It’s almost a cliché scene now: the sweet young innocent girl with the great body who doesn’t realize how hot she is hooking up with the studly boy who everyone wants. They begin to have sex for the first time in a cabin, or in the woods or at her parent’s house while they are out for the night, only to be interrupted by a serial-killing maniac. It’s been done so many times that it’s easy to forget it had to start somewhere. That somewhere is Wes Craven’s 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street, and that started it all.
In 1994, when the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise was in full swing, Craven added a scene to New Nightmare where he has his leading lady, Heather Langenkamp, break the fourth wall by playing herself being haunted by the killer once again. There is also a scene where we can read Wes Craven's word processor where we see a script that includes the exact conversation he just had with Heather. He does the same thing in his Scream series by allowing his characters to reference horror films similar to their situations.
Scream included a scene mentioning the famous urban legend about Richard Gere. When word got out that Craven’s latest potential hit film and newest franchise contained this controversial and unsubstantiated tale, Craven began receiving calls from agents and studio execs telling him that if he left that scene in, he would never work again. He left the scene in and his career never stumbled.
Wes Craven’s inspiration for Freddy Kruger and the entire Elm Street series came from an article he read in the LA Times. There was a story about a young boy who had frightening nightmares after barely surviving the killing fields in Cambodia. The boy recalled that every time he shut his eyes he would see death, and was afraid to go to sleep, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. This would become the premise for the series and its tag line, “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.”
For decades, horror films were about either monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.), people who had gone mad (Psycho), or the devil (Rosemary’s Baby). There were killers and there were victims. The idea of revenge horror, where the victims get the last laugh and go after their would-be killers at the end, did not exist until Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972). He then continued that theme in The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and more recently with Red Eye (2005).
Many say that Washington Irving’s "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was the first literary comedy horror genre, but that idea had not yet hit the big screen. Prior to Craven, horror films were meant solely to scare and elicit a negative emotional reaction like disgust, shock and revulsion. Craven was the first to see that laughing at our own fears had the potential to be a film going experience that bonded an audience to the characters they were seeing on a big screen. Technically, Nightmare can be seen as a comedy horror film, since the Freddy Kruger character had many comedic elements to him, with very few boundaries. But more obvious to the comedy/horror genre was Craven’s Scream series, which was much more satirical.
The term “slasher film” was not a known subgenre, although there were many slasher films as early as 1932 (Thirteen Women). The idea of making a slasher film franchise was Craven’s and Craven’s alone. Slasher films are defined as a horror movie in which victims (typically women and teenagers) are slashed with some sort of blade, like a machete or ancient knife, and usually committed by a psychopath. Craven introduced this idea in several of his more well-known characters like Freddy Kruger, and also in Scream.
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