Posts Tagged ‘Wes Craven’

Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore

Horror movies don’t turn people into killers. They inspire talented screenwriters to become more creative. The slasher films of the 1980’s had captured the attention of millions, to the bewilderment of parents and critics alike. But, but the mid/late 1990’s, the effect had become watered down, the clichés all-too familiar, and audiences were dwindling as a result. However, the “fad” was not coming to an end, merely taking a siesta. Meanwhile, the titles which which made this craze what it was were readily available to rent or own on home video, to be viewed whenever its fans damn well pleased! The key to bringing them back from their couches to the theaters was a screenplay (originally titled “Scary Movie”) by Kevin Williamson, in which its characters have every bit as much knowledge of horror movies as the audience. Part of the success of “Scream” was in its casting of established young actors, instead of unknowns. This much is evident by the time of the first ringing telephone that opens the film.

On a seemingly quiet evening in the town of Woodsboro, high school student Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is about to sit down to watch a movie when she receives an anonymous phone call. Playfully, the voice asks her what her favorite scary movie is. Because she’s not looking to spend the night on the telephone, Casey hangs up before the conversation is allowed to get much deeper. The phone rings again. It’s the same guy. She hangs up again. But he won’t stop, and the voice’s tone turns threatening. He has her attention now. Eventually, it’s revealed that he has her boyfriend tied up in a chair on the front porch. In order for the boyfriend to survive, Casey must first answer some horror trivia. She gets the “warm-up” question right, but fails the “real” question. Casey watches in horror as her boyfriend is disemboweled. Time for the next question, but Casey refuses. The caller, dressed in a black hooded costume with a “Ghostface” mask, responds by chasing her down and murdering her. Casey’s parents arrive home to find the place trashed and their daughter’s mutilated body hanging from a tree.

After this harrowing, bloody beginning, the scene shifts to the next day. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who until today sat next to Casey Becker in English class, has suffered personal tragedy of her own. Almost exactly one year earlier, her mother was raped and murdered. Sidney’s lingering grief has caused her relationship with Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) to suffer as a result. Billy, who bears a slight resemblance to Johnny Depp, has recently taken to climbing through his girlfriend’s bedroom window, the same as Depp’s character did in director Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” One of these spur-of-the-moment climbs happens to coincide with a phone call/attack from the Ghostface killer. When Sidney spots a cell phone dropping from Billy’s pocket, it leaves her with the suspicion that it’s Billy she should suspect and fear. Billy is then taken into police custody, and Sidney retreats to the house of her best friend, Tatum (Rose McGowan). However, a phone call from the same sinister-sounding voice lets Sidney know that, whoever the killer is, “he” is still out there.

At school, several tactless students dress up in the widely sold Ghostface costumes and run amok around the halls. Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) is not well pleased, expelling the offenders and cancelling all classes until further notice, after which he is dispatched in his office by the real killer. To celebrate the school’s closure, Tatum’s boyfriend Stu (Matthew Lillard) hosts a party at his house. In addition to several other students, attending this party are Sidney, Tatum, and horror film connoisseur Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Outside, Tatum’s brother Dewey (David Arquette), a deputy sheriff, is standing watch for anything suspicious. He’s also watching for signs of Sidney’s father, who has gone missing and is now topping the list of suspects. Also staking out the party is reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), whom Dewey has a crush on and with whom Sidney has an antagonistic relationship due to the book she wrote about Sidney’s mother’s murder case.

After Stu sends Tatum out to the garage for beers, she is killed while trying to escape through the garage door flap (which, as it turns out, was easier for actress Rose McGowan to fit through than she makes it appear in the film). Curiously, just after this latest murder, Billy shows up. He and Sidney go upstairs to talk in private… and wind up doing more than talking. The phone rings, answered by Randy, who reports the news of the principal’s murder. Most of the party guests leave the house, nearly running over both Dewey and Gale, who discover Sidney’s father’s car abandoned by the side of the road near the house. Inside, Sidney and Billy are attacked, with Billy seemingly left for dead. Sidney flees the house, Gale’s cameraman is killed, Dewey is stabbed in the back, and Gale herself crashes the van after almost running over Sidney, who has no other alternative but to return to the house. Grabbing Dewey’s gun, Sidney shuts the front door in the faces of both Stu and Randy, who are each accusing the other of being the killer.

Billy suddenly emerges alive, takes the gun and opens the door to let Randy in. To the shock of both Sidney and Randy, Billy turns the gun on Randy, revealing his own injuries to be fake. Billy is the killer. Stu also shows up, announcing himself as an accomplice. The duo take credit for the death of Sidney’s mother, with Billy revealing that his parents’ separation was due to Sidney’s mother having an affair with Billy’s father. Billy and Stu plan to kill Sidney, frame Sidney’s father (whom they have captured), and then act as the survivors of the whole bloody massacre. With an assist from Gale, however, Sidney is able to foil their plans and kill both men. Although lives have been lost, Sidney, Gale, Dewey and Randy will all recover from their injuries and live to scream another day.

