Last night Wes Craven, the beloved creator of classic horror standards Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Scream succumbed to brain cancer at age 76. He leaves behind a rich legacy of shock, awe, and endlessly doing his own thing. From quitting a stable career as a humanities professor in favor of a $50/week job as a film studio messenger, to poking fun at horror tropes using taboo subjects and over-the-top violence, here are 13 raw nuggets of advice, introspection, and observations from the underdog-turned-master of horror.
1. On How to Watch a Horror Movie
"I think the experience of going to a theater and seeing a movie with a lot of people is still part of the transformational power of the film, and it's equivalent to the old shaman telling a story by the campfire to a bunch of people. That is a remarkable thing, if you scream and everyone else in the audience screams, you realize that your fears are not just within yourself, they're in other people as well, and that's strangely releasing. But on the TV, you can still watch it with friends. We watch films on so many different mediums now, that I think they'll complement each other for a long time."
2. On Keeping Horror Fun
"In the first Scream, there is a very bloody scene in the kitchen at the end where the two killers are stabbing each other in a way that obviously is painful but not lethal, but then one is stabbed inaccurately and begins to bleed to death. They said that entire sequence had to come out, and it was essentially the entire last 15 minutes of the movie. Bob Weinstein called them up privately and said, ‘I don’t think you guys get it, but this is over-the-top comedy.’"
3. On the Root of All Horror
"The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself."
4. On Horror's Purpose
"[Horror movies are] like boot camp for the psyche. In real life, human beings are packaged in the flimsiest of packages, threatened by real and sometimes horrifying dangers, events like Columbine. But the narrative form puts these fears into a manageable series of events. It gives us a way of thinking rationally about our fears."
5. On Horror's Effects
“Horror films don’t create fear. They release it.”
6. On How to Be Scary
“Certainly the deepest horror, as far as I’m concerned, is what happens to your body at your own hands and others.”
7. On Letting Go
“The horrors of retirement. These are scarier than any horror movie I can dream up.”
8. On Religion
"I literally remember a conversation along the lines of, 'Sean [Cunningham, producer of Last House on the Left], I don’t know anything about making a scary movie.' And Sean said, 'Well, you were raised as a fundamentalist, just pull all the skeletons out of your closet.'"
9. On Aging
"In horror you’re constantly working with actors that are just starting out, and I think it helps that I’m a little older. I started later than most filmmakers because I had a college teaching career first. I was old enough to talk to the older actors and be a grown up, and at the same time be goofy enough to relate to the kids."
10. On His 1999 Drama Music of the Heart
"[Music of the Heart is] my mom's favorite movie of mine, because it was the only one she saw. It was something that I was really drawn to. Horror films are not me, or they're not all of me. They're a very thin slice of me."
11. On Directing Actors
"[On the set of Scream], Drew Barrymore told me a story of a boy who tortured his… I think it was his dog, with a lighter and it set it on fire and she burst into tears. And being the exploitative bastard that I am as a director, I said, 'Do you mind if we use that?' So every time on the set if I wanted her to cry, I'd say 'the boy has the lighter' or something like that, and she'd burst into tears and be just frantic."
12. On the Future of Horror
"Everybody's making horror films and, to me, not especially well. I don't know if it's [due to] the corporations taking over studios or what it is. But it really calls for some young filmmakers to come in and just do something from their hearts."
13. On Getting Real
"If I were interested in reality, I'd be making documentaries."
We'll miss you, Wes.