In the middle of the show floor at PAX, a text message glared back with a brief message: Wes Craven had died. I stopped a moment, took a breath and sighed. Few humans have made me laugh and scream the way filmmaker Craven did over the years, and I'll miss him terribly.
Craven had apparently been struggling with brain cancer, though it was not something he talked about publicly. By all accounts, he was still a workhorse. Earlier this year, he signed deals to produce new movies, and one of his classics, Scream, had become a hit TV show over at MTV.
Granted, Craven's creative output the last few years has not been great. Scream 4, which tried to put another set of twists on the already knotted up franchise, felt like a gasp at desperation. And does anyone even remember My Soul to Take came out?
But guess what? Who gives a shit.
The Last House on the Left, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, The People Under The Stairs, New Nightmare, Scream. Any director would kill for a resume that good, a slate of films that forever changed genres and created timeless pop culture icons. We were lucky enough to be around as Craven filled our dreams with nightmares that we were secretly thankful for.
Heck, without Craven, the world wouldn't know who Johnny Depp is, since Craven gave the actor a shot with the first Freddy film and famously killed him with the ol' bed of blood.
Even within horror, Craven smartly reinvented himself over and over again. The filmmaker who created A Nightmare on Elm St. was far different than the one behind the lens for Last House on the Left. (A film that still continues to make me profoundly uncomfortable, years after seeing it! While most horror films are date-worthy, a reason to snuggle up with a significant other, Last House on the Left will probably leave you quietly sobbing into a pillow and closing your eyes.)
I'm not sure what there is to say about Freddy Krueger, in which Craven created a legacy that will long outlast his own name. The character got weird as the years went on, quickly abandoning terror for humour, in the way many horror sequels are forced to change approaches, with the element of surprise long since gone. (The third one, Dream Warriors, is easily the best sequel that Craven wasn't personally involved it. So good!)
But some of my favourite Craven films didn't come until his creations had become so embedded in the cultural landscape that he started fucking with us. New Nightmare, the last time he played with his best known character, is deeply underrated and genuinely frightening. In it, A Nightmare on Elm St. is a film series, but Freddy invades the reality of the actors involved. Not only was the meta premise a fresh twist on the character, but it allowed Craven to finally make Krueger scary again, and laid the groundwork for the more expansive meta horror film Scream.
And look, Scream is probably overrated, but it was so damn fun when it came out. It was a horror movie operating on several levels, only recently matched by riffs like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Cabin in the Woods. If you were a fan of horror films, you delighted at how it acknowledged the genre's tropes and subverted them. If you just wanted to be scared, Scream had plenty of that, too.
(The less said about Scream 3, the better, OK?)
One of my favourite moments from 2015 was when, for lord knows what reason, Craven decided to briefly talk to me. I had tweeted a fan-made drawing that imagined a Capcom-style fighting game with horror's icons duking it out.
Somehow, that got back to him, and it resulted in this brief exchange.
@patrickklepek Is this real?
— Wes Craven (@wescraven) April 21, 2015
Just looking at that puts tears in my eyes.
He started following me on Twitter, which I still can't really get over. I had plans to reach out for an interview in October, but, well...sigh.
Writing about these films makes me want to pour a glass of whiskey and work through the man's catalogue again. I cannot wait for Halloween, when my wife and I can once again debate whether it's really worth watching the terrible A Nightmare on Elm St 2: Freddy's Revenge just to have a complete understanding of the series' mythology in totality. (We probably will.)
If the value of a life well lived is the impact we have on other people, Craven had a full one.
Craven may be gone, but his creations ensure he'll not be forgotten, especially when I'm asleep.