“Scream,” which writer Kevin Williamson based in part on the very real story of the Gainesville Ripper, but which was also born of Williamson’s long-standing love of horror movies, gets away with its graphic depictions of murder by balancing them with witty, self-aware dialogue. The deconstruction of the slasher film, perpetrated by “Scream,” was so popular that it led to a new direction for the subgenre and plenty of work for Williamson, with several other similarly-themed films like “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (starring Neve Campbell’s “Party of Five” co-star, Jennifer Love Hewitt), as well as three Wes Craven-directed “Scream” sequels. Like all imitators, none ever quite matched “Scream” in terms of writing, acting, directing, music (especially “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave), and mood.

It’s been long enough that I actually can’t remember whether I originally saw “Scream” before or after “Halloween” (which “Scream” references often). Whatever the sequence may be, I hold “Scream” largely responsible for kickstarting my interest in slasher films, and in the horror genre in general. You may want to see a few of the films it references first just to appreciate this one a bit more, but it won’t hurt at all to make “Scream” a priority.

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Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, David Newsom, John Saxon

After the successful, entertaining “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master,” the quality of the “Elm Street” saga went straight to Hell. 1989’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child,” rushed into production and plagued by both MPAA censorship and a bad script, is one thing a horror movie should never be: BORING! 1991’s “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” which does indeed close out the original series continuity, lacks the so-bad-it’s-good element of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” and is simply bad. At one point, Freddy kills a guy by using a Nintendo Power Glove. That right there best symbolizes the series’ decline. Only if I were being paid could I be persuaded to watch either of those movies ever again. The upside of these wastes of celluloid is that they paved the way for the return of Wes Craven. All Craven had to do to craft the best “Nightmare” since the original was to revisit an idea he’d had during the early stages of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” and that is this: What effect can movies have on the people who create them?

Heather Langenkamp, star of the first and third “Elm Street” films, and her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) by special effects maestro Chase Porter (David Newsom) are bearing witness to the creation of a new “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie when the prop Freddy glove comes to life and starts killing members of the film crew. Just as Chase is about to be next on the chopping block, Heather wakes up in the middle of an earthquake, one which results in Chase receving the very same scratches as he had in Heather’s dream just before she was awakened. Making Heather even more nervous are the harassing phone calls from a Freddy-like voice which she has been receiving. All of this coincides with the 10th anniversary of the original “Nightmare” film, for which Heather is making the rounds on talk shows with Robert Englund, dressed up in his Freddy garb. Later, Heather is approached to do a new “Nightmare” movie (forgetting of course that her character was killed off in Part 3) by producer Bob Shaye. Ultimately, she turns the role down.

Following her meeting at New Line, her son has an over-the-top freak-out moment that seems to suggest that he has seen his mother’s horror films without her knowledge, on top of leading Heather to worry about Dylan’s mental stability. She calls Chase in a panic and pleads with him to come home. Along the way, Chase falls asleep at the wheel and is killed by “Freddy.” At the subsequent funeral procession, familiar faces associated with the “Nightmare” series can be spotted, including actors John Saxon, Nick Corri, and Tuesday Knight. Following an almost fatal incident with Dylan at an amusement park with John Saxon as a witness, Heather visits Wes Craven looking to make sense of everything. Craven explains that the Freddy character in the films had been holding at bay a very real evil, which had taken a liking to the form and persona associated with Krueger. Now that Freddy is dead, “the genie is out of the bottle.” He also explains that he too has been having nightmares as of late. The meeting leaves Heather no less disturbed, as she sees the line-for-line dialogue from their conversation on Craven’s computer screen in script form.

Further disturbing behavior from Dylan leaves Heather no choice but to take him to the hospital. There, Heather encounters Dr. Heffner (Fran Bennett), the same sort of well-meaning but ultimately counterproductive medical practitioner that Priscilla Pointer’s Dr. Simms was in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.” Heather’s own sanity is questioned, and the very real possibility that she may lose Dylan to foster care if his condition doesn’t change becomes apparent. The doctors eventually put Dylan to sleep against Heather’s wishes, and the result is the death of Dylan’s babysitter Julie (Tracy Middendorf) in the same style as Tina’s demise from the original “Nightmare.” Dylan sleepwalks out of the hospital and heads for home with his mother in pursuit. She soon sees that “Freddy” is manipulating reality, turning her and John Saxon into their “Nightmare on Elm Street” characters and making the outside of her house appear as 1428 Elm Street. With Dylan missing but leaving sleeping pills as “Hansel and Gretel”-like bread crumbs, Heather takes the pills and has one final showdown with “Freddy.” Setting the monster ablaze just like the “Hansel and Gretel” witch, Heather rescues her son and both wake up to find Wes Craven’s finished script waiting for them to read.

