Wes Craven: His TV Legacy

·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
image

Over the course of his four-decade career, horror maestro Wes Craven dreamed up some of the defining scary movies of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But the writer, director and producer, who passed away on Aug. 30 at age 76 from brain cancer, also strived to bring the freaky to the small screen. Starting with the 1981 Craven-produced TV movie, Kent State — based on a slice of U.S. history that’s almost as terrifying as one of his cinematic nightmares — the writer, director, and producer built a lengthy television résumé, culminating in MTV’s current series, Scream, based on the seminal horror franchise Craven unleashed upon the world in 1996. Scream airs its first season finale on Sept. 1, and the network says it will pay tribute to its founding creative force. Here, Yahoo TV looks back at some of Craven’s pre-Scream horror shows, which, even if they weren’t always long for this world, showcased his devilish imagination.

The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1985-1987)
After directing the 1985 TV movie, Chiller, for CBS, the network invited Craven back to launch this rebooted version of Rod Serling’s classic sci-fi anthology series. Craven helmed the first trip back into the Twilight Zone, kicking off with “Shatterday,” adapted from a Harlan Ellison story and starring Bruce Willis — who was only a few months into his Moonlighting run — as a guy who winds up having a memorable phone conversation with… himself? (Watch a clip from the episode below.) Craven would go on to direct six more segments for the series, featuring such actors as Morgan Freeman, Robert Klein, and Gary Cole.

Casebusters (ABC, 1986)
A Wes Craven-directed Disney movie? Hey, anything was possible in the ‘80s. Two years after A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven made something that kids could actually watch without lying to their parents. Aired as part of The Disney Sunday Movie, the latest iteration of the Mouse House’s long-running anthology series, Casebusters was an hour-long film about a pair of small-time kiddie detectives (Virginya Keehne and Neverending Story star Noah Hathaway) who get mixed up in a legit criminal investigation… but not of the serial killer variety, natch. Casebusters is unavailable on DVD, but you can stream it on YouTube via Disney Movies OnDemand.

Freddy’s Nightmares (Syndication, 1988-1990)
This Nightmare on Elm Street-inspired anthology series may have been emceed by Craven’s most famous creation, but that was the extent of the director’s involvement. Freddy’s alter ego, Robert Englund, on the other hand, was a frequent participant during the two-season run, donning his nightmarish make-up to introduce various tales of fear and woe. In other words, he was the Elvira of the series, albeit with less hair and cleavage. (The pilot episode was the only one that Freddy directly appeared in, depicting his transformation from child murderer to haunter of teenagers’ dreams.) While Englund was the show’s big star at the time, the lineup of episodic players now reads like an A-list Golden Globes afterparty: Brad Pitt, Mariska Hargitay, Kyle Chandler, and John Cameron Mitchell all appeared in individual segments.

The People Next Door (CBS, 1989)
After nearly a decade in the television game, Craven graduated from hired hand to head honcho, co-creating this fantasy-laced sitcom with future Wild Palms writer, Bruce Wagner, and taking an executive producer credit as well. A star vehicle for Jeffrey Jones, then at the pinnacle of his celebrity following box office hits like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Beetlejuice (and well before his ignoble fall), the show revolved around a cartoonist whose limitless imagination often took on material form with, say, giants appearing in bedrooms or severed arms rising up out of salad bowls. (Jump to the 8:03 mark in the video below to hear the show’s catchy theme song… or watch the whole thing to re-witness vintage ‘80s TV themes like Rescue 911 and The Famous Teddy Z.) People was canceled after only five episodes, but it did appear to give Craven the inspiration for the title of his next theatrical feature: 1991’s The People Under the Stairs.

Nightmare Café (NBC, 1992)
Undeterred by the early demise of The People Next Door, Craven set about launching a new series, one that was initially pitched as an anthology show in the vein of The Twilight Zone and Freddy’s Nightmares. In fact, Craven re-teamed with Freddy himself Robert Englund for the show, and, as a bonus, allowed his leading man to act with his real face for once. Set in the titular dining establishment overseen by spooky owner Blackie (Englund), the café revealed itself to have a variety of supernatural properties, from the ability to materialize anywhere on Earth (or, for that matter, off-Earth) to bringing time itself to a standstill. Despite that nifty premise, mixed reviews and low ratings meant that Nightmare Café closed its doors permanently after six episodes.