Wes Craven/A Nightmare on Elm Street

When it came to my research on Wes Craven, I found that the story of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the creation of it was just as interesting as Wes Craven's life story. As a result, I decided to mix things up and add an extra element in this post by diving a bit into the story behind A Nightmare on Elm Street.


But first, let me tell you about our friend Wes Craven.


Wesley Earl Craven was born on August 2, 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents were Baptists, so Craven found himself being raised in a strict Baptist household. After finishing high school, Craven headed over to Illinois to study at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. There, he earned a degreen in English and psychology. After graduating, he went on to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD for a masters in philosophy and writing.


Once Craven finished college, he spent a number of years teaching. He started by teaching English at Westminster College before moving on to teach humanities at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam, NY. For a brief amount of time, he even took a job teaching at Madrid-Waddington High School in Madrid, NY.


While Craven was working as a teacher, he spent his free time making short movies with his 16 mm camera. His friend, Steve Chapin, got in touch with Craven and let him know about a job as a messenger in New York City at a film production company. Steve's brother Harry Chapin had been working there at the time. Craven jumped on this opportunity, moved in with his friend Steve, and began working for the company. This was his first step into the world of film and he began by working as a sound editor. In time, he worked his way up through the company and became the firm's assistant manager.


When Craven decided to walk away from his teaching career and dive into the entertainment business, he found himself a more lucrative role. He began with directing pornographic films. With his family keeping a strict household, Craven hoped to fly under the radar with his role in the pornography industry and chose to use a pseudonym. Due to the use of a pseudonym, it is unknown how large of a role he played in many of the pornographic films he worked on.


In 1972, Craven's first feature film, The Last House on the Left, was released. Craven didn't expect it to be much of a success. Since he didn't expect it to have any sort of large, great reception, he found it to be freeing to truly put everything that he wanted in it. He didn't have to worry about censoring himself for fear of his family catching wind of what he has done. However, the film wound up becoming a hit. As a result, his family ostracized him due to the content of the film.


Following the negative feedback he received from his family, Craven tried to break away from the horror genre. Ultimately, he struggled to get the financial support that he needed to bring these films to life. Noticing Craven's struggle, a friend suggested that he take some time filming in the deserts of Nevada. The result was the movie, The Hills Have Eyes. The work on this film made Craven realize that he was destined to work directing horror movies. He was quoted saying, "It soon became clear that I wasn't going to do anything else unless it was scary."


Throughout Craven's directing career, he at times worked with a man who became a good friend to him, Sean S. Cunningham. Cunningham is likely best known for his work on the horror movie Friday the 13th. Cunningham was Craven's partner during his attempt to break free from the horror genre. That said, he also collaborated with Craven within the horror genre. In fact, both of their popular villains, Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) came together for a partner horror movie, Freddy vs. Jason.


Outside of Craven's film career, he also found himself married to a woman named Bonnie Broecker. He and Broecker had two children, Johnathan Craven who became a writer and director, and Jessica Craven who became a singer-songwriter within the group Chapin Sisters. Craven and Broecker went on to divorce in 1970.


Following his first marriage, Craven went on to marry an actress who is known professionally as Mimi Craven. In time, Craven realized that their marriage had developed into a facade, leading the two to divorce. Craven married one final time to a woman named Iya Labunka. Labunka had often worked with Craven as a producer to his movies.


On August 30, 2015, Craven died in his home of a brain tumor.


One of Craven's most well known movies is A Nightmare on Elm Street. In short, the movie is about a monster of a man named Freddy Krueger that has the ability to terrorize people in their dreams and kill them in their sleep. The movie was released in 1984 and has led to a variety of sequels and spin offs.


When developing the story of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven pulled inspiration from various things that he experienced or came across in his lifetime. The idea of being killed while sleeping came from an article that he had read in the Los Angeles Times. In the 1970s, there had been a group of Hmong refugees that had fled to the United States from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam where war and genocide was prevalent. Upon their arrival, many struggled with horrifying nightmares that pushed them to refuse sleep and stay awake for lengthy periods of time. After staying awake for such extended periods of time, some men died in their sleep. It was later referred to as a phenomenon called Asian Death Syndrome. It was believed to be sudden unexplained death syndrome, Brugada syndrome, or both.