I realize that I just got through praising “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4” as the best “Elm Street” sequel. So, when I say that “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is the best “Nightmare” since the original, I am keeping in mind the fact that this movie exists outside of the “Elm Street” continuity. It’s unusually clever for an early 1990’s horror movie. At that time, both the series and the genre as a whole had become stale. “New Nightmare” is something of a milestone. Effectively, it bridges the gap between the slashers of the 80’s and the period of self-awareness the genre would go through in the late 90’s. What it lacks in flashiness, it makes up for with a compelling story, characters you can’t help but care for due to their association with the franchise, and a welcome return to the serious tone of the original. Here, Freddy is not only back to being the dark demonic figure he once was, but is now even darker than before. Accordingly, the Freddy makeup is also much improved. Along the way, there are several callbacks to the original, from recognizable lines of dialogue right down to Heather’s wounds and the grey streak in her hair which she acquires at the hospital. If you’ve found that the “Elm Street” sequels don’t do it for you but that you enjoyed the original, this one should pleasantly surprise you.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987)

Director: Chuck Russell

Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Larry Fishburne, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson, John Saxon, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Robert Englund

Just as I can’t jump on the hate bandwagon against “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” I also take a pass on boarding the love train for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” which some fans see as their favorite of the franchise. Don’t get me wrong. “Dream Warriors” is still a great sequel. But I can’t help thinking how much greater it could have been. The few problems I have are similar to the ones I had with the original “Nightmare,” only this time they are magnified.

Six years after the events of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” we look in on Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette, in her first starring role) building a replica of the house on 1428 Elm Street. Playing loud music and eating coffee grounds washed down with Diet Coke, Kristen is told by her mother to get to bed, as Mom has a boyfriend waiting impatiently downstairs. Kristen does eventually fall asleep, winding up inside the 1428 Elm Street house. Kristen’s dream leads her back to her own house, where the bathroom sink comes alive and slashes her wrist. In the waking world, Kristen’s mother finds her daughter appearing to have sliced open her own wrist with a razor blade.

Off to Westin Hills we go, where Kristen reacts violently to the thought of sedation and is only calmed down when Nancy Thompson, a new staff member at the psychiatric hospital, enters the room and finishes the familiar Freddy nursery rhyme that Kristen begins. Afterwards, we become acquainted with the rest of the cast in a group therapy session. In addition to Doctors Neil Gordon and Elizabeth Simms (Craig Wasson and Priscilla Pointer), we also meet the other patients who, together with Kristen, make up the last of the Elm Street children (i.e. the children of those who originally killed Freddy). This is where “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” shows off one of its strong points; very few horror films in the late 80’s had casts of characters with such distinct personalities and backgrounds. We have Joey (a mute), Will (a paraplegic whose condition is the result of a nasty fall), Kincaid (who suffers from perceived behavioral issues), Taryn (a former drug addict), Phillip (a sculptor who specializes in clay puppets), and Jennifer (an aspiring actress with delusions of grandeur).

Purely by accident, it is revealed that Nancy has been taking an experimental drug called Hypnocil, used for dream suppression. She wants Neil to prescribe this drug for the kids, but Neil balks at the idea of administering a drug that the FDA won’t even approve. After another dream in which Kristen is attacked by Freddy and then demonstrates her ability to pull others into her dream with her by calling for Nancy, Freddy and his nemesis are reunited. Subsequently, Phillip is killed when Freddy causes him to sleepwalk up to the hospital’s highest point and then cuts him loose, having used Phillip’s tendons as marionette strings. The next day, Jennifer is killed in a scene which couldn’t possibly be interpreted as a suicide, yet is. When Jennifer falls asleep in the TV room, Freddy interrupts a talk show hosted by Dick Cavett. Jennifer goes to the TV to try to fix the scrambled signal, but then Freddy’s head emerges from the top and two mechanical arms extend from the sides, pick up Jennifer, and then ram her head into the TV screen. Max (Laurence Fishburne), the head orderly, finds Jennifer with her head indeed smashed through the TV screen. The trouble is that she would either have had to run at the TV, jump and then headbutt the screen, or at least get something to stand on first. Considering no chair or footstool is in sight, I’m guessing the hospital staff went with the even more ludicrous explanation.

