Tuesday, December 15, 2015

R.I.P.: Wesley Earl "Wes" Craven, Part IV (1994-1999)

2 August 1939 - 30 August 2015

What follows is a look at some the projects he was involved in — actually and/or presumably. Most TV series are ignored.

Go here for Part I (1970-77)
Go here for Part II (1978-86)
Go here for Part III (1987-93)

Freddy's New Nightmare
(1994, writ & dir. Wes Craven)
Hey! Wes Craven finally returns to Elm Street in this, the seventh Nightmare film, an  über-meta meta take on the franchise that has Heather Langenkamp (the original Nancy) playing Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund playing Robert Englund (and Freddy, of course, tho Freddy is credited as playing Freddy in the credits), and Wes playing Wes. That Wes was at hand might explain why Freddy is less funny and more sadistic than in virtually every entry since the first film. The basic idea of Freddy crossing over into the real world — as in: not a fictional real world, but the real world — had already been suggested by Craven for Dream Warriors (1987; see Part III), the third film of the series, but had been turned down by the studio, New Line Cinema.
Despite the general positive critical reception, New Nightmare ended up being the lowest grossing entry of the franchise. Not surprising when you see the trailer.  
To simply use the plot outline given at imdb by "Will": "In 1984, horror director Wes Craven created A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was acclaimed as one of the scariest movies ever made and made unknowns like Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, and Heather Langenkamp huge stars. Ten years later, Heather is living happily with her husband, Chase (David Newsom of Black Circle Boys [1997 / trailer]), and her son, Dylan (Miko Hughes of Spawn [1997] and Remains of the Walking Dead [2011 / trailer]). But her life has now been turned upside down because she is being stalked by a person who sounds like Nightmare villain Freddy Krueger. Chase has just been killed in a car accident after he accidentally fell asleep behind the wheel. Dylan refuses to sleep any more, and New Line Cinema has just offered her a part in 'the ultimate Nightmare'. But some other strange things have been happening, including earthquakes and Craven being tight-lipped about the script. The ultimate truth is that Freddy Krueger is actually an ancient demon breaking out into our world, but in order to do that, he must go through Heather. [...]."

The Fear
(1995, dir. Vincent Robert)
The Fear  is, to date, Vincent Robert's directorial début and only movie he's ever directed. We haven't seen The Fear, though we did see and review its remake — excuse us, sequel — The Fear:Resurrection (1999), which totally sucks donkey dick. We would hazard to guess, going by the remake — excuse us, sequel — that The Fear sucks, too, and is only noteworthy for [to quote Video Graveyard] Wes Craven's "pretty pointless cameo" as Dr. Arnold. And, maybe, for featuring former hotness Ann Turkel (of Humanoids of the Deep [1980 / trailer] and Deep Space [1988 / trailer], the latter with the great Charles Napier) and being the last movie of Vince Edwards (9 July 1928—11 March 1996), of SpaceRaiders (1983), Return to Hollywood High (1987), and somewhere in The Killing (1956).
Trailer to a much better film —
The Killing (1956):
Popcorn Pictures has the plot: "A group of university friends go to a remote cabin for therapy where each person is supposed to 'talk' to Morty, a wooden mannequin in order to overcome their fears. Shortly after the group has divulged their fears, someone starts killing off people one-by-one and Morty starts to appear in unusual places."
Feoamnate, like virtually everyone who has seen the movie, didn't like it and says The Fear "is a 5-pound-capacity bag filled with 20 pounds of shit. Stuffed to overflowing with confused subplots and riddled through with plot holes, The Fear is a movie drowning in its inability to tell a good story. That's too bad because this concept of a wooden mannequin that may or may not be alive is a good one (and reminiscent of Pin [1988 / trailer]). Piss-poor editing in the form of people's words being chopped before they complete them; buildups to nude scenes that were obviously filmed but then cut out, and jump cuts from day to night leave The Fear as nothing more than broken pieces on the floor. There is too much going on in The Fear that has nothing to do with the story. There are also too many distracting side scenes that take you completely out of the movie. [...] It does star horror writer/director Wes Craven, however. He was probably doing a favor for a fan. He's known to have a soft heart for young filmmakers."
Feoamnate, by the way, has a very entertaining, relevant and valid page entitled The Unfair Racial Cliché Alert, which The Fear also earns. 

