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’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’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.
Re-watching Scream 2 for this series made me realize that it’s been a long time since I watched this or the third film. I love the first movie (duh). Clearly, I have all the time in the world for it. And I have owned the trilogy in every iteration it has appeared in (VHS? Check; DVD? Yup; Blu-ray? I bought a Blu-ray player just so I could buy and play the trilogy, ISYN). However, as time has passed, I have slowly convinced myself that the sequels are not worth watching. As the second film even addresses, very rarely do sequels prove their worth. However, the horror genre in particular seems to thrive off the existence of unchecked and often unwarranted franchises.
That being stated, are the Scream sequels terrible? No. As sequels go, they actually are quite good. In fact, this re-watching of the first sequel, again focusing on the technical merits of the film, has made me realize how strong it was on several different levels. This and the third film (we’ll get to that fourth one in a little while) also have elements of enjoyment and intrigue and, after pondering this a bit for this series, I would posit that they ultimately do add merit to the horror genre for doing to the horror franchise trope what the original did to horror in general.
First, though, I’ve been pondering why Craven was so amenable to the notion of participating in sequels for Scream when he was so adamantly against them for Freddy Krueger. I think a few things went into his decision this time. First, writer Kevin Williamson always had sequels in mind [insert predictable Stu Macher quote about sequels here]. So the option was always on the table, even when Craven first started hearing about the script, as opposed to how Craven wanted his original Nightmare on Elm Street to be a one-shot film with a definite ending. Second, I think it would be fair to surmise that Craven probably learned a valuable lesson with Freddy. If you don’t want others botching your creation, then you need to be the one driving (even if you’re driving from someone else’s map). With Scream, he realized that he could be conductor for Williamson’s death train, from start to finish, and I suspect that appealed to him, especially after the first film blew up so massively and rapidly in popularity.
And then there is the unique focus of this horror franchise. Other popular horror franchises hinged upon the killer always being the same. Not this time. No, this franchise’s focus was the exact opposite of most horror films. This time, it’s all about the survivor. Sidney is the character who doesn’t change (although let’s not forget the other survivors, two of whom stay by her side through the whole series like a Holy Survival Trinity #spoilerz). Sidney is the keystone.
[Loba Tangent: If that concept sounds familiar, it should. Craven granted the same level of power to Heather Langenkamp in his New Nightmare.]
Craven had already made a career of presenting strong female characters in many of his films. In fact, he had made a career of presenting unlikely heroes/heroines from several diverse groups, not just strong women. His last two films prior to taking on Scream, in fact, showcased casts comprising not just Black heroes/heroines, but also largely Black casts. This was practically unheard of from a serious film-making perspective at this point in the horror genre (I say serious here as opposed to horror spoofs like what the Wayans brothers were doing with their Scary Movie spoofs). Horror was a Hollywood holdout of predominantly White casts, White heroes, White villains, made for predominantly White audiences. Was that because horror is mostly preferred by White audiences? Or was it more likely because diverse audiences weren’t interested in a genre that showed no interest in them? I think Craven tested this latter theory most successfully with The People Under the Stairs, which was a genre success that very few anticipated.
[Loba Tangent: I think this was part of what made the opening sequence with Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps even more spectacular. Pinkett’s character’s lament about how the movie they were getting ready to watch was “some dumb-ass White movie about some dumb-ass White girls getting their White asses cut the fuck up” not only was a poignant castigation against several horror tropes but also made her character’s ultimate, shall we say, intrigue in the telling of that “dumb-ass” movie even more humorous.]
Therefore, a man who had spent several decades building his reputation as a Master of Horror (I think it’s time we started using that as an official title, don’t you?) through the construction of complex, complicated, and often unexpected horror heroes/heroines would naturally be drawn in by a series of movies that eschewed the traditional horror franchise route of focusing on (glorifying?) the killers for the unconventional approach of focusing on the survivor(s).
There’s also another aspect that seemed particularly prevalent and important to this sequel that I think must have attracted Craven by dint of reason that it had held such a disturbing fascination for him throughout his career: the reality of human brutality. Again, let’s think about the movies that started Craven down his path to Master of Horror status. Those movies sprang up from Craven’s desire to examine the darker sides of human nature in the most realistic ways. And now he gets this script that hinges upon examining the reality of what transpired within the first movie.
These survivors from the first movie? They’re all damaged, emotionally and in many ways physically. That “fun” first movie carried weighty consequences, which we watch play out throughout the unraveling of this and following sequels. There is still humor all throughout this sequel, but Craven and Williamson did an extraordinary job in balancing it with weightier truths for these characters, particularly Sidney. We’ll get to her in a moment, though.
First, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the opening of this film. I already mentioned that Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps bring us into the new world of Scream 2. They are heading in to a free preview of Stab, the movie based on Gale Weathers’s book on the events of the first film, The Woodsboro Murders. So basically we end up watching a movie about people watching a movie of events we’ve already watched. The continuing beauty of this is that what they are watching is both very close and incredibly far away from what actually happened in the first film. Again, Craven and Williamson are taking collective digs at the tropes of their trade in exquisite fashion. What they are also doing, and it comes through with such unsettling perfection, is juxtaposing the “reality” of horror movies for its fans against the true reality of horror.
I’m referring, of course, to the murder of Pinkett’s character, Maureen Evans. I still can recall the collective silent horror shared throughout the audience I was in when we watched that murder play out. Whereas the majority of the kills in the first movie all came across in electric ways that pumped up the audience to cheer or scream or laugh or yell at the screen, this time…this time was utterly different. Craven knew precisely how to make this one of the most discomfiting deaths from the entire franchise. Whereas it was in many ways similar to the first death from the first movie, this time Craven and Williamson pulled it out of the expected solitude of a typical horror movie setup.
This was not the “girl alone in a secluded setting” predictability akin to what Heather Graham’s character was facing in the Stab film (or that Drew Barrymore’s character faced at the beginning of the first movie). This was a young woman being brutally murdered in a theater full of people. In so doing this, they not only upended the trope but they also made us uncomfortably and unwillingly that much closer to her murder. In essence, we became one with the on-screen audience, all of us watching as Maureen climbed to the front of the theater, bleeding, dying, crying out for someone, anyone to take note, take heed of what was happening. Craven had always made a point of trying to invoke a sense of moral uneasiness in his audiences, and this opening did not disappoint. I remember the disgust I felt at the opening of this film; I realize now that this was precisely the reaction I should have had.
Skipping ahead slightly in the movie but focusing on another instance in which Craven beautifully shows us how to get away with murder in a way that breaks the horror tropes apart, let’s talk about Randy. Poor Randy. All he wanted was for the geek to get the girl. Instead, he’s brutally, savagely murdered by Ghost Face in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded college quad. That was the beauty of Craven’s directorial acumen. He knew how to upend and audience. He lulled us into a sense of complacency. It’s a sunny day. People are all around. They’ve all got each other’s backs on this, right? Besides, it’s Randy! Nothing is going to happen to Randy. And then the blood began to run and we all knew, there is no understanding of sacred beneath that Ghost Face mask.
Interestingly, even the MPAA finally got on board with Craven’s focus on realism and consequences. Craven stated in interviews that he purposely made this film as bloody as he could, expecting the MPAA to come back and tell him to cut it down for an R rating as they did with the first film (and myriad other films from his career). Instead, they left the original cut of the film untouched. According to them, the violence was okay because it carried consequences. Kind of like all Craven’s other films, but never mind.
[Loba Tangent: I’ve actually not only seen the original cut of Scream but I also used to own it on VHS. It’s the version they made the director’s commentary for on that weird VHS double set I bought. I’m kicking myself that I don’t have it anymore. I’ve never seen that original cut anywhere else, not even the special edition DVD set. Craven’s original cut actually made the consequences of Billy and Stu’s actions more prevalent. The MPAA’s insisted-upon cuts took away that level of realism and left instead a false sense of invulnerability for our killers.]
And then there’s Sidney.
We watch as she starts out this round prepared, defiant. She’s armed with a caller ID and a BFF roomie and a new boyfriend and Randy (for now). She’s got this. She is ready for whatever the premiere of that stupid movie based on her chaotic life has in store. Even Tori Spelling.
[Loba Tangent: Good on ya, Tori, for having a great sense of humor and for playing along with the continuation of a line from the first film. Also, this is one of the moments from this film that falls soundly into the hilarity camp. I love how Craven is able to get the absolute worst performances from “Sidney” and “Billy” in the movie based on the first movie, thus poking fun at the original film in such a wonderful way.]
Oh, Sidney. We want so much to believe in your tough girl ruse. But Craven will not let that happen, and you know it. That moment when Sidney realizes the horror is starting again, Craven gives us this beautiful shot composition of her off-center and alone before slowly pulling in closer to her, thereby pulling us into her horror. It was so simple and yet so right.