All the while, visions of a nun named Sister Mary Helena convince Gordon to go along with Nancy’s recommendation of giving doses of Hypnocil to the children. He also decides it would be best to try group hypnosis. Within the ensuing dream, the kids all discover they have powers unique to them. But the hypnosis experiment backfires, resulting in Freddy trapping Joey in a coma, and Dr. Gordon and Nancy both being fired. They soon head for a local bar to confront Nancy’s father, estranged from his daughter ever since the death of her mother. Nancy knows her father is the only person who can tell them where Freddy’s remains are hidden, as Sister Mary Helena has told Neil that burying said bones are the only way to put Freddy to rest for good. Lt. Thompson is less than cooperative, so Neil sends Nancy back to the hospital while he convinces her father to take him to the auto graveyard.

Nancy makes it back to the hospital, hoping to help Joey and Kristen, who has been sedated and placed in isolation after freaking out over Nancy’s firing. Max stands in her way, but she convinces him to let her visit with the others one last time. It is here that she gathers Taryn, Will and Kincaid for one final group hypnosis, warning them that death in the dreamworld means death for them in the waking world as well. Only Kincaid and Nancy manage to survive to free Joey from Freddy’s clutches while Neil and Lt. Thompson remove Freddy’s bones from the trunk of a Cadillac and proceed to dig a hole to bury them. Now here’s where the movie sinks from being as good as or even better than the original into bitter disappointment.

Before Lt. Thompson and Dr. Gordon can finish their task, Freddy’s bones come alive, impale Nancy’s father against the Cadillac and knocks Neil unconscious with his shovel before collapsing again. Most occurrences like this in the series can be attributed to the characters falling asleep without them or the viewer knowing it, but the way this scene plays itself out I have to believe that Freddy somehow reanimated his bones in the waking world. What happens next, however, may be even worse. After Joey reveals his dream power to have been the use of his voice in screaming so loud that it appears to drive Freddy away, Nancy automatically assumes the danger is over. She even becomes complacent when her father appears in the dream without having been pulled in by Kristen and tells her he has “crossed over.” Nancy believes this lie so thoroughly that she doesn’t notice anything is amiss until she feels the four blades of Freddy’s glove in her abdomen. Freddy also traps Kristen in the room with them, and although she uses her gymnastics dream power to evade him briefly, he does catch up to her and appears ready to take her out until a mortally wounded Nancy sneaks from behind and forces Freddy’s gloved hand into his own chest. Neil also wakes up and shoves Freddy’s bones into the grave and consecrates the ground, apparently defeating him. But victory comes with a price, as Nancy dies in Kristen’s arms. Later, at Nancy’s funeral, Neil discovers that “Sister Mary Helena” was the assumed name of Amanda Krueger, Freddy’s mother.

As originally conceived, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” was to be much darker and more violent. Freddy himself was to be much more vulgar, instead of the wisecracking persona he adopted and has since become known for. In fact, Wes Craven’s first idea for the movie had had Freddy emerging into the real world to invade the dreams of actors filming the latest “Nightmare” film, a concept he would later have the chance to revisit in seven years’ time. The final product, the subject of rewrites from three additional sources (including Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell), still manages to be the best written of all the “Nightmare” sequels. It also contains some of the series’ best nightmare sequences, and features an undeniably catchy hit tune in “Dream Warriors” by Dokken.

So why can’t I love it the way that most fans do? Much like the first “Nightmare,” the ending to this one is downright frustrating. It’s not that big a deal that Nancy dies. Heroes die in horror movies all the time. It’s the WAY she dies that’s such a bring-down. Nancy had demonstrated in the past that she’s too smart to fall for the trick which seals her fate here. Compounding the situation is the awful dialogue given to the otherwise talented Patricia Arquette in this, the series’ saddest moment. Because we know now that “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” would not be the final “Nightmare,” her death is ultimately in vain, turning what had been a fun movie up to that point into a most depressing affair indeed. Tonally, it would have worked better in Wes Craven’s darker, original draft. If this movie had been terrible, I wouldn’t even care. I would just ignore the fact that it exists. But it’s not terrible. It’s actually very entertaining and inventive, and that’s why it’s so disheartening that it doesn’t quite have the ending it deserves.

Feast (2005)

Director: John Gulager

Starring: Balthazar Getty, Navi Rawat, Henry Rollins, Judah Friedlander, Josh Zuckerman, Jason Mewes, Jenny Wade, Krista Allen, Clu Gulager

Going without a subscription to HBO (and other networks) has meant more than having to rely on others for my “Game of Thrones” fix. It has left me largely oblivious to the rest of that channel’s programming, as well. In 2005, Bravo presented one season of a documentary/contest series called “Project Greenlight.” Until quite recently, I had no clue that this was the show’s third year on television, the first two of its history having been spent on HBO, and having resurfaced there in 2015 after a long hiatus for Season 4. The purpose of the show is something I find very appealing, as rookie filmmakers are given their first crack at directing a feature-length film. The screenplay selected for Season 3 was the action-horror monster movie “Feast.”