Vampire in Brooklyn
(1995, dir. Wes Craven)
The mind boggles: Wes Craven directs an Eddie Murphy movie. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time — and, indeed, the trailer looks good. We saw the film in the cinema. And we didn't laugh. We've made a point to forget everything about the movie which, basically, as a rehash of an earlier Murphy film, simply involves Murphy's main character, Maximillian, Coming to America (1988) in search of a wife — just now he's a Caribbean vampire instead of some dorky African prince. In addition to playing the vamp, co-scriptwriter / producer Murphy also plays an alcoholic preacher and a foul-mouthed Italian gangster.
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review has the plot, more or less: "A ship crashes in Brooklyn harbour with all its crew dead. The vampire Maximilian (Murphy) emerges, having travelled from the Bermuda Triangle in search of a woman to help him continue the vampire species. He believes he finds her in police detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett) as she comes to investigate the bodies on the ship. Maximilian then sets about trying to romantically woo Rita."
Typical of the response the movie generates is what good ol' Roger Ebert said about the movie: "At one point early in Vampire in Brooklyn, the vampire's victim says, 'Don't be pulling that old Blacula shit on me.' If only he had been! Blacula (1972), actually one of the better movies from the blaxploitation period, was miles better than this disorganized mess. Eddie Murphy, whose career is seriously in need of reviving, should have thought twice before entrusting it to an amateur-night screenplay stapled together from a story by himself and his brothers."
Trailer to
Blacula (1972):
Angela Bassett's stunt double for the movie, Sonja Davis, died in an accident on the set, a price the film is not worth: She was performing a 45-foot backwards jump/fall and miscalculated the landing — her body hit the airbag, but her head hit cement. Angela Bassett went on to do better horror movies, like Critters 4 (1992 / trailer) and Supernova (2000 / trailer).

(1995, dir. Joe Gayton)

Aka Mind Ripper. We saw this movie, which was originally written as another sequel to The Hills Have Eyes (1977, see Part I) but retooled prior to filming. Wes Craven produced his son's début as scriptwriter. We saw the DVD — click the linked title above to read our full review — and were not amused, saying among other things, "Indeed, it is one of those films you never want to pop in your DVD player, for life is much too short to be wasted on a piece of shit like Mind Ripper.")
The Spinning Image  has the plot to a movie its star, Lance Henrickson, describes as "One of those films that pays your alimony": "A former scientist (Henrickson) decides to take his repulsive teenage children up into the mountains en-route to a camping holiday to visit his old workplace. It's a lab, housed in an abandoned nuclear bunker, from which he resigned a while back for ethical reasons, and they've now begged him to come back and look at what they've done: turned a half-dead guy they found out in the desert (Dan Blom) into an indestructible WWF wrestler whose tongue now looks like a dog's cock sticking out of a horse's twat. By the time they arrive, he's gone on the rampage, killing off the scientists now trapped inside The Outpost…"
Over at YouTube, Good Bad Flicks tells you all the reasons you should or shouldn't watch the movie.
Good Bad Flicks' Mind Ripper Movie Review:

