Cravenous: Scream 4

I’m having a really difficult time with this final post, denizens. Watching Scream 4 really brought home the fact that this truly is it. This was the final film of Wes Craven’s career. It’s a painful truth to assimilate on many levels, least of which is the reopening of the sorrow that I have felt ever since learning of his untimely death. I’m not going to lie: When I saw “Directed by Wes Craven” pop up in the credits, I teared up as it hit yet again that we will never see that for another new movie. It feels like we have lost so many incredibly talented people recently. To mourn each and every one of them as thoroughly as I have with Craven would pretty much become a full-time career. However, let it be known that the creative space within this existence has a lot of vacancy signs in the windows at the moment. We desperately need to see these vacancies filled. The world can be an ugly, cruel reality. Those who provide us with the safety of escapism, no matter how brief, are invaluable.

So, let’s get this final show on the road, shall we?

Scre4m

Let’s just address the elephant in the room right away: I severely panned Scream 4 when it hit theaters. I won’t rewrite that history for this review. I did not enjoy this movie at all on first viewing.

[Loba Tangent: I also haven’t been back to a movie theater since going to see this in 2011. And I am perfectly okay with this fact.]

I also didn’t really like the movie on my second viewing either. Even after reading a book that convinced me to give the fourth movie another try, I ended up writing elsewhere that I still found this to be a “shockingly bad movie, particularly for this franchise.”

Like I said, I won’t rewrite history. However, I also wrote of my second viewing that “the movie puts forward some truly salient points regarding what happened to us as a society, not just in horror but in general culture, within the more than 10 years between the third and fourth movie. And the author of the book I read even gives a convincing defense of what I felt on original viewing was a tacked-on cop-out ending. I still feel as though it’s a bit of a cop-out…but viewing it with the author’s defense in mind helped me to see it as the castigation against remakes and reboots that he proposes it to be.”

See? Value.

Re-watching this film twice for this series (yes, Craven gifted us one final director’s commentary) made me realize further that this movie shouldn’t stand with the original trilogy at all. That trilogy is a complete telling of the nightmare that Sidney, Gale, and Dewey endured and survived. That book is closed. This fourth film truly kicked off a new book completely—one that relies on the first book for frame of reference only. Only a handful of characters within this new film could possibly remember the events of the original films. For the younger characters, they were removed enough from the brutality of those events that, as Sheriff Riley points out, “One generation’s tragedy is the next one’s joke.”

[Loba Tangent: Although I don’t think this movie depends on the original trilogy for much in regard to actual storytelling, I think it does rely heavily on it for self-referential purposes, which I have already pointed out multiple times.]

As for my evolving thoughts on this fourth film, let me finally give kudos to Craven and Williamson for something that I rather backhandedly praised them for in my first review (spoilers ahoy-hoy): Their successful obfuscation of the main killer was utterly on-point. Even all my follow-up viewings of this film after the fact leave me continually surprised at how little Craven or Williamson offers the viewers in regard to this truth. While the secondary killer wasn’t a surprise (IMHO), guessing the main killer eluded me completely. I’m pretty sure I was irritated by this fact when I first saw the reveal, but now? I concede to the brilliance of both writer and filmmaker that they were able to surprise even an old horror hound like myself.

Secondly, and this is a concession that only could come now (although it makes me a bit uncomfortable to call it a concession, because it only can come at the hands of some truly disturbing and vile shifts in the reality in which we now live): I can sadly attest that Williamson and Craven possessed an upsetting prescience regarding the “new rules” of streaming murders online and craving fame without effort so badly that you would kill to attain it. We’ve seen both within the years between the debut of this film and now through some deeply disturbing crimes. What I once admittedly rolled my eyes at now threaten to become cultural banalities as we devolve deeper and deeper into our conscienceless mire of contempt and indifference toward each other. Could Craven and Williamson have seen this all coming? Was this their attempt at warning us? Our Woodsboro Cassandras, showing us what might happen if we didn’t check ourselves?

I don’t know. All I know is that, sadly, this movie has become possibly the truest of all the Scream films, and therein lies its most unsettling strength.