A group comprised of just about every social stereotype you can think of are all gathered in the same bar for what looks to be an otherwise quiet night of drinking, flirting and gambling on billiards. Each character is introduced with text which 1) identifies them by nickname only, 2) lists their occupation and 3) their life expectancy. Each character profile is more comical than the last. It’s clear from the start that the screenwriters are intent on disrupting the comfort zone provided by horror conventions. Illustrating this point, the action begins with a man identified as “Hero” entering the bar, telling everyone to lock the place down and to prepare for something terrible closing in on their position, offering the head of one of the monsters as proof that he’s to be taken seriously. He then declares himself to be “the guy who’s gonna save your asses”… and is then promptly pulled through a window and decapitated.

Shortly after this surprising turn of events, the recently deceased’s widow, “Heroine” (Navi Rawat), shows up and assumes her late husband’s authoritative role. Although everyone works quickly to board up the place, the smallest of the monsters finds its way through and several of the patrons die before it is locked inside a freezer. During the carnage, a stray shotgun blast has destroyed the only working telephone, so alerting the authorities is out of the question. The barricade is finished, and a moment of peace is enjoyed. Suddenly, it occurs to “Tuffy” (Krista Allen) that her son is still upstairs where she’d left him. Frantically, she searches for and finds him, but her relief is short-lived. In the movie’s second unexpected moment, the boy is pulled from his mother’s arms and eaten, leaving “Tuffy” in indescribable anguish. Before disappearing again, the monster has apparently found something about the taste of the boy disagreeable, and vomits all over “Beer Guy” (Judah Friedlander), which later proves to have a revoltingly slow decomposition effect.

In retaliation for the boy’s death, the group kills the baby monster trapped in the freezer and offer up its corpse as a warning to its family not to mess with humans. Instead of retreating, the parents eat the child, have sex, and produce two brand new monsters all within a matter of minutes. The monsters all return to attacking the bar. Their plan having failed completely, the bar’s survivors try to devise a new strategy of escape. They try using one of the many dead bodies as bait to serve as a distraction so that someone can go out and start up an escape vehicle. This plan, too, is a complete failure. “Bozo” (Balthazar Getty), so named for being a would-be tough guy who is as clumsy as he is socially inept, accidentally kills “Heroine” as she tries to evade the monsters and re-enter the bar. Her death inspires “Tuffy” to ascend to the position of “Heroine 2” when all others seem to have given up hope. Meanwhile, the monsters use “Coach” as a battering ram. The only person to get through is “Honey Pie” (Jenny Wade). The rest of the group cheers her on as she manages to get into and start the beer truck, but are shocked as they watch her drive off without them. That’s pretty cold, but it’s also the smartest move that “Honey Pie” has made in the entire movie. Preparing for a last stand against the remaining monsters, “Beer Guy” and “Bartender” (Clu Gulager) are both killed (although the sequels will show that “Bartender” miraculously survives). As the sun rises, “Tuffy/Heroine 2,” “Bozo” and his wheelchair-bound brother “Hot Wheels” (Josh Zuckerman) emerge victorious and thankful to be alive.

Aptly named, “Feast” is a visual delight from beginning to end, presented to us by executive producers Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Wes Craven, and others. Uncertain as to the exactness of its inspirations, what I can gather from observation is that it shares some things in common with “Alien” and “From Dusk Till Dawn,” to name a few. Darkness is the theme here. Both minimal lighting and a keen sense of humor help you forget all about how cheap the production actually is. Filming the monsters in broad daylight in particular would have been a mistake, something the sequels forget to take into account. It’s smart to keep the origin of the monsters a mystery, also. We don’t need to know what they are, how old they are, or if they’re indigenous to Earth. The cast, working with a novice script, all create characters with distinct and lively personalities (at least until the moment when they are snuffed out). My favorite is Navi Rawat’s “Heroine,” a woman with a survival instinct that inspires the same in others. When she dies, it’s one of the sadder moments in the film because she has a daughter out there who will never see her mother again. Action-packed and reveling in its lunacy, “Feast” is the kind of horror movie you gather a group of your best friends together to sit back and enjoy.

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: David Hess, Lucy Grantham, Sandra Cassel, Marc Sheffler, Ada Washington

There are horror movies you watch to sit back and have fun for 90-120 minutes, and then there are those which make you feel like taking a shower afterwards. 1972’s “The Last House on the Left” could easily fall under the latter category, but certainly never the former. Based on Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” (which, in turn was based on a 13th Century Swedish ballad entitled “Töres dotter i Wänge”), “The Last House on the Left” is the product of a collaboration between writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham, the creators of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th,” respectively. As he would five years later with The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven delivers a story that preys upon the worst fears of any parent.

