directing Scream" (script and interview), in Scenario (Rockville, Maryland), vol. 3, no. 1, Spring 1997.
Meyers, Richard, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films , Piscataway, New Jersey, 1983.
McCarty, John, Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen , New York, 1984.
Newman, Kim, Nightmare Movies: A Critical History of the Horror Film from 1968 , London, 1988.
McCarty, John, The Modern Horror Film , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1990.
McCarty, John, Movie Psychos and Madmen , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1993.
McCarty, John, The Fearmakers , New York, 1994.
Muir, Kenneth John, Wes Craven: The Art of Horror , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1998.
Robb, Brian J., Screams and Nightmares: The Films of Wes Craven , New York, 1999.
"Wes Craven," in Image et Son (Paris), May 1981.
Starburst (London), April and July 1985, and April 1986.
National Film Theatre Booklet (London), June 1988.
Time Out (London), 1 June 1988.
Mancini, Marc, "Professor Gore," in Film Comment , September-October 1989.
Biodrowski, S., "Wes Craven: Alive and Shocking," in Cinefantastique , vol. 22, no. 2, 1991.
Biodrowski, S., "Director Wes Craven on the Politics of Horror," in Cinefantastique , vol. 22, no. 5, 1992.
* * *
Of all the horror specialists who came to prominence during the 1970s, Wes Craven has had the least settled career. While Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter have had major creative slumps, George Romero and Larry Cohen have carved out their own areas of independent endeavour, and David Cronenberg and Brian De Palma have, with various levels of success, graduated to major studio projects, Craven has been bouncing between successes ( The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street ) and failures ( Swamp Thing , Deadly Friend ) with a manic energy, forced occasionally to take work on television to keep going. While his best work exhibits a canny grasp of genre and a disturbing understanding of the place of violence within society, and Elm Street —after a long and difficult gestation period—emerged as one of the most influential horror movies of the 1980s, his worst films literally flounder in the wake of his successes, frequently (as in The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 and Shocker ) resorting to self-plagiarism to tie together blatantly misconceived projects, suggesting a desperate intellect which too often tries to find a short cut.
Craven's first movie, Last House on the Left , a hard-gore remake of Bergman's The Virgin Spring , was an ultra-low-budget sleeper that hit the drive-ins well before The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre and served to drag the genre away from the then-tired mists of Hammer-style gothic towards the more fruitful modern fields of gritty psychosis and social unrest. As with the early films of Romero, Hooper, and Cohen, the focus of Last House is on the destructive potential of the family, as a group of homicidal maniacs torture a pair of innocent girls and are themselves slaughtered by the martyr heroine's "normal" parents. Filmed with a raw style and a sense of fascinated revulsion, Last House —still banned in the United Kingdom—is one of the strongest of horror pictures, and remains so tough that most audiences cannot take it, either when the maniacs are disembowelling their victims or the parents are fighting back. The Hills Have Eyes is a more expansive, more fantastically horrid re-run of the first movie, stirring in some black humour and a DC Comics-style set of inbred mutants as it replays the wagon train Western scenario out in the desert, where a vacationing family of normals clash with their degenerate mirror image. Although it tackles the same thematic territory as Last House , The Hills Have Eyes is a more approachable work and shows off Craven's special skills with simple action, even daring to turn the heroes' dog into a modern movie hero who relates to Rin-Tin-Tin much as Dirty Harry relates to George Dixon.
Despite these two powerful pictures, which at once demonstrated Craven's competence as a director and his flair for the intriguingly horrific, he then fell into a career hole of botched projects, including TV work and an interesting attempt to film David Morell's First Blood. Deadly Blessing , a hodge-podge of psychotic and demonology themes, is alarmingly inconsistent, featuring some of the best and the worst of Craven as it deals with a series of murders in a cleverly evoked Hittite community. Swamp Thing , an adaption of the DC comic, is a misconceived and childish superhero picture dragged under by ridiculous monster suits and an underdeveloped screenplay, although it has one memorably unchildish scene when Adrienne Barbeau takes a nude swim in the swamp. After this, it is easy to see how Craven could resort to making The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 , which contains an inordinate amount of flashback footage from the first film simply because the budget ran out before the movie was actually completed. Although Deadly Friend and Shocker are more expensively bad, the misconceived Hills 2 stands as Craven's worst film to date with its use of flashbacks upon flashbacks to the original film (so as to cut costs by re-using old footage?); even the recurring character of the dog gets to have a flashback!
