Vineyard seasonal resident and famed director Wes Craven, dead at 76

In this 2013 file photo, filmmakers David Heilbroner, left, Wes Craven, and Mr. Craven's wife Iya Labunka attend the eighth annual Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Wes Craven, the famed writer-director of horror films, and a longtime seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard who lent his support to Island film festivals and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. The cause was brain cancer, according to published reports. He was 76.

A longtime summer resident, he moved to the Island full-time three years ago, where he had a home, first in Vineyard Haven and later West Tisbury, before returning to Los Angeles for work and health reasons.

Wes Craven is probably best known to film buffs as the creator of Freddy Krueger, the legendary nemesis from the teen horror flicks. Mr. Craven wrote and directed the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) as well as “Scream” (1996) and its sequels. But in 2000, the former college professor made a very different kind of film, “Music of the Heart,” starring Meryl Streep as real-life New York City teacher Roberta Guaspari, who brings music to the public schoolchildren of Harlem. The film earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

In June 2004, Mr. Craven appeared at a fundraiser screening of the film at the Chilmark Community Center.

Mr. Craven told MV Times interviewer Brooks Robards he picked “Music of the Heart” for the fundraiser, because, he said, it is the “gentlest film I’ve made.”

But Mr. Craven was best known for horror. Mr. Craven’s first feature film was “The Last House on the Left,” which he wrote, directed, and edited in 1972.

He invented the youth horror genre again in 1984 with the classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which he wrote and directed. Mr. Craven claimed to have gotten the idea for Elm Street when living next to a cemetery on a street of that name when growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, according to the Hollywood Reporter. His five “Nightmare on Elm Street” films were released from 1984 to 1989.

Similarly, Mr. Craven’s “Scream” series was a box-office sensation. In those scare-’em-ups, he spoofed the teen horror genre. His success in a film genre geared to gore did not reflect the man, Richard Paradise, Martha’s Vineyard Film Society executive director, told The Times Monday after hearing about the death of Wes Craven.

“He was a very gentle and intelligent man,” Mr. Paradise said. “You would not think on meeting him that he was the creator of Freddy Krueger, or given to conjuring up dark, nightmarish images.”

Mr. Craven had recently written and was to direct the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” segment for the Weinstein Co.’s “Ten Commandments” mini-series for WGN America, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He is listed as an executive producer of “The Girl in the Photographs,” which 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 master’s degree in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins. He briefly taught English at Westminster College, and was a humanities professor at Clarkson College, where he was a disc jockey for the campus radio station.

He wed Iya 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.