R.I.P., Wes Craven

Wes Craven, director of such iconic horror films as “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Scream” and “The Last House on the Left,” has died of brain cancer at age 76, his family announced Sunday in a statement:

It is with deep sadness we inform you that Wes Craven passed away at 1PM on Sunday, August 30 after battling brain cancer.   He was 76 years old.  Craven was surrounded by love, in the presence of his family at his Los Angeles home.

Craven is survived by his wife, producer and former Disney Studios VP Iya Labunka, older sister Carol Buhrow, son Jonathan Craven with wife Rachel Craven and their two sons Miles and Max; daughter Jessica Craven with husband Mike Wodkowski and their daughter Myra-Jean Wodkowski; and Wes” stepdaughter Nina Tarnawksy.  Craven was predeceased by his parents Paul Eugene Craven, a machinist who passed away when Wes was 5 years old, his mother Caroline, a bookkeeper; and his older brother Paul James Craven.

One of the most prolific filmmakers of all time, Craven was also a nature lover and committed bird conservationist, serving as a long-time member of the Audubon California Board of Directors.  He was born in Cleveland, OH on August 2nd, 1939.  Craven was a longtime summer resident of Martha”s Vineyard where he moved permanently 3 years ago before returning to Los Angeles for work and health reasons.

Born August 2, 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio to strict Fundamentalist Baptist parents, Craven began his professional career in academics, teaching English at Westminster College in Pennsylvania and humanities at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, New York before moving into film. Early in his career he worked as a writer and editor of pornographic films (and directed at least one, under the pseudonym “Abe Snake”) before making his directorial debut with the notorious 1972 horror movie “The Last House on the Left.”

Though “Last House” suffered its share of controversy (with U.K. ratings board BBFC even refusing the film a certificate), the film was praised by influential critic Roger Ebert and grossed $3 million on a shoestring budget of only $87,000. Craven went on to direct such cult horror films as “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Deadly Blessing” (the latter starring a then-ingenue named Sharon Stone), as well as 1982's “Swamp Thing,” an adaptation of the DC comic book series. His mainstream breakthrough came two years later with the hugely-influential supernatural slasher “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which introduced audiences to the iconic, razor-fingered villain Freddy Krueger and became one of the  biggest sleeper hits of the year (it also helped launch Robert Shaye's upstart New Line Cinema as a Hollywood player).

Coming at the height of the slasher boom, “Elm Street” was followed by six sequels of varying quality, only one of which — 1994's post-modern “New Nightmare” — Craven also directed (though he co-wrote 1987's fan-beloved third entry, “Dream Warriors”). In 1996 he scored his biggest commercial success with the Kevin Williamson-penned “meta” slasher “Scream,” which kicked off a wave of self-aware teen horror flicks and itself spawned a trio of sequels, all of which Craven directed.

Though best known as a director of horror films, Craven made a rare departure with the 1999 fact-based drama “Music of the Heart,” which starred Meryl Streep as a violin instructor at a Harlem school (Streep scored an Oscar nomination for her performance, as did Diane Warren for Best Original Song). Craven's other notable credits include the 1988 supernatural horror film “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” 1991's satirical “The People Under the Stairs,” the Eddie Murphy comedy “Vampire in Brooklyn” and the contained 2005 thriller “Red Eye” starring Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.