A Bloody Good Time 01.17.13: The 5 Best & Worst Wes Craven Films
Posted by Joseph Lee on 01.17.2013
This one is a tad controversial...
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.
Truth time: I think Wes Craven is completely overrated. Unlike John Carpenter or George Romero, whose good movies outweigh their bad, I think Craven has always been an average director at best who sort of lucked into being a horror master thanks to A Nightmare on Elm Street and some unwarranted love for his earlier work (more on that later). Had it not been for Scream being a big hit, his career probably would have ended a lot sooner than it did, or at least faded into obscurity. You'd believe this if you saw his 80's/90s output.
I'm not trying to say I'm right and you're wrong here, let's get that out of the way. I'm not being contrarian either. I've always felt this way. When you only enjoy about a fourth of a director's entire filmography (and love about a tenth of it), then that doesn't speak well for that director. It's not that I don't want him to be good. I knew that My Soul to Take would be bad and I watched it anyway. I'll probably go see whatever he does next hoping he can hit the mark again, because he can surprise me. It doesn't change the fact that I think he's not that great of a director. Although, some of the movies he produced like They and Dracula 2000 are much worse, so at least he wasn't behind the lens there.
I tried to make this a top ten list, but I can't really think of ten Wes Craven movies I completely enjoyed and at some point I would just be trying to pick enjoyable things in mediocre or bad movies. So instead I'm going to do the five worst and five best. I will give credit where it's due but point out exactly what films made me develop a sour opinion on this legendary horror director.
Let's just get all of the hate out of the way so I can celebrate the films of Craven's I do enjoy. Here's Wes Craven's five worst films.
#5: The Last House on the Left (1972)
Okay. Put down your torches and pitchforks. I'm not throwing up Last House on the Left to stir up controversy. Now if you enjoyed this movie, that's fine. I know there are some people that wish to invalidate my entire list (and possibly future lists) just for that, as I know some people claim it is a classic. That's fine too, you're entitled to your opinion. But it has so many problems that prevent it from being a well-made film, let alone a scary one, that I just could not enjoy it, especially after years of being told how terrifying it was.
Look, I've seen some thrilling and disturbing movies of this type (rape-revenge, home invasion) that can actually be scary. Irreversible is disturbing as hell and it does a much better job than this. You've probably never heard of If I Die Before I Wake (if you have, you know what I'm talking about), but that movie is horrifying and features a lot of the same plot elements. If you want something older, even I Spit On Your Grave is better executed in a lot of ways than Last House on the Left, and I'm not even a huge fan of that movie either (it's decent, but the revenge portion drags).
While this has some good in it (David Hess is amazing as the villain, and the only creepy part about it), the tone is completely all over the place. It's a movie that places overly long scenes of rape (which aren't really that shocking or suspenseful, to be honest) followed immediately with a bad Keystone Cops routine a minute later. The splicing of unfunny slapstick comedy in a film that does not need it at all ruin what suspense it does manage to build, and even then it does a poor job of it. When analyzing this as a film, it's not really well made. When analyzing it as a horror film, it's not scary. But it's not even close to how bad Craven can get. I will say this, I loved Last House's promotion: "It's only a movie. Only a movie. Only a movie."
#4: The People Under the Stairs (1991)
I was never quite sure what to make of this movie the first time I watched it. Is it supposed to be some sort of urban fairy tale? That's what I've seen it described as. It follows a little kid named, I kid you not, Poindexter "Fool" Williams gets into some trouble when he tags along with some criminals to rob the people who evicted him. Sure, the people are nasty and keep people against their will, but he wouldn't have known that if he wasn't already a criminal at his age.
Somewhere along the line Wes Craven thought he would be really good at writing urban characters. The dialogue in this movie is painful and laughable at the same time, some of which you can hear in the trailer. The story itself contains no real scares and since it's technically supposed to be something of a comedy, no real laughs either. It's ridiculous and silly, from the booby-trapped house to the fact they keep dozens of people in their basement with no one ever learning about it. Oh they've also been hording gold and money with these people, who are also cannibals. You could not get away with a movie this preposterous today and he shouldn't have been allowed to make it then.
#3: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
This is considered by many to be Craven's worst film. I disagree, as it has to settle for merely #3. But it's bad, and surprisingly so considering Eddie Murphy was still watchable at this time and Craven was just coming off New Nightmare (with Scream a year away). How it was decided that Eddie Murphy should play an modern take on Blacula (that's totally what this is, a Blacula remake) I have no idea.
The movie's many attempts at humor fall completely flat. As I've said before (while writing about this movie), when a comedy is not funny, it's painful to watch. At least a movie that's not scary can have something redeemable in it. A movie that's not funny is a series of embarrassing gags. You're embarrassed for the people involved and you're embarrassed to watch it. It's just a really bad movie and at no point did I even crack a smile at it.
#2: Cursed (2005)
The Scream style of horror film was played out by the time Cursed rolled around, but that didn't stop Craven and Kevin Williamson from trying the same thing again, only with werewolves. This is one of those rare movies where everything that can go wrong does. The script is awful, the "whodunit" formula is easy to solve this time around and when the acting isn't bad, it's lifeless.
The worst part about this are the werewolves. The special effects in general are really bad, but these are some of the worst werewolves I've seen since An American Werewolf in Paris. I realize that it was a plagued production with various issues, but that doesn't excuse it from being a bad movie. If anything, it should have just been canceled if they couldn't work out the right story/movie. Even an unrated cut with more gore can't make this entertaining, which is kind of sad as that's one of the better aspects of modern werewolf movies.
