Wes Craven and the slasher just go together and he is probably the most creative exponent of the subgenre we have ever seen. He combined the prototypical teen slasher with supernatural elements in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), went meta with the same series in New Nightmare (1994) and even his lesser efforts such as Shocker (1989) or My Soul to Take (2010) toy with the genre in some way. However of all his films, it is Scream (1996) that is his most radical reinterpretation of the formula.
From the very start, Scream is about the dual goals of expressing a love for slasher films as well as delivering a bloody good one. The film opens with Drew Barrymore’s character just about to watch a scary movie. A phone call leads to a deadly game of horror film trivia and one of cinema’s more memorable opening sequences. From there the film shifts into a teen slasher with Neve Campbell on one front, and an interested media helmed by Courtney Cox on the other. There are the general tropes of partying and cool kills (getting mashed by garage doors an obvious highlight of the latter). But the media interest and hype around the killings also adds another dimension to the film. However most notable is the constant allusions to, and invoking of other horror films, including Craven’s earlier work. The film sticks hard to the high concept premise that it sets up and explores ideas through this such as the notion that a life is like a movie. Plus unlike some other meta-horror films, this one is constantly respectful toward the genre. At times it plays as exceptional homage to the genre’s greatest hits, such as the close-ups of people in the throes of terror. The meta approach to the film also means it is laden with references, that I am sure would open up more to me on a second viewing. There is a sense though that the film slightly loses the narrative thread a little as it goes along. The finale is perhaps not as well set up or magnetic as it could have been. Having said that, the final twist is a gem, especially if you have somehow remained spoiler free for the past 20 years.
The greatest achievement of Scream is the script, which may be the best horror script of all time. It is damn hard to be both as meta and as effective in the genre as this. Not to mention the level of tension achieved while all this is going on is quite remarkable. The choices made in terms of doing what’s expected are a pretty masterful manipulation of the audience. At times it’s exactly what you are expecting, whilst at others the expectation is totally subverted. It is a great way to engage with horror clichés. The assured hand of Craven is all over the film, with numerous small choices enhancing the overall experience a lot. The casting is nailed, with a funky mix of Neve Campbell, Drew Barrymore, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan, Henry Winkler and David Arquette combining for loads of fun, with the necessary acting chops to back it all up. The ensemble is important but Campbell is the clear star. It is a very good performance. She looks so tired and beaten down in a very real way by how her life has been progressing, and brings the audience along as she sinks even lower. The score (recently re-released on vinyl) is excellent, and fits into the overall approach of reverence to the genre’s past coupled with innovation. There is a real A Nightmare on Elm Street vibe to this element of the film, with a fair hint of Psycho (1960) too. The way that both score and sound design are used to punctuate everyday moments, with whooshes and emphasis creates great tension, without ever being cheap about it.
Verdict: If Scream is perhaps slightly below the standard of Craven’s very best work, that speaks more to the quality of his output than the film specifically. However it is one of his most interesting films, and as far as reflective and meta-horror goes, this is a classic. Pint of Kilkenny
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Never Sleep Again.
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Quick comic review: Wes Craven’s Coming of Rage #1
Right around the time Wes Craven sadly passed away last year, the comic Coming of Rage #1 appeared bearing his name, and that of Steve Niles. Whilst the timing may have led to thoughts of a cash-in, obviously work on the comic had begun far before his death. Keen to immerse myself in as much Craven as possible, I grabbed a copy of the first issue to see what it was like. Here are some quick thoughts:
Things I liked:
- It’s a Wes Craven comic. You can definitely feel Craven’s influence here. At times you can see the spirit of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), though to be frank, it is more often the spirit of lesser Craven, particularly Cursed (2005). Even though that film is certainly toward the bottom of his oeuvre, I think it still has a good teen horror vibe that hopefully this series can cultivate over time. Also, and I don’t mean this disparagingly, the best bit in this whole issue is the afterword Craven right at the end. In it, Craven tells where the idea for the series came from and how he sees it unfolding. Not all of that is on the pages of this first issue, but to hear the great man lay out his vision, that’s a major attraction. It ends with the crushing coda that he thinks Coming of Rage would make a good TV series (I can certainly see that) and that he would love to make it. Man, a Wes Craven horror TV show would have been utterly badarse.
