Horror master Wes Craven: From Wheaton College to Freddy Krueger
Looking back over the horror movie career of the late Wes Craven, I would come to an obvious conclusion that he made excellent use of his English and psychology degrees from Wheaton College.
"Movies are society's dreams," Craven told me in a 1994 interview he conducted in a limousine en route to a retrospective of his work at the Chicago International Film Festival. "People go into a theater, the lights come down, they slip into a dream of an altered reality. Horror films are a legitimate part of our psyches."
Craven, a celebrated genius of horror who electrified audiences with "Last House on the Left" and "The Hills Have Eyes" before launching the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" franchises, died of brain cancer on Sunday. He was 76.
"A story about things that frighten us lessens the effect that those things have on us," he said. "People are always so concerned about the effect that these films (horror movies) have on children. I can tell you what that is.
"After a screening, kids would come out of the theater with these huge smiles on their faces. They would pump my hand and pump Robert's hand ('Elm Street' star Robert Englund) and say, 'Thank you! Nobody's doing this for us.'"
Craven was not so happy in 1988 when I interviewed him for the release of his voodoo thriller "The Serpent and the Rainbow."
Freddy Krueger and the "Elm Street" movies had been taken over by producer Bob Shaye, who turned Englund's child rapist and murderer into a "buffoon," Craven said, to make the character more commercial.
"I felt that Freddy was the paradigm of the threatening adult," Craven told me. "Freddy stood for the savage side of male adulthood. He was the ultimate bad father. It's a sickness where youth is hated. Childhood and innocence are hated ... He tries to snuff it out. He's the most evil human being you can imagine."
Still, Freddy became the No. 1 Halloween costume for children during the 1980s.
Craven hated Shaye's sequel to his "Elm Street" original.
"I detach myself from it," Craven told me. "I never intended to make a sequel, 'Nightmare 2' I discount all together. 'Nightmare 3' I thought was an interesting setup. I'm not interested in participating in any more."
Then Craven experienced The Dream.
In his dream, he was at the 10th anniversary party for the "Elm Street" movies with Englund, Shaye and star Heather Langenkamp. Craven noticed that Englund's shadow moved independently from the actor.
"It appeared to be that the shadow was casting the actor instead of vice-versa," Craven said. "I felt the presence of a great spirit of evil. This was the thing I had glimpsed and written about for the original movie. When I woke up, I knew I had the story."
And that's how "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" came to be. The original cast members play themselves as actors harassed by a man who claims he's Freddy. And it's not Englund being funny.
"Evil has always been in the world," Craven said.
A tribute to CravenA tribute to the late Wes Craven will be held by horror fans and the filmmaker's ex-wife, actress Mimi Craven, on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 30-31, at the Hollywood Palms Cinema in Naperville.
Mimi Craven appeared in "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), "Swamp Thing" (1982) and "Mikey" (1992). The actress had already been scheduled to appear at Hollywood Palms. After Craven's death at the age of 76 on Sunday, it was decided to turn the visit into a tribute and add a fundraiser for brain cancer research.
Go to hollywoodpalmscinema.com for tickets and details.