Born on August 2, 1939, in Cleveland, Ohio, Wes Craven went on to direct horror films like Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and Swamp Thing before helming the infamous Nightmare on Elm Street. He scored another major hit with Scream, which spawned three sequels as of 2011. Craven also directed the school drama Music of the Heart and thriller Red Eye, along with a number of TV projects.
The creator behind such classic horror films as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven grew up Cleveland, Ohio. Raised in a strict Baptist household, Craven saw few movies as a child because of his parents' religious beliefs. He later explained on his website that he was "allowed to see Disney films." Craven especially liked Fantasia.
After high school, Craven went to Wheaton College in Illinois. He had to take a break in his studies after the first year due to illness. Craven returned to college and continued to explore his interest in writing, contributing to one of the college's literary magazines. He also served as literary magazine editor for a time. Craven went to earn his master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1964.
After finishing his degree, Craven worked as an English professor for a time. He also wrote short stories and poetry before making his name as a filmmaker.
Master of Horror
Craven made an impressive film debut in 1972's The Last House on the Left, which he wrote and directed. The movie mined human cruelty to fuel the horrific tale of teenage girls abducted by deranged prisoners. The evil that people can inflict on others provided the central conflict for another now-classic Craven film The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
In 1984, Craven gave audiences thrills and chills with A Nightmare on Elm Street. The movie featured Freddy Krueger, a supernatural killer who attacked his victims in their dreams and gave a young Johnny Depp one of his first film roles. A Nightmare on Elm Street launched a hugely successful film franchise, but Craven had little to do with any of the sequels. He only wrote the screenplay for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987). In 1994, Craven returned to the character of Freddy Krueger with New Nightmare.
Craven tried his hand at directing a humor-horror hybrid with 1995's Vampire in Brooklyn starring Eddie Murphy and Angela Bassett. But he enjoyed one of his biggest hits the following year as the director of Scream, a horror film that played with and made fun of many of the genre's standard tropes and tricks. Written by Kevin Williamson and starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, the movie brought in more than $100 million and spawned several sequels.
In 1999, Craven stepped away from horror completely for the well-received drama Music of the Heart starring Meryl Streep. Streep played a music teacher working with young urban students in the film, and she received an Academy Award nomination for her work. He also directed Red Eye (2005), a suspense thriller about a young woman (Rachel McAdams) who gets caught up in an assassination plot, which proved to be another departure from Craven's standard fare.
Craven returned to the genre that made him famous in 2010 with My Soul to Take, which he wrote and directed. In an interview with Variety, he described the movie as "a coming-of-age horror film." The following year, Craven returned to the popular Scream franchise to direct its fourth installment.
After a battle with brain cancer, Craven died in Los Angeles on August 30, 2015. He is survived by his third wife, Iya Labunka, as well as his two children, Jonathan and Jessica, who came from his first marriage to ex-wife Bonnie Broecker.
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