American Icon: Wes Craven

Quick, name your favorite horror movie.

There’s a good chance some of you said “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Or “The Hills Have Eyes.” Or perhaps “Scream.”

If you did, then you have Wes Craven to thank. This month, we are paying homage to the prolific film director who made his mark on the horror genre. He was so good at his craft that he made it scary for many of us to go to sleep at night without the lights on.

That’s because the images in his movies haunted us long after the credits finished rolling, much like Freddy Krueger dominated his victim’s dreams.

Sadly, Wes Craven died at the end of August following a battle with brain cancer, leaving a void in the world of fright films.

As fellow horror film maven Jason Blum told the LA Times, Hollywood was dealt a major blow with Craven’s passing. “He gave us movies with meaning and big scares,” Blum said in an email. “It is hard to do that once or twice; it’s basically impossible to do it as often as Wes did. He constantly reinvented himself and the genre and left an indelible mark on multiple decades of film and multiple generations of horror fans.”

Raised by strict Baptist parents in Cleveland, Craven was not allowed to watch movies as a child. It would not be until later in his life, when he was a humanities professor at New York’s Clarkson University, that Craven became enamored with film.

So the 28-year-old reinvented himself. And found his true calling.

Initially, he took his lumps (not unlike this Hollywood actor), working as a production assistant as well as a director, under a pseudonym, for pornographic films. His first real turn took place in 1972, when he wrote, produced and directed the low-budget thriller, “The Last House on the Left”, the controversial film that was loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring.

He followed that up with 1977’s “The Hills Have Eyes”, a similarly violent and disturbing film that exhibited Craven’s prowess for visual storytelling.

It would not be until 1984, when Craven would firmly be placed on the horror map when “A Nightmare On Elm Street” frightened audiences worldwide. He would have similar success with “Scream” in 1996, a film that not only spawned its own franchise, but several copycats.

Craven is also credited for giving actor Johnny Depp his first role, playing Glen Lantz in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

But it is his films that are his greatest legacy, not only entertaining audiences, but forcing them to be introspective and take a deep look into those dark places we often don’t want to go. As he told the Times in 2007, “some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.”

As we approach Halloween, we thought it was more than appropriate to honor this horror icon. He could have remained a humanities professor, but he dared to follow his dreams. And we, the moviegoers, are better off for it (even if his movies continue to scare us).

Through November 2 (#DiadelosMuertos), we are offering a 20% discount on all Costa del Mar sunglasses, a brand that, like Craven, constantly pushes the boundaries towards excellence. Yes, they are frighteningly good (insert evil laugh)!  Please use the WES2015 discount code at checkout.

Words of an Icon:   "You learn a lot more from those bumps than from when things are going great." – Wes Craven