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."

BY: Ted Parks


LOS ANGELES (RNS)-- Kicking off a film festival ironically searching for faith in movies meant to inspire shrieks of terror, horror-film guru Wes Craven 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's New Nightmare," the director's appearance launched the City of the Angels Film Festival last weekend (Oct. 27-28) at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles.

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

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. He attended one of the nation's best-known evangelical Christian institutions, Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Ill., before earning a master's degree in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. Before making movies, he taught college.

Craven recalled his Wheaton years as a period of both searching and rebellion. "I really frankly was in trouble a lot," he said, explaining that he and about a dozen classmates, while considering themselves Christians, chafed under the college's restrictive interpretation of the faith.

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

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