Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

updated 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

>Wes Craven


HORROR FILM FANS WILL CRINGE IN terror at the thought, but lurking in the shadows of director Wes Craven's twisted mind—No, don't open that door!—is a really sensitive guy. The man who slashed his way to fame in 1984 with A Nightmare on Elm Street and now has audiences squirming with Scream 2 starts work this summer on his next film, and there's nary a drop of blood in the script.

After screening Craven's first Scream last year, Miramax signed him to a three-picture deal—with the option that one of the films need not be horrific. So Craven, 58, is now preparing for Fiddlejest, the story of an East Harlem violin teacher who struggles to change kids' lives. (Madonna will likely play the role.) "This is the side of me that's more at peace with the world," says Craven, who taught English in high school and college for several years before directing his first film, the repulsively gruesome Last House on the Left, in 1972.

After 25 years of scare tactics, the Sultan of Slash is more than ready to be known for serious work. Raised in a strict Baptist, working-class Cleveland family, Craven saw few movies as a child. At conservative Wheaton College in Illinois, he edited the literary magazine and went on to earn a master's degree in literature and philosophy at Johns Hopkins. Twice divorced and living alone with two cats and a dog in L.A. (he has a grown son and daughter), Craven says that directing horror films is not all that different from teaching: "You have to convey information and delight them and surprise them and keep them on the edge of their seats."

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