Tag Archives: wes craven

RIP Wes Craven

31 Aug

I just wanted to write a few words on here about one of my favorite film makers of all time.

Wes Craven redefined what it meant to make a horror movie and knew the perfect balance between being scared and laughing. He’s legendary amongst his peers and has created a huge filmography to prove his greatness.

From The Last House on the Left all the way to Scream 4, his works are legendary. The world has lost a great mind today.

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The Serpent and the Rainbow – Review

23 Jul

To fans of horror, Wes Craven is the equivalent of an Olympian god. I would normally say that that previous statement is a bit much, but I really can’t. Just look at his ridiculously influential body of work and compare it to anyone else working in the genre. There are some people who come close, but in my book, he’s the guy. While certainly showing his skill in the maniac killer/slasher format, he also showed his ability to work with fantasy with films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and the topic of today’s review, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

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After returning from Haiti and recovering from a near death experience, Harvard anthropologist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) is recruited by a pharmaceutical company to return to Haiti after they discovered a potion that seems to bring the dead back to life as zombies (not in the eat your brains kind of way either). Dr. Alan meets with a Haitian psychiatrist, Marielle (Cathy Tyson), and the two begin their investigation to procure this potion. What Alan doesn’t realize is that the captain of the Haitian secret police, Captain Peytraud (Zakes Mokae), is a practitioner in black magic, and will do anything in his power to keep Dr. Alan away from the potion, even if it means forcing him to face one of man’s most basic fears: being buried alive.

So, it’s been established that Wes Craven is a master of horror, but The Serpent and the Rainbow isn’t exactly a horror movie. There are definitely scenes that will freak you out, what with all of the weird voodoo images and the whole idea of being buried alive is enough to make anyone stifle a scream. What the movie is before any of that, though, is a mystery film with a lot of fantasy thrown into the mix. The whole plot is about Dr. Alan figuring out the mystery of the potion that brings people back to life, and his conflict between believing that the potion really is some sort of black magic, or if it just plays on the body’s biochemistry in a way that he doesn’t understand.

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The idea that this movie isn’t really a straight up horror movie may turn some people off to watching it, since that’s what you expect when you watch a Wes Craven movie. The horror aspects of this movie also feel very traditional. The most obvious comparison I can make for this movie is the 1943 film I Walked With a Zombie produced by another icon of horror, Val Lewton. Both have scenes of voodoo rituals and people being brought back to life as zombies, and in that same vein The Serpent and the Rainbow feels like an old fashioned horror film, even though it was produced in 1988.

What I mean by this is that it’s a film that doesn’t rely on scares to tell the story, unlike many horror movies both older and new. Even Craven’s film The Last House on the Left is told through a strictly horror point of view that heavily features rape and brutal violence in order to tell the story. This one has voodoo rituals involved and lots of blood, but it builds its story on suspense, taut pacing, and the curiosity of the mystery of the potion. That being said, another strong point of this movie is the eerie atmosphere which even brings a sociopolitical to the forefront since the story takes place in the midst of a Haitian revolution.

The Serpent and the Rainbow may not be the most effective film in Wes Craven’s filmography, but it is a memorable horror movie to say the least. I respect the way that the story is told through the eyes of mystery and suspense, but I also appreciate the scenes of genuine terror that are appropriately sprinkled throughout the rest of the movie. While I do say that this film is more of a fantasy and a mystery, I will also say that it is a genuine tale of horror that features themes of plot elements that I haven’t seen in a horror movie in years.

The Last House on the Left (1972) – Review

22 Jul

In terms of horror, there are many different iconic film makers that shaped what the genre is truly meant to be, but I think we can all agree that Wes Craven is the guy. This isn’t the first time I’ve covered Craven’s films on here so this should come as no surprise that I look up to him as a writer and as a director. Even the greatest of film makers have to start somewhere, and for Wes Craven is was in 1972 with his now infamous film The Last House on the Left. In terms of coming out of the starting gate, I don’t think Mr. Craven would have wanted it any other way.

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Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is a typical upper-middle class teenage girl who is celebrating her seventeenth birthday by going to a rock concert with her friend Phillis (Lucy Grantham). The two girls seem completely carefree despite the warnings of Mari’s parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) and start the night with some drinking and a search for some weed. Their attempts are stopped when they are kidnapped by a group of escaped convicts led by the sadistic Krug (David A. Hess). The two girls then endure a period of rape, torture, and murder with the convicts thinking this is one last ride before they make their escape. What they didn’t count on was the vengeful spirit of Mari’s parents which leads to more bloodshed than the criminals could have believed.