I mentioned that once again, Craven did a commentary for this film. Rather than being joined by technical contributors, this time he brought along actors Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, with Neve Campbell joining the conversation briefly via telephone. I was fascinated by his interaction with the actors. Mostly, I was fascinated and utterly delighted by their appreciation of and respect for Craven as their director. Listening to Campbell in particular, I was struck by how clearly connected she felt to Craven. This man helped solidify her fame throughout the 90s. His faith in her ability to bring to life one of the most iconic heroines from his body of work was so wonderfully obvious in her appreciation of him, not just as her director but as her friend. It made me wish that they had done a commentary with the original three actors and Craven. I’m sure that would have been quite the reminiscent foray.

As for what I just stated about Sidney Prescott? I think it’s true. I think Sidney might actually be Craven’s most iconic heroine. True, Nancy Thompson gets pride of place for being Craven’s own masterpiece and for being his first iconic horror heroine. However, there are two significant differences between Nancy and Sidney. The first, of course, is longevity. Sidney is, hands-down, the winner there, which connects directly to the second way in which these two iconic warrior women differ: Whereas Freddy Krueger was the linchpin of the NOES series, always the same while his defeaters almost constantly rotated, for the Scream world? It was always a rotating cavalcade of killers beneath the Ghostface mask, all trying to dispatch the linchpin of this series: Sidney.

As far as I know, Sidney Prescott is the first protagonist of any gender to anchor a horror franchise (do not come back with Ash as preceding her because I would qualify only the first Evil Dead film as a horror movie; the second was an unnecessary remake of the first and the third was just asinine). Laurie Strode technically could qualify before Sidney since she was in the first and second Halloween movies, and then returned for Halloween: H20. However, Michael Myers was always the same as well, so those two are forever linked as sharing the spotlight.

That all being said, Sidney ranks as one of the more unique “final girls” of horror history by dint of reason that she’s the ultimate survivor, and while we have Kevin Williamson to thank for penning her into existence, we have Wes Craven to thank for bringing her from the page to the screen and for casting the perfect actress to portray her. Neve Campbell stated it simply and beautifully in her tribute to Craven after his death:

We lost a great deal of magic yesterday. I’m devastated to hear of Wes’s passing. My life wouldn’t be what it is without him. I will be forever grateful for his brilliant direction, his wicked sense of humor, and his consummate kindness and friendship. He has entertained us all for decades and inspired so many to follow in his path. I loved Wes dearly and will miss him always. Thank you, Wes!!!

Little did we know that our few months in the sleepy little town of Santa Rosa, California, would give birth to one of the highest-grossing films of that decade and bring about a resurgence in a genre that had been deemed dead for years. Little could we comprehend the great success each of us would be gifted from having the opportunity to make Scream with the great Wes Craven.

Rest in peace, Wes! We’ll continue to watch your films and not sleep peacefully at all.

Many of the things that Campbell wrote of Craven could be repeated by Heather Langenkamp and Emma Roberts. Both of these women saw incredible boosts to their careers thanks to their work with Craven. With Jill Roberts being her first foray into the horror genre, Emma Roberts has gone on to make quite the (blood red) splash in other horror offerings such as American Horror Story and Scream Queens. And Langenkamp has parlayed her turn as Nancy Thompson into a somewhat self-appointed role as the Historian of Elm Street. Her documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is one of the most thorough and entrancing records of a movie franchise to date. And, again, listening to her interaction with Craven during their commentaries for NOES and New Nightmare, you can hear the sincerity of her devotion to Craven as a creator and a friend.

You can read more tributes from others in the Scream family here. The primary things you will read from all of those who worked with Craven and honored him after learning about his death were tributes to his kindness, his intelligence, and his gentleness. Not things you would anticipate hearing about such a Master of Horror. However, it’s a testament to his power as a creator of such legendary horror that he could give himself permission to go to such dark depths and resurface each time with his gentle spirit still intact.

I continue to mourn Craven’s death. I am forever indebted to him for gifting me and my generation (and, sweet prophets, I hope many generations to come) with some of the most iconic, inspiring, game-changing horror movies ever. He was brilliant in so many ways and, as far as I’m concerned, there never would have been a “right” time for him to leave this realm. However, his departure was far too soon. Leave it to the Master of Horror to spring a twist on you right at the end.

landscape-1440989898-wes-craven

Cravenous BookBin Bonus: Fountain Society

fountainsociety

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.

Cravenous: My Soul to Take

mst_hires

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.

Cravenous: Paris, je t’aime

pjt

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.

Cravenous: Pulse

pulse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cravenous: Red Eye

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

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

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

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

redeye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Music of the Heart

moth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…