(1996, dir. Wes Craven)
Well, if Wes ever had trouble paying the rent, he surely didn't after this movie. Finally, 12 years after A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven hits the jackpot with a new horror franchise, one that remains in his hands through three sequels and a TV series. What started out as a nod to Psycho (1960 / trailer) and a fresh idea — having the biggest-named star (Drew Barrymore) die first in the opening scene — has since become an overused trope in its own right.
Drew nude, not from the movie:
The script, written by Kevin Williamson, was supposedly inspired by the true story of the Gainesville Ripper; Williamson went on to pen two of the three sequels as well as the highly entertaining flicks I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997 / trailer) and The Faculty (1998 / trailer), as well as the less entertaining flicks Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999 / trailer), which he also directed, and Wes Craven's Cursed (2005). If you watch Scream — and, indeed, it is an entertaining meta-take on the teen slasher genre — keep your eyes open for a guest appearance of the director himself wearing a red-and-green shirt as the school's janitor, Freddy. As Scream went through a lot of recuts to get its initial R-rating, it is now also available in a "Director's Cut", supposedly with everything reinserted. We saw the non-director's cut way back when it first came out and rather enjoyed it, despite Neve Campbell's somewhat wet-rag performance as the final girl Sidney Prescott and Rose McGowan's terrible bleached hair.
TV Guide has the plot: "Small-town virgin Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is being stalked by a psycho-killer who's already slaughtered two of her classmates and also may have murdered her mom, exactly one year earlier. Is it the video store geek (Jamie Kennedy)? Sidney's hunky and too-good-to-be-true boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich)? Her dad (Lawrence Hecht), who's supposedly away on business but can't be located? Class weirdo Stuart (Matthew Lillard), who's dating Sidney's perky best friend (McGowan)? The high-strung, teen-hating school principal (Henry Winkler)? The janitor in the Freddy Krueger sweater? In-jokes — some quite clever — abound, everything from Halloween (1978 / trailer) to TV's Millennium (1996-99) comes in for a tongue-in-cheek drubbing, and the requisite scenes of various girls being stalked by a killer in a dime-store Halloween costume are extremely well staged. The 'but this isn't a movie, it's real life,' dialogue wears a bit thin and the ending steps over the line into preposterousness, but compared with most of what passes for scary movies these days, this is golden: it's not stupid, it's not wussy and it pulls off a couple of pretty nasty jolts."

Shadow Zone: The Undead Express
(1996, dir. Stephen Williams)
We've always wondered: do Black Canadians call themselves Canadians, Afro Canadians or Afro Americans? In any event, the same year that Wes Craven released Scream, he took the time to make a guest appearance in a small role in this obscure Canadian movie directed by one of the above — not that the last really matters, as Shadow Zone: The Undead Express is less political than the average Ernest R. Dickerson or F. Gary Gary flick and is pretty lily white through and through.
For those not in the know (we weren't, before today), Shadow Zone was the franchise title to a series of 13 supernatural young adult novels popular in the 1990s written by several different authors under the pseudonym "J.R. Black". Two of the series were eventually filmed in the Great White North as TV movies by Stephen Williams: this one here, the 5th novel of the series, and the 11th novel, My Teacher Ate My Homework (1997 / trailer).
Over at All Movie,  Cavett Binion has supplied the following synopsis: "A horror semi-parody targeted at the young adult market [...], this made-for-TV vampire tale stars Chauncey Leopardi as Zach, a teenage rebel with a flair for telling ghost stories, who stumbles on an underground cabal of vampires when he takes a fateful ride on a New York subway. The vampire's leader, Valentine (Ron Silver [2 July 1946 15 March 2009], of the lame Canadian horror movie The Wisher  [2002]), proposes a deal to young Zach, offering him safe passage to the world above, thus enabling the trapped vampire — who can only mingle with humanity through the willing assistance of an innocent youth — to reach the surface as well. Our young hero balks at this idea and escapes to the surface with a wild story for his skeptical pals, who shun him until one of their number is kidnapped by the undead subway dwellers in exchange for Zach's cooperation. Though atmospherically photographed, this low-budget production is a bit too corny to provide either laughs or chills, and it suffers further from lethargic pacing."
Women in Prison Films points out that the movie "features abandoned subway stations, a snowy graveyard, a black hippie vampire, and exploding and melting vampires."