Right away, the film uses the “this film is based on actual events” ploy. Come on, we’re not falling for it. 17-year old Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is off to a concert featuring a band called “Bloodlust” with her friend, Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham). Mari’s parents are setting things up for their daughter’s birthday celebration, and although they object to Mari’s choice of not wearing a bra and have obvious misgivings about Phyllis coming from a bad neighborhood, they’re “hip” enough to let their daughter make her own decisions.

Along the way to New York City for the concert, Mari and Phyllis hear a news bulletin on the car radio about a group of escaped convicts who killed two prison guards and one German Shepherd. There’s the leader, Krug Stillo (David Hess, who also provides the songs for the movie), his son Junior (Marc Sheffler), Fred “Weasel” Podowski, and Sadie (whose last name is never mentioned). Junior is only the getaway driver, and doesn’t appear to be in on the more gruesome aspects of the groups activites. His only reason for tagging along is that his father has him hooked on heroine in order to control him. Seemingly forgetting the part of the bulletin that listed “dope-pushing” in addition to murder and rape among the list of offenses committed by Krug & Co., the girls happen upon Junior standing outside the apartment being used for a hideout, and ask if they can score some grass. This mistake leads to their kidnapping and rape, which continues into the next day.

One thing that always strikes me about the first half of “The Last House on the Left” is how the events play out so strikingly similar to events that too often appear as news reports on television. As with many real-life kidnapping/murder cases, the location of the movie’s most disturbing scenes is none other than the woods across the street from Mari’s house! Because so much time has passed since the previous night’s concert, Mari’s parents have called the local sheriff and his deputy. The sheriff’s deputy is played by Martin Kove (known to fans of the original “The Karate Kid” as John Kreese). It is the inclusion of these two characters that brings about one of my biggest complaints about this movie. They are obviously there for little more than comic relief, which I find highly inappropriate and detrimental to the overall mood of the picture. The two find the escaped cons’ broken down getaway vehicle abandoned close by the Collingwood’s home.

Meanwhile in the woods, the group takes turns humiliating Mari and Phyllis. With Mari on the verge of a total breakdown, Phyllis devises a plan that involves her running off to distract Krug and the others while Mari is supposed to run for help. Mari, who recognizes where she is, attempts to gain Junior’s trust, giving him her necklace and trying to encourage him to run away with her along with the false promise of his next fix. Phyllis almost makes it to the street before being cornered. Stabbed in the back, the only thing Phyllis can do is spit blood in the face of her attackers before being stabbed again. Over and over again, to the point where her insides are on the outside! Having wasted time, both trying to convince Junior to join her and calling out to Phyllis, Mari is caught before she can run home across the street to safety. Instead, she is raped by Krug. Then, an odd thing happens. As Mari collapses to her knees, vomits and begins to pray, the audience is given reaction shots from Krug and the others. They look as though they’re actually feeling remorseful for the things they’ve just done to these two young women! But they also recognize they can’t leave any witnesses if they expect to get away, so they follow Mari down to the lake where Krug shoots her three times, killing her.

Thus begins the second half of the film, which suffers some in its inability to live up to the intensity of the first half. Krug & Co. wash off the blood, change clothes and go looking for a house where they can get a free meal and some rest. The choice they make reminds me of something Krug made a point of insisting to Phyllis back at the apartment: “We ain’t stupid!” If that were truly the case, why then would these four choose to stick around after learning that they’d picked the house belonging to the parents of one of their victims? But that’s exactly what they do! Mrs. Collingwood is the one who figures it all out, spotting Mari’s necklace around Junior’s neck and then overhearing the location of her daughter’s body while looking through the suitcase full of the group’s bloody clothing.

Another problem I found with this film, besides the unnecessary comic relief, is the editing. In particular, I was dissatisfied with the way the scene where Mari’s parents discover her body is pieced together. Firstly, Mari can clearly be seen moving around while her father is declaring her to be dead (quite a feat in itself, since he never moves his mouth). Secondly, it is immediately followed by a dream sequence that Weasel is having that involves the Collingwoods laughably dressing in medical garb and the father chiseling away at Weasel’s teeth. Until the quick shot of Mari on the living room couch, it’s hard to tell whether they’d actually gone out and found her, or if Weasel dreamed it.

Finally, the Collingwoods decide turn the tables on their daughter’s killers. This is where the movie’s true message comes into play: Is any one form of violence better than another? There is a degree of ambiguity, but the suggestion is that the answer would be no. The movie allows us to get caught up in the revenge and then stand back to choose whether or not it goes too far.

