Tag Archives: Wes Craven

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)

The best thing about A Nightmare on Elm Street is the font in the opening titles. It’s something sans serif and it’s slightly off and it looks good. To be fair to the movie’s reputation, I did jump twice, both times at the end; maybe because it was waking me up. As opposed to encouraging me never to sleep again A Nightmare on Elm Street made me wish I was comatose for its running time.

It’s not hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with the movie. Wes Craven’s script is atrocious and his direction is worse. His actors–with the exception of Johnny Depp–are awful. Ronee Blakley might give one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. John Saxon’s not as bad as the rest, but he’s bad. Heather Langenkamp is terrible as the lead. She and Blakley are never once believable as mother and daughter.

I’ve seen this one before and I remember it being poorly made. I can’t understand why it has a good reputation. The number of Halloween lifts are few, but visible enough to remind of a far better film.

Craven’s ineptness as a director doesn’t get any help from editor Rick Shaine, who’s unspeakably bad. I think some of the problem might be lack of coverage, which would be Craven’s fault, but come on. People move five yards between cuts.

Charles Bernstein’s music is silly.

It’s a crappy movie and it’s disheartening it launched a franchise. I guess audiences weren’t any better read then either.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jacques Haitkin; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Charles Bernstein; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Robert Shaye; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring John Saxon (Lt. Thompson), Ronee Blakley (Marge Thompson), Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson), Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray), Jsu Garcia (Rod Lane), Johnny Depp (Glen Lantz), Charles Fleischer (Dr. King), Joseph Whipp (Sgt. Parker) and Robert Englund (Fred Krueger).


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Swamp Thing (1982, Wes Craven)

Swamp Thing succeeds–to the degree it does–both in spite of Wes Craven and because of him. Craven is not an inventive low budget filmmaker. He does nothing to compensate. The Swamp Thing costume is bad, has lots of movement below the chest. Craven shoots it head-to-toe instead of obscuring it. There’s a real disconnect between Craven’s handling of the costume and with the special effects in general and the film in general, because Craven’s not playing Swamp Thing for laughs. The other big problem Craven brings to the table is his inability to film an action scene or scenes in the open (on open water, with a clear sky). Swamp Thing cuts from good composition to bad composition almost every shot during the middle. It’s extremely disconcerting.

But, like I said, it still succeeds… because even with turning Louis Jordan into a wild boar, Craven takes the film seriously. Swamp Thing is not smart. Craven’s script is riddled with holes and is, at times, dumb. But he’s earnest. He creates two excellent character relationships–Swamp Thing and Adrienne Barbeau and then Barbeau and her teenage sidekick, played by Reggie Batts. The most successful thing about the Swamp Thing romance–well, it starts when it’s still Ray Wise as the human version–is Craven sells it in a short amount of time. The whole movie takes place over three or four days and the establishing romance takes place in–story-time–a few hours the first day, at most. But Craven, Barbeau, Wise and later Dick Durock sell it.

A lot of the film’s earnestness has to do with the actors. While Jordan (gloriously) adds relish to his ham, Barbeau, Wise, and Durock all play it straight. Barbeau runs around in skimpy outfits–heels in the swamp too–but her performance is great. The stuff with her and Durock, who I never realized was so affecting in the Swamp Thing costume before, is great. But the stuff with her and Batts is somehow even more touching, since the romance is kind of expected, but the genuine human concern element is not.

Craven shoots all of the swamp scenes on location, both a good idea and bad (those wide open spaces I mentioned before), and the film does have some lovely cinematic moments. Especially when the Harry Manfredini score is in its soft parts and not the action ones (Manfredini’s action music is a fit for Craven’s action direction). Unfortunately, the scenes in Jordan’s villainous hideout… a mansion, leave a lot to be desired. Craven’s script is short on establishing Jordan’s character other than giving him a staff of young female assistants and dumb macho mercenaries.

Because the film’s so short, because it moves so fast–and because the action scenes are impossible to remember–Swamp Thing leaves a good impression. One remembers the successes–thanks to Barbeau and Batts–and excuses the failures. But some of it, the haunting beauty, does come from Craven… though he gets crucial help from the natural locations and Manfredini’s score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; screenplay by Craven, based on the DC comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; director of photography, Robbie Greenberg; edited by Richard Bracken; music by Harry Manfredini; production designers, Robb Wilson King and David Nichols; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane), Adrienne Barbeau (Alice Cable), Ray Wise (Doctor Alec Holland), David Hess (Ferret), Nicholas Worth (Bruno), Don Knight (Harry Ritter), Al Ruban (Charlie), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Ben Bates (The Arcane Monster), Nannette Brown (Dr. Linda Holland) and Reggie Batts (Jude).


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Scream 2 (1997, Wes Craven)

This year (2007), I saw more summer movies than I have in at least five years. I avoid big Hollywood franchises (the modern ones, the revitalization attempts… it’s fifty-fifty), so I really don’t know how bad the acting is in most of those films–from what I saw this summer, it’s probably atrocious. But there’s a special place for Scream 2, because not a single new cast member gives an acceptable performance. All of them, almost uniformly, are terrible. I suppose an order can be arranged–Elise Neal is worse than Jerry O’Connell, who is worse than Timothy Olyphant… though no one can compare to Sarah Michelle Gellar. Her performance is so incompetent, even her facial expressions are ludicrous. The lesser supporting case members–Laurie Metcalf, Duane Martin, Rebecca Gayheart and Portia de Rossi–all terrible. Of the new additions, only Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps–who have nothing to do with the actual film–are acceptable. And I suppose Lewis Arquette isn’t too bad.