And in case you haven’t picked up on this yet, I love Sidney Prescott. Just like Nancy Thompson, she is another one of Craven’s quintessential Warrior Women, faced with seemingly insurmountable odds but willing to dig in and find a way to survive. She refuses to lie down and accept her victimization at the hands of others wishing to make her their personal scapegoat. However, we also witness that these events harden her, to trust and to emotional stability. Her inability to place faith in anyone after her betrayal by Billy leads to the deaths of two of her closest confidantes in this film and, I believe, kills her ability to function in any publicly acceptable fashion. It actually worked out that Neve Campbell wasn’t able to be in the third movie for long, because limiting Sidney’s time in the third movie helped solidify that the damage she absorbed in this film may not have killed her, but it came pretty close to destroying her. It certainly destroyed her ability to allow herself to feel. That moment at the end when she shoots Debbie Salt/Mrs. Loomis through the forehead without even flinching? Even Cotton and Gale flinch (Gale! Flinches!), their expressions revealing their respective horror at realizing not only what Sidney has just done but also what she has just become.
Wow, this is a long review. And I haven’t even gotten to things like the soundtrack and Marco Beltrami…or the roll call of Hollywood’s young elite who clambered to appear in this film…or the ones who were actually picked. Like Sarah Michelle Gellar. Even though she was in the middle of filming Buffy, she made time for a cameo in this film. I mention all this only for one reason: Craven’s sense of humor. See, Gellar’s scene included moments where she was watching television, and then moments where she was moving about her sorority house while the television just played in the background. Like in this moment:
Yes, denizens. That would be Nosferatu playing on the television behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
However, the one final thing that I would like to focus on for this film is the play scene. There is a moment in this film in which Sidney has a dress rehearsal for a play she’s in at the college. The significance of this scene from a Cravenous perspective? Craven wrote this scene and the play. The original script that Williamson wrote included some kind of generic Our Town-esque play, according to producer Marianne Maddalena. Craven, however, knew a way to write a scene that would integrate a play perfect not only for the film but also for Sidney. Let’s not forget that he was once a professor of literature or that he had a master’s degree in philosophy and writing. If anyone could come up with the perfect theme for a play suited to Sidney Prescott, it would be him.
[Loba Tangent: Also, making the play a Greek tragedy was Craven’s subtle castigation of the MPAA for their denouncement of violence of horror movies. Craven was basically pointing out that violence and horror have been a part of entertainment since the Greek tragedies. Hello, Oedipus and Medea. And yet now they are lauded as classics.]
I have to admit, the play scene is one of my favorite moments in not only the Scream trilogy but also horror in general. The way Craven not only beautifully draws the parallels between Sidney and Cassandra but also utilizes the Greek tradition of a masked chorus in such an effectively chilling way—it’s breathtaking in its brilliance.
Here is Sidney, playing Cassandra of Troy, gifted with the ability to see the future, but cursed by Apollo to never be believed. She is often described in myth as dark-haired, dark-eyed, clever and beautiful…but considered by all around her to be insane. It becomes pretty clear that many around Sidney are beginning to question her grasp on her own sanity as this latest round of killings start up around her. And in the middle of rehearsal, Sidney comes completely unhinged as she finds herself facing the Ghost Face mask mingled among the rest of the masked chorus surrounding her, the scene done with such ambiguity that you find yourself questioning whether or not he was ever actually there in that scene. Even if Sidney really did see the killer, just like with Cassandra, she tells the truth and no one believes her.
[Loba Tangent: I love how this theme of Sidney’s slow unraveling continues into the third film with much greater conviction, ultimately giving us yet another one of my favorite moments from both this trilogy and horror in general…but we’ll get to that. Soon.]
More importantly, however, is how Cassandra was cursed in the first place. It was punishment wrought upon her by the god Apollo because she denied him sex (although in one version of her story, she consented so that Apollo would grant her the gift of prophecy, only to change her mind after he had given her this talent, which angered Apollo enough to curse her immediately after). Her torment and exclusion were all borne of her sexual decisions, which a male figure felt compelled to punish her for. Not that dissimilar to Sidney or, more importantly, to Sidney’s mother. Remember, it was Maureen Prescott’s dalliance with Billy Loomis’s father that set off the chain of events in the first film and the first two sequels. Maureen’s “unpardonable” sin of infidelity led both Billy and Mrs. Loomis to want to punish her and her daughter, disregarding the fact entirely that their father/husband was a willing participant in said events.
[Loba Tangent: By the way, that’s also a nice extra touch, having Mrs. Loomis be the killer, seeking revenge upon Sidney for her son’s death in a rather Greek tragedy sort of way. Layers. Craven could bring them.]
