Sep 4, 2015

13 Memories of Wes Craven From Those That Knew Him

Article By: Tony Timpone

The horror genre suffered one of its greatest losses this week with the death of filmmaker Wes Craven, who succumbed to brain cancer at age 76. Craven revolutionized scary movies with his innovative and shocking independent features, which included such classics as The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. Just one of those movies would be enough to pin a screen legacy on, but Craven kept ’em coming ever since he began making movies in the early ’70s.

Craven’s horror reign spanned over four decades, and though the former college professor and avid bird watcher always yearned to spread his wings outside the fright field (witness his Oscar-nominated Music of the Heart), the erudite filmmaker resigned himself to a career spent in fear. For today’s edition of The Friday 13, Chiller tracked down many of Craven’s friends, cast and loyal crew to share personal memories of this true master of horror.

1. Sean Cunningham. Producer, The Last House on the Left (1972, 2009)

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“Wes was a giant in the scary movie business. He leaves behind a legacy of mind-bending stories which will be watched and remembered for generations. But for those of us who knew Wes the man, he’ll be remembered for his laughter, his wit and his warmth. He was a good friend and a very good man.

One funny thing I recall was in the late ’70s when I visited Wes in Santa Monica. He and I were struggling with the concept of ‘word processing’ on a computer. He was using a Radio Shack Atari. Above it, on the wall over his desk, was a little sign he had typed out: ‘I hate writing. But I love having written.’ Cognitive dissonance.”


2. Michael Berryman. Actor, The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

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“I loved working with Wes. When [producer] Peter Locke, Wes and I went to a drive-in screening of Hills Have Eyes in the San Fernando Valley, we thought it a great idea to have me dress in wardrobe as Pluto. Then, at the point [in the film] we attack the trailer, Wes asked me to bang on some car windows. Like a giggly kid, I ran over to a car and proceeded to scare some already traumatized people to the point that I found myself running to the waiting van to escape with my life! Laughing, and getting the hell away, we then realized that we had a hit on our hands. Wes was always a spark of enthusiasm.”


3. Dee Wallace. Actress, The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

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“Wes was a kind, gentle and brilliant man. I am honored to say I started my career with one of the best. Who else could have gotten Dee Wallace to work with a tarantula, do a love scene in a car and freeze to death in the middle of the desert? Miracle man, we’ll miss you, o great one!”


4. Heather Langenkamp. Actress, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and New Nightmare (1994)

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“Over the years, Wes often upped the ante with the types of situations he liked to put me, I mean Nancy, in. Yes, it started with that bathtub scene. Next were maggots, a noble centipede, newts and eels. Hand to hand combat with Robert [Englund] was always dangerous, and then there was that awful head-wrapping tongue that has scarred me for life.

Perhaps Wes expected me to say no at some point. But I said, ‘Bring it on.’ Hadn’t I agreed to be Nancy? When his minions sprayed me with vomit (mushroom soup, again?), I almost broke as the fire hose blasted me with an unanticipated burst of force. But before I could protest, he gleefully commanded, ‘Release the flies!’ Wes was always smiling when I looked at him for the A-OK. In the best possible way, he loved to torture me. And, screaming from time to time with all my heart, I loved him back.”


5. Robert Englund. Actor, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Nightmare Cafe (1992) and New Nightmare (1994)

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“My wife Nancy and I were hanging out with Wes after a long hard week of shooting our TV series Nightmare Café. (The title was the network’s choice in order to exploit Wes’ and my association with the Nightmare franchise—the original title ideas, Half Way Café, Last Chance Café and Terminal Bar, were more in keeping with the show’s theme). We were in my Vancouver apartment watching Saturday Night Live with my co-star Jack Coleman, when a sketch came on called ‘Massive Headwound Harry.’ Jack started giggling, then Nancy and I proceeded to lose it, but it was Wes who went from giggles to guffaws to uncontrollable laughter. He just couldn’t stop! I’d never seen him abandon himself to enjoyment as much as he did that night, responding to that gory, black comedy sketch material. I’d like to think it had something to do with him being comfortable and at ease in my home. But it also speaks to the adolescent boy that was forever alive in this brilliant, original man. Perhaps this was one key to his genius.”


6. Mick Garris. Director, Freddy's Nightmares (1988)

“Other than interviewing him for my talk show POST MORTEM, I never worked with Wes. But we met on a panel ages ago, and got to know each other over some lunches and at several Masters of Horror dinners he attended. He was always in high spirits and listened as much as he spoke…which can be a rarity in this town. I was fascinated to bear witness to his expression as he took everything in, rather than jumping in to give his opinion at the first opportunity. “Wes’ sense of humor was deep-rooted and so dry that you could miss it if you weren’t on his wavelength. He was a tremendously generous, thoughtful, funny man, and time zipped by in his presence.”


