The year was 1990, I think. I was 6 or 7 years old, on a Summer vacation at my Grandma’s house in Connecticut, as was our routine almost every year. One night, I was watching TV in the den and a Freddy movie was on. I sort of knew who Freddy Krueger was based on schoolyard word of mouth, but I had never seen any of the movies.
In what I later knew to be Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the scene I’ll never forget was Freddy inhabiting the form of a marionette hanging on a kid’s wall. He came to life, cut his own strings with his famous bladed glove, and scampered across the room to do his murders. It terrified me. That night, as I failed miserably to fall asleep, framed pictures and anything else hanging on the walls of the room looked like they could become Freddy at any moment. That was my first experience with a horror movie really getting under my skin, making me feel fear long after it was over.
There are a number of Wes Craven’s films I haven’t seen. Indeed, a few of them have been sitting on my Summer of Horror list for a few years, waiting for me to get around to them. But if his only legacy were the Nightmare on Elm Street films, that would still be enough in my mind to earn him a place among the horror legends. The original was, for a time, my absolute favorite horror movie, and is still firmly in my top five. Craven didn’t direct Dream Warriors, but it’s the only one of the many sequels (until New Nightmare) he had a direct hand in writing, and it’s a campy, fun ride. The aforementioned New Nightmare is a fantastic, meta expansion of the Freddy mythology and the best of the sequels.
Then of course there’s Scream, another mega hit that invented the whole idea of self-aware pop horror movies that acknowledge their own history, paving the way for films like Cabin in the Woods. The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, and The People Under the Stairs are all genre classics in different ways.
His last film as a director was Scream 4, a film I found to be a frustrating missed opportunity to revitalize another lagging horror franchise. Personally, I was hoping he’d come out with one more horror knockout, but alas, he was taken by that greatest of evils, cancer.
I’ll remember Wes Craven primarily for Freddy Krueger, a character so iconic that he changed the culture of Halloween forever. Since I’ve been making memories, not a single Halloween has passed that I didn’t see Freddy’s burned visage somewhere, and for the past decade or so, I haven’t let a Halloween pass without watching one of his movies. And that fateful night in Connecticut in 1990 might have started it all.
Rest in peace, Wes.