In such a small space of the movie, Craven brings Sidney’s plight into perfect historical focus. She is the tragic heroine of this modern-day Greek play, punished for sexual choices, some made by her but the main ones made by another but for which she must bear the punishment. However, with a fantastic modern twist, we see our tragic heroine survive…but at what cost? How much can young Sidney bear before it all becomes too much? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
I’m going to cheat slightly with this review, denizens. I recently reviewed this film elsewhere online, and rather than reinvent the wheel at this point, I’m going to use a lot of what I wrote in that “other” place, for this review. For posterity, yo.
I guess I also should finally point out that I probably will have a lot of spoilers throughout this and other Cravenous reviews. I don’t know why I never thought of mentioning this before. So, yeah. Spoilers.
So now that Wes Craven was (kind of) able to scratch that itch of wanting to direct anything other than a horror movie and found it to be less than the pleasant break he’d hoped it would be (thanks, Eddie…no, really…thank you), it was time once more to turn to what he knew and did so well. It wasn’t an instantaneous “yes” decision, mind you. It took a bit of pushing from Bob and Harvey Weinstein as well as a few of Craven’s close associates to finally convince him that it would be worth his time to take the reins on what practically everyone in Hollywood was convinced was going to be a huge horror hit. The Weinsteins were so convinced by the end of the day, in fact, that they scheduled a Christmas release for the film. A Christmas release? For a teen slasher flick? In the mid-90s?
God damn it, Gump! You’re a goddamned genius!
Seriously, though, with Craven coming on board as director, this turned out to be the “perfect storm” of a horror film. It was a brilliant script filled with admiration and adoration for a genre that, to tell the truth, had seen better days. Horror was, forgive the pun, nearly dead in the mid-90s. Fans had lost interest in tired sequels and cheesy scripts and horrible plots. It took Williamson to come along to remind us what we fell in love with and to show us that there was still life in the genre yet. His story was clever, his lines were catchy and quotable, and his characters were cliches to a point, but cliches with twists and unexpected complexities.
Combine this with a cast filled with up-and-coming young actors just starting to make an impact on Hollywood as well as a couple of established actors who were either making a successful comeback or who brought a delightful sense of nostalgia with their presence, and like I said: perfect storm.
Watching Scream again for what truly has to be beyond the 20th time I’ve seen the movie, I made a special effort to focus primarily on the look of the movie—the movement and action and choreography. These were Williamson’s characters and plot, but Craven was the puppet master, pulling the strings and placing all the characters into motion.
In that regard, Craven had an impeccable internal sense of timing and pacing. He was the ultimate horror metronome, never letting the rhythm of the story falter, never letting any member of the band fall out of tune.
Also, this movie is visually elegant. For a man who began his career with some of the most disturbingly raw movies of 70s-era horror (not just visually but also story-wise), Scream might be Craven’s most stylistically polished horror film. One might even argue that this was the beginning of the cinematic apex of his career, from a purely directorial perspective. While I would never argue with the sentiment that his greatest original contribution to the horror genre was Freddy Krueger (a contribution, mind you, that helped inspire this film in the first place), I think that Scream was Craven’s directorial magnum opus. I mean, just look at this screen capture and tell me that’s not a thing of terrifying beauty (and, yes, that’s an actual practical shot and not CGI trickery). Craven could compose a shot like nobody’s business. He knew what worked. He knew what would capture the audience. I think only John Carpenter could stand as Craven’s contemporary match when it came to working a frame for full horror effect.
From the clear inspiration of German expressionism to the beautifully choreographed murder sequences right down to simple subtle touches like keeping the frenetic pace of the opening sequence with the popping and then burning popcorn, Craven was showing his visual acumen. Even when he chose to use something so visually overplayed as slow motion to emphasize with unflinching brutal clarity the moment the killer plunged that knife into Casey Becker’s chest (Drew Barrymore? Dead before the end of the first reel?!), he knew the perfect way to deliver the message that all that what we thought we knew? We didn’t and all bets were officially off.
Even, and this might be me reading too much into this, the decision to film Sidney and Billy from the side as they started to fool around gave Craven the opportunity to show this moment as Sidney started to fall back onto her bed and her ponytail hung oh so briefly in air, looking like a serrated knife blade, as the soundtrack rolled out the musical cue of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Again, I’m probably putting way more faith into that scene than I should, but that was honestly the moment I knew who the killer was (at least one of them). Simple brilliance.