- The cover – I had this lying around for a few weeks before I had a read. For the first little bit, I thought the cover was pretty rubbish. But it really grew on me. The contrast of a normal face with a monstrous middle (and tips of fingers) and the way that middle section is a piece of paper torn away. It’s a cool bit of pretty classical horror imagery.
Things I didn’t:
- The story – I’ll acknowledge that first issues are hard to do in comics. By design, they essentially have to be solely set-up with very little actual story. The issue here is that neither of those aspects really resonate or show you anything decidedly different. There is some ok mythology, but you’ve probably seen everything here multiple times before. Neither does the ending really leave you hanging as much as it should. I’m certainly not freaking out, desperate to get my hands on #2 cause I can’t bear the tension of not knowing what happens.
- The art is a mixed back, but below average overall. Some of the landscapes and interiors are pretty good. But what dominates are the pretty average character designs. They are uniformly bland, but on a lot of occasions they descend into bad. Most dissapointing of all are the tepid monster designs that just really don’t pop off the page at all.
Verdict: I guess the main question when summarising thoughts on a comic is if I’ll keep reading. The answer is yes… just. I’m attracted more by the fact it is a limited series (6 issues I believe) and thanks to Craven’s words at the end, rather than being totally blown away by the book itself. To be blunt, if Craven’s name wasn’t on it, I would not have been continuing. It’s obviously not totally awful, but hopefully the complexity of the story continues to increase. Stubby of Reschs
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Comics Review: Quick comic review: Marvel Star Wars #1 and Comic Review: Captain America the first Avenger film tie-in.
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Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), unsurprisingly given the title, signals the return to the series of creative maestro Wes Craven and is also the last film in the Elm Street canon (at least that is how I see it, apparently the film is not technically regarded as canonical). Not only that, it takes the series to some really unfamiliar territory, not bad for the seventh film in the series.
Right from the start, New Nightmare is a different beast to what has come before it, beginning by toying with and subverting one of the most iconic pieces of imagery that the series has. It wears its meta, postmodern heart on its sleeve and manages to do it in a way that is pretty unpretentious the whole way through. Star of the first film Heather Langenkamp returns playing herself and is joined by Robert Englund and John Saxon doing the same, as well as staff from New Line cinema. Throughout the film, it blends classic Elm Street mythology with these more meta flourishes into something that is both intellectually stimulating and plenty of fun. Narratively, the story begins to unfold with Langenkamp and her family seemingly being haunted by Freddy in real life. Here the film could have easily settled into pretty much the standard narrative of the series, with some postmodern trimmings. However the insertion of writer director Wes Craven into the film sees it retain its originality as it combines an almost Stranger than Fiction (2006) like conceit with the notion of age old, eternal evil which is almost reminiscent of a folk tale of some description. The narrative construction is not without its issues. Early on I became intrigued with how they were going to deal with the Robert Englund/Freddy Krueger dichotomy. It didn’t really bother me watching it, but now that I think about it, I actually don’t think that is resolved which is a little disappointing.
You do sense some ego in the project from Craven. Not only does he pull off a Lee Daniels and insert his name into the title of the film, he also gives himself a really quite key role. It does not particularly detract from the film but it was in the back of my mind. His screentime is not all that epic, but when you think about what his character means to the film, he is integral to how it unfolds. Speaking of thinking, this film really makes you think a lot, if anything a little too much. There were allusions and postmodern, meta references that I truly think I need another viewing or two to really unpack properly, they are that dense. That said, the more straightforward aspects of this are equally fulfilling, especially early with the almost mockumentary autobiographically influenced parts focused on Langenkamp, like the TV interview that she participates in. The line about Wes Craven no longer doing horror films brought a real smile to my face as well, reminiscent of James Wan’s recent decision to take leave of the genre as well (come back James, we need you man). As well as all of that, the film is genuinely scary and brings a quite visceral style of horror in parts that is new to the series. Some moments are undone by the presence of CGI graphics that look about SNES standard, but most of the frights are much more effective.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a frightening and highly original way to cap off the original series. The premise is bold and whilst aspects of the film threaten to be a little overdone, overall Craven does an assured job of holding this all together. He is clearly the man with this series, having directed my three favourite entries. Given the only major quibble with the film I could muster is that the much hyped T-Rex vs Freddy showdown never materialises, this one is well worth your time if you have not seen it.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Coming up over the next couple of weeks are some guest reviews of films featuring Freddy Krueger considered outside of the canon, so keep an eye out for those.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of my Elm Street reviews (ranked in order of preference):
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
5. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
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