Cravenous: Pulse

pulse

I debated a long time whether or not I would include this movie in my Cravenous series. First, it’s clearly taking me a while to get through all of Wes Craven’s films. It’s a matter of timing, really. My work life hasn’t pulled punches in a very long time, so my time to do things I enjoy, like write long-winded blog posts, is very, very, very limited.

Then there is the fact that Craven didn’t direct this film, as originally planned. If you remember from my Craven quote in my review of Cursed, he mentioned that he was supposed to direct the film but the undying nature of that terrible werewolf movie made it impossible. Because of that and other “cursed” kerfuffling, Dimension ended up pulling the plug on Pulse. I have a feeling that the Craven/Dimension relationship really soured with the behind-the-scenes fiasco that was that horrible werewolf movie. In the end, (still) virtual unknown Jim Sonzero ended up directing Craven’s script while Craven went on to make several non-Dimension films.

So why did I decide to review this one? Basically because Craven did write the screenplay. I made a decision at the beginning of this series that I wouldn’t include the movies that Craven produced, since he didn’t really have a whole lot to do with those beyond ponying up the money to make them. Ultimately, I considered Craven’s writing and directing contributions to the horror genre to be the two most important from his career. I even strongly debated the inclusion of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, since Craven was listed as part of the writing team for that film. However, his original screenplay was so overwhelmingly rewritten, reworked, reshaped, and revised by numerous people that I didn’t really think it was fair to include it in this list. Pretty much the only thing that I think was left from Craven’s ideas for that film was the idea of Freddy having grown so strong by that point that a whole group of teenagers needed to defeat him rather than just one. Oh, and it was Craven’s idea to bring back Nancy.

For the American remake of Pulse, however, Craven was only one of two writers listed in the credits. The other credit (minus Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who wrote the original 2001 Japanese film, Kairo) is Ray Wright. He had one credit prior to this movie, and only has three more since, so I’m going to assume that he would have been the second-string writer on this script. Maybe Dimension brought him in to make changes to update it or make it more in line with what the Weinsteins wanted. Who knows. The bottom line, though, is that the script is definitely a mostly Craven product.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of his less well-made products. True, he might have been able to work some miracles with the script had he gotten to direct it as he had wished. He would have had say in casting, in locations, in filming choices, in rewrites as he went along—all things that could have made a world of difference in the final film. We’ll never get to see the version of this that Craven could have made. However, even in someone else’s hands, you can see remnants of Craven’s touch. First, the storyline definitely seems to be something Craven would find fascinating as a man who wrestled often with concepts about death and the afterlife. Plus, the added concept of how our increasing dependence on technology was affecting our daily lives and interactions would have piqued his interest as well, I think.

When watching the remake, you’ll also catch two scenes that definitely carry the Craven stamp on them: One is a scene in a public restroom, with one of our protagonists thinking she hears things coming from the stalls. Hi, Sidney Prescott would like her restroom shtick back, thank you. The second is one that Craven used in two of his previous films: Deadly Blessing and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Yes, we get another scene of a female protagonist prone in a bathtub. By this point, it’s tired, and strangely enough, in someone else’s hands, it became sad. Not scary at all. Just. Sad.

It’s a shame, really, that Craven didn’t get to direct this, but I think it was more of a shame that he was on board with remaking another Japanese horror movie in the first place. As much of a supporter I continue to be of the American remake to Ringu, I ultimately think that if you want to see a Japanese horror film? Go rent the Japanese horror film. True, many elements within them carry meaning more in-sync with Eastern sensibilities, but you know what? You learn something while getting scared. It’s a win-win.

The original version of this film is thematically similar, but still quite different because of those subtle Eastern touches. The original is more compelling, more complex, more provocative. Even when the remake tried to recreate scenes directly from the original, it still lost something in the translation that left the redone scenes feeling flat, pointless. Again, it’s difficult to gauge how this could have gone had Craven directed it, but in its final form, it really was a disappointment. Plus, the visual choices made for this film were so distracting. I hate horror filmmakers who feel compelled to make their movies so color- and shadow-saturated that you’re clueless about what’s going on in some of the more integral scenes. I swear, some of these scenes needed their characters to wear miner helmets.

Casting was inoffensive. Kristen Bell was one of the protagonists. Ian Somerhalder played the other protagonist. I personally have no idea who he is, but he looks like Rob Lowe had a son with Cillian Murphy. Octavia Spencer shows up in a quick but entertaining scene, and Brad Dourif rolls in for a quick quirky showing toward the end.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about this film. I think, though, that including it is a nice way of showing an example both of how Craven’s importance was not just to the writing or directing—he brought skill and precision to both elements—and also of how Craven’s input of any kind wasn’t always a solid guarantee of film success. Just as putting up money to produce a horror film didn’t make instant genre hits of any of the films he backed, having a script primarily written by him didn’t guarantee instant box office success either. And even though Dimension didn’t play up his participation in this film at all, critics and fans knew. In fact, many critics pointed out in their panning reviews of this film that not even the Master of Horror could save this film from its less-than-impressive (non-)impact on the horror genre.

Cravenous: Red Eye

I’m going to start off this review by doing something that I’ve tried to avoid until now (pretty much because I can’t control what YouTube keeps and what they remove): I’m going to post the movie trailer.

Pretty spiffy, right? It’s why I couldn’t resist. I’ve spent so much time in these reviews talking about how Craven wanted so very much to break out of the horror pigeonhole and direct something else. And then he got his wish with Music of the Heart, which showed that he could actually do more than horror when given the chance.

