My grandmother and I differ vastly in our movie preferences. She gravitates toward light musicals such as Mamma Mia and cringes when I bring up Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thrillers. “How can you watch that?” she asks me, looking disgusted. I tell her, “Grandma, I’m a film critic! I watch everything!”
Grandma would NEVER watch Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street with the demonic, burn-scarred Freddy Kruger. Nor would she see Wes’ Scream series about a killer stalking teens who know the rules of horror films. Bill Pullman’s voodoo rituals from The Serpent and the Rainbow are not her cup of tea, let alone the entire plot of The Last House on the Left!
Her proclivity to avoid scenes of death and destruction on screen has caused her to miss out on movies that were tailor made for her. James Cameron’s Titanic contains an elderly protagonist, elaborate period costumes, and a youthful romance. Could she sit through it? Nope. I’m still waiting for her to watch the second VHS tape.
So, how is it possible that an elderly woman who shudders at the very mention of the word horror became a fan of Wes Craven, the man who created Freddy Kruger?
Well, Wes was not all blood and guts. Actress Neve Campbell told the following anecdote about watching a sunrise with him while filming Scream:
“…He’s very Zen in a lot of ways. He’s a very calm spirit. He keeps a very cool atmosphere on set. He’s very warm and deep in a lot of ways.” (from the American Film Institute series, The Directors)
This calm, thoughtful demeanor is what my grandma connected with when we watched Wes Craven’s film, Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep. At the time, I thought it would be interesting to see if a horror icon of the 1980’s could pull off a late 90’s drama about a single mother. My timid grandmother, a fan of Streep, was unaware of the irony involved.
Music of the Heart is actually a very touching film. Meryl Streep puts in a great performance – a given by now – as a mom who puts her life back together when her husband leaves her. Shortly after, Roberta Guaspari (Streep) packs up her kids and moves to East Harlem to teach violin. While working at an inner-city school, Roberta inspires her pupils to find their potential as musicians.
Miramax Studios was at its height in the late 1990’s. The company had just earned an Academy Award for Best Picture with Shakespeare in Love; Music of the Heart went on to receive two Oscar nominations.
I cherish this memory of spending time with my grandmother. She may not know all the details about Wes Craven, his penchant for making gory horror films, or the range of his talent. She might not even be able to tell an Oscar from a Golden Globe. However, with this one film, a man who many regarded as only a maker of scary cinema moved my grandmother and made her smile.
Wes Craven, filmmaker, philosophy student, college professor, has died of brain cancer at the age of 76. What is truly terrifying – even more so than the glove of Freddy Kruger reaching for you in a warm bubble bath – is a future without Wes Craven’s artistic vision. No more horror films. No more inspirational family dramas.
This man’s social and psychological insights will no longer be expressed through the medium of the moving image.
Mr. Craven, for me, screening your films will now act as a séance and celebration of your life. Rest in peace.
By Curtis M. Parvin 9/4/2015