Having read about this phenomenon, Craven recognized that this type of story line was one that no one else had ever approached before. The last nudge for him was hearing Gary Wright's song Dream Weaver. He even adopted a synthesizer riff from the song to use in his movie soundtrack.


As for inspiration for the villain, Freddy Krueger, Craven pulled early inspiration from his own personal experiences. As a young boy, Craven saw an elderly man walking outside of his house and stopped to glance in the house at Craven before walking on. This experience terrified young Craven.


While developing the character of Freddy Krueger, Craven initially intended him to be a child molester. As he went on to develop the character, he changed Krueger's background to a child murderer instead. Craven's reasoning for the change was that there had been a large wave of highly publicized child molestation cases in California at that time. He did not want to exploit these cases and felt it would be better to alter Krueger's back story.

That said, Craven ultimately intended on having Krueger represent the absolute worst type of parent and/or adult. He was to be the most terrifying kind of boogeyman. Not only was he a monster killing people, but he was killing them in their sleep when they are the most vulnerable.


When it came to naming the villain, Craven named him after a kid that bullied him as a child. In school, Craven was bulled by a classmate named Fred Kreuger and naming his villain after this bully was his sort of revenge. He even named the villain in The Last House on the Left after this bully as well, naming him Krug.


Believe it or not, when pitching the screenplay for various studios, the Walt Disney Productions studio was the first to show interest. The only catch was that they wanted it to be turned into something more kid friendly. Craven, certain about what he wanted this movie to become, declined their offer. He went on to pitch to other big name production companies such as Paramount, Dreamscape, and Universal. All of those studios passed on the screenplay.

Finally, after pitching to New Line Cinema, they agreed to make the film. New Line Cinema had been a small, independent, and not very well known production company. Following the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Line went on to make other bigger productions. Recognizing that A Nightmare on Elm Street was arguably what got them off the ground, they often refer to the studio as, "The House That Freddy Built."


In casting the part of Freddy, the role originally went to actor David Warner. However, due to scheduling conflicts, Warner had to back out. In searching for a new Freddy, actor Kane Hodder was considered. Hodder is best known for playing Jason Coorhees in Friday the 13th. In the end, the role went to Robert Englund. Hodder later spoke about the decision explaining that as much as he would have loved to play the role of Freddy, he agreed with Craven's choice of going with Englund.


As for Englund, he was the opposite of what Craven initially was looking for. In the beginning, Craven felt that the man should be a big, giant, physically intimidating type of a man. Joe Rice who was working as Englund's agent at the time went to the casting office before Englund went in for his audition. He spoke with one of his friends that suggested that England auditions as more of a rat-like, or weasely kind of a character. He explained that when it comes to abusers and molesters, you read about people who aren't those big burly men. Instead, they are more of a shifty, cunning kind of a person. Rice went back to Englund with that advice for his audition. Following the advice, Englund landed the role.


The ending of the film was initially intended to play out differently. Craven had planned for more of a clean ending where the character Nancy kills Krueger by ultimately not believing in him anymore. She is to wake up and realize that it had all been one big long nightmare. However, the New Line leader, Robert Shaye, insisted on a twist ending. Even when it came to what the twist ending would actually be, the two disagreed. Finally, the ending they decided on (which I won't explain here so I don't spoil it for anyone who hasn't watched the movie) was the ending that they all found the most amusing.


Craven felt very strongly that there should not have been a sequel to the movie and absolutely refused to work on the first sequel. In the end, he only worked on a select handful of the sequels that would follow his initial film.


There are various themes that can be pulled from the movie. The obvious one is that Freddy singles out teenagers that have experienced some sort of typical trauma for adolescence. There are various intepretations of the roles of the adults. For Craven, he has explained it to be "the notion of the screenplay is that the sins of the parents are visited upon the children, but the fact that each child is not necessarily stuck with their lot is still there." Englund points out the absence and neglectful behavior from the parents. As for Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy, her take away was that it was not only a feminist movie, but it was also a "youth power" type of story line.


Following the movie's success, there have been various sequels made, as well as a 2010 remake. There was also the intention and the beginning work of adapting the movie into a graphic novel. Unfortunately, the publisher went bankrupt and the plan for a graphic novel fell through.


While Wes Craven has been gone for five years now, his legacy as well as the legacy of his work continues to live on and draw in all new audiences.


Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Wes-Craven

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wes_Craven

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nightmare_on_Elm_Street


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