Features, Obituaries

REMEMBERING WES CRAVEN

By • Oct 1st, 2015 •

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On the set of DEADLY BLESSING (from left to right) Roy Frumkes, Wes Craven, Sukey.

“Well, Wes is gone… All our friends are going to start dropping now. He was a trendsetter, so he was the first to go.”
Victoria Alexander

FIR’s prize film critic starred in an episode Wes directed, back in 1977, of an anthology horror film that was never completed called TALES THAT’LL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT. I produced and co-starred in the film, and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT’s David Hess played the villain. Allen Pasternak played a cowboy zombie, Victoria plays the whore he dies for, and we shot some of their footage in the old, wonderfully raunchy Times Square. Wes’s kids were on location for a day. Wes posed in zombie make-up for fun. Other name contributors to the film were Ernest (HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER) Tidyman, Chuck (GREETINGS) Hirsch, Al (Bullwinkle) Kilgore, Dewitt (CAT PEOPLE) Bodeen, Chris (Blue Sky) Wedge , etc. It was a fun shoot. Ill-fated, but definitely fun.

Wes summoned the courage to migrate to the West Coast, where I kept his spirit pumped up during the unpleasant THE HILLS HAVE EYES shoot. And then came A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, which had its post-production in NYC, so my School of Visual Arts students and I got an eyeful of that one being put together.

NIGHTMARE’s mind-boggling success enabled me to stop advising Wes to save his money in case things went south. After ELM STREET, despite occasionally experiencing the typical Hollywood dread about where one’s next project was coming from, Wes never really had to worry again. In fact he became the most successful horror film director of all time. Consider James Whale: FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OLD DARK HOUSE and THE INVISIBLE MAN. The indisputably greatest horror director of the ‘30s. How long did his reign last? Five years! Wes had iconic hits for three decades – LAST HOUSE and HILLS in the 70s. NIGHTMARE and its progeny in the ‘80s. SCREAM and its offspring in the 90s. Phenomenal!

In recent decades I saw Wes less often. I visited his location shoot for DEADLY BLESSING outside of Dallas. Wes was having difficulty getting a tarantula to walk across a web as part of a rack-focus shot which would end up on a nervous Sharon Stone, hovering at the bottom of the stairs. The spider just wouldn’t move. Sukey, my girlfriend and producer at the time, was an animal trainer for film. At my prodding she pulled Wes aside and told him that tarantulas are land spiders, that this one was scared shitless being up on that web, and that it would never move…but that she could in fact make it perform, something that the ‘spider wrangler’ had been unable to do. The entire morning had been used up on countless spider takes, yet Wes was nonplussed, despite the damage done to the film’s shooting schedule. He told Sukey to give a try. She instructed him to start the camera rolling, then took a straw and sucked the heat out of a cup of coffee into her mouth. Then, just out of camera range, she blew the hot air back out of the straw in the direction of the spider, which quickly walked away. Mission accomplished.

I would come out to the coast once a year and if Wes was around we’d grab lunch. If he had a new film in post he’d give me a private screening. I asked him to write an article for Films in Review and he happily obliged. I was going to invite him to my Producing Horror class this semester at SVA to talk about horror filmmaking then and now.

It’s crazy that he’s gone. But I think Victoria says it best above, with her typically quirky take on all things, including our nice friend Wes.

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