LOS ANGELES — Wes Craven, the prolific writer-director who thrilled audiences with iconic and bloody suburban slashers like “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” that made his name synonymous with horror, has died. He was 76.
In a statement, Craven’s family said that he died in his Los Angeles home Sunday, surrounded by family, after battling brain cancer.
A prolific writer, director and editor, Craven is credited with reinventing the teen horror genre with the 1984 release of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” starring a then-unknown Johnny Depp. The movie and its indelible, razor-fingered villain Freddy Krueger (played by Robert Englund) led to several sequels, as did his 1996 success, “Scream.”
Besides his work in horror films, Craven also directed the drama “Music of the Heart,” which earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination.
Wesley Earl “Wes” Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on Aug. 2, 1939. Though he earned a Master’s Degree in philosophy and writing from John Hopkins University and briefly taught as a college professor in Pennsylvania and New York, his start in movies was in pornography, where he worked under a pseudonym.
Craven’s feature debut under his own name was 1972’s “The Last House on the Left,” a horror film about teenage girls abducted by thugs and taken into the woods. Made for just $87,000, the film, though graphic enough to be censored in many countries, was a hit. Roger Ebert said it was “about four times as good as you’d expect.”
“Nightmare on Elm Street,” however, catapulted him to far greater renown in 1984. The Ohio-set film about teenagers who are stalked in their dreams, which Craven wrote and directed, spawned a never-ending franchise that has carried on until, most recently, a 2010 remake.
The concept, Craven said, came from his own youth in Cleveland, where he lived next to a cemetery on an Elm Street.
Along with John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” ”Nightmare on Elm Street” defined a teen horror tradition where helpless teens were preyed upon by supernatural villains in morality tales; usually promiscuous girls were the first to go.
The formula would work again for Craven with “Scream.”