Wes Craven, known worldwide for his horror films and on the Vineyard for his low key style, humor and thoughtfulness, died on August 30 in Los Angeles at the age of 76. The cause was brain cancer.

Mr. Craven once compared creative inspiration as a fleeting moment that often arrives in a peripheral way.

“It’s like a cat,” he said. “If you stare at it, it won’t come. Look away. Not long after you’ll feel its fur brush up against you. Once it touches you, you can touch it.”

Mr. Craven’s film A Nightmare on Elm Street, which he wrote and directed, surfaced in this way. The story of a villain, Freddy Krueger, who haunts and kills a group of teenagers in their dreams, was partly the product of two moments in time. While driving around Los Angeles, he heard on the news the story of a young Cambodian boy who was afraid to go to sleep and stayed up for days to avoid it. When he finally gave in, the boy died in his sleep. The other image, of Freddy Krueger, came from a moment when as child Mr. Craven was walking down the street and saw a figure in a window, watching him as if waiting to strike. The moment was so haunting that it stayed with him into his adult life and was reborn as Freddy Krueger.

Wes Craven was born on August 2, 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio to a strict religious family. He said he never even saw a movie until he was in his 20s. His father died when he was five.

At first his career favored the more cerebral halls of academia. He was an English literature major at Wheaton College in Illinois and earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University. He taught English at Westminster College and Clarkson University before turning to film.

His first feature film, which he wrote and directed, was The Last House on the Left, made in 1972 and made infamous by the marketing slogan: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.”

About creative inspiration, he said: “It’s like a cat. If you stare at it, it won’t come. Look away. Not long after you’ll feel its fur brush up against you. Once it touches you, you can touch it.”

He continued to redefine the horror film genre, adding humor and irony as well as new layers of filmmaking technique and storytelling. The Nightmare franchise brought him worldwide acclaim, and the Scream movies firmly established him as the master of the form.

Bob Weinstein tapped Mr. Craven to direct the first Scream movie for Miramax Films, the first of many projects the two men worked on together over several decades.

“The thing about Wes was that in his craft and his artistry he made horror films and dealt with psychological fear, and yet on a personal level he was the opposite,” Mr. Weinstein said. “He was the most gentle soul I have ever met. And it was a real gift to know him on these two levels.”

Mr. Weinstein said one of Mr. Craven’s assets was his eye for new talent. The list of actors he gave a start to is long, as is the list he killed off. He cast an unknown Johnny Depp in the first Nightmare movie, and then quickly disposed of him in a geyser of blood.

“He was meticulous in his casting,” Mr. Weinstein said. “The cast of Scream went on to do great things. And when the time was right he was great with older casting too. In this business you get typecast, but Harvey [Weinstein] could see he could direct actors like no one else, and so when Wes came to us with his passion project, both of us were very proud to back him. On the horror side he was the master, and then he showed how he could handle a whole other kind of project.”

That project was Music of the Heart (1999) about the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music, which starred Meryl Streep, who received an Academy Award nomination for her role.

Because of the unique characteristics of film which allow one to live forever, Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Craven are still working together. Recently Mr. Craven wrote a teleplay for a series based on the Ten Commandments. His commandment was Thou Shalt Not Kill.

“This was another step away from horror films,” Mr. Weinstein said. “It is a dramatic meditation on one of the commandments.”

The teleplay about the stresses of a soldier who operates drones to launch attacks in foreign wars and how this affects his relationship with his son, is still in production. Mr. Craven was to direct the episode but that will now fall to another artist.

“Over the years we became good friends,” Mr. Weinstein said. “And I will miss him.”

A longtime seasonal resident of the Vineyard, Mr. Craven was first introduced to the Island in the late 1980s when an actor friend invited him to visit during the Christmas holidays, his stepdaughter Nina Tarnawsky said. She recalled that he said it snowed during his visit, and while exploring the Island and taking in the Norman Rockwell-type atmosphere of a sparse and wintry Edgartown, he had the feeling that he was meant to be here.

The paradox of being Wes Craven could be summed up in this scene, the horror master embracing off-season on the Vineyard, not to exploit it for a scary story, but to be at peace.

An avid birdwatcher who wrote a column in Martha's Vineyard Magazine. — Wes Craven

He bought a house in Vineyard Haven, and more recently moved to Seven Gates Farm in West Tisbury with his wife Iya Labunka. On the Island he led a quiet life filled with family and friends.

Carol Craven, who owned the Carol Craven Gallery, recalled how at a party a person walked up to Wes and asked if he was related to her. When Wes said no, the person walked away.

“That’s the way it is on the Island,” Carol Craven said. “Here is this big important person and no one really cares about that.”

The two Cravens, although not related, became good friends.

“We used to email each other all the time,” she said. “We created these characters where we were twins, separated at birth. Mom kept him but I was given away for adoption and now on the Vineyard we had finally found each other again. He called me Sis and I called him Bro.”

Ms. Craven said she saved all the email exchanges.

“He was so smart and funny and loving, everyone just adored him,” she said. “I was so lucky to know him and Iya.”

Tony Shalhoub and Brooke Adams, friends from both the Vineyard and the movie business, said they “will miss him terribly. He was generous, brilliant, funny and warm.”

Mr. Shalhoub first met Mr. Craven on the set of the television series Stark Raving Mad where Mr. Shalhoub played a horror writer and Mr. Craven had a cameo, but they didn’t become friends until spending time together on the Island.

Amy Brenneman and Brad Silberling also shared friendships with Mr. Craven in Hollywood and on the Vineyard. But again, it was the Island that seemed to bring out the full man.

“While on screen he exercised his darkest dreams, Wes gave those of us who knew him in life his other stories; stories of humor and modest kindness,” the couple said. “We think he loved this Island because, in many ways, it replicates the best part of making movies — creating a tribe. Safe, intimate, familial. His was always the warmest smile at the table.”

On the Island his two favorite places to visit were Hinckley’s lumber yard and Shirley’s Hardware. He had recently built a woodworking shop at his home and could often be found there making wooden toys for his grandchildren — a ferry boat, an 18-wheeler truck. During their summer vacations, the grandchildren worked with their grandfather on these creations.

Mr. Craven was also an avid birder and on the board of directors for the California Audubon Society. He wrote a monthly column about the subject for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. “When you ask Wes Craven to write a bird column, you don’t get two chickadees and a tufted titmouse,” said Paul Schneider, editor of the magazine.

Mr. Craven turned the column into a creative expression by creating a character, himself, whom birds talk to and tell some of their avian secrets.

In one August 2014 column, he was escorted by an owl to a secret location up-Island where once a year, the bird populations dreamed the world back to before humans existed and all manner of species, many extinct now, flew in numbers so large they covered the sky.

I squinted — the sun was coming up behind the cloud now, and I could see it wasn’t a cloud at all. It was birds ­­— a gargantuan white cloud of them, speeding by with the singular purpose of one gigantic creature.

“Passenger pigeons,” the owl whispered. “Cool, huh?”

I was stunned by the beauty of it, by the way the sun ringed their slender bodies with gold. But it was short-lived. As swiftly as they appeared, they wiped the last stretch of the sky and were gone.

Wes Craven is survived by his wife Iya Labunka, a sister, Carol Buhrow, his children Jonathan and Jessica and their spouses, his stepdaughter Nina, and his grandchildren Miles, Max and Myra-Jean.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in his memory to the California Audubon Society.