Of course, this confused the hell out of everyone. Craven followers didn’t understand why he wasn’t doing horror. Non-horror people didn’t understand why his name was associated with a movie about violins rather than violence (“What’s all this fuss I keep hearing about violins on television?”). Next thing you know, up was down, night was day, left was right, cats became needy and dogs became aloof, and then all of society imploded.

Okay, not really. But I loved how this trailer kind of toyed with the fact that there no longer was certainty that Craven’s name would guarantee horror. But a rom-com? Duke! Don’t you toy with my emotions!

redeye

Of course, we didn’t get a romantic comedy, but I give total kudos to the person who cut this trailer. It’s fantastic in all the best ways. And, of course, we didn’t get another horror movie with 2005’s Red Eye. Instead, Craven gave us his best take at a Hitchcockian thriller, which to be fair? Is a pretty damned good take.

Don’t get me wrong: The overall premise of this film is totally hinky. You kind of have to ignore the main goal of the plot. It might be hard, but ultimately, it’s really good advice.

What should you pay attention to in this film? The fact that this is possibly the most technically precise film of Craven’s entire oeuvre. True, many films throughout his career have critical technical merit. However, this film is so streamlined and so precise and so very focused. It’s definitely Craven’s leanest film, not even hitting the 90-minute mark. However, that just means that every scene, every line, every look (especially every look) has poignancy and purpose.

I mentioned already that this is Craven’s most Hitchcockian movie. Honestly, this could have been called Strangers on a Plane if you wanted to be cute. It’s funny because screenwriter Carl Ellsworth’s next movie after this would be Disturbia, which is basically Rear Window for millennials. Clearly, Ellsworth had a Hitchcockian sensibility in mind when he wrote this script. It’s got that great sense of pacing and purpose, plus killer character interactions that become the everything of this movie.

Honestly, the casting of Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy as the two leads, Lisa and Jackson, could not have been more fortuitous—and I write this knowing that Craven at one point considered casting Neve Campbell in the role McAdams would get. However, he stated in his commentary that he wanted actors who weren’t necessarily instantly recognizable. McAdams was still near the beginning of her acting career and Murphy was just starting to become more prevalent in American movies. Add to this the fact that, minus Murphy’s striking cerulean stare, both actors are relatively chameleon-like in their appearances.

To be honest, it took me a really long time to recognize McAdams from one film to the next. It had nothing to do with her not giving great performances; it was simply a matter of she kept changing appearances and kept taking on varied roles that, true, showcased an incredible acting range, but ended up making it practically impossible for me to keep up with what she was doing next. Same to some extent with Murphy, who prior to this movie had just finished his role as a trans woman in Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto. Clearly, he had no qualm with completely losing himself in a role as well.

Anyway, McAdams and Murphy’s interaction throughout this film is one of surprising exactitude. Craven stated in his commentary that they skipped rehearsals because both McAdams and Murphy were working on other projects, so even he feared that his two leads might lack the chemistry that these two characters desperately needed to have. He, and we, lucked out supremely. Murphy has a chilling ability to slip from charismatic to brutal instantaneously, which lent his character the volatility and cruelty he needed, all while disguised behind a cool, almost implacable facade.

It’s McAdams, however, who carries this film with admirable dexterity. Her expressions convey an almost incomprehensible amount of information and emotion. Craven talks throughout his commentary on this film about sitting with McAdams on several occasions and perfecting certain looks to match what he wanted her character to tell the audience without words, and you truly get a sense of how intimately detailed both Craven and McAdams were about those looks. She nails this performance so solidly that you can forgive the script for having that hinky overarching plot.

Seriously, it’s ridiculous. Nay, I daresay, it’s ridonkulous.

Craven helps amplify the tension between Lisa and Jackson with some brilliant cinematography. In another Hitchockian nod, most of the action in this film takes place in one location: a red eye flight to Miami. This is the moment where you prove yourself as a director: Can you keep your audience’s attention when your characters are limited in where they can go and what they can do? The answer here is an astounding yes. With superb behind-the-scenes manipulation within the small spaces of their set (which was a set mockup of a plane interior rigged on hydraulics to simulate varying degrees of turbulence), Craven impresses upon us the increasing intensity and claustrophobia and pressure upon Lisa as her emotional and physical states shrink more and more. One of the most intense scenes from this film takes place inside the airplane lavatory, which, according to Craven’s commentary, had to be partially filmed with a camera rigged to a dolly above the actors because there was no room inside. That’s a linchpin moment in the film, that smallest, most confined scene, for several reasons and one that, again, Craven and McAdams worked through with convincing beauty.

Now, I’ve mentioned the commentary track for this film several times. Honestly? If you’ve never listened to one of Craven’s commentaries, you are definitely missing out on some great stuff. He was one of the rare exceptions to the rule I’ve learned, that director commentaries are usually a waste of time. With Craven, however, he consistently went above and beyond with his comments. He had no problem with letting you into all the various facets of his work behind the scenes, whether it was technical or casting or location scouting. He held a wealth of knowledge and he was incredibly generous in how he shared it.

