On a crisp November evening in 1984, my then teenage self purchased a ticket with friends to see Firstborn in a local multiplex in the then similarly rather small northern California town of Santa Rosa. My intention, having already seen that film and my life having already been given purposeful direction by John Carpenter’s Halloween years prior, was to see a different film entirely.
It was an R-rated flick, which meant we had to duck the usher. Successfully completing that task (we were professionals by that point), we settled into our seats; and minutes later I found myself journeying to a seemingly idyllic street named Elm, where a madman with knives for fingers would go on to butcher people who were, well, kinda just like me: young, confused, and overwhelmed with the junior high experience.
It was beautifully terrifying, and the threat at its center (while indeed mercurial and unlike anything we’d ever seen) laid its focused fingers on our collective zeitgeist with effective, and in a way comforting, skill. As terrifying as its villain may have been, equally as powerful was its resilient female protagonist, and my life was forever changed.
Twelve years later, after a steady diet of scares (which included Last House on the Left, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and The People Under the Stairs, among many others, prompted by this film) and a year before I entered the world of horror as a fledgling journalist at Universal Studios, my world was again forever changed by Scream.
At that time an underdog feature playing at the small Sunset 5 (I didn’t have to sneak in that time) in my then relatively new town of Hollywood, CA, the film (which made “meta” a thing) irrefutably reset the then-flagging genre. Like a punk rock band only we’d heard about, we immediately and collectively embraced the cinematic Woodsboro carnage with both vehement ferocity and unabashed love because it too was about, well, us. On the heels of local social unrest (the L.A. riots) and the 1995 Éric Borel massacre (a precursor to Columbine) and on the precipice of the internet and the advent of burgeoning cell phone tech (who’s actually on the other line?), the film smashed any lingering Rockwellian notions we’d held against a proverbial rock with such riveting intelligence, wit, and eerie prediction that we really didn’t know what’d hit us.
Oh, and yes, it did it all with another flawed, yet beautifully believable heroine.
I walked out of the theater elated. I was once again home.
As the years progressed, I would go on to have the surreal pleasure and honor to interview and converse with the director of these films: a man of immeasurable talent, intelligence, and soft-spoken grace, who possessed a keen understanding of story (and through that of how to frighten us like few others), and, in addition, a man who truly understood what it meant to be emphatically human.
As screenwriter Dan Madigan said to me last evening, “The prodigal sons of horror have lost a spiritual father,” and that’s exactly how I feel now, as if a family member has passed. Because, quite simply, he has.
Wes Craven, thank you for all you have given us and all that you have taught. We’ll try to make you proud.
I just can’t believe you are gone, though given your work, you never will be.
—- Sean Decker
With the tragic passing of Wes Craven, literally everyone in the industry has been reeling and expressing love for the man and his work. Several people have been writing in to Dread Central to ask if it would be cool to post their thoughts. So this Farewell to Wes feature will be their opportunity to share their feelings and their thoughts with you, the horror community.
Some will be long, some will be short, but all are important and will be featured with love and caring. It’s our honor to be able to do this for the man who gave us so very much.