Wes Craven, a Master of Slasher Horror Films, Dies at 76


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Wes Craven on the set of his 1999 film “Music of the Heart.”

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Kerry Hayes/Miramax Films

Wes Craven, a master of horror cinema and a proponent of the slasher genre best known for creating the Freddy Krueger and “Scream” franchises, died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 76.

The cause was brain cancer, according to a statement from his family.

Perhaps Mr. Craven’s most famous villain was Freddy Krueger, who haunted the nightmares of high school students in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and became one of the top killers in horror movie history, alongside Michael Myers of the “Halloween” franchise and Jason Voorhees of the “Friday the 13th” films. The first “Nightmare on Elm Street” cost $1.8 million to make.

Mr. Craven’s signature concept of dreams and fantasies overlapping with reality echoed throughout his career, including in “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977), “The Serpent and the Rainbow” (1988) and “The People Under the Stairs” (1991).

Mr. Craven began his film career after briefly teaching English at Westminster College in Pennsylvania, taking on a directing role in pornographic films — many of which he also wrote and edited.

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Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. The dream monster has haunted many high school students through the years.

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Gary Farr/New Line Cinema

In 1972 he directed his first feature film, “Last House on the Left,” which he also wrote. “Last House” was a sexually violent film that was a protest against the atrocities of the Vietnam War (and was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”).

He followed that up with “The Hills Have Eyes,” which centered on a group of savages trying to kill a family in the desert. A nightmare sequence in the film was partly what inspired “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

In 1996 the first “Scream” film was released, providing Mr. Craven a rebirth as a director. The movie was inspired by his love for “Halloween,” and went on to spawn three sequels, although only “Scream 2” became a major box office success.

Veering from his roots in bloodshed and mayhem, Mr. Craven directed “Music of the Heart” (1999), a drama based on the life of a co-founder of the Opus 119 Harlem School of music, Roberta Guaspari, played by Meryl Streep, in a script written by Pamela Gray.

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Courteney Cox in the 2011 film “Scream 4.” The slasher series began in 1996 and was a rebirth for Mr. Craven as a director.

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Gemma La Mana/Dimension Films

More recently, Mr. Craven was nearing the completion of a five-issue comic book series about zombies, werewolves and vampires, called “Coming of Rage,” which he wrote with Steve Niles.

Wesley Earl Craven was born Aug. 2, 1939, in Cleveland to Paul and Caroline Craven. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton and a master’s in philosophy from John Hopkins University and was a professor in Pennsylvania and New York for a short time.

He is survived by his wife, Iya Labunka; a sister, Carol Buhrow; a son, Jonathan; a daughter, Jessica; and a stepdaughter.

In David Konow’s book “Reel Terror,” Mr. Craven said that horror movies had to get under people’s skin in ways they would not expect.

He added: “Horror movies have to show us something that hasn’t been shown before so that the audience is completely taken aback. You see, it’s not just that people want to be scared; people are scared.”



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