The beauty behind the horror: a tribute to Wes Craven

I thought my friend was a bit of a freak when she said Scream was her favorite film. Then I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I understood.

It might not be my absolute favorite — I still reserve that spot for feel-good Christmasy comedies — but it has secured itself in my top 10. And how poetic that it was another Wes Craven film that helped me understand at age 33 what my childhood friend understood at 17.

nightmare_on_elm_street walls

A Nightmare on Elm Street pushed the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

Ever since I watched the original Nightmare, I have wanted to honor it in my blog, and now, on the day after the world bid its farewells to horror movie master Wes Craven, I think it’s appropriate I waited until now. Still, considering my history with horror films, it surprises me I love this movie so much.

Before Scream hit theaters in 1996, my experience with the horror genre was limited. I just wasn’t interested, particularly after the number Child’s Play did on me in the 4th grade. But at 17, I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to see Scream with two college friends home for Christmas break — even if it meant having to spend the film trapped in my seat against the theater’s far right wall — its carpeted surface ill equipped at providing the pillow I needed it to be. I remember closing my eyes, wishing I might fall asleep. But no sleep would come, not even hours later at home, as I sat on top of my desk assembling a Puzz-3D of the Eiffel Tower in an attempt at warding off eventual sleep and its threat of nightmares.

Wes Craven’s script had done its job on me — but it would still be another decade before I would begin to understand the intention behind his film, and even longer before I realized the art behind any of his work.

Two years ago I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street. I expected another Friday the 13th — a film my husband and I own, but which I refused to watch more than the one time. Instead, I got something so much better.

In large part, it was the music that captured me. A child of the 1980s, I find something so familiar and appealing in those synthesizer riffs. But the story got me too — right around the midpoint when Nancy goes to the sleep clinic. This wasn’t any old slasher flick — this was a well-plotted gumshoe thriller. By the time Nancy started setting out booby traps and improvised anti-personnel devices, I was riveted.

Since that October night, I have watched Nightmare 15 or 20 more times.

There’s just something about it. And, sure, it’s a shame about the ending, which, in the interest of not giving away spoilers, I’ll just say wasn’t the ending Wes Craven intended and mars what might have been a perfect script.

Because I get now what so enthralled my school friend about Wes Craven’s work. Whether about love or horror, comedy or drama, good writing is good writing.

Thank you, Wes Craven, for showing us that even the most unlikely of movie genres can show us beauty.

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