I’ve yet to grow tired of watching this film. True, it no longer serves that intrinsic horror purpose—it hasn’t scared me since that first viewing almost 20 years ago—but it still exhilarates me, enthralls me, and, yes, terrifies me on different levels. This is a horror master class, taught by one of the maestros himself. Craven knew that the truest form of fear was the fear of the real. No, a dead child molester isn’t ever going to really kill people in their nightmares. But pack mentality could well and truly lead to group vigilantism such as what the parents of those original Elm Street kids did in the name of protecting their own.
And apathy and desensitization could lead to the moral lassitude that led the likes of Billy and Stu down the path they ultimately traveled in this film. Yes, the exacting of their plan was hyperbolic in its almost supernatural perfection (and later sequels would put a new spin on the actions of the first film that would, in some ways, work well and in others make me want to pummel the ticket taker at the theater), but the essence of their actions was very believable. And that is what continues to root this film strongly in the realm of horror power players.
Craven clearly knew his shtick. Who better, then, to direct a movie all about showing how self-aware a horror movie could be? These characters inhabited a world that not only acknowledged the horror genre but acknowledged Craven as one of the architects of its current existence. In some ways, it was also an indictment against the masters like Craven—look at what you’ve done to us with your pursuit of more realistic, more visceral fear. You have left us bereft of human empathy and motivated by vengeance and mayhem. You have pushed us to reach deeper, into ever-darker corners and pull forward whatever resides therein.
After his success with The People Under the Stairs, it was time for Wes to come home. Time for him to reclaim his greatest creation and put the dream demon back into his proper context. And so, in 1994, Wes Craven went back to Elm Street, and he brought several members of the original cast with him. The end result?
I’ve already written here about Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, so I don’t necessarily want to make a new post for it. However, I will reiterate that it was a brilliant return to Elm Street for Craven and a beautiful denouement to Freddy Krueger. Yes, I know that they brought him back for his battle with Jason, but I feel as though that’s an incidental addition. An appendix, if you will. This film felt like a solid conclusion to Freddy’s journey as well as Craven’s homecoming and reconciliation with Bob Shaye and New Line Cinema.
So what could possibly be next for Craven now that he had come back into his own as a “Master of Horror” and taken back his dream demon?
A comedy, of course.
Well. Kind of. A comedic horror? A horrific comedy?
Truthfully, the only thing horrifying about 1995’s Vampire in Brooklyn is how it both failed at horror and funny. Based on a story idea from Eddie Murphy and producer friend Vernon Lynch, and a script written by Murphy’s brother Charlie (along with the guys who wrote Mulan II), the movie tells the story of Maximillian, the sole-surviving Caribbean vampire, who comes to Brooklyn to find the half-vampire mate who will help him keep his line from ending.
I know what you’re thinking: Don’t vampires just make more vampires by biting someone and turning them into a vampire? That’s kind of what I thought. I also stand by my theory that vampires can’t procreate the way humans can. It’s the whole freaking point (pardon the pun) of why they have to penetrate their victims with their teeth after roofying them with their sexeh stares.
I know what else you’re thinking: Half-vampire? What the hell is that (besides Blade or Vampire Hunter D)? I’ve always questioned the idea of “half-vampire” because I question the procreation efforts of vampires. Also, it’s always sounded a bit silly to me (even though I do enjoy some of the genre stories that use such a creature). Do they only burn really badly in sunlight? Have slightly pointy teeth? Do they have a translucent reflection? Whatever it’s supposed to be, Angela Bassett plays the half-vampire, so I’m okay with letting some of those questions go.
Really, it’s Murphy who is the problem for me with this movie. I’ve never really enjoyed him as an actor. I loved his time on Saturday Night Live and I respect what he did during his stand-up days. However, most of his movie career has left me utterly cold. This movie wasn’t an exception.
Plus there is the fact that you can tell that Murphy is not really all that interested in giving a compelling performance in this role. He later stated that the only reason he agreed to this movie in the first place was because Paramount agreed to release their hold on the rights to The Nutty Professor to Murphy if he finished his contract with them. He also had the audacity to blame the wig he wore in the movie for why people didn’t like it. I totally disagree. That wig worked for Eriq La Salle in Coming to America! You just didn’t try hard enough, Eddie.
Problems compounded with the fact that Craven was excited to finally have a shot at directing a straight comedy only to find out that Murphy wanted him on board because he wanted to do something other than comedy and thought taking a crack at horror would be fun. And when your leading man is also one of the producers on a movie he came up with the story for and his brother wrote the script? There’s not a whole lot you can do besides say, “Good idea, Mr. Murphy.”