Interestingly enough, Wes Craven was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film from 1960 called The Virgin Spring, which has a story quite similar to this one. Bergman’s film was highly controversial and banned in certain places. Well if that happened to Bergman, it sure as hell happened to Craven. When The Last House on the Left was released in 1972 it was met with MAJOR controversy. According to Craven, people were vomiting, passing out, and leaving during screenings. He was also forced to cut a lot of scenes, but was still threatened with an X rating until it was finally slapped with an R just because he knew someone on the rating board. Even today, the BBFC has trouble censoring and releasing it and it was made over forty years ago!

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It really says something when a jaded 21st century movie buff like me actually gets uncomfortable watching something, let alone something that was made way before I even existed. That’s the case with The Last House on the Left. The odd thing is that I can sit through something like Hostel or Saw and not really get uncomfortable because both of those examples really feels like a produced movie with production values that make it look nice and pretty. This was not the case for Craven’s debut. Everything from the actors to the production design is dirt cheap. The look can kind of be compared to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in how it almost has a documentary feel to it. I felt like I was watching these atrocities happen which made the entire experience all the more uncomfortable and sickening. But hey! This is a horror movie. That’s the whole point!

There are some really, and I mean really, stupid things that happen in this movie and the all revolve around two completely inept police officers. This is really the only shitty part about the movie. In one scene, I’ll be completely horrified by the violence and then the next scene I’ll be watching these two Keystone cops flopping all over the place and making themselves look like idiots. I’m all for comedic relief, and they provide some good stuff earlier on in the movie, but they become completely useless as the movie progresses.

Wes Craven really created something unbelievable with The Last House on the Left, a movie that still pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable film making and even helped coin the British term “video nasty.” While it is a story about murder and revenge, it also gives us a look at the violence that even the most ordinary people keep deep down in their subconscious until it is forced back into their lives. This isn’t a perfect film, but it is a fine and disturbing example of modern day horror that was a game changer when it was released and a cornerstone to the genre today.

Scream 3 and Scream 4 – Review

20 Dec

In my last post, I made it quite clear that the first Scream film is a contemporary horror classic, and its follow up, Scream 2, wasn’t quite on the same level but worthy all the same. After these first two entries, the series was done with the nineties, but returned in 2000 with Scream 3, and then again 11 years later with Scream 4. One of the main reasons the first two Scream films are great is because the intelligent, sometimes scathing, satire that went along with the traditional horror fare. Unfortunately, these next two entries don’t live up to their predecessors and disappoint on many levels.

Wes Craven was back, but Kevin Williamson was out. Already a rough start for Scream 3.

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Life has been rough on Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell). In order to feel safe, she has secluded herself from society and rarely sees anyone other than her father. When a series of murders begin occurring, with the killer donning the Ghostface costume, and inquiring Sydney’s whereabout, she is brought out of seclusion and goes to Hollywood where the newest Stab movie is being shot. She isn’t alone in this, however, with Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox) returning to aid and protect her. As it is said in the film, the rules all change here, and a big reveal that changes everything we thought we knew is the only way to truly end a trilogy.

If you to make a line graph showing all the Scream movies and their quality, this is where you would see a sharp decline. Like…sharp. Everything feels different, and not in a good way. First of all, Sydney gets little screen time, especially since she’s the main protagonist and was onscreen most of the time in the other films. But the biggest problem is the new screenwriter, Ehren Kruger. Kevin Williamson wrote a draft for Scream 3 as a point of reference, but Kruger dismissed pretty much everything Williamson wrote, and did his own thing. The result is not very good at all. Instead of taking shots at the horror genre and the ins and outs of a generation, all of the satire focuses on Hollywood, and turning it into this cartoonish hellhole that is populated by idiots and corruption. Sure, that does sound like Hollywood, but this is way too over the top.

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Bottom line is this: Scream 3 is silly in that stupid kind of way. It isn’t a complete disaster, and the twists at the end are cool, but this is a weak entry with a screenplay that seems like it was written by a high schooler who’s a big fan of the movies. The jokes are too direct and cheesy, the satire is misdirected, and the heroine that we’ve come to root for is in the movie for too little a time. Scream 3 should be seen if you’re serious about this series, but if you’re just looking for something to watch and aren’t really a fan of the others, than this can be skipped easily.

