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I’ll never forget the first time I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was after midnight, and I was the only one awake in the house. Flipping through the channels, I came across “that Freddy Krueger movie.” I had never seen a second of any Nightmare on Elm Street film, but the iconic monster had made his way into my fears thanks to an abundant pop culture presence. Determined to face this creature, I sat on the edge of my bed and wrapped myself up in my protective blanket, ready to combat one of cinema’s greatest boogeymen. If not for that experience, I may not be the avid lover of the horror genre I am today. I owe a great deal of that to Wes Craven.

Craven is often dubbed one of the “masters of horror”, and although his filmography isn’t without its lesser entries, it’s unarguable that he impacted the genre in immense ways. Not only did he give the world one of its last great movie monsters with Freddy Krueger, but he also elevated the exploitation landscape with his pivotal The Last House on the Left, a movie that transcended its grindhouse origins to become something much more intelligent and viciously brilliant. It’s not only a must-see for fans of horror, it’s also as integral to the changing landscape of American film as any of the other New Hollywood outings. The same can also be said of his The Hills Have Eyes.

There’s also plenty of pure fun to be had with Craven’s filmography. He predated the superhero craze with his immensely enjoyable adaptation of Swamp Thing, his gonzo Shocker is a great redux of his Freddy Krueger idea, and The People Under the Stairs is one of the best times I’ve ever had while watching a movie (courtesy of Joe Bob Briggs and MonsterVision). Even The Serpent and the Rainbow is something of a minor masterpiece. And it’s impossible to deny Craven’s huge overhaul of the slasher film with his game-changing Scream.

Above all, Craven was always one of horror’s most outspoken defenders. His academic background brought a weight and complexity to a lot of his films that other directors never considered. He was never ashamed of being a horror director. He loved the genre and the people who support it, and that’s the best kind of artist fans like us can hope for.

Rest in peace, Wes. Thanks for all the nightmares.

Here’s an interview with Wes Craven from the Nightmare on Elm Street boxset that I’ve always liked:

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