He also brought along others who could provide equally valuable glimpses behind the scenes for which they were responsible. Several of his commentaries that I have listened to for this series, in fact, included Marianne Maddalena and Patrick Lussier, two long-time Craven confidantes. Maddalena’s relationship with Craven dated back to her time as his personal assistant on Deadly Friend. She began producing with his 1989 film Shocker and remained with him right through Scream 4 and the Scream television series that they both produced. Lussier started working with Craven during his television series Nightmare Cafe and remained with him until Red Eye.

Also returning to the Craven fold for this film, music composer Marco Beltrami wrote his fifth score for Craven (Beltrami, in fact, scored all of Craven’s films from Scream through Scream 4, minus Music of the Heart). Yet again, he knocks it out of the park with lush orchestral themes that highlight the on-screen action with glorious precision. Beltrami’s musical versatility is even more impressive when you consider that he had never really watched any horror or thrillers prior to signing up to compose the score for Scream.

Rounding out this superb surprise offering from Craven is an exceptional supporting cast. Craven was always on-point when it came to selecting actors who, though they might not have a great deal of time on screen, know exactly how to use their time to full effect. Highlights in this film include Jayma Mays, who played Cynthia, Lisa’s front desk backup while Lisa was away for her grandmother’s funeral, and instantly recognizable character actors Robert Pine, Angela Patton, and Suzie Plakson. Pine brought comic relief both to help escort us smoothly into the rising action and to help us decompress at the end. Neither Patton nor Plakson had names for their characters, being listed in the credits only as “Nice Lady” and “Senior Flight Attendant,” respectively. However, both women provide beautifully elaborate and cohesive takes on their roles—particularly Plakson, who has facial expression aptitude that rivals the skills of a silent movie star. With either no or minimal dialogue needed, you know exactly what Plakson is conveying with her looks—a talent that dovetailed perfectly with the precision that McAdams brought to her own expression control.

When all is said and done, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Craven should have done more thrillers like this, because his timing for such scripts was impeccable. Here’s to yet another film from this series that I’m adding to my wish list.

BookBin2016: The Cape: 1969

thecape1969

Quick review time, denizens. The Cape: 1969 is prequel to The Cape, which I reviewed at the end of last year. Again, we’ve got Jason Ciaramella writing the graphic novel script for Joe Hill’s original story, with Zach Howard and Nelson Daniel handling the artwork.

For this story, we learn how the Marine Corps patch that Eric’s mom had stitched onto Eric’s cape when he was a little boy was able to make it possible for him to actually fly. It’s a…bizarre revelation. It’s also a revelation that carries with it an extra reveal concerning Eric’s behavior as an adult who discovers that the cape can make him fly.

I don’t really have much else to say about this novel. Any more and I run the risk of ruining secrets. It’s a quick enough read, if you’re interested in the story. In fact, if you’re really interested, Amazon sells a deluxe edition of both graphic novels together.

Final Verdict: Even though I could get both together in one edition, I think I’ll pass on this story. It was an interesting enough way to wile away some time while sitting at the service shop getting a tire replaced recently, but it’s not really a story or artwork I feel compelled to revisit.

BookBin2016: Trashed

trashed

A few years ago, I read and reviewed Derf Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. Clearly, I didn’t really think all that much of his offering, based on my review. However, I did find his artwork to be compelling. There’s something about the elongated caricatures that I find visually soothing for some reason.

Therefore, when I saw Backderf’s latest graphic novel, Trashed, at the library, I decided to give him another go. With this novel, he offers another true tale, only this time far less salacious than his exploitative exploits with Jeffrey Dahmer. It was, however, disturbing in its own way. Backderf tells about his time as a trash collector, interspersing his personal vignettes with facts about trash collection in the United States. The true factoids were deeply disturbing. How we handle refuse in this country is appalling and completely unsustainable. Should we pay more attention to our trash levels? Absolutely. Will this book bring light to the subject? Honestly, I doubt it. Not that many people read graphic novels, and those who do typically don’t want to read graphic novels about…trash. That’s a shame, though, because I thought that this was a salient and provocative book.

Final Verdict: I found Backderf’s latest novel also disturbing, but not for the same reasons. I also found this novel worthy not only of reading but also of action. We need to start doing more to address how much trash we produce globally and how we can reduce that, not only through recycling more but also through rethinking how we package products and how we can make products last longer, thus reducing how often we have to replace them. Would I add this to my library? Possibly. I haven’t quite decided yet.

Cravenous: Cursed

cursed.24994

…the Cursed experience was so screwed up. I mean, that went on for 2-1/2 years of my life for a film that wasn’t anything close to what it should have been. And another film that I was about to shoot having the plug pulled—Pulse—so it was like, I did learn from the Cursed experience not to do something for money. They said, ‘We know you want to do another film, we’ll pay you double.’ And we were 10 days from shooting, and I said fine. But I ended up working 2-1/2 years for double my fee, but I could have done 2-1/2 movies, and done movies that were out there making money. In general, I think it’s not worth it and part of the reason my phone hasn’t rung is that that story is pretty well known.

This is what Wes Craven had to say in 2008 about the 2005 fustercluck known as Cursed. It also goes to show that it doesn’t matter how established or skilled you are; someone is always going to come along, thinking they know more than you because they’re (richer, more important, a big douchebag), and mess up what you’re trying to do.

Quick rundown: After wrapping up the final Scream film, Dimension came to Craven in 2000 with Kevin Williamson’s latest script and asked him to direct. Why not, right? The Craven/Williamson partnership had been unbelievably profitable for Dimension so far. Putting them together again for a new horror movie (and one that I’m sure they were hoping would turn into another profitable horror franchise)? It had success ingrained into its DNA. Also, who wouldn’t want to see Craven take on one of the foundational horror movie monster mythologies? He’d already done vampires and that was…

Oh.

