TIFF: Why Wes Craven's Spirit Lives On in 'The Girl in the Photographs'

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
'The Girl in the Photographs'

The horror master played a pivotal role in the making of first-time director Nick Simon’s title about a checkout girl in a serial killer's game, due in theaters and VOD on April 1 from Vertical Entertainment.

Landing a coveted Midnight Madness slot during TIFF for his horror film The Girl in the Photographs was a dream come true for filmmaker Nick Simon.

Not having Wes Craven by his side for the world premiere on Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m. is, well, quite the opposite.

Craven, 76, who passed away on Aug. 30 after a battle with brain cancer, not only has an executive producer credit on Photographs, but he also served as a mentor to Simon for the past three years after they met through a WGA mentorship program.

"It’s awful," Simon tells The Hollywood Reporter of the death of the horror maestro, famous for his A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchises. "Personally, I lost a friend. I have an email in which he says that he considered himself my godfather in film. I feel empty … like a piece is missing. Professionally, it’s sad that he never got to enjoy the hard work we did together."

Simon remembers first spotting an email in his inbox from the WGA while walking through the Dallas airport in 2012 informing him that Craven would be his mentor. "I could not believe what I was reading," he said.

What followed is equally surprising: Craven invited his five WGA mentees, including Simon, to his home for regular dinners to discuss the craft of filmmaking. Craven would later ask Simon about his slate of projects, and Simon offered up the spec script for Photographs, which he wrote with Robert Morast and Osgood Perkins. Craven volunteered to help get it made.

"He was in the trenches with us," Simon explained. "As a filmmaker who has not done a lot, it’s the thing you daydream about — a legend who helps you make a movie."

Simon describes his film as a "throwback to ’80s horror films, which I’ve always loved." The plot centers on a small-town checkout girl who becomes a victim in a serial killer’s game when she starts receiving photos of murdered women. A Los Angeles-based fashion photographer, played by Kal Penn, reads about the twisted mystery and heads back to his hometown to investigate.

Simon said Craven left behind some valuable advice. "He told me to quit apologizing so much in meetings," recalls Simon, who lists Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow and Elm Street as his personal faves. "He said, 'You’re a nice guy, but don’t say you’re sorry all the time.'

"He also said that if things aren’t going the way they should, be prepared to walk away."

Audiences won’t walk away from Photographs without seeing a touching tribute to Craven. Simon tells THR that once the film fades to black, two words follow the title credit: "For Wes."