Wes Craven on Film, Fear and Faith

The horror film director says people watch scary movies "not to get scared, but to deal with terrors they already feel."

LOS ANGELES (RNS)-- Kicking off a film festival ironically searching forfaith in movies meant to inspire shrieks of terror, horror-film guru WesCraven talked not only about his classic "A Nightmare on Elm Street,"but his own conservative Christian upbringing.

Sandwiched between the screening of "Elm Street" and "Wes Craven'sNew Nightmare," the director's appearance launched the City of theAngels Film Festival last weekend (Oct. 27-28) at the Directors Guild ofAmerica in Los Angeles.

Now in its eighth year, the festival screens classic Hollywood andforeign movies, then features filmmakers and theologians who unpack thefilms' religious meanings. The festival's theme for 2001 was "Touches ofEvil."

Creator of the claw-swinging cinematic bogeyman Freddy Krueger,filmmaker Craven has unmistakably evangelical Christian roots.

Born in Cleveland, Craven was raised in a conservative church where"we didn't smoke, drink, play cards, dance or go to movies," he said. Heattended one of the nation's best-known evangelical Christianinstitutions, Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill., before earning amaster's degree in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. Before makingmovies, he taught college.

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Craven recalled his Wheaton years as a period of both searching andrebellion. "I really frankly was in trouble a lot," he said, explainingthat he and about a dozen classmates, while considering themselvesChristians, chafed under the college's restrictive interpretation of thefaith.

"We were ... threatened with everything from expelling to beingasked, `why don't you move to another school?'" Craven said. "Therewasn't an open dialogue of ideas."

The director remembered sneaking off to another town to see "To Killa Mockingbird" because the college prohibited students from going tomovies.

Besides bucking the rules, Craven recalled his internal struggles ashe began questioning the narrow approach to Christianity he had grown upwith and that Wheaton seemed to enforce.

"I was going through a very slow, but definite ...questioning of myown inner realities," he said.

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