Yeah. So maybe taking on the werewolf wasn’t such a great idea, especially when you have to halt production for massive rewrites dictated by your producer that end up causing you to lose most of your cast, thus making you have to go back and re-shoot a bunch of stuff and confuse your cast and your crew and ultimately yourself. Plus, you end up losing the master of werewolf practical effects and end up stuck with a CGI company that does work so terrible there is no “it didn’t age well” excuse, because it looked like shit even when it was new.

[Loba Tangent: Seriously, how awesome would it have been to get a good werewolf movie from Craven, with practical effects done by Rick Baker? I need a moment to mourn for what could have been. Okay. I’m okay.]

This movie could have been so much better. Instead, it was a hot mess and a blistering disappointment. Craven had been so increasingly on-point since The People Under the Stairs (minus that Eddie Murphy movie) that this could have only caused him the deepest level of frustration. I’m sure that it also did very little positive for his relationship with Dimension or the Weinsteins. In fact, he didn’t make another movie for Dimension until Scream 4.

I have to admit that I never bothered to watch this movie until this Cravenous experiment. I had read all the reviews and all about the behind-the-scenes mess and decided that I preferred to stand this round out. After watching it for this series, I’m convinced that I made a good call all those years ago. This movie is so disjointed and unclear. You can tell while watching it that things were shifting throughout the filming. You can also pick up on the frustration of those working to put this thing together. It just…it’s painful to watch. And the CGI that I already roasted? It’s seriously terrible. It’s “pull you right out of the already awful movie” terrible.

I’d tell you who is in this film, but I almost feel like I would be doing a disservice to some of the actors by associating them with this dud. I can tell you that several Craven alumni were meant to be in the film, including Skeet Ulrich, Omar Epps, Heather Langenkamp, and Scott Foley. However, because of the production stoppage and massive rewrites, they lost all these players. Portia de Rossi did come back for a really small part in this film (although probably longer than her time in Scream 2). Williamson favorite Joshua Jackson also makes an appearance in this film, which (yeah, let’s just name-drop ’em all) Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg helm. Typically, Ricci is solid, especially when it comes to creepy, but she had so little to work with in this film that even solid crumbles without a sturdy foundation.

Bottom line? This was not the follow-up to the Scream films that Craven fans were looking for. The good thing is that it’s only up from here, right? Way up…

Cravenous: Scream 3

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And so we reach the final Scream within the original trilogy. Was it always meant to be three? I’m not sure. I know that Kevin Williamson submitted the first script with a treatment for at least one sequel. Later, however, I heard him say that he always envisioned this being a trilogy. True or not, that’s what the franchise originally became and, even though Williamson was unable to write the script for the third film, we were lucky enough that Wes Craven returned to direct Scream 3 (thank you, Meryl Streep, and your lovely violins).

First, the two elephants in the room. As already mentioned, Kevin Williamson did not write the script for the third movie. That task went to Ehren Kruger (which is the most perfect last name for a movie directed by Wes Craven, amirite?). At the time, Kruger had written only three things, but he would go on to write a couple genre fiction favorites, IMHO, like the American remake of The Ring and The Skeleton Key. Of course, he’s also been behind those Transformer movies, so take it all with a grain of salt and a large margarita. Williamson would later state that he had a completely different idea for the direction of the third film, which ultimately he kind of did with Scream 4. Honestly, though? His original idea sounds really hokey. I mean, I’m sure that the original idea for the first film might sound hokey as well if reduced to one line, but this? Eh.

Second, there was a lot of push-back in Hollywood at the time that Dimension finally started gearing up to make the third film. Columbine happened the previous year, and of course, in a mad dash to find one simple explanation for something horrifically inexplicable, everyone wanted to blame the movies. Therefore, a lot of people wanted to completely disconnect the third film from its origin story and its two murderous high school students as well as scuttle Williamson’s original idea for the third film. It was Craven, however, who fought the hardest against white-washing Scream‘s history. He ultimately “won” against those who wanted to reduce the importance of the original story, but his price was the blatant increase in slapstick, nonsensical humor throughout this version. It’s the most purposefully silly of all the Scream films, which was both disappointing and distracting (which was the purpose, so well played there, guys).

So there are the two reasons that a lot of people usually bring up to point out why this is the worst of the Scream films and the weakest link in the trilogy. Do I feel this way? No (except about the Jay and Silent Bob cameo, because that was just pointless). To be fair, I did feel as though this was the weakest of the original trilogy when I first saw it. I thought it started out really well, carried a solid pace, but lacked the scares that I was anticipating and at times did play like a live-action version of Scooby Doo (which, honestly, I don’t really mind all that much. Because Scooby). Also, I found the ending to be the most anticlimactic of all the trilogy.

