On this day in 1939, Wes Craven, the man responsible for terrorizing millions of moviegoers with his Nightmare on Elm Street series and Scream trilogy, is born in Cleveland, Ohio.
Craven, who graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and received a master’s degree in writing and philosophy from Johns Hopkins University, began his directing career with 1972’s The Last House on the Left, a violent teen horror film for which he also penned the screenplay. He went on to direct a string of low-budget scary movies, including The Hills Have Eyes (1977), before cementing his reputation as a master of blood and gore with 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street, about teenagers in the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio, who are terrorized by nightmares of the gruesomely disfigured child killer Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund. The movie was a box-office success and spawned multiple sequels. Freddy Krueger became an iconic villain and even did battle with another big-screen horror icon, the hockey mask-wearing Jason from the Friday the 13th series, in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason. Nightmare on Elm Street also marked the feature-film debut of a then-unknown Johnny Depp. After going on to starring roles in Cry-Baby (1990) and Edward Scissorhands (1990), the actor made a cameo appearance in 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
Craven went on to direct The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985) and The People Under the Stairs (1991) before making his blockbuster film Scream (1996). Scream, about a serial killer stalking a group of teenagers, poked fun at slasher-film conventions while still managing to frighten audiences. The film’s cast featured Courteney Cox, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich. Craven also helmed two hit sequels to the film, Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000). In 2005, he directed the well-reviewed horror film Red Eye.
Craven has occasionally set aside the gore and stepped out of the horror genre to direct such films as the 1999 drama Music of the Heart, which starred Meryl Streep as a music teacher in the New York City public school system.