7. Kristy Swanson. Actress, Deadly Friend (1986)

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“It was 1986, I had just turned 16 years old, and Wes Craven had just hired me to star in my very first studio picture, Friend. Wes was trying something different in his career, and this film was to be a psychological thriller. About half way through filming, Warner Bros. decided to change the film to a horror movie, rename it Deadly Friend and added many nightmares and bloody scenes. It was not what Wes necessarily wanted; he really wanted to try a softer more psychological filmmaking style and approach. But Warners won that argument. “[Despite the production turmoil], I have the most amazing memories from that time in my life, and I owe it all to Wes. He really took me under his wing. He was a great protector, mentor and a great friend. I loved seeing him every day. What a jokester he was; he had such an amazing sense of humor, and he always could make me laugh just by looking at me in a funny way. He made filmmaking so easy and comfortable. I am grateful I got to see him a few years ago at a Comic-Con; his eyes lit up, my eyes lit up and we just hugged real tight. It’s my last memory of Wes, and I will never forget it. He always made me feel so good and loved. We may have made a movie for Warner Bros. called Deadly Friend, but to me Wes will forever be my True Friend.”


8. Andrew Divoff. Actor, Wishmaster (1997)

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“Before meeting Mr. Craven in summer of 1997, I was already familiar with his genre-expanding resume. I take heart in the knowledge that I would not have been the Wishmaster were it not for Mr. Craven’s full support of me as [director] Robert Kurtzman’s choice to play the trickster demon. Although I cannot say I knew him well, what struck me most upon meeting Wes Craven before filming began on Wishmaster, was the quiet, unassuming way he carried himself [as an executive producer] with everyone he encountered. We will all miss him, though his influence on the horror genre will outlive us all.”


9. Mitch Pileggi. Actor, Shocker (1991)

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“Wes’ sense of humor was such a huge part of his films. While shooting Shocker, I’d be in the middle of slicing and dicing someone and I’d hear his voice calling out one-liners that he’d want me to say. Sometimes I’d reply, ‘Oh my God, Wes, I can’t say that,’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, say it, it’ll be great.’ Recently at a Comic-Con, I had three firefighter brothers excitedly repeating every one of those one-liners, and they informed me their mother also knew every one of them! You were right, Wes. To a lot of people, those lines were indeed great. As were you.”


10. Yan Birch. Actor, The People Under the Stairs (1991)

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“Wes was such an incredible person, great friend and compassionate soul. One particular moment about who he was comes to mind right away. We were shooting at Renmar Studios in Hollywood and ‘the Suits’ from Universal came to set because we were running over budget. All the producers and crew were running around, freaking out and nobody could find Wes. I knew about a few places where he would relax, so I climbed the fire ladder up to the roof and there he was, all calm lying on his back staring up at the blue sky. I asked what he was doing, and he replied softly, ‘I am waiting for them to leave so I can finish my movie.’ Wes was a human being full of talent and love.”


11. Patrick Lussier. Editor, Scream 1-3 (1996 - 2000)

“From the time my son, Devin, was 2 years old, he’d been visiting me in Wes’ cutting rooms. Later Wes welcomed him on Cursed to hang out and learn how to be a film assistant and hired him as our post PA on Red Eye. When Devin was 7, he had a little shop called ‘the Everything Store.’ Wes hired him for $10 to make him 10 business cards that had Wes’ name and phone number on one side, and ‘Sanity in a unique package’ on the other. Devin cut them (without a ruler, so wonderfully kid-crooked), and printed each of them in pencil. Wes carried them for a long time after that and would pull them out.

Wes was more than just ‘Sanity in a unique package.’ He was generous with his knowledge and humor and encouraged everyone around him to shine. The lessons I learned from Wes each day in the cutting room and throughout the films we made are with me each and every day.”


12. Nicholas Mastandrea. Associate Producer/First Assistant Director, Scream 1-4 (1996-2011)

“Wes was such pleasure to work with; I had both the honor and pleasure to work with him on eight or nine projects, each one as fun as the first. Wes taught me a lot, not just about the filmmaking process, but how to surround yourself with people you enjoy working and creating something special with. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a brilliant mind. I will carry a piece of him with me on ever set I step on.”


13. David Arquette. Actor, Scream 1-4 (1996-2011)

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“One experience that had a profound effect on me is when Wes sat me down during Scream 2 in a very father-figure way. It was as my mother was dying and I was in a very vulnerable place, and he said something to the effect of, ‘David, you’re a very talented guy, but you have to focus, get serious and get your life together. I want to see you excel, but it’s up to you to make that happen.’ He was never judgmental, always supportive and a champion of people he believed in. If it weren’t for Wes, I wouldn’t have had my daughter, Coco. He also put my father Lewis and brother Richmond Arquette in the Scream films as a show of family support, not to mention including my band on the soundtracks to support my passion for music. He simply dedicated his life to nurturing artists he believed in.”

What are YOUR favorite Wes Craven moments or memories? Share them using #Friday13.

Tony Timpone interviewed Wes Craven for Fangoria’s Screamography video series and Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

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