However, revisiting the film over the years, especially for this series, I’ve turned a more critical eye to the direction and the focus of this film. I honestly think that, if you look at this from the thematic perspective of Sidney as the keystone, take into consideration Randy’s admonishment to return to the beginning, and recall how beautifully and consistently Craven has interwoven reality and fantasy (particularly of the cinematic variety) throughout the trilogy, then this final entry into the original triumvirate indeed stands alongside the other two as a strong entry and ultimately a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

Now I’m finally going to go back to the beginning myself and talk about one of those points, which I wanted to save until now rather than reiterating in each review. Williamson’s original script was, at its heart, a love letter to the horror genre, particularly to John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Who wouldn’t want to write a love letter to that film, though, right? In the first film, we’ve got all these self-aware horror-cliched characters roaming about, spouting the knowledge they’ve gleaned from films like Halloween. They’re also using what they’ve learned to perpetrate their own horror films in real life. The line that separates those worlds for most people have blurred into non-existence for these characters, leaving them with the viewpoint that both realms are as real or as fake as they wish them to be. What better way to visually and aurally represent this than in the scene in which Dewey is searching Stu Macher’s house while we can hear the musical cues from Halloween playing in the background?

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

For a film that had been overlapping and interweaving reality and cinematic fantasy throughout the entirety of its run time, something so small as syncing that scene with the original score from Carpenter’s classic was a tiny slice of brilliance, if you ask me. It perfectly captured that surrealistic blending while using the audience’s knowledge of one element to increase the suspense and tension of the other element. Plus, the fact that nothing actually happens to Dewey while the action is reaching its denouement in the film playing in the background is a nice touch by Craven of, “Ha, you might know what’s going to happen there, but I’m not going to let you see my hand quite that quickly. You’re just going to have to wait.”

Of course, this same blending continued in Scream 2. I did talk about two of those moments: Maureen Evans’s death at the beginning of the film, committed right in front of a crowded theater of people who at first cheer before realizing that what they are witnessing is not part of the promotional pretending; and the dress rehearsal scene in which Sidney thinks the Ghostface Killer is among the masked members of the Greek chorus. Additionally, we get to see “scenes” from the movie-within-the-movie Stab, in which Craven and Williamson take collective swipes at how Hollywood can oftentimes bend the reality of a “true story” in ridiculous and trite ways.

As for this film? Well, this one ramps up the blending to a new level, by bringing the central action right onto the set of the latest Stab film and using as the central characters the cast from that movie. In doing this, we not only see the continuation of the blending of reality and fantasy, especially when we get the treat of watching the two “Gale Weatherses” interact, but we also realize that this is truly how we are going to go back to the beginning in two surprising ways. We also hit upon the “Sidney is the keystone” aspect since one of the focuses of the Ghostface Killer in this film is to bring Sidney out of hiding.

[Loba Tangent: I don’t want to go on about the casting much for this film since I have so much else to write, but can I just say Parker Posey is brilliant? Her interactions with Courteney Cox throughout this film are fantastico.]

As I noted in my review of Scream 2, Neve Campbell was only available to film for something like 20 days for this movie. Therefore, Sidney’s role needed to be pared back, which was a decision that admittedly saddened me but also one that I think worked perfectly for this story. I had noted in my review of the preceding film that Sidney’s hold on reality was starting to come under question by those around her. The moment during dress rehearsal in which she panics over believing that she has seen the killer among the other actors on the stage with her was the moment that truly slammed this into our brains.

With this third film, however, we must wonder right away if all that Sidney has survived hasn’t finally shredded her increasingly tenuous hold on reality. She has sequestered herself away from everyone, with only her father and Dewey knowing where she is. She lives behind locked gates and bolted doors and security systems with only a Golden retriever as a constant companion. It’s no surprise, then, that when reports of the latest round of murders starts to reach Sidney that she starts having nightmares, which turn into one of the most satisfying scares from the entire trilogy. The sequence with Maureen Prescott’s ghost calling to Sidney:

Sid… come here… Mother needs to talk to you… Everything you touch, Sid, dies. You’re poison.. you’re just like me… you’re just like me… [she lowers herself to the ground leaving bloody streaks on the window] What have they done to me? They’ll do it to you… they’ll do it to you…

First off, Craven’s setup of this scene plays as perfectly unnerving, not just because of the obvious creep factor but also because this is the first real view we get of Maureen Prescott beyond photos. And, sadly, this how she lives in her daughter’s mind: A haunting, terrifying figure who gives voice to all the fears that Sidney has been carrying within her since her mother’s murder—that she is like her mother, that she is poison, that she will one day die the same way her mother died. The mother/daughter dynamic of this trilogy comes into full play with this third film, and Craven provides us with the key to the series in some of the most beautiful and subtle ways from the entire trilogy.

Let’s go back to the beginning for both Sidney and Maureen, shall we? First, with Sidney, we get the moment when, finally out of hiding, she comes to Hollywood and ends up going with Dewey to the film set where they are filming Stab 3. Sidney, wandering on her own, finds her way onto the set where they have rebuilt all the key set pieces from the first Scream film. The scenes of watching Sidney walk through those sets, seeing those familiar places from the first movie and at first remembering those scenes from the film that have become iconic to fans…but then seeing them through the eyes of this woman who has been so damaged by the events that, to us as the audience, have been entertainment—Craven upends us in our own fandom, forcing us to come to terms with the reality that these events have damaged Sidney in irreparable ways. Craven beautifully blends the real versus fantasy into a scene that epitomizes Randy’s encouragement to “go back to the beginning.” This was where it all began for Sidney, just as Sunrise Studios, where all those sets are located, was where it all began for Maureen. And then the invocation of the first time Sidney was attacked, right there on the set? The past is not at rest.

And then there is the moment we truly reach the beginning of Sidney’s lament:

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

This is the moment that Sidney walks into the part of the set that was supposed to be her parents’ bedroom, which had been prepped for her mother’s murder scene. We forget with the humor and pop culture chic of these films that the heart of this whole story is the fact that one fateful night, a teenage girl walked into her parents’ room and found the butchered body of her mother. Look at that room, look at how much blood there is. Yes, as we have already seen, the movies ramp everything up, but this is still the truth at the heart of the story. Sidney Prescott’s normal life ended the evening she walked into her parents’ room and found her mother’s mutilated body. It took three films in before we finally see this moment, blended into a series of scenes meant to invoke reminiscence within diehard fans. Craven’s handling of the moment is genuinely sublime in its brevity. He knew that those who have been paying attention would get it. This is Sidney’s moment of undoing, and also the moment that she either will let break her or give her the resolve to see this to its end.

As for Maureen’s beginning, we learn throughout the film that she once tried to be an actress who went by the name Rina Reynolds. Her start? Right there, at Sunrise Studios, appearing in movies done by the man who has been producing all the Stab movies. The end of her attempted career came at the house of said producer, where she was raped at one of his parties, after which she became pregnant with the man who would one day set into motion all of the events of the trilogy. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Roman and Sidney’s final face-off takes place in the same room where Rina Reynolds “died.”

Let me just say here that I can understand those fans who were disappointed with the revelation that Roman Bridger was the one who had been directing the actions of the killers throughout all the films. I said for years that the reveal of Roman as the murderer was one of the most anticlimactic I’d seen in recent horror history. However, if we narrow the focus of these films down to the mother/daughter dynamic, with Sidney being the keystone of the series as I have been pushing, then this trilogy begins to work on an even deeper allegorical level.

Roman seeks revenge first against Maureen Prescott for rejecting him and then against Sidney for being the only child Maureen would claim and for having all that Roman believed he was denied throughout his childhood by Maureen: a loving family, a stable home, etc. However, the deeper level becomes one of a feminist backlash against the continued assumption of male entitlement, and not just with Roman. Billy assumed he was entitled to Sidney’s virginity and then entitled to punish her for sleeping with him. In his mind, her actions proved that she was like her “slut-bag” mother. Mrs. Loomis, though obviously a woman, felt entitled to punish Sidney for her mother’s actions as well rather than place any blame on her ex-husband. It wasn’t his fault for cheating on her. It was Maureen’s fault for seducing him, and it was Sidney’s fault for seducing and then killing her son. This feeds into the all-too-real habit of victim-blaming that women perpetrate upon other women who report crimes of sexual violence. “It couldn’t have just happened to you without you having done something” is the unfortunate litany that too many women sing against victims of sexual assault as a way of distancing themselves from the possibility that it could happen to them.

And now in the third film, Roman continues this barrage of male entitlement upon the Prescott women, feeling entitled to the acceptance and love of a woman who gave him up for clear reasons: He was the end result of the worst moment of her life to that point. He was the representation of something she kept secret from everyone in her life: her husband, her daughter, presumably her friends and other family. Roman Bridger was the physical embodiment of a horror that Maureen Prescott wanted to forget. Yet all Roman could register was the denial of what he felt was rightfully his, regardless of any other circumstances.

[Loba Tangent: True to form with how this series of films constantly knocked familiar horror tropes completely asunder, here we see the “rape revenge” trope completely twisted as only Wes Craven could do.]

Same with Sidney:

You were the only child she claimed Sidney. She shut me out in the cold forever, her own son!

To Roman, Sidney, too, became a villain when he decided to take it upon himself to direct others in the exacting of his punishment against Maureen. Sidney had the audacity to be loved and cherished by the mother who rejected him. To Roman, this was one woman refusing to give him what he felt was rightfully his (in a rather poignant mirroring of how Roman came to be in the first place) and another woman receiving what he felt solely entitled to:

You’re gonna pay for the life you stole from me Sid. For the mother, and for the family, and for the stardom, and for, goddammit, everything you had that should’ve been mine!

Sidney’s response?

Sidney-
God, why don’t you stop your whining and get on with it, I’ve heard this shit before!

Roman-
STOP!

Sidney-
You know why you kill people, Roman, do you?

Roman-
I don’t want to hear it!

Sidney-
Because you choose to, there is no one else to blame!

Roman-
God fucking dammit!

Sidney-
Why don’t you take some FUCKING RESPONSIBILITY!

Roman-
FUCK YOU! [He lunges]

Sidney-
FUCK YOU!

The fight that follows is brutal, with Roman nearly besting Sidney. I honestly thought that Sidney Prescott was going to die in this film. Looking back on it now, viewing the Scream trilogy as an allegory of feminist backlash, however, confirms that Sidney could not have died. Her journey of discovery had led her not only to the recreation of the room where it had all begun for her, but also to this room where it had all begun for her mother. It was her rite as the Pilgrim of this allegory to survive, to walk out of that room as the victor rather than as the victim her mother left as all those years ago.

Will everyone see it this way? Of course not. Am I stretching in some places? Maybe. I don’t think so, but that’s just my opinion. All I know is that, after re-watching this trilogy with my nerdy observational hat securely on, I can say this with personal certainty: Whether or not this was how Kevin Williamson had intended for this trilogy to end, I believe that it is precisely how it should have ended, thanks in large part to Craven sitting at the directorial helm for all three films. Through both his precise directing as well as his writing contributions (he helped sculpt the screenplay for this film with Kruger), Craven has provided a series of films with multiple satisfying layers.

