Cravenous: Cursed

cursed.24994

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

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

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

Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cravenous: Scream 3

scream3teaser

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same with Sidney:

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

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

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

Sidney’s response?

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

Roman-
STOP!

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

Roman-
I don’t want to hear it!

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

Roman-
God fucking dammit!

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

Roman-
FUCK YOU! [He lunges]

Sidney-
FUCK YOU!

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

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

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

Cravenous: Scream 2

scream2

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.

scream2_0463

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.

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

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.

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

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:

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

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.

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection<
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

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.

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection<
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

[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…

Cravenous: Scream

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.

scream_xlg

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.

scream_eye

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.

Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection
Courtesy of Shadow of Reflection

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.

Could you imagine a more appropriate message from or to the creator of horror like The Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes?

Flashback Friday: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

I thought about doing this on the original 1984 movie, but I wanted to shake things up a bit and go instead with the movie that continued to show Wes Craven as an innovator of the horror genre as well as helped lay the groundwork for the franchise that would once again place his name at the top of the horror movie game. And so it goes with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

a-nightmare-on-elm-street-7-new-nightmare.22654

Released in October 1994, New Nightmare marked Craven’s return to the franchise that he unwittingly launched 10 years earlier. Craven’s original intention was to make a one-off film. He never intended that first movie to receive sequels. In fact, the movie’s original ending was far less ambiguous than the one that producer Bob Shaye insisted be tacked on at the last minute. Just like any money-hungry producer, Shaye saw the potential of this film to spawn the one thing that producers crave: a franchise (isn’t that right, Spielberg? Could have had a great horror ending to Paranormal Activity, but, no, you had to ruin it with a franchise-friendly ending…just like you ruin most movies you have anything to do with).

Fast-forward through the first sequel, with which Craven had nothing to do and which kind of hangs in this weird homoerotic netherworld among the rest of the franchise as not quite belonging but still being kind of awesome in its own weird right, and Shaye and New Line invite Craven back to pen the third movie (they had actually wanted him back to direct as well but he was still working on Deadly Friend). However, again, Craven doesn’t want Freddy to become a series. His original script for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors was far more disturbing, dark, and demented than what Shaye finally greenlit. Craven returned as a way to try to take back control of his creation, to take Freddy to those darker places that he always thought Freddy should inhabit. Craven’s original Fred Krueger wasn’t just a child killer; he was a molester. He was so horrific in death because he was horrific in life. Craven’s original Fred Krueger was not in any way meant to be a hero of any kind. Shaye, however, wanted the camp, the lovable child murderer who smacks you down with zingers before gutting you in a haha gotcha kind of way that makes fans love him so. Guess who finally got their way? Craven’s Freddy was shelved…until he returned once more to the franchise to reclaim his monster and ultimately save him from what he had never wanted Freddy to become.

All that being said, was it such a terrible thing that Craven’s original creation became the franchise he became? I’m sure no one whose bank accounts grew from the series ever complained. And as I mentioned in my post yesterday, I discovered Freddy Krueger through one of those haha sequels. I had no idea how gruesome Krueger originally was. Also, because I first discovered him through the campier side of the character, I do hold a special place in my heart for that iteration. But from a more pure horror perspective, I think that Craven’s original monster is, by far, superior. But what about the new Krueger that Craven unleashed in 1994? Not only was this Krueger more in line with that original depraved character, but he also looked more in line with Craven’s original visual concept. Nothing but sinews and organic claws and hideous deformity.

Wes-Craven-Nightmare-1

I know that Craven would later state that he regretted changing Freddy Krueger’s look for New Nightmare. I actually think that it was necessary to make this change for this particular story. Remember, we see the “original” Freddy—the version portrayed oh so many times by Robert Englund and the version that die-hard fans had come to have such a gloriously Pavlovian response to—early in the film. This was “Freddy.” This was the fantasy that fans made real through their devotion to the character and the actor portraying him. It was integral to the story, therefore, to somehow differentiate this Freddy from the darker, more elemental Freddy. This Freddy did not deal in witty bon mots and scenery chewing. This Freddy sprang from the most primal, most basic, most genetically programmed vein of fear within us all.

He had to look different. He was not who any of us had known before this movie. I always felt as though this was one of the concepts that Craven was trying to convey through this film—that Freddy Krueger had become far more than even his creator ever dreamed he would become. He lurked in the shadows of his fictional self, feeding upon the fear released by those films, biding his time until the lines between worlds could blur and recede and he could finally step forward at the franchise’s end to claim his rightful place and begin anew as king of infinite space and unceasing nightmares.

For this reason, it was imperative for Craven to convince Heather Langenkamp to return. Her Nancy was the character who both gave that original Krueger life and then snatched it back (one of the main reasons I chose Nancy as a bad-ass Lady of May-hem). Without Nancy, there would have been no Krueger. His focus on her, I believe, stemmed from his understanding that she was ultimately the only one who could take away his power and his life. Not even Craven could do that, because Craven granted this gift to Nancy in the first film. It’s why Craven tells Langenkamp in the film that stopping this nightmarish Krueger pretty much depended upon her willingness to be Nancy one more time.