#1: My Soul to Take (2010)
This is his worst. Take everything that's wrong with Cursed (poor script, poor acting, lame special effects) and increase it tenfold and you may get a general idea of why My Soul to Take is a bad movie. One problem with this film is that it is never quite sure what type of movie it wants to be. At times it plays like a standard slasher and at others there's something supernatural lurking. It eventually settles towards the end, but the ending is so bad it doesn't really matter.
We sit through some bland kills, blander stalk scenes and awful, unlikable characters to get to the ending. The movie had been hinting all along that our killer was Adam or "Bug" (his dumb nickname) and we get the reveal that not only is it not him, but its his friend. Okay. This Scream-lite mystery put the entire focus on making Adam the red herring that you knew that there was no way he could be. It's a twist that really wasn't a twist. Anyone with a brain could have seen that the killer would be someone else. But I doubt anyone would think that it could be anyone else, because there are never any hints, any possible reasons to suspect anyone else. You know why Scream was good? It gave hints that anyone could be the killer. So when it was revealed to be Billy, we were shocked because he was the one we thought it would be. He was made the red herring so that we wouldn't suspect him of being the real killer (which was helped by the fact he was "stabbed"). My Soul to Take is the worst attempt at a mystery I've seen in a long time.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, time to look at Craven's best.
#5: Scream 2 (1997)
To attempt a sequel to such a groundbreaking film like Scream is bound to draw some criticism, but this is an example of a horror sequel that actually works. While it doesn't live up to the original, it's certainly a good stalk-and-slash horror film in its own right. One of the reasons for this is that it actually continues the story established by the first film. The killer is tied to the first, the characters all have grown or changed since then and it's a general progression from what has happened before. It's rare that a horror sequel does that.
While it has some flaws (like the Jerry O'Connell singing moment), it's still a solid sequel. There are some suspenseful moments (like the cop car sequence), some great digs at the trend of sequels and a truly shocking moment in the death of Randy. If you were a fan of the first film, you probably enjoyed Randy and you were probably upset when he got knocked off. It was the sort of "anyone can go" style that was sadly abandoned in the next two movies.
#4: Red Eye (2005)
The same year that Craven let Cursed escape into the world, he also released Red Eye. It's clear which one had more effort into it as this is a top-notch thriller. Yes, I said thriller. He didn't always make horror, you know. This movie relies on the performance of its villain, played here by Cillian Murphy. At this point, I had only seen him in 28 Days Later so I wasn't accustomed to seeing him play the bad guy. He's really great in that role, equal parts charming and menacing.
Rachel McAdams, in turn, plays a great heroine. One of the key aspects of a suspense film, similar to horror, is a great hero or heroine to root for against the evil that is endangering them. McAdams and Murphy lift this movie to something better than it could have been with their performances. That's not to say Craven is a slouch here. Give credit where it's due, he's really good with the tension-building here.
#3: Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
After 1992, Freddy Krueger was dead. Not only had New Line killed him, but he wasn't bringing in as much money as before and there was no way he was ever going to scare anyone again. When New Line brought Wes Craven back in board, he wanted to do something different. You have to give him credit for that, because he was tired of the way his creation was mass marketed and turned into a joke. So he went with a thinking man's Freddy Krueger, something a little more deeper than your average Nightmare.
The result was a great horror film with many nods to the original movie, great performances from Robert Englund as a more evil Freddy and Heather Langenkamp (who honestly is a lot better here than she was in the original Nightmare) as herself/Nancy. Plus it has Miko Hughes, and who doesn't love that kid? He's no Gage here, but he gets his own moments to shine. Not even a decade old and he was in both a Stephen King and a Freddy movie. I'm the same age and all I've done is write a lot about these movies. I'm sad now.
By the way, it just boggles my mind that in between New Nightmare and Scream there was Vampire in Brooklyn. Perhaps a better word to describe Craven is inconsistent. Anyway, this, like the #1 choice, has been praised enough, even by me. It's the movie that revitalized the slasher film, even if not everyone was happy with the way it went after that. Even today the movie is still alive and kicking, as there are rumors of a fifth entry or somehow a TV series...although I'm not sure how that one would work.
It seems silly to think that Scream is so revolutionary since so many films ripped it off once it became big. This is similar to how Halloween and Friday the 13th were ripped off after they became hits. It's expected that if something is a success, there will be ten times as many copies down the road. It makes sense, but it also tends to have those who weren't around when the movie came out looking down on it even though it created many of the tropes they see today. I was around when Scream came out...even if I had to wait for it to hit video. Even though there were many copycats, this is still the film that's around and remembered. I wonder how many people look back on I Know What You Did Last Summer as fondly.
#1: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
See you next week!
Okay, I'm kidding, but I don't know what to write here. It's A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's Freddy Krueger. This movie pretty much was the horror scene of the 80s, even with Jason and Chucky also springing up at the time. But I just wrote about the movie in November when Freddy won our Horror Knockout tournament, so I'm going to repeat myself this time around.
There's just no way this couldn't be #1. It's not only the film that started it all but it's one of the best horror films ever made. Freddy is at his most terrifying here but he still has some humor to him. He just thinks other things are funny, like slicing off his own fingers and giving you the crazy eyes. Even with a lower budget than the rest of the series, this film also had impressive special effects that as the remake proved, just don't look the same when done with a computer.
Plus it's filled with so many memorable moments. "This is God". Johnny Depp's death, Freddy leaping through a mirror, etc. It gets to a certain point where saying a film is great over and over just doesn't do it justice. A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of those times. It's just a film that has to be seen, preferably over and over again. It's a classic in every sense of the word, and there's no competition when it comes to the best of this franchise.
Or the best of the movies Wes Craven directed.
That's it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, directors month continues as I look at the worst directors working in the horror genre today. Not of all time, just right now.
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