Rest in Peace, Wes Craven (1939-2015)

Horror director Wes Craven passed away from brain cancer on August 30, 2015 at the age of 76.

Wes Craven

Wes Craven made many of my favorite horror movies. From an inauspicious debut in 1972 of The Last House on the Left, Craven would go on to dominate the horror genre for decades and found not one but three movie series.

Nightmare on Elm Street

Netflix has many of his films available for streaming. They have his classic Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as well as his own revisionist take on it, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). These are the only two directed by Craven and not coincidentally, the two best in the series.

Scream

The first three Scream movies are also streaming. The first two are quite good and the third is enjoyable but quite tame in comparison. Skip Cursed and Vampire in Brooklyn unless you are a completist.

Speaking of Scream, the first six episodes of the new MTV television series are streaming on Hulu.

Rest in peace, Wes Craven. You will be missed.

Wes Craven – Horror Movie Month

I have a love/hate relationship with Wes Craven. On the one hand he is responsible for classics such as Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream as well as really good sequels such as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Scream 2. On the other hand he is responsible for dreck such as Last House on the Left, Hills Have Eyes II, My Soul to Take and Shocker.

The Last House on the Left (1972) – UR – Unrated

In this cult horror favorite from twisted writer-director Wes Craven, a pair of repulsive, sadistic escaped convicts kidnap, rape, torture and murder two teenage girls — but the criminals have picked the wrong teens to victimize. One of the girls’ parents, not content with turning to the law, set out to exact an equally brutal revenge on the vicious murderers, who are hiding out in the family’s home.

Okay I hate to plagiarize but I saw a comment on Netflix that neatly summarized this movie – The Last House on the Left is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Apple Dumpling Gang. The movie plays out somewhat like a Flannery O’Connor story with slapstick and poor musical choices thrown in. Sam Raimi is great at pulling off slapstick horror, Wes Craven is not.

I really don’t consider this a horror movie. It falls more into the revenge/exploitation genre. The violence is quite brutal for the era but much of it occurs offscreen and pales in comparison to the Saw/Hostel era. I do have to mention that rape is a hot button issue for me – it is very unusual for me to like a film that has rape in it. Still this film is terribly amateurish – skip it.

 

People Under the Stairs (1991) – Rated R

Master of horror Wes Craven brings an urban twist to the classic fairy tale in the story of Fool, a 13-year-old lad who succumbs to ghetto pressures to steal from a local house. Fool’s instant karma comes in the gruesome form of the house’s residents — an insane, deformed family of murderers. The perils of latchkey kids and warnings about absentee parents are the subtle social subtext as Fool and other victims try to escape the deadly home.

Well I just wanted to write “meh” here and leave it at that. Craven is trying to say some things about the Reagan era and poor parenting but they come across as muddled. Again he tries to shoehorn some Raimi-esque humor and again it doesn’t work. This film is watchable in a way that Last House is not. Everett McGill is suitably creepy and look for Ving Rhames in an early role.

People is corny and not scary but it is interesting.

Scream (1996) – Rated R

Horror maven Wes Craven — paying homage to teen horror classics such as Halloween and Prom Night — turns the genre on its head with this tale of a murderer who terrorizes hapless high schooler Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) by offing everyone she knows. Not your average slasher flick, Scream distinguishes itself with a self-parodying sense of humor. Courteney Cox and David Arquette co-star as a local news reporter and a small-town deputy.

This film is a modern classic. It continued some of the ironic inroads Craven had made with New Nightmare. What if the teens in a slasher movie realized that they were in a slasher movie? That is the premise here and while there are many laughs, the premise is played straight and the suspense is wonderful. The opening scene with Drew Barrymore is iconic and has been parodied ad infinitum.

The villain reveal is wonderful and was, at the time, a breath of fresh air. Craven and writer Kevin Williamson work in references to dozens of horror movies, including a hysterical cameo by Craven himself.

 

Scream 3 (2000) – Rated R

The last installment of the tongue-in-cheek (but still scary) horror trilogy finds Sidney Prescott again battling a crazed killer — only this time it’s on the set of Stab, a movie-within-a-movie based on the original Woodsboro murders. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and the rest of the Scream gang appear, alongside new characters played by Parker Posey, Jenny McCarthy and more.

Hrrm. Scream 3 is enjoyable but it is terribly misguided. It abandons the suspense of the first two films in favor of upping the humor quotient. For a series that broke so many of the horror rules in its first two films, this installment is rather pedestrian. It certainly is unusual for a horror movie to waste the talents of Lance Henriksen.

My main complaint about Scream 3 is that it is quite disjointed. I blame this on writer Ehren Kruger who did not appear to understand what really worked in Kevin Williamson’s scripts for the first two films. There are wonderful cameos by Carrie Fisher and a certain character one might not expect to make a return appearance.