Cut to 11 years later. In a world of reboots, it only seemed fair that Scream comes back to the silver screen and make self referential jokes about what kind of movie it is, and make a comment on the next generation of film goers. The result is… meh.

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15 years after the Woodsboro Massacre, Sydney makes her return to her old hometown to promote her book. As luck would have it, Ghostface also has returned, threatens Sydney, kills some people, and sparks up a new investigation to see who is behind the mask. Dewey and Gale, who are now married, return to help Sydney, and Sydney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) is caught in the middle of all of the violence that is engulfing her family and friends. As bodies begin piling up in a brutal fashion, the people of Woodsboro begin to realize that the rules of the game are all different, and anything goes this time.

If this were any other horror franchise, I’d be annoyed to see it again thinking that there really is no need to bring it back. With Scream 4, I felt pretty comfortable with its return. Williamson is back as screenwriter and only does an OK job. That’s right. Scream 4 isn’t really anything special, but it’s a big improvement over Scream 3. The witty  banter is back and it’s pretty funny hearing the characters talk about the rules of reboots. Hollywood is in an age where every other movie seems to be a reboot or a remake of some sort, so it was interesting hearing a movie produced in Hollywood make such blatant jokes about it. The film’s biggest failing is when it tries too hard. There are moments where the satire is so in your face and over the top that it falls flat and just comes off as annoying. We all get it. You’re making fun of reboots and the film industry clichés. This movie also seems to go nowhere fast for awhile then picks up the pace dramatically in the third half.

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Scream 4 is a huge improvement over Scream 3, but still just doesn’t reach the same heights as the first two movies. I appreciate what it’s trying to say about the state of the film industry and this generation of film buffs, but it’s a bit too big for its britches and comes off as pretentious and annoying at times. That’s not what the Scream films are all about. They’re about laughing and fear, and then laughing at ourselves for being scared. Scream 4 is a good time and if you’re a fan of the series, give it a watch.

I grew up with the original Scream trilogy, and these movies are a few that really helped get me begin to love movies to the degree that I do today. In that way, these movies are very special to me, and it was good to finally get around to seeing Scream 4. Despite the weaknesses that creep up in the last two movies, I can’t say that I could ever truly hate a Scream movie. Disappointed, yes, but hate is a strong word.

Scream and Scream 2 – Review

15 Dec

It can be debated that Wes Craven is the king of modern horror. I strongly believe that he is, but that’s just my opinion that borders on fact. With films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Last House on the Left, it’s clear that he’s left his mark on the horror genre. In 1996, with the help of writer Kevin Williamson, he left an even more distinct map with the Scream franchise. These much talked about horror/satire/mystery films take horror to a meta level that wasn’t explored in the horror genre before, making these films truly unique.

Scream hit the scene in 1996.

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When Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is brutally murdered, the small town of Woodsboro is thrown into a frenzy. Local high school student Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is having an especially rough time considering that all this is happening so close to the one year anniversary of her mother’s murder. As the body count begins rising, the different players are all put in danger including local policeman Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Sydney’s best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), and film nut Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Pressure also builds further around Sydney when her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) becomes suspect number 1 and media hound Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) interferes with the investigation and Sydney’s past.

What puts Scream on such a higher level than other slasher films is the writing and characterization that can, in part, be accredited to Craven, but I put most of my praise on writer Kevin Williamson. Every time I watch this movie, I care for the characters just a little bit more. Their witty banter that revolves around horror films is relatable to me, and they’re just much more believable than the cliched victims in films like Friday the 13th and even the original Halloween.

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Along with the writing, it both satirizes and terrifies in perfect unison. After Scream came out in 1996, there was a significant rise in caller ID purchases. That’s a fact, and also hilarious. The opening scene in this film is something straight out of my worst childhood nightmares, and the bloody climax is so god damn cool. In terms of comedy, it works just as well as horror. Horror buffs will appreciate all the little in-jokes, but even newcomers to the genre will still find something to laugh at. Throw in the mystery, and you got yourself a multi-genred masterpiece.

Agree with me or not, I firmly believe Scream is destined to be a horror classic. In my eyes, it already is. Not only did it capture a generation that overwhelmed the mid-90s, but it also succeeds at spoofing and honoring the horror genre. It’s bloody brilliance from the combined minds of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. Need I say more?

