Wes Craven, who haunted the nightmares of two generations of teenagers — and their parents — with his creation of Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films, died Sunday at age 76. He had brain cancer and died in Los Angeles, his family and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment told NBC News.
Craven helped popularize a new style of bloody horror movie that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, far more graphic than the indirect, mainly off-screen chills of earlier classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and the classic Hammer Studios monster movies.
Among his other enormously popular slasher films were the “Scream” movies, “The Last House on the Left” and “The People Under the Stairs.”
Craven was born in Cleveland in 1939. He was a longtime summer resident of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but moved permanently to Los Angeles three years ago for work and health reasons, his family said in a statement.
Craven left Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, where he was a professor of humanities, around 1970 to make more money directing pornographic films under a variety of pseudonyms, he said in the 2005 documentary “Inside Deep Throat.” His first mainstream feature was “The Last House on the Left,” which was released in 1972.
But it was the invention of Freddy Krueger, the cinder-charred, razor-gloved who somehow managed to gruesomely kill his victims from inside their dreams, that made Craven a Hollywood legend — and forever defined the career of Robert Englund, the actor behind the mask.
The American Film Institute ranked the character 40th on its list of the 100 greatest movie heroes and villains in 2009.
The horror spoof “Scream” (1996) and its many sequels gave Craven the opportunity to turn the tables on his own genre — an activity he reveled in.
“At craft service, there was a special section just for blood,” he said in October 2010 at a sneak preview of “Scream 4.”
Courtney Cox, who starred in the original “Scream” and appeared in the three sequels, called Craven “a great man” on Twitter.
In private life, Craven was a dedicated bird conservationist who served for many years on the board of Audubon California, his family said.