However, Craven then turned his career round, dashing off the unexceptional but acceptable Invitation to Hell and Chiller and several pretty good Twilight Zone segments—including "Shatterday," a Harlan Ellison story with Bruce Willis, and the disorienting "Word Play"—before finally getting the green light on A Nightmare on Elm Street. Last House and Deadly Blessing had experimented with surreal, disorienting dream sequences—a bit of nightmare dentistry, and a spider-falling-into-mouth shock—but Elm Street is built around such moments, and features a dreamstalking bogeyman, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who somehow became a cult hero through the course of four sequels—only one of which, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 3: Dream Warriors , did Craven have anything to do with, as a writer—and a TV series. The first Elm Street is a seamless stalk-and-scare horror movie that fully deserved its success for its clever reassembly of the elements of teenage horror established by Carpenter with Halloween and Stephen King in Carrie and Christine. However, it is a less rigorous, less satisfying movie than Craven's best early films, reducing their ambiguous culture clash to a simple conflict between an innocent heroine (Heather Langenkamp) and an unredeemable monster villain. Part of the disturbing quality of Last House and Hills comes from their occasionally sympathetic approaches to their villains, and in the way the heroes' violent revenge is seen to degrade them to the level of the monsters; Langenkamp's guerilla-style assault on Freddy, meanwhile, is simply a cheerable demonstration of American resourcefulness.
Leaving the Elm Street sequels, which had been set up by a fairly annoying last-minute logical lapse at the end of the first film, to other hands, Craven departed the independent sector for a pair of big studio projects—the execrable Deadly Friend , a cute-robot-cum-teen-zombie movie adapted from Diana Henstell's novel Friend , and The Serpent and the Rainbow , an interesting and seductive voodoo picture adapted from Wade Davis's nonfiction novel. Both films carry over the dream theme from Elm Street , in the first case to beef up a badly sagging storyline, and in the second as part of a bizarre and affecting cultural travelogue that develops the old Craven's fascination with magical and monstrous societies as opposed to individuals. However, following that experience, Craven returned to the independents, like John Carpenter before him, and produced another carbon copy of his own most successful work in Shocker , a failed attempt to come up with another franchise series that is nothing but an identikit of A Nightmare on Elm Street with more ideas than it can handle and severe lapses of script, characterisation, and tone to pull it down between its undeniably brilliant sequences (a grand guignol electrocution, a final chase through "television land"). Craven's entire career has been like Shocker , with moments of startling inspiration and genre craftsmanship let down by hurried scripts and just plain wrong decisions.
Craven bounced back from the erratic Shocker with The People under the Stairs. The film fuses the time-honored "wicked stepmother" concept with Craven's familiar predilections for home-style booby-traps and nightmare sequences. The house itself is one big booby-trap, wired with explosives and rigged with electronic doors of solid steel. It is also one big, bad Nightmare on Elm Street dream-scape, seemingly designed by the same deranged architect responsible for the labyrinthine yet claustrophobic cabin in Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. Craven returned to Elm Street with the film-within-a-film Wes Craven's New Nightmare. The film brought back Freddy Krueger as well as some of the cast members of the original Elm Street as themselves, now victims of the horror series, which is mysteriously being acted out in "real life." Craven appears as himself in the film. Cynics viewed the film as a run-for-cover effort on Craven's part to renew the Freddy Krueger franchise following the lukewarm reception of People under the Stairs. Others viewed it as the ultimate Craven statement on dream psychology. It confused many, scared few, and was not a box-office winner. Craven then abandoned horror cinema's most famous street for equally tried and true genre territory with Vampire in Brooklyn. A mixture of comedy and splatter, it marked another attempt by former superstar Eddie Murphy to jumpstart his fading career—which he [Murphy] eventually did with his remake of The Nutty Professor .
Craven's persistent attempts to find another successful franchise finally hit paydirt with Scream , a throwback to the teenagers-in-jeopardy slasher genre of Friday the 13th and, of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street . Kevin Williamson's script, with its solid ear for Generation X slang, cast many knowing winks at past slasher films, particularly Elm Street , in its story of a masked killer on the loose in suburbia. It spawned two blockbuster sequels, Scream 2 and Scream 3 , which Craven cleverly turned into films-within-the-film a là his Wes Craven's A New Nightmare , albeit this time successfully. In between Scream 2 and Scream 3 , Craven also made the anomalous Music of the Heart , the true story of an indefatigable New York City music teacher played by Meryl Streep. He also found time to pen his first novel, Fountain Society , a conspiracy tale with futuristic elements.
—Kim Newman, updated by John McCarty