They did try to meet in the middle, and there are a lot of comedic moments to the film. We also get Murphy doing his shtick of putting on a lot of make-up and playing other characters. This time, he played a perpetually perspiring preacher and a failed Wise Guy. They were kind of funny, but also kind of stereotypical and cringe-worthy. I’ve always had a problem with a lot of the dress-up roles that Murphy did. If he were punching up with the joke, as he did on SNL, then it might be different. However, most of the time, he was only playing up stereotypes for comedic effect. That’s kind lazy comedy for no real effect other than to make fun of groups of people for assumed shared behavior. But whatever.
It was lovely getting to see Angela Bassett in this film. Craven must have appreciated her participation in his short-lived television series Nightmare Cafe (and by “short-lived,” I mean it lasted six episodes…but they featured actors from Craven’s many films, including Bassett, Brandon Adams, and Robert Englund. Oh, and Trinity, Cigarette Smoking Man, and Ishara Yar show up as well, for you genre fans). Bassett’s career at this point was starting to really pick up, with her Oscar nod securely in place for her turn (heh) as Tina Turner and Strange Days helping to secure her as a player in the genre fiction realm.
[Loba Tangent: Sad trivia, really. Sonja Davis, the stunt woman who doubled Bassett on Strange Days, followed her to this film only to die during a failed stunt that put her in a coma for almost 2 weeks before she passed.]
Her performance as Detective Rita Veder in this film was absolutely one of the standouts. She clearly was willing to embrace the ludicrous lunacy of the story and her role, and she played every moment with a refreshing dedication that I’m sure pleased Craven, particularly on this film. Other than Bassett, I’d have to say that Kadeem Hardison was probably the best part of this movie. Playing Julius Jones, the Maximillian equivalent of Dracula’s Renfield, Hardison brought a zeal to his role that was (sadly) unmatched by his main foil. Also, he did quite well in a role that was both a throwback to and departure from his most iconic role, Dwayne Wayne.
Remember, I did say that when an actor impressed Craven, he made sure to be loyal to that actor. Just ask W. Earl Brown, who appeared in this film and may or may not appear later on in this blog series. Isn’t that right, Kenny? Now get off my windshield.
Even though it wasn’t the complete break from horror that Craven had longed for, this still was probably the first of his films to integrate other-than-horror elements into the story blatantly (rather than subtly, as Craven had often tried to do with other films) without getting blow-back from producers or the movie company in charge. Of course, the movie didn’t even make back what it cost to make it, so I’m sure that wasn’t the resounding success that Craven had hoped for with his first non-horror horror movie.
Guess there was really only one way to go at this point. Back to horror…
[Loba Apology: I nearly left this movie out of my Cravenous reviews. I honestly don’t know what happened. I guess I got so excited about getting closer to The People Under the Stairs that I lost my focus. Oversight rectified. You’re welcome.]
Sorry for the miniature nature of the poster art for this film, but this was all I could find. With as misogynistic as the imagery is on the artwork, though, I’m kind of okay with this being the largest version I could find. Also, that’s pretty risque for a made-for-television film, eh?
That’s right, after the three-in-a-row lackluster performance of Wes Craven’s theatrical offerings, he decided to head back to television. Maybe he thought he could find his mojo there. Maybe he enjoyed working on those Twilight Zone episodes so much that he wanted to recapture some of that. Or maybe he just wanted a break from being bullied and berated by critics, producers, and fans. He wanted something easy. A palate cleanser, so to speak.
Whatever the reason, we ended up with 1990’s MFTV movie Night Visions. I almost didn’t end up reviewing this film, as it’s unavailable for rent anywhere I looked. However, as luck would have it, someone has posted it to YouTube. Oh the lengths I’m willing to go for a review series.
The bonus we get with this film is that not only did Craven direct and produce it, he also co-wrote it with Thomas Baum. Baum, by the way, was quite prevalent as a screenplay writer back in the day, writing The Manhattan Project, several episodes of Deadly Nightmares (originally called The Hitchhiker), and Nightmare Cafe for Craven. My OMG moment from his credits is that he wrote the screenplay for The Haunting of Sarah Hardy, which is one of my favorite Sela Ward movies and also can be found in its entirety, much to my girlish delight, on YouTube. Prophets bless YouTube.
But I digress. What else is new, right?
The most telling thing about this movie is that you instantly know two things: Who the killer is and what the purpose of the movie is. The former was painfully obvious to me and led me to believe that it was secondary to and in support of the primary purpose: This was meant to be an introduction to a television series. Given that Craven would try again in a couple of years to launch a different series with Nightmare Cafe, I think it’s safe to assume that he really was growing weary of making movies. He wanted to do something different. Maybe just produce for a little while, with the option of writing and/or directing if he chose to.