(1997, dir. Robert Kurtzman)
Wes Craven presents — we have out doubts how much Craven had anything to do with this movie, but once again he's headlining as "Wes Craven Presents The Wishmaster". Though a movie everyone seems to hate, we saw it and rather enjoyed it — click on the linked title above to read our typically verbose review of the movie.
Wishmaster went on to spawn three sequels, all direct-to-DVD, none of which were presented by Wes Craven. We've only saw the last, Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002 / trailer), and we hated it.
365HorrorMovie.Com, which calls the movie "one of my biggest guilty pleasures", has the plot: "'Forget Barbara Eden. Forget Robin Williams. To the people of ancient Arabia, the Djinn was neither cute not funny. It was something else entirely. It was the face of fear itself.' Yes, genies are neither big-breasted women living with an astronaut nor hairy animated comedians. They are out to turn the human race into their personal slaves. Lucky for us humans the Djinn (or genie) must first grant three wishes to the one who awakens them. Meet Alex (Tammy Lauren). She's a tomboyish cutie pie who appraises gems for an auction house. After the unfortunate demise of Ted Raimi (Army of Darkness [1992], wishes he had his brother's money), Alex is asked to appraise an opal found in the rubble of the statue that kills poor Ted. The stone awakens the ancient evil. In other more eloquent words said by the Wishmaster himself, 'The shit has hit the fan.'"

Scream 2
(1997, dir. Wes Craven)
Oddly enough, though we like Scream, we never saw this sequel, which was released less than a year after its predecessor.
Urban Cinefile has the plot: "Continuing where the original Scream left off, the survivors of a serial killer's spree are now in a small college town. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) hope their previous problems are behind them, but then another killing spree begins. Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette) arrives in town to protect Sidney. Likewise, TV reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), who wrote a book on the original murders that's been turned into a movie itself, also shows up to cover the breaking story. Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man Sidney initially accused of killing her mother, arrives too, and wants Sidney to do a TV interview with him. While some people, including roommate Hallie (Elise Neal) and boyfriend Derek (Jerry O'Connell), try to comfort Sidney, others, such as Randy the film buff, and local reporter Debbie Salt (Laurie Metcalf) try to figure out who the killer is and whether they're creating a sequel to the original murders. Soon everyone becomes a suspect, but as the body count rises Sidney and Gale do what they can to prevent themselves from becoming the killer's next victims."
Some people, like Classic Horror, like the movie: "Scream 2 is one of those rare sequels [...]. The script in this film is as sharp as, if not sharper, than the first film, and Craven still has a great skill at building fright and suspense. While its predecessor thoroughly interrogates the clichés and tropes of modern slasher films, Scream 2 brings this same wit to the exploration of sequels. It also looks, briefly, into the debate over film's influence on real life. While it tends towards a convoluted plot, Scream 2 is nevertheless a worthy successor to its groundbreaking original."
Other, like Foster on Film, didn't see the movie as worth more than a paragraph, a six-sentence paragraph at that, which ends with the following judgment: "There was enough material [in Scream 2] for an excellent 15-minute short. Unfortunately, they dragged it out into a feature."

Wes Craven's Carnival of Souls
(1998, dir. Adam Grossman)

"And Wes Craven, I think, should be hung by his thumbs at Hollywood and Vine for movie fans to stone, because he's so devastated the intent of the original."
Candace Hilligoss (star of the original Carnival of Souls)

Wes Craven's Carnival of Souls is a remake of Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (1962) — a fact that leads to only one logical question: Was it really needed?
TV Guide mentions that "Though Wes Craven's name appears in the title of this dismal, sort-of remake of the classic 1962 chiller, he actually contributed nothing to the screenplay and had no hand in directing. [...] The idea for a new Carnival of Souls originated with actress Candace Hilligoss, who played the haunted girl suspended somewhere between life and death in the first film. In 1989 she asked Harvey whether he'd be interested in making a sequel and, she says, he replied 'If you want the headache, you pursue it.' Hilligoss wrote a script and began trying to drum up interest in it. But the project eventually wound up in the hands of director Adam Grossman, who co-wrote a new script with original Carnival of Souls screenwriter John Clifford; Hilligoss was cut out of the project entirely. [...] Hilligoss, disgusted with the way things had worked out, refused to appear in a cameo role, but Sidney Berger (who played her memorably lecherous neighbor in the first film) appeared in a small role as a policeman."
In any event, the hope that Craven's name in the title might drag in a few lost souls proved in vain: the movie was a flop and to date director Adam Grossman, normally a musician, hasn't — Surprise! — directed another movie.