Sounds deliciously meta, doesn’t it? While I’m sure that this metafictional approach to what had become a watered-down slash-o-rama was neither what franchise fans were hoping for nor what the horror genre at the time was looking to embrace, it planted the seed that, 2 years later would be ripe for the picking, in part by the man who planted it in the first place.

scream_xlg

Again, while Craven didn’t write the script to Scream, the power of his directorial influence cannot be denied. Neither can the influence of his metafictional approach to his heretofore most famous contribution to the genre. Kevin Williamson’s own metafictional script this time blurs the lines of fantasy and reality on the viewer’s level rather than the creators’ level. He demolishes the protection granted by the fourth wall and subsequently drops us all into the path of a monster we can understand because “we” are creating him. After all, “movies don’t make psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!”

That level of self-referential awareness is part of what makes Scream work so well. We are lulled in by the familiarity of what we think we understand, only to have the floor summarily drop out from beneath us. Nothing is as how it should be in the town of Woodsboro, just as nothing was as it should have been in the Hollywood horror machine of Craven’s New Nightmare. Craven thrived upon facing the ugliest fears within ourselves and by facing them, defeating them. His was the Litany Against Fear, embraced myriad times in myriad ways by characters who helped sculpt and ultimately save us from our worst nightmares:

I will not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Sidney Prescott

sidneyprescott

The gods of randomocity must have sensed my eagerness for this particular draw (either that or they’ve been reading my blog this month and noticed that I keep referring to her, even in posts that have nothing to do with her at all, and they just want me to shut up already).

For all the horror movies that I have watched throughout my illustrious lifelong love of the genre, I keep returning to the greatness, IMHO, of director Wes Craven’s Scream and heroine Sidney Prescott, as played by Neve Campbell.

True, there are myriad horror movies that are very obvious in their meritorious contributions to the genre. Then there are those movies that, on first blush, seem like nothing more than standard cheese-supreme slasher flicks. For every Exorcist there’s 15 Frankenhookers.

[Loba Tangent: Okay, there’s only one Frankenhooker…I don’t think the world is ready for more than one. WANNA DATE?]

Many, myself included, expected Scream to be one of the latter types of horror movie. I figured it was going to be a fun way to spend a couple of hours, watching Craven’s latest foray into horror schlock (he’d come a long way since his Elm Street days…and some of that distance was through utter shite, to borrow a Britishism).

What I experienced, instead, was a revival on so many levels. First, Craven was back on-point. This movie was fun and sharp and scary, with a soupçon of cheese to make it even tastier to the palate. Second, this movie introduced screenwriter Kevin Williamson to my world and, for good (this movie) and bad (almost everything else other than this movie), he altered the horror scene irrevocably. While obviously loving and admiring so many of the great aspects of horror, he was able to objectively pinpoint the problems intrinsic to the genre and dissolve them in high horrific style.

And then there’s Sidney.

I’ve already mentioned so many of the fantastic final girls to grace the genre before Sidney arrived. Just like Laurie, Nancy, Jess, Kirsty, Meg, and myriad others, we at first think that Sidney is just another all-American high school girl, wanting nothing more than to make it through another week of tests and class projects before spending quality time with her boyfriend who looks strangely like Johnny Depp and her small group of BFFs.

The twist that Williamson springs on us, however, is that Sidney already is a survivor. She’s gone through a rather brutal year that has obliterated any semblance of normalcy. Now, she just wants to make it through the week without running into the likes of intrepid sensationalist reporter Gale Weathers. Or having to testify against the man she saw leaving her house…we’re left to assume right before young Sidney discovered something that no teenager should ever have to discover.

Sorry, Sidney. The fates just aren’t in your corner this year.

The other delightful twist that Williamson gifts young Sidney is the acknowledgement and subsequent dismissal of that oft-referenced “virginal survival” trope made so famous by Laurie Strode. No, not all final girls after Laurie had to be virgins…but it sure did seem that way. The message, of course, constantly coming across that to survive, you must be good. Naughty girls are only around for two things: boob shots and slasher bait.

Oh, horror, I love you so, but you really are a pig sometimes.

By granting Sidney the right to be sexually active and a final girl, Williamson completely upends this horror trope and injects a bit of feminism right into the genre’s ass. Even more poignantly, he allows Sidney the right to destroy the misogyny that tried to destroy her. Poor Billy boyfriend, doesn’t stand a chance when all he’s got on his side is whiny entitlement and a stupid best friend.

I know, I’ve written more about this particular character than I’ve probably written about any other this month. I acknowledge that Sidney would not have existed were it not for several others to precede her, both this month’s series and in their respective movies. But Sidney takes full advantage of the trail-blazing that those horror heroines did for her and she veers off into her own unique direction. She personifies the best of her predecessors and she presents her own complex qualities that make her one of my all-time favorite Ladies of Horror May-hem.