Yesterday was a tragic day for horror fans around the world, as we reported the unfortunate news of Wes Craven passing at the age of 76 in his Los Angeles home. Wes Craven left an indelible mark on the horror movie genre almost immediately with his first feature film, 1972's The Last House on the Left, and his influence will be felt for years to come, in the filmmakers that follow and carry on his legacy. As we continue to mourn the loss of this legend, we're revisiting his best work with nine of his best films.
Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Caroline (Miller) and Paul Eugene Craven, raised by a strict baptist family, although his father died when he was just five years old. He earned his undergraduate degree in English and Psychology from Wheaton University in Illinois, and earned his Masters in Philosophy and Writing from Johns Hopkins University. After college, he was briefly a humanities professor at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York. His first job in the film industry was as a sound editor for a post-production company in New York City, before directing several adult films under a pseudonym, which he admitted in the 2005 documentary INSIDE Deep Throat. In 1972, he made his true directorial debut with the instant classic The Last House on the Left, which he also wrote and edited.
After The Last House on the Left launched his career, he made another classic, The Hills Have Eyes, which helped establish one of his career trademarks: his eye for spotting talent. That 1977 film starred Dee Wallace in just her second film role, after a small part in The Stepford Wives. Just five years later, she played Mary in Steven Spielberg's iconic classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. His next film, 1981's Deadly Blessing, featured Sharon Stone in her first starring role, while 1982's Swamp Thing helped launch Ray Wise's career with his first starring role. The filmmaker's biggest discovery, however, gave birth to one of today's biggest stars, Johnny Depp. The 21-year-old actor made his feature film debut in the director's 1984 classic A Nightmare on Elm Street.
He also cast a relatively unknown Ving Rhames in 1991's The People Under the Stairs, three years before his career exploded in Pulp Fiction, and, of course, Scream helped launch the careers for a slew of young actors, such as Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy and Liev Schreiber. The sequel Scream 2 featured an early performance from Timothy Olyphant, and years before starring on Scandal, Scott Foley made his feature film debut in Scream 3. And, most recently, he cast Danai Gurira in My Soul to Take, a few years before she would become Michonne on AMC's The Walking Dead.
To honor Wes Craven's enduring legacy, we're looking back at nine of his most iconic feature films in a career that spanned more than 40 years. There is no doubt that the filmmaker left us too soon, and even though he hadn't directed a film since 2011's Scream 4, we reported earlier this year that he was developing TV shows based on his own movie The People Under the Stairs, and the comic book Disciples. While we wait for more developments on those projects, in the wake of Wes Craven's untimely death, take a look at our breakdown of his nine most memorable films.
1 A Nightmare on Elm Street - 1984
After his feature debut with The Last House on the Left, in 1972, Wes Craven went on to make The Hills Have Eyes, Deadly Blessing and Swamp Thing, which were all well-received by horror fans, but his career was launched into the stratosphere with 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street. The filmmaker was inspired by a news report that chronicled a number of teenagers who died in their sleep after suffering horrific nightmares, despite having no history of mental illness. The look of his iconic Freddy Krueger character was inspired by a hobo who the director saw staring at him through his window, when he was just 10 years old. The film's success actually saved New Line Cinema from bankruptcy, taking in over $25 million from a $1.8 million budget, earning the studio the nickname "The House That Freddy Built."
The film marked the acting debut of a 21-year-old Johnny Depp, but, oddly enough, Johnny Depp didn't even audition for the role of Glen Lantz, at first. The young actor was spotted by the director while he was accompanying his longtime friend, Jackie Earle Haley, to his audition. The filmmaker asked him to read for a role, which he ended up winning. Although Jackie Earle Haley didn't win a role, in an ironic twist of fate, he ended up playing Freddy Krueger himself in New Line's 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Despite not even intending to audition, Johnny Depp beat out a number of young actors who would also go on to become huge stars in their own right. Others who tried out for the role include Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Brad Pitt, Kiefer Sutherland, Nicolas Cage and C. Thomas Howell. A Nightmare on Elm Street also launched the career of Heather Langenkamp, who beat out a number of notable actresses for the Nancy Thompson role, including Jennifer Grey, Demi Moore, Courteney Cox and Tracey Gold. 12 years later, Courteney Cox would star in the filmmaker's biggest hit, Scream.