Ahead of VH1’s reboot of ‘Scream’, let’s take a minute to remember the man who started it all. Wes Craven, 76, died in 2015 after years of combatting brain cancer. His debut feature was the influential ‘Last House on the Left’ (1972), which marked the beginning of a longtime collaboration with editor Sean S. Cunningham. The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) was so shocked by the film’s content that it denied Craven a certificate for cinema release.
His next important work was ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (1977), loosely based on the cannibal murders of Scottish clansman Sawney Bean. Throughout the movie, we follow the misadventures of the suburban Carter family as they attempt to escape the clutches of a gang of cannibals who live in the hills of the Nevada desert. ‘Hills’ showcases remarkable make-up effects by the great Greg Nicotero, who has worked on pretty much every single influential film and/or TV show of the past three decades (see: ‘Evil Dead II’, 1987; ‘Pulp Fiction’, 1994; ‘Scream’, 1996; ‘Boogie Nights’, 1997; ‘Mulholland Dr.’, 2001; ‘Kill Bill, Vols. 1 & 2’, 2003-2004; ‘Breaking Bad’, 2008-2013; ‘The Walking Dead’, 2010-present).
Pre-dating ‘Scream’ by twelve years, Craven’s legendary ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984) then signalled a change in his approach to storytelling. Set in the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio, the film follows the deaths of several teenagers who are stalked and killed in their dreams (and subsequently killed in reality) by child murderer Freddy Krueger. ‘Meta’ is the key word here, as Craven draws many parallels between moviegoing, filmmaking and dreams. Grossing over $25 million at the US box office, the picture was met with unusually strong reviews. It spawned various sequels, remakes and even its own TV series.
In 1994, Craven released ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’, which deepened his self-referential approach. In this movie, Freddy Krueger is portrayed as a fictional character who ends up stalking and murdering the film crew and actors involved in his cinematic adventures. This approach was taken even further in ‘Scream’ (1996), a picture in which both the protagonists and the killer are well aware of the horror genre’s conventions.
‘Scream’ opens with a classic scene featuring the sadistic Ghostface (Roger L. Jackson, voice) asking high school student Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) the fatal question: ‘what’s your favourite horror film?’ Becker is then savagely killed. Throughout the narrative (and its sequels), we discover more about the central character, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who bears a special connection to the killer and his past. Wes Craven was a truly innovative and dedicated filmmaker. He managed to pioneer a whole genre unto himself (that’s not even an exaggeration) and is sorely missed.