A statement released by his family said Craven died at his Los Angeles home on Sunday from brain cancer.
A pioneer of the slasher genre, Craven once said of his work: "Horror films don't create fear. They release it."
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Craven's initial career after college was in academia, teaching English at Westminster College in Pennsylvania and humanities at Clarkson College of Technology, in Potsdam, New York. But after working as a sound editor in a post-production company in Manhattan, he was lured away by a seemingly more lucrative career in the pornographic film industry, where he worked as a writer and editor of various films using several pseudonyms, including Abe Snake.
He shifted his focus to the horror genre with a chance to direct something people would more readily admit to watching – though it was the controversial rape revenge drama The Last House On The Left (1972). With that success – it earned $3 million on an $87,000 budget – his film career quickly took off and went on to direct the likes of The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Deadly Blessing (1981) and Swamp Thing (1982). But the biggest impact he would have on the genre and filmmaking in general came with A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), which introduced the razor gloved Freddy Krueger to the world. While he wasn't involved with most of the sequels, he did write the third and came back for New Nightmare (1994), which put a post-modern spin on the idea. The meta theme continued with Scream (1996), which saw Craven directing Kevin Williamson's script. The film was a huge success and spawned a further three sequels.
He didn't often stray outside of genre, though he did experiment, with such films as Music Of The Heart (1999), which starred Meryl Streep. Still, he seemed content to be a writer, director, occasional actor and inspiration for the horror genre, with several of his movies remade and Scream generating a current TV series.
"I can see that I give my audience something," he once told fellow filmmaker Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers) in an interview. "I can see it in their eyes, and they say thank you a lot. You realize you are doing something that means something to people. So shut up and get back to work."
Reflecting on his career, Craven remarked that his intention was always to innovate: "I tried to make movies where I can honestly say I haven't seen that before and to follow my deepest intuitions and in some cases literally my dreams."
Actress Courtney Cox, who starred in Craven's Scream and appeared in the franchise's three subsequent films, tweeted: "Today the world lost a great man, my friend and mentor, Wes Craven. My heart goes out to his family. x"
Rose McGowan, who also featured in the original Scream, said: "Thank you for being the kindest man, the gentlest man, and one of the smartest men I've known. Please say there's a plot twist."
Our thoughts are with his friends and family.