Unfortunately, this was not going to be the E-ticket that he wanted it to be. There were simply too many questions unanswered and not enough fresh intrigue about either of the main characters for this to incite the interest needed to convey it from MFTV movie to series. Even Craven’s directing was on-point but mostly predictable with this film. It just felt like a paint-by-numbers effort on his part and another indication that this was definitely a point in his career when he was struggling with what he wanted next.
That being said, this was still better than Chiller. I’m telling you, Chiller is going to end up being my least favorite of all his films, denizens. I can feel it.
Seriously, Night Visions was a good enough effort from everyone involved that I didn’t mind watching this film. I wouldn’t seek it out again, but I’m not going to slam people for the attempt. Especially James Remar, who seemed to be giving his all to what was unfortunately a predictable cop character. Loryn Locklin did her best, but her character was the less interesting of the two (which was strange since hers was the more damaged and more complex of the two leads; Craven again was showing his interest both in strong female characters and in the complex dynamics of mental turmoil). Also, it was great seeing Penny Johnson in another Craven film (remember, we haven’t seen her since her stint as Sue in The Hills Have Eyes Part 2) as well as Horace Pinker Mitch Pileggi, working on perfecting his hard-ass law enforcement official in charge of two rogue agents. Gee, wonder when that kind of expertise would ever work in his favor…
Oh. Oh, Wes. You just…you made…it’s all jumbled…and there’s so much going on…and there’s dreams and death and sorcery and puns…and…oh.
I feel like this was a crossroads moment in Wes Craven’s career. He was now into the double digits for horror movies he’d directed. He was a viable name in a genre he knew nothing about when he first started, but that now held him tightly within a death grip that he couldn’t shake. He’d written into existence one of the most memorable horror villains of modern cinema, and had subsequently lost all control of said villain to a slew of sequels that he continued to view as chipping away the validity of that villain. He kept trying to do different things, but there is little opportunity for movement once you’ve found yourself stuck in a niche. Craven was a master of horror, whether he liked it or not.
Shocker definitely makes me think that at this point, he did not like it. At all.
I honestly believe that Craven didn’t intentionally set out to make a laughable movie with this one. I know from interviews he gave later that he wanted to create a new horror villain that would sort of be the antithesis to what Freddy Krueger had become in the NOES sequels. Craven was quite displeased with how his child murdering dream demon had become a vaudevillain, to coin a phrase, cracking puns as he killed and playing up a level of likability among his fans that Craven found perverse.
With his new villain, Craven wanted to return to that raw, unfiltered fear that he conjured at the beginning of his career. There was to be nothing likable or kind or appealing within the heart of Horace Pinker. He was meant to be a cold-blooded bastard whose only sense of joy came from the lives he stole in murderous, violent fashion.
Instead, Craven clearly took a wrong turn back at Albuquerque.
Again, this movie screams of external meddling. As evidenced with his early films and with the original Freddy (as well as the original script that Craven wrote for the third NOES movie), Craven had no problem entering the darkest depths of horror and mining from it what he knew he would need to truly frighten and unsettle his viewers. Left to his own devices, I have a feeling that Horace Pinker would have been the second successful original villain of Craven’s creating.
Instead, TPTB interjected with what I’m sure they viewed as “helpful” or “useful” recommendations, which were far, far, far from helpful. “Hey, Pinker is kind of a jerk. Make him funny. You know, like Freddy.” “Hey, make him get his powers through some kind of voodoo. You know, like from your last movie.” “Hey, remember how you had that girl able to enter her dreams to seek out Freddy, and pull things out of her dreams? Why don’t you make the football player in this movie have the same ability? You know, because it worked in that other movie that everyone loves.”
Yeah. Hot, jumbled mess this turned out to be by the time everyone was finished. Simply put, there are so many things going on simultaneously throughout this movie that it feels discordant and discombobulated the whole time you’re watching it. What Craven needed to do was streamline the ideas…leave out what he had already used and stick with what he wanted to use for this film. It would have made for a far better film instead of the mismatched jumble that this movie ended up being. Plus, the era of true shock horror had turned into the era of schlock horror by this point, and not even Craven was safe from the cheese of the times. I guess that’s the best way to describe some of the elements of this film, like the horrible jokes or having Timothy Leary play a televangelist or having a little girl use profanity while possessed by foul-mouthed Pinker. Seriously, the man who gave us (The Last House on the Left spoilers whited out now) a woman seducing a man into letting her give him a blow job so that she could bite off his penis after she realized that he was one of the men who raped and killed her daughter trying to shock us with a little girl dropping the F bomb? Puhlease.
