The first time I ever remember getting scared from a movie was when I walked in on my older cousin watching Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
. A skinny, awkward young mental patient was fooling around with a beautiful, partly naked nurse on a hospital bed. Just when things were getting pleasant for everyone, she spit long, Freddy Krueger-ish tongues at his hands and feet, trying him to the bed, which fell away and left him suspended over a fiery pit of hell. This not only left me afraid of nurses, tongues and hell, but introduced me to the seminal Wes Craven creation: Freddy Krueger.
Craven passed away last Sunday from complications to to the brain cancer he had quietly and privately suffered from. By all accounts, he was a soft spoken, gentle and brilliant man with a fascination for philosophical conversations and a love of walking around the horror sections of video stores and shooting the shit with anyone he could.
Thousands of words have been written about the man since his passing, so I thought I would share the words of some actors that have worked with him in the past that might not have been so disseminated already.
Michael Berryman, who played Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes 1 & 2
had this to say: "I just received a phone call with the news. Wes Craven ...my friend and my Director...thank your for the years that we shared and grew as storytellers..thank you for freedom to create and express your vision with our extended family...We really did 'Hit it out of the park!!' Our Team is a little smaller today...and tonight I am saddened but grateful for our adventures. Travel Well My Friend...'Pluto'..."
Rose McGowan played Tatum Riley in the original Scream (she had the classic death by cat door) kept it simple and elegant: "I adored Wes Craven. He was the loveliest, the kindest and gentlest director I ever worked with. You're irreplaceable."
W. Earl Brown was Kenny the Cameraman in the original Scream and had a wonderful story to tell: "I first came out to Hollywood in 1993, to "try it out and see how things go…" I had luck right off the bat - I got a pilot and a tv movie. I called Carrie and said, "We have to move out here, this is low-hanging fruit." So, we did. My pilot did not get picked up and the movie was barely a blip on the tv screen. We had left Chicago behind to start over, and it was back to square one. For seven months, I got nothing. Nada. Zilch. Then I was called about a "new Wes Craven" film…
Thanks to my friend Gary Zuckerbrod, I booked a role in New Nightmare. It was a one day role as the Morgue Attendant. After a long night shoot at an abandoned hospital, I was changing out of wardrobe, when there was a knock on my door. It Wes. He just wanted to thank me for doing his movie, and he said he thought that I had something special, saying we would work together again.
We did work together again, on his next two films: A Vampire in Brooklyn and Scream.
Wes and I became friends. We would meet for lunch or breakfast every six months or so, just to keep up. Those meetings went on for several years, in fact. We would talk about movies and show biz of course, but usually the conversations would turn to religion and philosophy. He was extremely bright and had led a very interesting life. I learned a lot from him over the years.
When Wes remarried, and moved offices, we fell out of touch. Our paths would cross every now and again, and it was always wonderful to see my old friend.
The news of his passing today leaves me with a very heavy heart. Wes was such a kind, humble, and warm person - this world is poorer without him in it. Goodbye, my friend. At least now, you have the answers to all those Big Questions."
And finally, Lin Shaye, who acted in Nightmare on Elm Street and New Nightmare wrote: "Bewildered and sad... .He was kind, quiet, supportive, warm, and a visionary .I remember "auditioning" for him.... for a twilight zone episode I did for him. He just radiated from the back of the room, with unexpected rosy cheeks which he always seemed to have, and filled you and the space he occupied with humility, humanity and confidence. I was "Bob Shaye's little sister" but he saw me as "Bob Shaye's little sister who was an actress, " and who gave me what would become my first "mainstream shot" in Nightmare on Elm Street" which none of knew would become what it has become in the lexicon of horror film. I have not seen him in a long time, and he will never know how often I have thought of him with his welcoming presence and radiance. RIP seems too simple....may his spirit soar...that is how I knew the little bit of Wes that I knew."
Wes Craven wasn't just a horror filmmaker. He changed the conversation and the landscape not once, but twice. With the original Scream, he dragged a barely chugging horror climate into the post-modern era (for better or worse). He made a great zombie movie (The Serpent and the Rainbow), a horrific home invasion chiller (Last House on the Left), and multiple underrated classics (Shocker, People Under the Stairs, The Hills Have Eyes). More than that, it seems that he left an impression on every person he met and treated everyone with the respect they deserved.
Fred Krueger was the name of Craven's childhood bully that he feared growing up. He turned that fear into art that helped million of people simultaneously confront their own primal terror, but also find new shit to be scared of. More abstract things that couldn't do real damage. He wasn't just a genre filmmaker. He was a therapist who smashed you with images so disturbing that fear became an abstract concept like five dimensions or country music. Don't take my word for it. Craven says it best himself:
"The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself."
Wesley Earl "Wes" Craven (August 2, 1939 - August 30, 2015)