But, as with pretty much every horror film, a sequel seemed to be just predestination. Hitting the theaters just one year later, Scream 2 reunited characters and audiences in 1997.

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Having survived the killing spree that took place in Scream, Sydney is trying to get on with her life. Now in college, she has remained close with Randy, lives with her friend Hallie (Elise Neal), and has found love with Derek (Jerry O’Connell). Things are shaken when a murder happens at the premiere of Stab, a film within a film based off of the events of the original, and the media invades Sydney’s school, putting her face to face again with Gale, and reuniting her with Dewey. More students begin dropping and it’s only a matter of time before Sydney herself is at the other end of the knife, unless she can figure out who is behind the mask and why they crave the bloodshed.

As far as sequels go, Scream 2 is as worthy as they come. Being reunited with the survivors of the first film feels just as good every time I put the movie on. All of the new characters work pretty well too. Derek and Hallie have god chemistry with Sydney and are good counter balances to her paranoia, and Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey is just what Randy needs to create fun and memorable film banter, especially about sequels.

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Wes Craven is back directing and Kevin Williamson still penned the movie, so the characters and dialogue are as rich as ever. The screams and the laughs are just about on par with its predecessor, but the sense of mystery doesn’t quite live up to the expectations presented in the first film. In Scream, it’s hard to really figure out who the killer is because of all of the twists and turns the plot takes. In Scream 2, it isn’t really that difficult because a main character pretty much just disappears right in the middle. Then they show back up again, just in time for the climax. There is another twist that is pretty cool, but the whole unmasking thing just doesn’t feel as exciting.

Scream 2 isn’t as great as Scream, but it holds its own with other sequels that are worthy of their predecessors. The film isn’t perfect, nor will it be considered a classic like the first film, but it’s still one of the better modern horror films, even with its satirical elements.

My next review will be covering Scream 3 and Scream 4. Was a trilogy enough, or maybe a fourth was a necessary addition. Check back for my second part of the series. 

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – Review

5 Nov

It’s pretty rare for a movie to really scare the shit out of me. In fact, I was thinking about this today and these movies include films like Audition and The Exorcist. Laugh if you will, but I can sincerely add the original version of The Hills Have Eyes to this small list of movies. To modern day horror fans this movie may seem tame, but to true appreciators, this is a horrific tale of one of the worst nights in the history of storytelling.

 

The Carter family should have listened to the old man at the gas station. Not only are they stranded on a desolate road in the middle of the desert, but are being watched by a family of hill people who stalk and cannibalize any unfortunate people to pass through. As darkness falls, the Carters are beaten, raped, and some killed by these hill people. Come daybreak, the remaining Carters become the hunters, making the hill people wish they never came in contact with one another.

The 70s were a great time for horror movies. The Hills Have Eyes fall into the same brutal category as I Spit on Your GraveThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I even saw some Cannibal Holocaust sprinkled in. It’s gritty without being too graphic with some of the most disturbing scenes being the hill family watching the unsuspecting Carters down below. Wes Craven understands the horror behind be watched, as we can see in Scream, but this movie raises the stakes with the desert locale in an era without cell phones or computers.

 

What suffers in this movie is most of the acting. The entire Carter clan are pretty typical for horror movies. Some of their dialogue was written really well, including a disturbing scene about the family dog killing another person’s poodle, accompanied by their rambunctious laughter. It really makes them appear to be more than what they seem. The real stars are the Jupiter clan. Michael Berryman and Lance Gordon are a great team as sons Pluto and Mars. Their father, Jupiter, played by James Whitworth is intimidating and scary with some pretty disturbing make up.

The pacing of this movie really keeps the viewer on edge and generally made me feel uncomfortable. Wes Craven understands the importance of suspense, and fully utilizes this to create a tense atmospheres packed with terror. The punch of the actual attack by the Jupiter clan feels more intense because we’ve had to wait about 45 minutes to fully see them and what they are capable of.

The Hills Have Eyes may have  a lot of similarities to previous horror/exploitation films of the 70s, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Wes Craven’s talent in creating memorable scenes of violent terror and his ability to create and sustain tension makes this film a horror classic. Despite some of the stale acting and a few incidents of weird sound, this can easily be put on anyone’s top 10 horror films.