I’ve never written an obituary or anything of that sort before, not at any meaningful length or for anyone of significance, unless you count the essay I wrote about my father a couple years after his death. The best obituaries are those that aren’t narcissistic, but are able to encapsulate the stature of that person in the context of both the individual writer’s life and in a much broader sense. So, I’ll see what I can do, walk that tightrope.
There are three things that I credit my all-consuming love for cinema to: my viewing of Bringing Up Baby at five years old, the first film I remember watching (and loving); Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, the first film I ever saw in theaters when I was six; and Scream 2, the first film whose images and sounds that would be imprinted on my brain for as long as I can remember.
I was seven, and my parents kept the video tapes in a cabinet downstairs, adjacent to where the seemingly IMAX worthy tube TV sat in the corner. I’d peak through the titles every so often, but there was one that was forbidden fruit. Grey faces with colored eyes staring back at me in fear, the “M” in the title with its infamous point, and Neve Campbell’s withering look. It was beckoning me to watch, to come closer. I knew I wasn’t allowed to. My family, cognizant of how easily fear could flow through my veins, told me not to. But I did anyways.
I sat on the ground in my pajamas after waking up early to pull what was like a mini heist. Jada Pinkett-Smith and Omar Epps stood in line for Stab (the series’ in-joke and little jab at, amongst other things, commercialism, narrativising and dramatizing tragedy, and horror fan culture), as she talked about the inequality of race on film. It wasn’t the scene where Omar Epps is stabbed in the face through a bathroom stall wall that stayed with me; it was the subsequent murder of Pinkett-Smith, whose slow walk of death and moan of terror as she looked upon the crowd who did nothing to help her that did. Her eyes are wide, blood trickling from the corners of her mouth, her hands now looking thinner and more vascular. And she’s gone.
I shut the film off.
I couldn’t sleep for a week.
I closed my eyes and heard the shriek and saw the petrified body in front of the audience.
But I soon returned to the film after a year or so, now invigorated. I watched the first Scream; I watched the films that were referenced in the trilogy; I cajoled my father to get me the limited edition box set; I started exploring the horror genre and all of its subgenres; I took books out from the library about horror films; and when I was twelve, I started writing a book about the history of the horror film. (I stopped when I hit page three.)
Wes Craven, to whom I do not give enough credit, made me want to write about film. His films were my first exposure to film as visceral experiences, to postmodernity, and to obsession with monsters, both interior and anterior. He made me want to write about that, to let my words spill out on the page like blood.
But his stature as an artist is greater than merely his impact on me: at the core of each of his works that I’ve seen is the knowledge that subverting emotional resonance is the greatest tool for scaring someone. Even in archetypes, these characters and the stakes they encounter nonetheless have a tangible, real quality.
His greatest film, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (a bit of a proto-Scream) doesn’t work solely for its critique of the film industry; it works because the relationship between Heather Langenkamp and her son (Miko Hughes). Freddy Krueger’s appeal was his threat of dismantling and upsetting the domesticity of suburbia. From A Nightmare on Elm Street to his short film “Pére-Lachaise” for Paris Je T’aime, Wes Craven’s was finding the humanity in fear and mania and infatuation. He’s the monster that made me write.