 "Their remake says in the opening credits, 'A Film by Adam Grossman.' I don't know who he is, but the audience should now know that if they ever see 'A Film by Adam Grossman' on any movie, it should be a cue to run for the nearest exit!"
Candace Hilligoss (star of the original Carnival of Souls)

We did not bother renting the DVD to Wes Craven's Carnival of Souls, and for a long time even sight unseen we would've simply said you shouldn't either. But over the years we've become less militant in our distaste of remakes, especially if they don't follow the original plot all that much and, instead, use the basic idea to create a new story — which this film supposedly does. (An example of a movie that doesn't would be Jan de Bont's lousy version of The Haunting [1999 / trailer], which only ups the shocks and blood, tweaks a few characters lightly, and loses all the tension and beauty.) Still, we are sure that the original Carnival of Souls — a masterpiece of low budget, subtle horror — is better than this remake.
A poster to the original movie:
The plot? The AV Club explains it: "Bobbie Phillips stars as the owner of a dockside bar not too far from an old carnival site. On the anniversary of her mother's murder, she finds herself haunted by the figure of the clown, played by the not-too-scary Larry Miller, who is responsible for her mother's death and her own molestation as a child. That the otherworldly Miller harasses the adult Phillips Freddie Krueger-style, accompanied by what appear to be monsters left over from Jacob's Ladder (1990 / trailer) [...] lends the whole thing a creepy, exploitative feel that would probably be excusable if the movie were any good. But it's not: It's just another straight-to-video horror film that appears to have had any bit of ambition squeezed out of it and replaced with cheaper-than-usual cheap thrills. Seek out the original if you haven't seen it; it's a great film that doesn't depend on a clown-make-up-clad Miller abusing a small child for its chills."
Full Movie —
the original Carnival of Souls:

Don't Look Down
(1998, dir. Larry Shaw)
Craven was one of a variety of producers on this TV movie by television director Larry Shaw that originally aired on 29 October 1998 on ABC, but the only producer added to the title — more proof that "Wes Craven Presents" is a sure label of sub-standard entertainment.
Many a DVD cover has the great blurb "Genuinely Nail Biting", credited either to Variety or to DVD Verdict — the sentences that followed that statement in the original review (at DVD Verdict at least) are the important ones, however: "Not scary. Not thrilling. Not suspenseful. Nail-biting… why not? You might as well be productive while this movie is playing, and fingernail maintenance is as good as anything. Whatever you do, don't look down… you might find some belly button lint that needs your attention. [...] I've seen after-school specials that were scarier than this. If you want a real scare, open that pizza box in the back of the fridge. Whatever you do, don't look down."
At-A-Glance Film Reviews says "The story is entertaining enough, but it's bogged down with an overuse of dreamlike sequences and spooky off-screen whispering." Vegan Voorhees, in turn, is of the opinion that "a not-entirely predictable exposition from the killer and the fact that the black woman lives are the only distinguishing features in this boring crack at a potentially interesting premise."
The plot? Over at imdb, Kyle explains it: "Carla's sister (Tara Spencer-Nairn of Wishmaster 4 [2002]) accidentally falls off a cliff when the railing becomes loose while Carla's boyfriend (Billy Burke of Dead & Breakfast [2004]) takes photos. Carla (Megan Ward) has a hard time getting over her death and keeps having visions of her sister yelling at her for not saving her. It seems that every time she gets next to a edge of a high area, she gets terrified. She then starts to take a class with other Acrophobiacs [sic]. Then the people in the group start getting killed one by one. She starts to suspect that someone wants her never to get over her fear and that the loose railing was meant for her."
By the way: many, many years ago, Gregory Goodell, the scriptwriter of Don't Look Down, made his directorial and scriptwriting debut with the sadly overlooked and forgotten entry into women in prison films, Human Experiments (1979). A way better movie that this piece of generic TV flotsam.
Trailer to
Human Experiments (1979):

