Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Terrible Performances in Horror History: Wes Craven

This feels strange to say but I really don't know if I like the man's work. He's incredibly intelligent and made two seminal films (Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream) but the rest of his stuff ranges from boring to god-awful.

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996) are still great films and hold up surprisingly well. Nightmare on Elm Street still embodies surreal horror at its best and Scream hit the mark on meta-horror, proving that such a thing can actually exist.

But Craven did a lot of shit. I know The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) are horror classics and have influenced blah, blah, blah... but man are they boring. And weird! But not interesting weird, amateur weird. It's like he ran out of a way to fill 90 minutes and filled it with random characters and goofy moments that don't make sense. It's hella irritating.

He took an interesting turn in after Nightmare on Elm Street and got all sentimental on us. Like, gag inducing sentimental. I remember The People Under The Stairs as the VHS case that gave me the creeps. There was a skull and a freaky looking house. But it's actually kind of heart-warming if you like lame endings. There was nothing scary or sinister about that darn movie at all. The actual people under the stairs should have been freaky, not sad lost souls that deserved to be freed. SO. LAME.

Craven tried his hand at meta-horror in Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) and almost succeeded. If you haven't seen it it's almost worth checking out. The basic premise is the the ghost/genie thing of Freddy Kruger was trapped in the film and since the films finished he has been set free. This is yet another movie that starts off incredibly high-concept and promising but comes up with easy solutions that feel underwhelming after you've watched characters struggle for the previous 90 minutes. It feeds into the overly sentimental with Heather Langenkamp's kid becoming the reason for playing Nancy again. Craven was starting to paint himself into a corner and the only way out is to give the character a kid for whom she would do anything for. It's not terrible character motivation. It's just boring.

Then the Scream trilogy happened. The first one is still great but the second and third are just... sad. Then My Soul to Take (2010) happened. This is one of those movies that gives horror movies a bad name. It's set in a small town. There's a serial killer who gets murdered but the guy has split personalities. And each of the personalities gets reincarnated in one of the seven kids born in the town that night. Then the kids start dying. So which personality is the murderer? It's so buried in cliches that I want to retch. I wouldn't be so down on this movie if Craven hadn't come out and say it's one of the most important horror movies to date. To quote from an interview with Fangoria Craven said:
"I really feel like in some ways, MY SOUL TO TAKE is so different from anything I’ve seen. It’s not ripe for deconstruction yet, but I do feel like the ironic-deconstruction business has been done now too. I mean, SCREAM 4 has its own approach to that. It does take into account that it has been done, and asks the question of, what’s coming next? That was very much a thought in my mind as I was doing [SOUL]—do something you haven’t seen before. It might have elements of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and so forth, but the idea of souls and also a male lead as opposed to female lead—I haven’t touched on that since SHOCKER. That’s more of what was governing my thinking, just following through this child-father idea and the linkage, and of being raised in a family where many important truths were hidden. Innocence, in a sense, is at a certain point very destructive to your growth. There are things you have to know and do."

And the best part about My Soul to Take? It was in 3D. And the characters in the film sit around and talk about who they think the killer is for the whoooooooooooooooooooooooooolllllllllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeee thing. You know what's better than watching people talk? Watching them talk in 3D. No. Wait. That thing sucks. 

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