Though she’s the “star,” Neve Campbell is barely in the film, entirely overshadowed by all the terrible acting going on around her. When she is around Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Liev Schreiber, things really work. Cox and Arquette are great together, Schreiber is great with anyone… only Jamie Kennedy (of the returning cast members) is lame. Oddly, the film ends on a high point–establishing a wonderful chemistry between Cox, Campbell and Schreiber… which might be why I remember the third one being disappointing, regardless of it being lousy–the potential for something of particular merit is certainly established by this one’s conclusion.

Most of the problems are because of the acting. A dumb horror movie can survive with decent acting, but Scream 2 also lacks charm. The college setting is stupid, the writing is dull–Williamson goes overboard with his pop culture references to hide there being nothing going on for any of the characters (except Cox and Arquette and Schreiber, so their scenes are better). Wes Craven’s direction is framed for a pan and scanned VHS–possibly the worst case of framing for home video since The Untouchables. He has two good shots in the entire movie, both near the end anbd one of them is only funny (it’s an Evil Dead 2 slash Nosferatu reference).

Scream 2 doesn’t work because everyone who dies is a welcome victim (except the two opening deaths), because they’re such terrible actors. When Gellar goes, it’s a reward to the audience for having to sit through her. If anything, her death wasn’t gratuitous enough (as opposed to the opening, when Scream 2 really felt exploitative). But having to tolerate Neal for the whole movie… argh. I’d forgotten Miramax recycled bad actors through their movies, trying to build them up into… well, into something.

Maybe if Craven had directed some of the actors, or composed the shots with some dignity, it’d be better. It has a great conclusion–all the likable characters, played by all the decent actors, have nice exits. Except then the lame music for the Miramax Records (or whatever they called it) soundtrack kicks in and helps one remember the piece of crap he or she just sat through.

And Luke Wilson’s cameo is fantastic–but they really shouldn’t have mocked Skeet Ulrich so brutally if they were going to cast worse actors then him in the movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Kevin Williamson; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bob Ziembicki; produced by Cathy Konrad and Marianne Maddalena; released by Dimension Films.

Starring David Arquette (Dewey Riley), Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers), Jamie Kennedy (Randy Meeks), Laurie Metcalf (Debbie Salt), Elise Neal (Hallie), Jerry O’Connell (Derek), Jada Pinkett (Maureen), Omar Epps (Phil), Liev Schreiber (Cotton Weary) and Duane Martin (Joel).

Red Eye (2005, Wes Craven)

The saddest thing about Red Eye is Wes Craven. The film opens with an action movie build-up montage, which he handles fine (for what it is), moves into an Airport movie, which he handles fine, turns into an actor-based thriller, which he handles fine. What doesn’t he handle fine? What does he handle so poorly I’m asking rhetorical questions? The slasher movie chase through the house scene in the last act. To be fair, the script completely falls apart in the third act too, when the immediate action and the abstract catch up with each other, but still… Wes Craven has probably directed ten movies with these scenes, most with multiple instances, and he can’t do it here? For lower budget Hollywood film, Red Eye has a lot of gloss and it really, really doesn’t serve Craven in those last minutes. I kept wondering, actually, if Red Eye were originally intended to be Scream 4 (hell, it would have been better if it had been) and if Rachel McAdams was just a stand-in for Neve Campbell.

What surprised me, in a good way, was how well Craven handled McAdams, even after she turned into Ellen Ripley. I kept thinking he did a lot of female heroines, then remembered I was thinking of someone else. McAdams is solid throughout, even during the misfired last act, but it’s really nice at the beginning when she and Cillian Murphy are bantering. The biggest problem with the last act is it disregards the chemistry between the characters. They start doing unbelievable things in the way they act towards each other and then Murphy loses the ability to speak… All the suspense is also flushed after a certain point and Craven tries to carry the thing on his handling of the house chase, which is ass. During the majority of the film, it looked like Craven had a real talent for picking projects he could bring a flare to without dousing in Craven-muck. Then the end submerges the whole thing in it.

The film’s also got some politics problems. Even if I was the type of person to have sympathy for a Homeland Security director with the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels, the movie doesn’t properly present the character (played by Jack Scalia, looking grateful to get the job). He’s not a believable target, it’s not a believable situation, so whenever that aspect comes up, it’s best ignored. There’s good stuff going on for a while, so it can be ignored… until the end. When there’s a CG rocket and Wes Craven’s inability to direct an action scene becomes painfully clear.

Like I said, McAdams is fine. Likable, appealing–in the situation. She doesn’t make the character likable, but that inability could very well be because the script hinges on the character’s secret… (It’d been better if she’d been a ghost. Or Sidney from Scream). Murphy’s great, having a lot of fun during the majority of the film until the script crashes. Brian Cox is apparently saying yes to every single script someone sends him. He’s hamming it up, but he’s decent at hamming, so whatever. If it’d been a real performance, the movie might have been a little better but not really.

Oh, jeez, I just realized… McAdams really isn’t stronger than Murphy in the end. Damn. I totally should have run with it. There’s a whole male vs. female thing running through it and it’s her dad who saves her, which is even worse than my standard example, John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me!, when fate intervenes.

But, really, whatever.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Carl Ellsworth, based on a story by Ellsworth and Dan Foos; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Patrick Lussier and Stuart Levy; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Chris Bender and Marianne Maddalena; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Lisa Reisert), Cillian Murphy (Jackson Rippner), Brian Cox (Joe Reisert), Jayma Mays (Cynthia) and Jack Scalia (Charles Keefe).


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