Wesley Earl Craven, Horror Icon: 1939-2015

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Wesley Earl Craven 1939 2015 obituary Critical Blast

Sometimes people make a profound impact in our lives without having ever met them. They affect our earliest memories and influence our actions years, even DECADES, later. I write today to memorialize one of the men that were most influential in my life. One of the men who caused me to lose sleep, and affects my actions to this day, 25 years after we first met.

Wesley Earl Craven was born on August 2nd, 1939. But we wouldn’t be introduced until another August night, approximately 51 years later. I remember it like it was yesterday. My grandparents would invite us to come over and spend the weekend. At the time, they lived in an old farmhouse that could best be described as “seen better days”. We would go to the mall with Grandma, go to the local greasy spoon for lunch with Grandpa, and they would retire to their respective rooms around 9 o’clock. After that, we could watch whatever we wanted to on cable television, which my parents didn’t have. I always had an affinity for old black and white movies, which would air late at night. Falling asleep to Greta, Bette, and Ava wasn’t such a bad deal for seven year old me.

But one night was different. I was flipping through channels looking for something good to watch, when I saw Heather Lagenkamp in a film that would change my life forever. As I huddled on the couch, with a cigarette-smelling blanket wrapped around me, my feet CERTAINLY off the floor, and only my face exposed, I saw Nancy Thompson defeat Freddy Krueger. And then, after a few short minutes, my entire world perspective changed. Before that fateful night, the good guys ALWAYS won. If things were looking grim for our heroes, we could rest easy knowing that a plot twist would save the day. As I lay on the ridiculously uncomfortable couch, I realized two things.

  1. No sleep would be had that night, and

  2. I could never trust a director again

But that’s not where the influence of Mr. Krueger ends, my friends. You see, several weeks later, my parents took my sister and I to Six Flags in St. Louis, MO. It was time for Fright Fest, and we were ready to go. Most of the “scary” stuff wasn’t so bad back in the day. Just disgruntled Six Flags employees in bad makeup and worse costumes. There was one haunted house that my mother absolutely wouldn’t let us go in, but otherwise it was just fall-themed decorations and “Monster Mash” played on repeat.

Except this time. This time, as we entered the park, we were greeted with an announcement that Freddy Krueger had been sighted in the park. Anyone who spotted him and reported his location to a member of the staff would get a reward. We didn’t really think very much of it at first, but I would occasionally hear Freddy’s name, murmured behind cupped hands as some sort of evil talisman. It seemed that no one wanted to say it out loud, as though Freddy’s attention would be drawn to the speaker. The atmosphere was exceptionally bizarre, as though a fun park had been chosen as the site for a funeral.

As the day began to wind to a close, the situation became more and more unreal. As the sun lowered, the park announcer’s voice rose. Eventually, as the sun began to dip behind the trees, the announcer’s voice began to rise into a feverish pitch. We were near the entrance gates, getting ready to leave, and the announcer was asking, no, PLEADING for the public’s help in capturing this madman.

My sister and I asked our parents if we could check one last shop along Main Street. As we dashed into The Fudgery, we heard the now frantic announcer practically screaming that Freddy had been spotted on top of one of the buildings on Main Street. My sister ran out, I can only assume in search of more Tweety Bird paraphernalia.

As I followed her out the door, time slowed to a crawl. I walked out of the glass doors, and came face to face with a large crowd, backlit by the setting sun. But they weren’t looking at me. Instead, every single person in the crowd had their heads tilted at a 45 degree angle. I turned to follow their gaze, and standing directly above the door I had recently run out was the man himself. Freddy Krueger made eye contact, demonstrated his signature glove with a flick of the wrist, and then pointed directly at the center of my chest.

I don’t remember much of the rest of our time at the park. I don’t remember any of the ride home. But what I do remember is that 25 years later I still check behind the shower curtain every single time I go into the bathroom. If I am going to be in there for an extended period of time, I CANNOT leave the shower curtain closed.

Wes Craven was a true master of horror. As one of America’s best pure story tellers, not only did he convey his tales in print, but he managed to get them across in the arguably more difficult medium of film. His visions were displayed like a grotesque art gallery on the sixty-foot screen, so that we could all share in his nightmares. We were all at the same time grateful and horrified by his sharing his stories, and we were lucky to have them shared. Although he was also generous enough to give us “The Last House on the Left”, The “Scream” series, “People under the Stairs” and “The Hills Have Eyes”, Craven had to overcome objections from several studios that Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t scary enough, and he ended up turning it into what was arguably his signature work.

Although the horror industry celebrates death, and mayhem, and loss of life, there can be no argument that the loss of Wesley Earl Craven leaves the world a little worse for the wear. In honor of his life, I will do what I have done on so many occasions, and heat up some pizza rolls, curl up on the couch, throw on a horror movie and make sure my feet are far enough under the blanket so that nothing can grab them.

Rest in peace, Mr. Craven. You are already missed.

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