Wes Craven, horror maestro, dies at 76

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Wes Craven, the famed maestro of horror known for the Nightmare on Elm Streetand Scream franchises, died Sunday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 76.

Craven, whose iconic Freddy Krueger character horrified viewers for years, died at his home in Los Angeles, his family announced. Survivors include his wife, producer and former Disney Studios vice president Iya Labunka.

SEE ALSO: Mourners to pay tribute to slain television cameraman

Craven was a longtime summer resident of Martha's Vineyard, where he moved permanently three years ago before returning to L.A. for work and health reasons.

Craven claimed to have gotten the idea for Elm Street from living next to a cemetery on a street of that name in the suburbs of Cleveland. The five Nightmare on Elm Street films were released from 1984-89 and drew big crowds.

Click through to see photos of Craven:

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Wes Craven, horror maestro, dies at 76
Wes Craven arrives at The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films AFM cocktail party held at Hotel Shangri-La on November 7, 2010 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 26: Wes Craven and his wife attend the Premiere of Magnolia Pictures' 'Life Itself' at the ArcLight Hollywood on June 26, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 11: Directyor Wes Craven arrives at the premiere of the Weinstein Company's 'Scream 4' Presented by AXE Shower at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on April 11, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 11: Actress Courteney Cox, director Wes Craven, actress Neve Campbell, and Iya Labunka arrive at the premiere of The Weinstein Company's 'Scream 4' Presented by AXE Shower held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on April 11, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
(L-R) Actresses Neve Campbell and Emma Roberts, director Wes Craven, and actor David Arquette speak onstage during Spike TV's 'Scream 2010' at The Greek Theatre on October 16, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 16: Director Wes Craven (L) and Iya Labunka arrives at Spike TV's 'Scream 2010' at The Greek Theatre on October 16, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 16: Director Wes Craven arrives at Spike TV's 'Scream 2010' at The Greek Theatre on October 16, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Wes Craven visits the Apple Store Soho on October 4, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Dario Cantatore/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD - FEBRUARY 09: Director Wes Craven (right) and wife Iya arrives on the red carpet of the Los Angeles premiere of 'Friday The 13th' >> at Grauman's Chinese Theater on February 9, 2009 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/WireImage)
Director Wes Craven onstage at SPIKE TV's 'Scream 2008' Awards held at the Greek Theatre on October 18, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
PASADENA, CA - JULY 10: Director Wes Craven speaks during the 2006 Summer Television Critics Press Tour forthe Starz Entertainment Group at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on July 10, 2006 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Iya Labunka and husband Wes Craven, director during 'Red Eye' Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals at Mann Bruin Theater in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by Todd Williamson/FilmMagic)
Wes Craven during 'Gangs of New York' - Los Angeles Premiere at The Directors Guild in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Wes Craven & Tori Spelling during 'Scream 2' - Hollywood Premiere in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
A poster for Wes Craven's 1972 horror film 'The Last House on the Left' starring Sandra Peabody. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
A poster for Wes Craven's 1977 horror film 'The Hills Have Eyes' starring Suze Lanier-Bramlett. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
A poster for Wes Craven's 1982 science fiction film 'Swamp Thing', featuring Adrienne Barbeau. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
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Similarly, Craven's Scream series was a box-office sensation. In those scare-'em-ups, he spoofed the teen horror genre and frequently referenced other horror movies.

Craven's first feature film was The Last House on the Left, which he wrote, directed and edited in 1972. A rape-revenge movie, it appalled some viewers but generated big box office. Next came another film he wrote and helmed, The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

Craven re-invented the youth horror genre in 1984 with the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, which he wrote and directed.

He conceived and co-wrote Elm Street III as well, and then after not being involved with other sequels, deconstructed the genre a decade after the original, writing and directing Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which was nominated for best feature at the 1995 Spirit Awards.

His own Nightmare players, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, played themselves in that film.

In 1996, Craven reached a new level of success with the release of Scream. The film grossed more than $100 million domestically, as did Scream 2 (1997).

Between Scream 2 and Scream 3, Craven, offered the opportunity to direct a non-genre film for Miramax, helmed Music of the Heart (1999), a film that earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for best actress in the inspirational drama about a teacher in Harlem.

"We had a very difficult time getting an audience into a theater on my name," he said in an interview with writer-director Mick Garris in October. "In fact, we moved toward downplaying my name a lot on Music of the Heart. The more famous you are for making kinds of outrageous scary films, the crossover audience will say, 'I don't think so.'"


Also in 1999, in the midst of directing, he completed his first novel, The Fountain Society, published by Simon & Shuster.

Craven again pushed the genre boundaries with the 2005 psychological thriller Red Eye, starringRachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy and Brian Cox. And in 2006, he wrote and directed a romantic comedy homage to Oscar Wilde featuring Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell as a segment in the French ensemble production Paris Je T'aime.

Craven then produced remakes of The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Last House on the Left(2009).

His most recent written and directed film, My Soul to Take (2010), marked his first collaboration with Labunka, who also produced Scream 4.

Craven directed several other thrillers and horror movies during his career, including Swamp Thing(1982), Deadly Friend (1986) and The People Under the Stairs (1991).


Craven had recently signed an overall television deal with Universal Cable Productions and had a number of projects in development, including The People Under the Stairs with Syfy Networks,Disciples with UCP, We Are All Completely Fine with Syfy/UCP, and Sleepers with Federation Entertainment.

He also was executive producing the new Scream series for MTV. The season finale of the series will pay tribute to the writer/director, an MTV spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.

Craven had recently written and was to direct the Thou Shalt Not Kill segment for The Weinstein Co.'s Ten Commandments miniseries for WGN America. And he is listed as an executive producer of The Girl in the Photographs, a horror thriller directed by his protege, Nick Simon, that will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month.

Wesley Earl Craven was born Aug. 2, 1939, in Cleveland. His father died when he was 5. Raised in a strict Baptist household, he graduated from Wheaton College with degrees in English and psychology, then earned a masters in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins.


He briefly taught English at Westminster College and was a humanities professor at Clarkson College, where he served as a disc jockey for the campus radio station.


Craven had an eye for discovering talent. While casting A Nightmare on Elm Street, he discoveredJohnny Depp. He cast Sharon Stone in her first starring role, for Deadly Blessing, and he gaveBruce Willis his first featured role in an episode of the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone.

He wed Labunka in 2004, his third marriage. Survivors also include his sister Carol, son Jonathan, daughter Jessica, grandchildren Miles, Max and Myra-Jean and stepdaughter Nina.


Craven was a nature lover and committed bird conservationist, serving as a longtime member of the Audubon California Board of Directors. He penned a monthly column, "Wes Craven's The Birds," for Martha's Vineyard Magazine.

"I come from a blue-collar family, and I'm just glad for the work," Craven said in his chat with Garris. "I think it is an extraordinary opportunity and gift to be able to make films in general, and to have done it for almost 40 years now is remarkable.

"If I have to do the rest of the films in the [horror] genre, no problem. If I'm going to be a caged bird, I'll sing the best song I can.

"I can see that I give my audience something. I can see it in their eyes, and they say thank you a lot. You realize you are doing something that means something to people. So shut up and get back to work."

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