Wes Craven was Roy Frumkes’ oldest friend in the business. In this month’s Little Blog of Horror he remembers the legendary director.
Mary Lee invited me to say something about Wes Craven, my oldest friend in the industry (43 years), who passed away a few weeks ago.
Wes was a soft-spoken, scholarly kind of guy, and it was bizarre from the get-go that his name became synonymous with the horror genre, and more, that he was the most successful horror film writer/director of all time.
When I first met Wes he was licking his wounds over his debut film – The Last House on the Left. I saw it in a theater with two friends – Robert Harris, who would soon become the foremost film restorationist on the planet, and Bob Winston, a close friend who, like me, enjoyed horror films. Harris was so offended by the film that he walked out during it. My other friend stayed, but said it was the only film he’d ever seen that made a case for censorship.
Me, I had no problems with the film at all. I could tell that it was shot in 16mm (in fact it was the first feature shot in Super 16), that it was the director’s first film, and that he was fearlessly pushing the envelope in terms of content. I jotted down his name as the credits rolled, and the name of the production company, and fired off a friendly letter complementing him on what he’d accomplished. And then it drifted out of my mind.
Two weeks later a large box arrived. Inside it were all the outtakes from the film, several versions of the screenplay under different titles such as Sex Crime of the Century, and a note, which basically said that if I liked the film so much, I could have it. Crew members had spit at him at the cast/crew screening, and he was sure he’d contributed bad vibes to the world.
I got together with him a week later and tried to disentangle him from the negative opinion he had of his work, but life kept stepping in the way. At a bar one day I told a friendly waitress who was hoping for an acting career that I was friends with the director of The Last House on the Left and perhaps could put in a good word. Wes was sitting with me at the time. This woman, clearly eager for any kind of break, went ballistic, screaming that if she ever met that scumbag she’d slap him in the face, etc., etc. And poor Wes just sat there quietly, praying that I wouldn’t introduce him.
His next horror film was The Hills Have Eyes, released in 1977. It was the best screenplay I’d read that year, but it needed a bigger budget than it got, and suffered because of it. In addition Wes didn’t get great cooperation during the shoot, and was writing me depressed letters from the motel where the cast and crew were staying. Despite the troublesome conditions under which it was made, the film emerged as another enduring classic and, like Last House, it pitted a civilized family against a savage family, a plot that clearly reverberated with audiences.
My attempts to bolster his faith in genre work continued, usually to bad effect, until he landed himself A Nightmare on Elm Street. This landmark film was post-produced in NYC, and Wes, uncertain of its future, invited my SVA class to sit in on the mix, which was great fun. And the rest is history. After Nightmare, he still had to apologize for Last House from time to time, but his career was unstoppable.
And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.