(1998, dir. Jefery Levy)
Not to be confused with the never-released documentary film directed by Penelope Spheeris on the making of the Charles Band movie, Blood Dolls (1999 / trailer). This Hollyweird was a pilot episode for a television series for Fox that never happened. Once again, of all the half dozen producers — including Shaun Cassidy (!), the show's official creator — only Wes Craven is deemed worthy of presenting the TV pilot.
TV.com has the plot: "The show followed the adventures of three aspiring filmmakers, Trey (Bodhi Elfman of Shrunken Heads [1994 / trailer]), Charlie (Fab Filippo of Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil [1992 / trailer]) and Caril Ann (Melissa George of Dark City [1998] and Turistas [2006]), after they arrive in Hollywood from the Midwest. [...] The hour-long drama promised to show the dark side of the entertainment industry."
The photo above of the three stars of the pilot was taken from Melissa George's website, which also mentions that the three main characters "take their love for the macabre and use it to solve crimes plaguing Los Angeles. The twist being that [they] ... film their investigations as well as hunt for the bad guy."
Full Pilot:
Some years previously, director Jefery Levy scripted (but didn't direct) the entertaining cheapy Ghoulies (1984 / trailer) and the sort of fun "what were they thinking?" comedy Rockula (1990 / trailer).

Music of the Heart
(1999, dir. Wes Craven)
Going by this film, one could easily surmise that Wes Craven undoubtedly always felt, well, pigeonholed as a "horror director" and had a secret yen to do a "real" movie. The success of Scream (1996) and Scream II (1997) seems to have given him the clout to finally make his first non-horror feature film. We confess to having seen it, out of curiosity, and have to admit that when it comes to making generic Hollywood feel-good product, Wes Craven could deliver corn as well as the best of them. As Mr Cranky says, "If feel-good were a drug, this film would be a heroin overdose."
Inspired by the documentary Small Wonders (1995), Music of the Heart is a dramatization of the true story of Roberta Guaspari, the woman who co-founded the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music. (True or not, it is a perfect example of the white-savior narrative cinematic trope — where would dem poor black folks be without dem good white folks?) Originally and oddly enough a Madonna vehicle, when she bailed the great Meryl Streep took over the lead role, for which she was yet again nominated for an Oscar (but lost to the far more deserving Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry [1999 / trailer]). Thanks to Streep, however, and the disgustingly crappy "original song" Music of My Heart — written by Diane Warren and sung by Gloria Estefan and *NSYNC this movie became Craven's first and only film to ever be nominated for Oscars.
As fitting to the movie, let us go to Christian Answers for more info on Music of My Heart, which they describe as "a satisfying 'feel-good' movie that has very little that would be offensive to Christian audiences": "[...] Roberta Guaspari has recently moved herself and her two sons in with her mother (Cloris Leachman of Kiss Me Deadly [1955 / trailer] and Young Frankenstein [1974 / trailer]), after her marriage fails. Roberta (Meryl Streep) takes her limited teaching experience and pitches a violin class to a sceptical principal (Angela Bassett). After proving how well she's taught her young sons the instrument, Roberta is given a chance. It is slow going at first, as Roberta has to deal with inattentive students, and disapproving parents and fellow teachers. One African-American parent snaps that her son has better things to do than learn 'dead white men's music', even though her son lights up while he's taking his music lessons. The violin program grows so much in popularity that kids have to enter a lottery to get a chance to get into it. When the program is cut due to the insensitive school system, Roberta fights back."
Go here for Part V.

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