For many fans, the news of Wes Craven’s death this afternoon wasn’t a surprise as had been battling brain cancer. He was 76, and recreated the horror genre more than once beginning with his shocking 1972 classic horror film “The Last House on the Left,” then shaking things up in the 80’s with his “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise and then making fun of it in the 90’s with “Scream.”
Craven wrote and directed A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. His Scream franchise was reported to have grossed more than $100m in the US.
He wrote, directed and edited his first film, The Last House on the Left, in 1972.
A tweet from his Twitter account featured a picture of him with the dates 1939-2015.
Craven was credited with reinventing the teen horror genre when the first film featuring Freddy Krueger was released in 1984 starring a then-unknown Johnny Depp.
He had more recently signed deals to develop television programmes, including the new Scream series for MTV. He had also been working on a graphic horror novel series.
Reflecting on his career, he once said in an interview: “I tried to make movies where I can honestly say I haven’t seen that before and to follow my deepest intuitions and in some cases literally my dreams.”
Actors posted tributes on social media including actress Courtney Cox, who starred in Craven’s 1996 Scream and appeared in the franchise’s three subsequent films.
She said: “Today the world lost a great man, my friend and mentor, Wes Craven. My heart goes out to his family. x”
Rose McGowan, who also featured in the original Scream, said: “Thank you for being the kindest man, the gentlest man, and one of the smartest men I’ve known. Please say there’s a plot twist.”
Craven claimed to have gotten the idea for Elm Street from living next to a cemetery on a street of that name in the suburbs of Cleveland. The five Nightmare on Elm Street films were released from 1984-89 and drew big crowds.
Similarly, Craven’s Scream series was a box-office sensation. In those scare-’em-ups, he spoofed the teen horror genre and frequently referenced other horror movies.
Craven’s first feature film was The Last House on the Left, which he wrote, directed and edited in 1972. A rape-revenge movie, it appalled some viewers but generated big box office. Next came another film he wrote and helmed, The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
Craven re-invented the youth horror genre in 1984 with the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, which he wrote and directed.
He conceived and co-wrote Elm Street III as well, and then after not being involved with other sequels, deconstructed the genre a decade after the original, writing and directing Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which was nominated for best feature at the 1995 Spirit Awards.
His own Nightmare players, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, played themselves in that film.
In 1996, Craven reached a new level of success with the release of Scream. The film grossed more than $100 million domestically, as did Scream 2 (1997).
Between Scream 2 and Scream 3, Craven, offered the opportunity to direct a non-genre film for Miramax, helmed Music of the Heart (1999), a film that earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for best actress in the inspirational drama about a teacher in Harlem.
“We had a very difficult time getting an audience into a theater on my name,” he said in an interview with writer-director MickGarris in October. “In fact, we moved toward downplaying my name a lot on Music of the Heart. The more famous you are for making kinds of outrageous scary films, the crossover audience will say, ‘I don’t think so.’”
Also in 1999, in the midst of directing, he completed his first novel, The Fountain Society, published by Simon & Shuster.
Craven again pushed the genre boundaries with the 2005 psychological thriller Red Eye, starringRachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy and Brian Cox. And in 2006, he wrote and directed a romantic comedy homage to Oscar Wilde featuring Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell as a segment in the French ensemble production Paris Je T’aime.
Craven then produced remakes of The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Last House on the Left (2009).
His most recent written and directed film, My Soul to Take (2010), marked his first collaboration with Labunka, who also produced Scream 4.
Craven directed several other thrillers and horror movies during his career, including Swamp Thing(1982), Deadly Friend (1986) and The People Under the Stairs (1991).
Craven had recently signed an overall television deal with Universal Cable Productions and had a number of projects in development, including The People Under the Stairs with Syfy Networks,Disciples with UCP, We Are All Completely Fine with Syfy/UCP, and Sleepers with Federation Entertainment.
He also was executive producing the new Scream series for MTV. The season finale of the series will pay tribute to the writer/director, an MTV spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.
Craven had recently written and was to direct the Thou Shalt Not Kill segment for The Weinstein Co.’s Ten Commandments miniseries for WGN America. And he is listed as an executive producer of The Girl in the Photographs, a horror thriller directed by his protege, Nick Simon, that will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month.
Wesley Earl Craven was born Aug. 2, 1939, in Cleveland. His father died when he was 5. Raised in a strict Baptist household, he graduated from Wheaton College with degrees in English and psychology, then earned a masters in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins.