I didn’t think that I was going to make it through this book in time. I’ve already finished watching both the final movie for my Cravenous series as well as its director’s commentary, and I’ve started working on that post. However, I also knew that I wanted to get his one novel into the mix, too, before we finally (and sadly, for me at least) bring Cravenous to a close.
Mind you, Craven also wrote a 5-issue comics series with Steve Niles back in 2014. Inspired by the sudden idea of “a werewolf, a vampire, and a zombie walk into a bar…,” Craven created Coming of Rage around the notion of these three horror stalwarts suddenly thrown together and the hilarity that would thus ensue. He also wrote the introduction to the very recently released Never Sleep Again, touted as “the ultimate chronicle of one of the most important horror films of the 20th century.”
I’m toying with the idea of downloading the comics (let’s face it; I probably will…even though I wish they would release them in hardcopy as well), and I do have Never Sleep Again already in line for reading this year (I pre-ordered that shizz the first day I could), but that’s not why we’re here today. Instead, we’re here to discuss Craven’s one and only original novel, Fountain Society.
Right off the bat? It’s not horror. It’s far more science fiction-cum-military thriller. Think The Island meets Enemy of the State (kind of; I’m sure there’s a better more military thriller comparison I could make here if I were more familiar with military thrillers). The quick rundown is that the Fountain Society is a secret project, funded, protected, and supervised by the military, in which Dr. Frederick Wolfe has successfully cloned several high-level scientists who have contributed some of the military’s most successful (read: most horrifying) wartime weaponry. One of these is physicist Peter Jance, who is working on a weapon, code name “The Hammer,” that has the potential to obliterate all life within its focused range. However, Jance also is dying of pancreatic cancer. Fearing that he might die before he completes his work, Wolfe sends the snipers to collect Jance’s clone, a man named Hans Brinkman, who has been living his life as if it were his to live (the nerve!). The military fakes Brinkman’s death, brings him to Wolfe, who scoops his head clean and transfers Jance’s brain into Brinkman’s body, thanks to a super-duper glue created by, of all people, Jance’s wife Beatrice.
What happens then? Well, there’s someone from Brinkman’s life who doesn’t believe he’s actually dead, and there’s someone else who decides to give her enough clues to keep her investigating. And then there are Beatrice’s growing moral concerns over what Wolfe is doing and Peter’s confusion over retaining some form of cellular memory from Hans that causes quite a bit of concern for him and those watching him. I’m not surprised at all by this element of the novel, since Craven always toyed with these concepts in several of his movies. He apparently loved to ponder ideas about us as more than just our thoughts but as something far deeper and far less understood.
There are other things going on with this story, but what would be the fun of me telling you everything? Instead, what about this: Is it a good story? Is it well-written? For the latter question, absolutely. Craven was a trained writer and a well-read intellectual soul. He wouldn’t have given anything less than his best for this novel, and that’s precisely what we get as readers. As for the former question…yes. To a point. The overarching themes aren’t necessarily original. Craven’s spin on the tropes bring a welcome freshness and intrigue into the mix, keeping the story rolling along at a captivating enough pace. I also have to say that, for some concepts that still feel intrinsically implausible (even with all the medical advances we’ve seen since Craven wrote this book in 1999), Craven sells it with strong yet subtle ways. His linguistic acumen was totally on-point throughout this tale, making it read less like fiction and more like an account of actual events. Would we expect anything less from the man who convinced us that our nightmares could actually kill us?
Final Verdict: I don’t really think this section is necessary, do you? Of course I’m keeping this book.
I love the “organic” way that this series came about (I use organic in quotes because I’m pretty sure that this was ultimately DC’s plan right from the start. Because jaded.). What began as a series of one-off variant comic covers depicting DC heroines and villainesses as WWII-era “bombshell” pinups has spun into this special edition series of stories detailing how these characters played a role in the global fight against the Nazis.
I suppose that one could state that this feels a little flippant. It trivializes the bravery of real people. However, when you keep in mind that several comic heroes rose from the turmoil of this particular piece of history, including Wonder Woman (who should remain linked with World War II…but I’ll have more to say about that later), it brings things into better context. Horrific events sometimes require a different lens through which to process truths that we oftentimes do not wish to contemplate. An even better example of a graphic novel that deals with this devastating stain upon humanity would be Art Spiegelman’s Maus. If you haven’t read that one yet, then I highly recommend it.
Does this series deal with WWII with the same level of success as something like Maus? Oh, no. But that’s why Maus is a Pulitzer prize-winning effort and this is…not. It’s just different. It’s sometimes serious but mostly with this first volume, it’s more about introducing us to the various Bombshell variants chosen for this series. I love the characters chosen so far. Of course, my favorite is Kate Kane. I’m still mourning the demise of her solo run at the hands of DC Comics ineptitude (and possible homophobia). Seeing her in this series made that disappointment a little less tender. Also, I love how writer Marguerite Bennett pretty much erased Batman from this particular timeline thanks to Batwoman. Given my increasing apathy toward the Dark Knight (more on that to come as well), I really enjoyed this particular timeline shift. Also, I’m not really giving away any spoilers since this happens on the first page of the graphic novel.
Interestingly, my last encounter with Bennett’s writing style left me feeling a strong sense of meh-laise (yes, I have created a new word; you’re welcome). She wrote some of the final Gail Simone run for Batgirl. This time around, Bennett was much stronger in storytelling. Her words also garnered accompaniment from some beautiful time period-inspired artwork. Heavy line work, appropriate palette, and gorgeous renderings of our lovely ladies of DC in the styles of the times made a great visual impact upon a solid opener to this series.
Final Verdict: Keeping this volume and patiently awaiting the release of the next one this June.
I’m going to make really quick work of this review, denizens, simply because I don’t want to think about this movie more than I have to.
I’ve spent so much time with this particular series, trying to give each of the films that Wes Craven wrote and/or directed as much credence as possible. I have tried to find worth or enjoyment in each movie. Sometimes, this has been a struggle. My Soul to Take has made the struggle insurmountable.
This film felt almost as if Craven printed up a collage of posters from his previous movies, posted it to a dart board, and then just started throwing darts to see which films he would pilfer for recycled ideas. My guess is that the darts hit Shocker,A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream. Then he decided that such a combination would only work if he made mental illness a key plot element. And then? Then he decided this would all look best if in 3-D. Seriously? Maybe focus on giving it even one layer of dimension before trying to focus on the third.
Sorry. Sorry. I just need to vent, and if it saves any of you from making the mistake of watching this film, all the better.
I struggled to get through even my one obligatory viewing of this film (which is okay, since the rental version of the movie blocked me from being able to listen to Craven’s commentary; as if I’m going to go buy a copy just to hear that). I’m not terribly surprised that I didn’t like this movie. I remember seeing the previews and feeling absolutely bereft of desire to see it. Watching it for this series confirms that I was on-point with that reaction. I am, however, terribly disappointed that Craven thought this movie was worth his time and effort. Did he feel like he needed to give horror fans something (anything?) to appease us since he hadn’t made a genre film in 5 years? Was he pressured into making this? Or was he just bored and decided that this would be a good way to pass some time and get paid? Whatever the reasons, I wish he’d ignored them all and continued to enjoy a well-earned break from film-making.
In fact, I found this movie so distasteful that I officially recant what I wrote about Chiller.This is my least favorite Craven film. At least Chiller contains some enjoyable camp. This movie tried so hard to take itself seriously, which is quite difficult when it’s so dogmatic to horror cliches. It’s such a shame, too. This was the first movie that Craven had written and directed since his 1994 New Nightmare and his first full-length directing gig since 2005’s Red Eye. Both those movies are examples of Craven at peak performance, which makes this entry all the more preposterous and derisory.
Don’t look to this post for a review. The story is banal, the cast mostly unmemorable (of course, this might be the ultimate sign that I’m getting old; I recognized absolutely no one from this film). Craven clearly hit the auto pilot button on this one and ended up flying us all into a mountainside. Now we’re stranded and I’m not above volunteering this DOA cinematic sludge for hors d’oeuvres.
When you invite one of the Masters of Modern Horror to participate in your vignette-composed cinematic love letter to Paris, where do you think he’s going to choose to set his 5-minute story? And what do you think his story will include? If you guessed famous final resting place Père-Lachaise (both the setting and the name of the segment) and a ghost, then you are correct with both answers. You also get the most succinct summary of Wes Craven’s vignette for the 2006 film Paris, je t’aime.
I don’t have anything to add to this review that Wes Craven didn’t already say in this great interview. All I can say is that this was a fun cinematic diversion, particularly since we had just returned from Paris a few months prior to watching this film. It’s a stunning city—my favorite foreign city so far (and this is coming from the Anglophile-for-life whose love affair with London is legendary). The architecture and the ambiance and the people (yes, the people; every Parisian I met was incomparably charming) all make Paris a resplendent destination. Rent this film, watch the city unfold before you, smile when you see Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell traipsing through a cemetery and chatting with the ghost of Oscar Wilde.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
…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…
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…
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?
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:
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!
God, why don’t you stop your whining and get on with it, I’ve heard this shit before!
You know why you kill people, Roman, do you?
I don’t want to hear it!
Because you choose to, there is no one else to blame!
God fucking dammit!
Why don’t you take some FUCKING RESPONSIBILITY!
FUCK YOU! [He lunges]
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.