As a kid, under no circumstance was I to watch an R-rated movie. This precluded me from indulging on all the horror movies that all of my buddies were so fond of. I heard lore of Freddy and Jason, but was never allowed to experience them for myself. “You don’t want to watch that crap, those horror movies are all the same” my dad would say. And for a while, I believed him. Then I found a dusty copy of A Nightmare on Elm Street—no sleeve, just the tape—hidden away and forgotten on the top shelf of my parent’s entertainment unit.
This next part will be a revelation to my parents (sorry mom and dad); A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first R-rated movie I ever watched behind my parents back. And holy shit! This is what my parents tricked me into thinking was garbage?! I was maybe eleven years old, but I knew this wasn’t some trite piece of throw-away media. This was different. It was funny, it was engaging and it was scary as all hell. I remember thinking “someone made this?”. I’ve always been a film geek, but as a kid I thought of movies as those things that materialize on the shelves at my neighborhood movie store. But this, A Nightmare on Elm Street, someone thought to make this. Who is this Wes Craven? I soon found out and (where I could get away with it) I watched as many of his movies as I could. When I got a year or two older, and my parents eased on their R-rated movie blockade, I tore into The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Hills Have Eyes, The People Under the Stairs, et al. Then I got to Scream and everything I thought I knew (which, at twelve or thirteen, was everything) about horror movies was subverted. I had arrived at the alter of Wes Craven, the man who showed me how horror movies are supposed to be.
Fast-forward to 2011, my wife and I are newly married and after being together for five years I’ve yet to convince her to sit down and watch a horror movie. Under no circumstances would she watch a horror film. To her, the genre was a sadistic, mean exercise, whose sole purpose was to—in the most cynical way—exploit a person’s primal flight or fight instincts. To her, horror was nothing more than a playground bully feigning a punch and then laughing when you flinched. But a weird thing happened on an odd Saturday morning. My wife came into our living room as I started watching Scream for the umpteenth time. Is that Drew Barrymore? she said, as the infamous opening scene steam-rolled towards its violent conclusion. Yeah, you don’t want to see what happens to her though. But turns out, she did. My wife sat and devoured Scream, just as I had several years earlier. Aren’t there more of these? That Saturday we watched all three of the Scream movies. The next day, we pre-ordered our tickets to Scream 4. Since then, she’s been playing catch-up, devouring nearly every film in the genre. Wes Craven changed my wife’s perspective on horror; he showed her that horror films aren’t laughing at your primal fears, instead they’re an escape where you can deposit those fears and work towards shedding them altogether.
Sometimes a celebrity dies and I can’t explain why the loss feels so personal. It’s different with Wes Craven, I know exactly why his death stings so much. He was a master of horror, no doubt, but his oeuvre was so personal to my life, my wife’s life and our relationship to pop-culture. I had no other feeling but grief when I heard of his passing. There are so many things that can be written on Wes Craven’s epitaph: “genius”, “maestro”, “horror-master”. But for as many simple superlatives that would be appropriate to engrave on Craven’s tombstone, there are a million more stories like mine. Stories that all end with the same sentiment: “Wes Craven changed the way I watch movies.”
Thank you, Mr. Craven.
Craig is a writer living in north Florida with his wife and ornery dog. He writes about film and TV. He creates and publishes comic books under the label Gentleman Baby Comics. He's currently wishing his bio sounded more engaging.