UT community reflects on Wes Craven's legacy

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Writer and director Wes Craven died Sunday from brain cancer. Craven is known for horror films such as “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Matt Sayles

Writer and director Wes Craven, who died Sunday from brain cancer, knew how to spook moviegoers with images of mutants, cloaked madmen and a creep with third-degree burns wielding a menacing “knife glove.” To many viewers, the concept of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”’s Freddy Krueger has stayed in their nightmares since the film premiered more than 30 years ago.

“I was maybe 10 or 11, and I remember staying up late and watching ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ on HBO,” said radio-television-film lecturer Miguel Alvarez. “I laid in bed and was afraid to close
my eyes.”

Craven’s smash horror film mixed the world of dreams with reality, producing terrifying results. Krueger, played by actor Robert Englund, would be hailed as a classic horror-flick villain along with Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. Although the “Elm Street” series spawned numerous silly sequels that traded terror for dark comedy and forced Krueger to recite a barrage of lame one-liners, the presence of the maniac remained a thrill for moviegoers.

“What’s special about Wes Craven is that he always knew how to scare you,” Alvarez said. “Everyone should watch his films right now to appreciate what he brought to not only horror, but to filmmaking.”

“Elm Street” is filled with impressive visuals, such as the unforgettable image of Johnny Depp’s character being sucked into a bed and spit out as a torrent of blood. Even with these grisly visuals, Alvarez said the true fear came from the movie’s dark tone.

“Being an early pioneer of horror films, Craven was able to scare you by atmosphere,” Alvarez said. “[His filmmaking] was about keeping you close to the characters. You have more of an emotional attachment to them, thereby you have a heightened sense of terror.”

The scares Craven crafted have lingered as vivid memories for many of his fans. Anything resembling the creatures he unleashed is enough to send chills down viewers’ spines.

“I remember I had a vacuum cleaner that used to make the same sound that Freddy Krueger’s nails made,” radio-television-film junior Kyle Doherty said. “I was afraid to vacuum my room because of the noise.”

Craven’s work also inspired other filmmakers. Alvarez said as he grew older and decided to become a filmmaker, his experience with “Elm Street” convinced him to reexamine how films connect with people’s fears.

“As a kid, you watch films, and they affect you in a certain way,” Alvarez said. “You look back and think, ‘What was it about those types of films that scared me versus those that didn’t quite
scare me?’”

Although he became a household name by examining realistic nightmares in “Elm Street,” Craven also revolutionized the horror genre with a variety of chilling titles. His debut film, “The Last House on the Left,” focused on suburban brutality and vengeance. “The Hills Have Eyes” explored the horrific creatures that lurk in the wilderness. Craven even looked at scary movies through a comedic, terror-ridden lens with the acclaimed “Scream.”

“I saw ‘Scream’ when I was in elementary school, and it scarred me forever,” Doherty said. “I had never seen anything that violent or scary before.”

After 45 years of directing, Craven’s legacy lives on through the dark, twisted images he conjured on screen. His genius makes it difficult to look at a Christmas-colored sweater and refrain from cringing just a bit.

“I loved how upset those movies made me, and it made me want to make things that upset other people,” Doherty said.