My Wes Craven Diatribe

Boners dias,

My revisions on Love in the Time of Monsters have hit a couple of walls lately (and also I got a dog) so I can't bring you too much new information on that end this week (the revisions, not the dog).  However, I'd like to take this week's entry to share with you my long-standing opinions on one of the biggest names in the horror genre:

WES CRAVEN IS GOD OF HORROR - for over 30 years, longer than I've been alive, this statement arbitrarily lifted from IMDb comments on Wes Craven's filmography has been an accepted as an industry credo.  I'd like to argue ... really?  Is he a poet spinning tales from our darkest fears or is he merely a clever producer who uses the cinematic trends of the time to his advantage for box office monies?  Wes Craven is known for revolutionizing the horror genre, but I see a man who acknowledges successful elements of the film industry and repackages them with his personal flairs that guarantee a wider audience and profits.  He co-wrote the screenplay for Pulse (2006), a remake of a successful 2001 J-Horror film by the same name.  He produces remakes of  his own films, like The Hills Have Eyes (2007) and The Last House on the Left (2009), as well as others, such as 1998's Carnival of Souls from the 1962 version.  He seems to be a businessman before revolutionary, which is not only misleading to his reputation but offensive to the genre.

When examining Craven's 3 most outstanding films one can see the patterns of his tricks of the trade:

Wes Craven's first horror feature, The Last House on Left (1972) was remake of a 1960 Ingmar Bergman film Jungfrukallen (The Virgin Spring) which I haven't seen but I've heard of this Bergman guy once or twice so I'll give the flick some cred.  You may say TLHOTL is about the transformative power of revenge and man's inhumanity to man but all I see is the first half of the film being horrible people doing horrible things to pretty people and then the second half as regular people doing horrible things to horrible people and that's it.  "Hey some pretty girls, let's rape them and then let's make them watch each other get raped.  Then, we'll beat them and threaten to kill them a bunch of times.  Then, I don't know, hey, piss your pants.  Okay, what's next?"

My problem with the shock value of The Last House on the Left, and the following Craven films as well, is that it's too easy.  There are certain taboos in any society that will evoke a revulsive reaction with no more than a mention:  disembowling nuns, ripping out the teeth of live puppies, eating babies, trust me I could go on and on.  Anyone could make a film composed of scenes like these and tie it all together with a loose plotline - and from what I remember a lot of the plotting of TLHOTL involved much coincidence - but that wouldn't be a true film, it'd be a shock medium with no substance.  I believe you need to derive your shocks from the story and not the other way around.  The Last House on the Left was just 1972's version of early Marilyn Manson.

One could argue that the success of a horror film like TLHOTL isn't measured in originality or subtlety, but by the power of that film to produce emotional reactions from its audience.  If that's the case, I'm going to start writing The Kitty Killers: Also They Will Stab Your Pretty Mom.

The story goes, Craven and Producer Sean S. Cunningham (Producer & Director, Friday the 13th, 1980) made TLHOTL at request of studio executives who wanted another Night of the Living Dead (1968), more evidence of TLHOTL existing as a business enterprise rather than labor of love.  It was a moneymaking investment for the drive-ins first, snuff film with some good cinematography second.

You could argue that TLHOTL could have inspired Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) but A) the settings and characters are varied enough and 2) hey at least TTCM wasn't a remake.  Speaking of TTCM ...

Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977) strongly echoes many of TTCM's elements, most simply that travelers break down in rural area and get methodically butchered by the monstrous locals.  Again, horrible people do insidious things to good people who must themselves embrace violence as the answer to defend themselves in some clever way.  There are more "too easy" elements to be found in THHE as well: rape, torture, animal killing, loose plotting, and of course  goddamned booby traps that work perfectly.

Then, lastly we come to Craven's legacy: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), about an unstoppable demon who kills kids when they're dreaming.  This is Craven's entry during the 1980s slasher trend which I'd like to think officially began with John "The Carp" Carpenter's 1978 Halloween.  Craven saw Halloween and Friday the 13th succeed so well that he not only created his own Boogeyman for the industry but also gave him MAGICAL POWERS because hey, he is that next step more evil!  That embracing of profitable irrational reality right there is the "too easy" for me in regards to NOES, the evidence coming in the form of a dozen sequels and being known as the first critical success for then-juvenile New Line Cinema.

One of my biggest gripes about A Nightmare on Elm Street - SPOILERS - used to be how the ending of the film totally ignores the fact that Tina's reversal of Freddy's power in fact did nothing to destroy him.  I felt like Annie Wilkes - "It's UNFAIR!  We saw him die!"  And then BOOM here he is again, just jumping through windows and acting like nothing happen.  I've since transferred my rage from Craven to Producer Bob Shaye for this, since it was his idea to change the original ending (that Craven preferred) and leave the door open for future sequels.  I'm sure we won't have this problem for Love in the Time of Monsters, as Andy, Matt and I have already agreed to make as many sequels as humanly possible with no regard as to how the ending of LITTOM actually plays out.

I'll give Craven credit for his research (from LA Times articles) into Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome in regards to Cambodian refugees who had fled to America to escape Pol Pot's reign.  Still, the dream-slasher idea is what hits me as too easy and I'm a little jealous that it was such a marketable idea.

Ah, finally there's the word - maybe this whole tirade is because I'm jealous of Craven's success?  After all, he is a man who studied both writing and psychology and knows the power of myth, a man dedicated to not only making powerful pieces of film but also creating profitable franchises for the past 40 years.  Sure I'll accuse him of mild plagiarism, reused plot devices, and uninspired shock tactics, but hell, this is Hollywood.  Check back with me in 10 years and watch me try to deny the same crimes.

I've never met Wes Craven, and if I do I'm sure he'll be such a nice and authentic guy that I'll regret this post.  Still, it's my duty to analyze issues like these because they directly affect not only my career's history but also future - I need to know what not to do, what mistakes to avoid if I want to be taken seriously as a Gothic filmmaker (not wah wah emo vampire gothic but rather in terms of the literary genre.)

Finally, before I end this post yes I am aware that this argument comes from a supposed writer who starts his blog post with "Boners dias," but I'd rather be original and risk failure than profit from repackaging the successes of others.

1 Response

  1. Yes!

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