Val’s Toy Chest- Wes Craven 1939-2015

The year was 1984: Me and my parents had just moved back to New York City after spending a year or so living in Florida. I was five years old with an impressionable young mind and took in all I could of the city while driving around with my dad in his car. One of the most vivid memories I have from that year was seeing a now very iconic movie poster on scaffolding on one such occasion. Considering when the film was released it had to have been around October or so- the movie: Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. The poster painted by Matthew Joseph Peak combined with the memorable tag line: “If Nancy Doesn’t Wake Up Screaming She Won’t Wake Up At All” has never ceased to fascinate and terrify me at the same time. The artwork for the Freddy’s Revenge poster just one year later also captured my attention because of how chilling and well-composed it was. 1987’s Dream Warriors poster scared the bejeezus out of me as well. Peak was a master of his craft for sure.

Of course, I am waxing poetic about A Nightmare on Elm Street in this week’s column because we’ve lost one of the masters of horror and that film’s main architect within the last week and a half. News of Wes Craven’s death hit on Sunday, August 30th after I had written last week’s column and I hadn’t had time to gather my thoughts about it until today. The specter of Craven’s most famous creation: Freddy Krueger has loomed large in my life since I first saw the image of the wide-eyed girl(Nancy Thompson- as I would later discover) in bed with a skull-faced fiend menacing her over her brown tresses with a clawed hand. I was too young to see the film when I was a kid and frankly I know I would have had nightmares had I watched Freddy at that tender age. I had been very curious about the film and remember asking a family friend how scary it was.The memory they shared with me was Tina’s intense death sequence where she is sliced open by the invisible claws and dragged across the ceiling. The Freddy films always had a certain mystique about them that intrigued me when I was growing up and I remember hearing all the gory details about them from my friends in elementary school. Though I never watched the movies as a kid (save for catching the end of the original on WNYW Channel 5 and the end of Dream Master on HBO), I still kind of wanted to see them despite Freddy’s burnt and scarred visage- which horrified me when I was first exposed to it. There was a time when I couldn’t even look at Freddy for fear that he would show up in my dreams. (He has by the way.)

I finally got over my fear of Freddy in my mid-20s. I caught the 2006 Infinifilm release playing onscreen at my very first Fangoria convention and decided to jump in and buy the movie and I’ve loved A Nightmare on Elm Street ever since. As those of you who’ve read my weekly column know- I am a strong proponent of fierce, powerful female characters and one of the very best of those is the heroine from this film- Nancy Thompson played by Heather Langenkamp. I loved Nancy so much that I refused to watch her on-screen demise in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors for a long time. I eventually got around to the rest of the series after meeting Heather, Robert Englund (a sweetheart through and through and since meeting him, I’ve had no Freddy dreams) and most of the cast of Part 1 at Monster Mania in 2009 for a 25th Anniversary reunion. The Nightmare films are definitely my favorite horror franchise- they’re innovative, scary, not gory for the sake of gore (i.e. very few body parts flying around, no real eviscerations, etc.), fantastical and usually feature strong heroines and characters you actually care about. The trailer for the first film refers to it as a horror-fantasy and I’ve always seen it and the rest of the series that way(not counting Freddy vs. Jason).

Wes was the mastermind behind the original film which is arguably the best in the entire series. His involvement with the later sequels was largely non-existent, though he had a hand in Dream Warriors and the wildly innovative Wes Craven’s New Nightmare which involved several original cast and crewmembers playing themselves. If you’ve been in the store lately we’ve had almost nothing but the original Nightmare and New Nightmare playing on the screen during my shifts in tribute to Wes. Even though we’ve lost the man, his ideas and films live on through home video and merchandise including toys mostly of Freddy though there’s also been a couple of static Nancy pieces as well as items of Ghostface from Scream

Beyond the Nightmare films, Wes also directed The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The Serpent and the Rainbow, DC Comics’ Swamp Thing and the Scream franchise amongst others. I never got to meet the man, but Craven has certainly left an indelible impression on me through the power of film, one burnt villain, a plucky, courageous heroine and a common street name that is probably most associated now with Freddy than anything else. If you are or were a fan of Wes I’d strongly recommend seeking out the excellent four+ hour documentary Never Sleep Again which takes a pretty in-depth look at the franchise including many interview snippets with him as well as the majority of the casts for all 8 of the films in the original series.
Rest in Peace Wes- Thanks for the screams and nightmares and everything in between.

“Whatever you do…don’t fall asleep…”
Top 5 favorite moments from a Wes Craven-directed Nightmare film.

5. Tina Grey’s(Amanda Wyss) final nightmare sequence where she is chased by Freddy, overwhelmed and murdered while being dragged on the ceiling of her mother’s bedroom- with her boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri) watching helplessly, the sequence is recreated with a few adjustments in New Nightmare with Julie and her charge Dylan- A Nightmare on Elm Street.

4. Heather Langenkamp giving in to reprising her role as Nancy Thompson which blurs the lines between fantasy and reality to stop the entity that has taken Freddy’s form. As she starts to accept her fate- John Saxon changes from himself into Lt. Thompson, Heather’s clothes suddenly turn into Nancy’s pajamas and the exterior of Heather’s home becomes the Thompson house at 1428 Elm Street- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

3. Nancy’s dream sequence which finds her following Tina in a body bag down into the boiler room only to encounter Freddy himself both as the hall monitor and in his more familiar form- A Nightmare on Elm Street.

2. Nancy’s iconic bathtub nightmare which finds her asleep while in the tub only for Freddy’s glove to join her and drag her under in an attempt to drown her. A static figure for this scene exists in Mezco’s Cinema of Fear Series 2 released in 2007- A Nightmare on Elm Street.

1. Ten seconds remain on Nancy’s watch and she must find Freddy to bring him out into the real world. When he emerges from underneath the trellis, Nancy doesn’t hesitate to jump straight into his arms to try and grab a hold of him so she can wake up with him in tow. Probably one of the few if not only times a horror heroine runs to their attacker instead of away from him in an attempt to stop his madness once and for all- A Nightmare on Elm Street.


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