Now, with all that out of the way, I just have one more thing to mention about these films: Marco Beltrami. Craven and his long-time editor Patrick Lussier selected Beltrami to score the first film with his “ear-blasting dissonant modernism,” as described by Film Music Magazine. Beltrami’s work for Craven, not just for the Scream trilogy but also for several other collaborations, significantly upped the horror score game and gave fans of the genre another instantly recognizable horror theme with “Sidney’s Lament.” As with so many other things about this franchise, Sidney’s theme, in all its iterations, is one of my favorites from the modern genre.

BookBin2016: Batgirl Volume 5: Deadline

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What? Two reviews in an hour? What is this madness?

It’s called quick reviews of lackluster graphic novels. #spoilerz

I finally got around to reading Volume 5 in the New 52 Batgirl reboot. Apparently, Deadline also is the last in this series before they rebooted the character again, moved her to a different location, changed her look, and changed her appeal to be more “youth-centered.” Translation: Batgirl ain’t for my old ass anymore.

Of course, this final Batgirl from the Gail Simone run wasn’t really for me either. I felt totally disconnected and confused by several of the stories in this collection. I’ve either forgotten key plot points from the previous four volumes or DC did to me what Marvel used to do all the time when I read X-Men comics (and that pissed me off just as much then as it did now with this collection).

I hate when comics become part of a story arc that runs across several titles. I mean, it’s okay every now and then, especially if you have a huge story that you know will require more than just one particular superhero and will deserve the wider audience (as I seemed appeased when they pulled this same thing in the third collection). However, I felt as though several themes in this collection were pieces from several different (and mediocre) puzzles that I simply didn’t care enough about to piece together. Also, it strikes me as frustratingly and offensively greedy of comics companies to demand that readers invest so much money into being able to get the whole story when all they might care about is one faction of the comics universe.

[Loba Translation: I don’t give a damn about Batman. Stop trying to make me give a damn.]

Final Verdict: Just as it was with my last Batwoman experience, I’m drawing the line at 5 with Batgirl. I won’t be following Babs and her roomie Alysia to Burnside.

BookBin2016: Blacksad: Amarillo

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Back once more with another graphic novel from the Blacksad series by writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido. We haven’t had a new novel from this duo since their 2012 offering A Silent Hell. I gave that novel a bit of a lackluster review in comparison to my ebullient review of the first Blacksad collection.

I’m afraid that my review of this latest novel, Amarillo, is going to be even less enthusiastic. Guarnido is still producing stunning artwork for this series, but I feel as though perhaps Canales has reached his creative limit with this character’s story. I honestly found this tale trite and dull. Perhaps it’s because of my ongoing struggle to get into detective stories, but I ultimately think that it’s because there wasn’t really a story worth telling here. Perhaps it’s either time to let our private dick retire or take up residence with a different storyteller. However, I would like for Guarnido to continue being his artist. Guarnido’s art continues to be top shelf.

Final Verdict: I’ll hang on to this one for the artwork (another from my own collection!), but I seriously doubt whether I would give another novel from this series a go.

BookBin2016: The Sociopath Next Door

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According to Dr. Martha Stout, clinical psychologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door, at least 25 percent of the American population comprises people who are utterly devoid of any conscience.

They’re called politicians.

I kid. Kind of. Not really. After reading this book, I’m pretty sure that the majority of our politicians and millionaire business bullies fall within this conscienceless percentile. I’m pretty sure at least half the candidates running for president right now fit the profile. Even beyond the national stage, I’ve unfortunately known a few sociopaths through the years. I just didn’t know at the time that that was what they were. If only I’d learned of this book sooner.

Here, now, rather than re-inventing the wheel as I have been apt to do before, is a satisfying summary of Stout’s treatise, from Publisher’s Weekly:

[Dr.] Stout says that as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals. As Stout (The Myth of Sanity) explains, a sociopath is defined as someone who displays at least three of seven distinguishing characteristics, such as deceitfulness, impulsivity and a lack of remorse. Such people often have a superficial charm, which they exercise ruthlessly in order to get what they want. Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified. The author offers three examples of such people, including Skip, the handsome, brilliant, superrich boy who enjoyed stabbing bullfrogs near his family’s summer home, and Doreen, who lied about her credentials to get work at a psychiatric institute, manipulated her colleagues and, most cruelly, a patient. Dramatic as these tales are, they are composites, and while Stout is a good writer and her exploration of sociopaths can be arresting, this book occasionally appeals to readers’ paranoia, as the book’s title and its guidelines for dealing with sociopaths indicate.

I can see why they would feel compelled to add the last sentence to their review. I mean, the book’s title is pretty inflammatory if you were prone to even a smidgen of paranoia. However, 25 percent? Those are pretty solid odds in favor of everyone at some point having a run-in with a person who fits the sociopath profile. Knowing the signs by reading a book like this? That could make all the difference to your protection. Again, I wish I’d encountered this book a long time ago. Could have saved me a whole heap of trouble.

Final Verdict: I’m definitely going to keep the book (that’s right, I’ve finally read one of my own books!), but I also know a couple of people I’m going to lend it to. I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate the information.

Cravenous: Music of the Heart

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There’s a funny little throw-away line from Scream 3, spoken by the director of movie-within-a-movie Stab 3, where he complains that he had to direct a horror film before he could do the classic love story that he wanted to direct. Even though Music of the Heart comes before Scream 3 in Cravenous chronology (and it’s not really a “classic love story”), I mention the line because the exact opposite is how Wes Craven ended up getting this film to direct. He basically went to Dimension and the Weinsteins and said that he would direct the third Scream film only if they gave him the opportunity to direct something non-horror.