[Loba Tangent: Also, make note of this filmmakers: Never use a little kid using profanity in your movie or show as a way of being controversial. It’s not shocking. It’s a transparent plea for someone to think you’re shocking.]
Craven had hoped to turn Horace Pinker’s exploits into a series of at least three films. However, the general response to the mucky mess of Pinker’s world was so subdued that future plans were abandoned. It’s probably for the best. Mitch Pileggi would soon have his hands full with keeping two FBI agents in check. He didn’t have time for this! And, yes, no matter how many roles Mitch Pileggi has played and no matter that he was ADA Skinner on The X-Files, I always call him Horace Pinker.
[Loba Tangent: I’ve skipped a couple of things from Wes Craven’s career that occurred between Deadly Friend and this film. First was the fact that New Line Cinema CEO Bob Shaye came to Craven and asked if he would come back to the Nightmare franchise for the third film, both to write and direct. Craven was still working on Deadly Friend, but was intrigued by the possibility of going back and redirecting the path of Freddy Krueger. He pitched the overarching idea of the “Dream Warriors,” stating in later interviews that he believed that a group would have been needed to defeat Krueger by that point because the dream demon’s strength had grown stronger from the souls he’d taken. Shaye and New Line liked that idea, and so Craven and Bruce Wagner wrote a script for the third film, which Shaye and New Line immediately put through a massive rewrite process with Chuck Russell (who was hired to direct the film) and Frank Darabonte. Russell and Darabonte rewrote probably 70 percent of the script that Craven and Wagner had penned (and which was, according to Russell, far darker and far more profane than either the original movie or the third film that ended up going to print), and Craven once more ended up on the outside looking in for his most famous original creation. Nightmare On Elm Street Films.com has more on this as well as Craven and Wagner’s original script plus the final version, if you’re interested.
Also during this time, Craven directed a few episodes of the rebooted Twilight Zone. I’ve probably seen them since I did watch the reboot of the series, but I honestly don’t remember anything from that series. Perhaps this will be something to look up for a future entry…]
There seems to be a theme starting at this point in Wes Craven’s career, and not the expected theme. Instead, we find ourselves faced with another movie that Craven didn’t set out to make as a straightforward horror movie. Instead, he wanted his 1988 film The Serpent and the Rainbow to be based more closely on the same-titled book on which Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman based their screenplay. The book, written by Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis, details Davis’s experiences in Haiti while investigating the poisons used in making “zombies” during voodoo ceremonies. The book is far less titillating than the movie that ended up getting studio approval, playing out more like an academic journal piece than a horror movie (probably because it was more of an academic work than a gore fest).
Craven’s desire was to make a thoughtful drama/thriller with this film, something that I’m sure Davis wanted as well (he originally tried to sell the rights to his book with the caveat that it could only be turned into a movie if Peter Weir directed and Mel Gibson starred). Again, though, Craven was a gore master. Gore masters don’t get to choose “thoughtful” for their next project. We need scares, Craven! SCARES! Just look at the poster art for this film if you don’t believe me. Does this scream thoughtful to you? So scares arrived in the shooting schedule, appearing in somewhat discordant ways throughout what ended up being a stuttering, clumsily timed film. Oftentimes the more horror-heavy moments come across as shoe-horned in rather than organically planned, but they at least looked solid in comparison with the gore of Deadly Friend. Still, it’s depressing to realize that here was yet another film that Craven had such a different vision for but felt compelled to capitulate to the demands of those financing the film. I’m pretty sure by this point he must have been tempted to return to his more guerrilla early days as a filmmaker, scraping together funds in any way he could.
Don’t get me wrong: This is not a terrible film in its final form. It’s just not a great film. I hadn’t seen this movie in nearly 20 years, so my recent re-watch was a bit eye-opening as to how poorly paced the movie is, but also how great it could have been. It’s an interesting story in its own right, without all the forced, fake gore and scares. Also, I had forgotten that Bill Pullman sometimes fancies himself a serious actor. I’m so used to seeing him in silly or comedic roles; it was nice to be reminded that he also does drama and horror rather well.
I wish that Craven could have made the more serious film he initially intended to make with The Serpent and the Rainbow. Even more than Deadly Friend, which still holds pride of place as one of those fantastic horror movies that are fun to watch because of how bad/silly they are, I feel as though Craven could have made an exceptional thought piece with this film had he been given the chance.