A remake was released in 2009. The overall plot more closely represents what Wes Craven originally had in mind for his version, especially in regards to the fate of Mari. To be honest, I think the more effective approach in terms of storytelling is to have both girls die. Furthermore, although I’ve spent time listing certain flaws of the original (while leaving out a few others), my overall impression is that this is a well made horror film by men who still had yet to leave their biggest marks on the genre. Flawed, strangely edited, and often too silly for its own good, but undeniably memorable in the very best sense.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman, Michael Berryman, James Whitworth, Virginia Vincent

“Did you ever have the feeling you’re being watched? That the eyes of strange, eerie things are upon you?” ~Bugs Bunny

Family vacations are a great way to “get away from it all.” They also never go completely according to plan. You’d also be advised to stick to the main roads. It’s a weird, rough and crazy world out there, and you can’t plan for what sort of evil might be lying in wait for some idiot who decided to take a detour onto parts of the maps indicated only by dashed lines. Gas up the car and get back on the highway… while you still can.

“The Hills Have Eyes.” The movie’s title alone is enough to creep you out. This being director Wes Craven’s second major contribution to the genre, it came during an era when you weren’t likely to look through the entire cast of a horror film and play “Spot the Stars.” Oh, there’d be a few you’d recognize here and there, but mainly you’d be looking at people whose careers would be defined or otherwise made by their roles in these low budget scary movies. So it is with 1977’s “The Hills Have Eyes.” In fact, of the cast, the only one who truly went on to bigger things was actress Dee Wallace (“The Howling,” “E.T.,” “Critters,” “Cujo,” etc.)

Wes Craven based “The Hills Have Eyes” on the legend of the Sawney Bean family, placing his modern retelling in a desert setting and naming the male members of the cannibalistic clan after Roman gods according to shared characteristics. These include sons Mercury, Mars (Pete Locke, who also served as the film’s producer) and Pluto (Michael Berryman, whose distinctive face is featured prominently on all posters and video boxes), and their father Jupiter (James Whitworth).

“The Hills Have Eyes” begins with an old man at a gas station looking worried and seemingly in a big hurry to vacate the premeses. His efforts are halted, first by a young girl in tattered clothes named Ruby who is intent on trading stolen items for food. But the old man, who has apparently had this arrangement with Ruby and “the pack,” feels “they” have gone too far and refuses to give handouts any longer. Their argument is short-lived, because a family of five by the name of Carter arrive looking to fill the gas tank of their station wagon on the way to a California vacation. But first they’ve decided to take a detour to see an old silver mine they’ve heard about in the desert. The old man strongly urges them to reconsider, but the family just figures the old man has probably been looting the mine in secret. The family takes the detour anyway, and of course manages to get lost. That’s whay happens when you let Ethel (aka Mama Carter) hold the map, I guess. Distracted by Air Force jets flying overhead and needlessly swerving to avoid a small animal, the family becomes stranded when the front axel of the station wagon is broken. Bob Carter gives a gun to son Bobby (Robert Houston) and goes looking for help.

Bob arrives back at the gas station where Fred, the station attendant, tells Bob why his family isn’t safe out in the desert. Years earlier, Fred had a wife and a baby girl, and a son on the way. But this one was so big that Fred’s wife died giving birth to it. In the ten years that followed, Fred noticed on many occasions that animals in his keep would turn up dead. The final straw was when his house burned to the ground with his daughter inside. That’s when he knew that this monstrous son of his was the culprit. Hitting his son with a tire iron and leaving him in the desert, Fred thought he’d ended it right there. Unfortunately, his son (whom the audience has come to know as Jupiter) grew up, kidnapped a prostitute and fathered three sons and a daughter, and they’ve been living in the desert ever since. Soon after finishing his sad tale, Fred is killed by Jupiter with Bob witnessing the entire thing before being taken prisoner himself.

In the meantime, Bobby has found one of the two family dogs, Beauty, viciously murdered for food by Jupiter’s son, Pluto, while the other dog (named Beast) has broken his chain. With Bobby’s sister Lynne (Dee Wallace) and her husband Doug (Martin Speer) in the station wagon, Bobby has locked himself out of the camper. Unbeknownst to Bobby, Pluto has snuck inside for valuables while Bobby’s mother and his other sister, Brenda (Susan Lanier) are both asleep. The family is distracted by screams in the distance. It’s Bob, who is being burned alive. Brenda is left behind, and Pluto and Mars take turns raping her while the rest of the family extinguishes the fire, albeit too late to save Bob. What happens next is easily the most shocking moment in the film, as the family returns to the camper where Mars and Pluto are in the process of stealing Lynne and Doug’s baby girl. A fight ensues in which Mars receives a knife wound to the leg, but not before fatally shooting both Lynne and Ethel, and Pluto makes off with the child.