When you have a director of Craven’s horror-cred caliber saying he’ll come back to direct another movie for one of the biggest financial boons in your production company’s history? And one that he helped to make so financially feasible in the first place? You kind of do what he asks. And that is how the Master of Horror ended up not only finally getting his wish to direct outside of the genre that he had helped redefine but also getting to direct Meryl Streep to her twelfth Oscar nomination in this decidedly non-horror movie.

Quick bits of trivia first: The film is based on the true story of violinist and music teacher Roberta Guaspari and her efforts to teach violin lessons to inner-city children in Harlem. The movie came on the heels of, and was basically a remake of a 1995 documentary on Guaspari and her students, Small Wonders. Craven saw the original documentary and found it so poignant that he wanted to make a film of it. Interestingly/sadly enough, at the time that he started making the film, Guaspari’s program had been yet again defunded. This film apparently helped reinstate funding through the attention it brought the program. Pamela Gray wrote the screenplay for the movie, which was originally titled 50 Violins. Gray hasn’t written a lot, but I would like to point out for my own geeky delight that she wrote the episode “Violations” for Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s a rather dark episode, but it also prominently features Dr. Crusher, so thank you for that.

Believe it or not, Meryl Streep was not the original choice to portray Roberta Guaspari. Madonna was originally supposed to play her. However, she left the project over “creative differences” with Craven. At the time, she was said to be moving on to topline with Goldie Hawn in the movie version of Chicago.

[Loba Tangent: Sweet baby meat Jesus, I’m so glad that this version of Chicago didn’t happen.]

Streep agreed to pick up the role abandoned by Madonna and went on to learn how to play the violin for the movie. She actually learned to play Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins for the film. And this is part and parcel of why Meryl Streep has been nominated for an Oscar 19 times.

The rest of the cast is familiar but relatively B-List in comparison with Streep, which is by no means a dig against any of the rest of the cast. Practically all of Modern Hollywood is going to come up B-List against Streep. The only one close to Streep’s level in this film is Angela Bassett, returning for her third role in a Craven production. Other familiar faces are Cloris Leachman, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Estefan (in her first acting role), Jane Leeves, Jay O. Sanders, Kieran Culkin, and violinists Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and Arnold Steinhardt playing themselves (along with a cavalcade of several other famous violinists and fiddle players for the big concert scene at the end). As for the children in the film, many of them were actual students from Guaspari’s classes. When I realized this, I was a lot more lenient on some of their stilted performances. Child actors are fine, but it’s something special to have kids from the actual story, who know how to play the violin and give pretty decent acting performances, all things considered.

I have to admit that when the film first started, I was struck and disturbed by its somewhat made-for-Lifetime feel. For a movie about beautiful music, the beginning refrain struck several sour chords with me. It took a good half hour for me to finally settle into the film’s groove, only to find that Craven and Gray switched chords in mid-performance. The movie is separated into two distinct parts: A first part that lays the foundation for the second, and IMHO, superior part of the film. The first part gets better and has small strengths and surprising moments of compassion and beauty, but the second half of the film is its strength. It’s also quite documentary-esque, speaking back to the origins of this film. Roger Ebert also noted this change in style in his review of this film, which was quite lovely, actually. My favorite part is what he said of Craven’s role as this film’s director:

The movie was directed by Wes Craven, known for his horror films (“Scream,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street”), and he may seem like a strange choice for this material. Not at all. He is in fact a cultured man who broke into movies doing horror and got stuck in the genre; he’s been trying to fight his way free from studio typecasting for 20 years, and this movie shows that he can get Meryl Streep to Carnegie Hall just as easily as a phantom to the opera.

Craven does, indeed, prove his worth as a director beyond the realms of the phantasmagorical and horrific. His style is direct, keenly focused on telling the story without ostentation, but instead with honesty and simplicity. The tale itself is wrought with enough emotion and pathos, and Craven had the wisdom to let that shine through on its own, without any additional embellishment. He also clearly had the wisdom to let his star shine on her own, knowing that Streep would bring truth to her role in her own inimitable way. In interviews about the film, Streep confessed that she had never seen any of Craven’s other films, and Craven stated that he had to have a “rather lengthy erudite conversation” with Streep to convince her to consider the role (and also that Streep called him out for the fact that her daughters had watched Scream and were afraid to sleep in their house for several nights…personally, I think that should have worked in Craven’s favor, speaking to his acumen as a master of his trade).

The bottom line is that this movie was a glitch in several regards. Die-hard Craven fans typically ignore it because it’s not horror. Non-horror fans typically overlook it because Craven’s name was so synonymous with horror that they must form immediate negative opinions about the film that ultimately are quite untrue. Yes, the movie tipples into saccharine territory now and again. Yes, it proves stereotypical at times, but it also moves beyond the stereotyping to showcase the diversity of life in the Harlem neighborhoods in which this tale occurs. Craven started his own career in the heart of New York City after he divorced his first wife and pursued his dream of becoming a director. He knew that beneath the gritty facade of the city, there was a depth of diverse beauty to be found if one looked closely enough. With Music of the Heart, Craven took us in for that deeper look and what he showed us was an unanticipated masterpiece.