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.

Scream 2

Scream 2 is currently available on instant Netflix.

Scream 2 (1997) – Rated R

“In the two years since the fateful events in Woodsboro, Gale has written a best-seller, which has been turned into a film. As the movie premiere looms closer, the mysterious deaths begin again. Dewey heads to Sidney’s college to protect her.”

“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore – *carnage candy*. And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead. “

Props have to be given to Scream for setting the whole series up but Scream 2 has a better cast, better jokes, and is generally the better film. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s cross of ironic humorous detachment and actual suspense gel here just as well as they did in Scream. Scream 2 is funny and suspenseful.

Craven assembles a fantastic cast here. Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette return as our heroes/victims Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and Deputy Dewey. Jaime Kennedy also returns hilariously as film geek Randy Meeks to warn us of the dangers of being in a sequel.

Liev Schreiber plays the recently released from jail, Cotton Weary. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rebecca Gayheart, and Portia de Rossi play sorority sisters. Joshua (Fringe) Jackson, Timothy (Justified) Olyphant, and Jerry (Piranha) O’ Connell are students. Laurie (Andy’s Mom in Toy Story) Metcalf is a reporter.

Acting as guest stars are Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps explaining why you don’t see people of color in this type of film. Heather Graham, Tori Spelling, and Luke Wilson cameo as Casey, Sidney, and Billy in the movie within a movie, Stab. As you can see, you might get whiplash just pointing out who’s who in Scream 2.

One of the problems with slasher films is that much of the runtime is just filler between kill scenes with a bunch of stock cardboard characters (the jock, the slut, the nerd, the comic relief, the rich guy, the virgin). Here that time is filled with many humorous asides and a number of fairly exciting chase sequences. Characters are fleshed out and feel real. Humor is not restricted to the comic relief or the killer.

While none of the killings have the visceral brutal quality of the opening of Scream, most are quite inventive. One of the killings is particularly shocking and the reveal is almost as good as the one in Scream. Naturally, as one character handily points out, the body count is higher and the deaths are bloodier and more elaborate.

People Watch: There are plenty of cameos here. Matthew Lillard has a cameo as guy at party. Wes Craven has a cameo as a doctor. Selma Blair is the voice on the phone talking to Cici. Kevin Williamson is Cotton’s interviewer.

Sequel-itis: Scream 3 (2000) suffers severely from Kevin Williamson not doing the script. His Scream and Scream 2 scripts tread the fine line between suspense and humor. Scream 3 falls from sly humor into farce and there is little suspense.

Kevin Williamson comes back as scriptwriter in Scream 4 (2011) and it shows. Unfortunately the first two Screams mined the idea for most of its potential. The opening of Scream 4 is inspired and fun, the ending and many of the ideas are nice but it is not the classic that Scream and Scream 2 are.

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.

Scream

For October I’m going to change the blog around a bit. Horror is my absolute favorite genre – if there were enough good new horror movies I probably wouldn’t watch anything else. So for Halloween month I’m going to feature an Instant Netflix horror movie each day to watch and I’ll often pair it with a related one to avoid. Scream is currently available but not Scream 2 or 3. Scream and Scream 2 have a near perfect balance of humor and suspense. Scream 3 while enjoyable leans a lot harder on the humor and as such isn’t very suspenseful.

Scream

WATCH: Scream (1996) – “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 absolutely wonderful, especially if you grew up with the slasher genre as I did. Scream is a great slasher in its own right with a unique denoument. It references Halloween, Friday the 13th, the Town that Dreaded Sundown, Nightmare on Elm Street and dozens of others directly and then has just as many other indirect references. All the actors do a very good job (even if some are a little old for high school) but the real star is Kevin Williamson’s script which both pays homage to and subverts the slasher genre. Jamie Kennedy who I haven’t cared for in anything else I’ve seen is actually a scene-stealer here. People watchers: Linda Blair (The Exorcist) has a brief cameo as a reporter and Wes Craven has a cameo as a janitor in a Freddy Krueger sweater. Personal note: For many years we owned the exact same model of green-striped sofa that Sidney naps on at her house. This movie is very highly recommended but be aware that it is also fairly brutal especially the opening sequence with Drew Barrymore.

DON’T BOTHER WITH: Stephen King’s Cats Eye – also featuring Drew Barrymore, this movie never really amounts to anything. A mediocre adaptation of a few of Stephen King’s lesser short stories.