It’s at this point where Wes Craven has figuratively grabbed a hold of the steering wheel, spun the car out of control and run us right off the road. By now, whatever happens next is anybody’s guess. Most certainly, the surviving family members are going to want revenge for their lost loved ones, but their enemy knows the lay of the land a lot better than they do, and the fact that they don’t have much to defend themselves doesn’t offer them much hope, either. What they do have on their side is a higher level of intelligence than the instinct-dependent family of inbreeds. Which, of course, doesn’t include the stupid decision to go off-road which got them in this mess in the first place.

Jupiter may be the head of the evil family, and Pluto may be the one whose face is plastered on all the promotional material, but it’s Mars who is by far the creepiest and most fun to root against. Most of the movie’s best lines are his, and it doesn’t hurt that the makeup on the actor is enough to make him appear as something a little less than human. A little less than a decade away from his most famous film, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Wes Craven was already proving why he was one of the more creative minds in horror with “The Hills Have Eyes,” ultimately a scarier movie than “Elm Street” because you can believe that something like this can actually happen. Just by scanning the headlines on one of the national news networks, you’ll see that stranger, more unbelievably evil things happen all the time.

43. Never Sleep Again (2010)

Directors: Daniel Farrands & Andrew Kasch

Narrated by: Heather Langenkamp

Featuring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Wes Craven, Robert Shaye, John Saxon, Lisa Wilcox, Clu Gulager, Mark Patton, Alice Cooper, Tuesday Knight, Monica Keena, Jack Sholder, Chuck Russell, Renny Harlin, Ronny Yu, Kane Hodder, and many others.

As I was born in the early 1980s, I managed to miss out on the craze surrounding the slasher genre during that decade. Indeed, never have these types of movies been as popular on a worldwide scale as they were at that time. Two franchises were at the front of this parade: Paramount Pictures’ “Friday the 13th” and New Line Cinema’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” But the manner in which these two studios handled the attention generated by the monsters they’d created was very different. While Paramount never seemed particularly proud of “Friday the 13th,” New Line Cinema truly wore the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise like a badge of honor, and with good reason.

“Never Sleep Again” tells of how New Line Cinema, which began as a simple film distribution company, bet the farm on a slasher movie about a child murderer who, after being killed by the angry parents of the community, is able to go after their children through their dreams. When “A Nightmare on Elm Street” exceeded expectations it would go on to spawn seven sequels, most of which also did better financially than anyone involved could have hoped for, as well as a short-lived TV series. The documentary is never one-sided; production shortcomings and bad experiences with certain fellow cast & crew are quite willingly pointed out on a number of occasions. This only serves to add to the overall interest. Almost everyone involved is accounted for. Notable exceptions are actors Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette and Breckin Meyer, although each is talked about with affection and fond memories.

The most intriguing parts of the documentary are about the projects that DIDN’T turn out as well as everyone would have liked. For “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” the one known to “Elm Street” fans as the gay “Nightmare,” much is made of the homosexual overtones and how (apparently) almost no one involved aside from screenwriter David Chaskin and openly gay lead actor Mark Patton realized what kind of movie they were making. For “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master,” some of the plot inconsistencies are blamed on the Writer’s strike that was going on at the time. “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child” being a total bore is tied to the fact that it was both rushed into production and edited unmercifully by the MPAA. “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” despite being a bad movie, has a number of interesting personal stories tied to it, among which includes the fact that one early script draft was submitted by a then much lesser known New Zealander named Peter Jackson, which opened the door for his return to New Line Cinema less than a decade later to helm another certain film franchise.

The impact that the film series had on the lives and careers of many involved is undeniable. Actors Johnny Depp and Patricia Arquette are known around the world today, but were just getting started when they were called up for the first and third “Nightmare” films, respectively. Frank Darabont, now known for directing “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” as well as developing “The Walking Dead” TV series, was a struggling screenwriter when he was tapped to help out on the script for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.” Finnish-born director Renny Harlin might have had to find another line of work in order to make a living had he not convinced executive producer Robert Shaye that he was the man to direct “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4.” Even the TV series “Freddy’s Nightmares” helped pave the way for HBO’s extremely popular “Tales from the Crypt.” New Line Cinema itself would have faded away a long time ago, and certainly would never have had the chance to produce the popular “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, had it not first become known as “The House that Freddy Built.”

Although I concede that “Never Sleep Again” is best enjoyed by those who come in already familiar with the material, I nevertheless give this my highest recommendation. This four-hour long movie is not just the most in-depth horror documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the greatest documentaries on filmmaking in general.