The horror genre has lived on largely thanks to innovation. Whenever something started to get stale, new directors stepped in to offer something different.
Director Wes Craven (Aug. 2, 1939-Aug. 30, 2015) was one of them. A prime example came in 1984, when his picture “A Nightmare on Elm Street” came out and threw in a new twist on the recently formed slasher sub-genre.
The slasher formula had already been created thanks to movies like “Halloween” in 1978 and replicated in 1980 with “Friday the 13th.” And while those movies deserve their place in history, especially, “Halloween,” “Nightmare” took the slasher idea, where a group of individuals die one-by-one, to a whole different level.
There were two things Craven did to push the slasher idea, first was using the nightmare element itself, to provide a more creative approach. By doing so, the deaths weren’t just a figure in a mask chasing another with a knife, but a horror film playing on actual fears. Secondly, he gave the killer a voice.
That killer, of course, was Freddy Krueger, played masterfully by Robert Englund. While at the time many other slashers, from Michael Myers to Jason and even LeatherFace were silent, Krueger had dialogue and a personality to back it up.
Pushing the bar even further, Craven also put in effort to blur the lines on what was real and what was a dream, creating a sense of unease from start to finish. This aspect would become a staple of the “Nightmare” series for the rest of its run.
Craven again brought a shift to the slasher genre in 1996 with the film “Scream.” The movie, which Craven directed and Kevin Williamson wrote, was very self-aware of the slasher genre and actually played with the premise many times.
The flick came around at an important time, too, considering the movie was released when many of the slasher series had run their course.
Maybe Craven’s best film, though, was “New Nightmare.”
The movie was actually set in the “real world,” with Heather Langenkamp who portrayed the original’s protagonist Nancy, playing herself. It’s the same case with Craven and Englund, who also play themselves.
Again, Craven chose to do something new and different, by showing an artist’s terrifying creation actually become reality. It has its moments of fun by showing the performers reflect on the work they did for the original while also having some generally creepy sequences thanks to a more intense and less humorous Krueger.
In an interview with Larry King, Englund gave a fantastic quote that summed Craven’s entire career perfectly:
“He reinvented the genre several times. He began with those gritty, nasty hardcore films, “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes.” Then he did the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, which exploited surrealism and the imagination and the dreamscape. The landscape of the nightmare. And then, he reinvented again with “Scream” fantasies. Had Wes not passed, I’m sure he would’ve probably come up with some hooks for the new reinvented “Scream” on television. He reinvented horror three times in my lifetime.”