Halloween is a time for horror, so let'skeep the month of October rolling along with a look at one of the directors on the Mount Rushmore of Horror Directors*: Wes Craven. He's the man behind two of the biggest horror franchises of all time: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, as well as two of the biggest indie horror sensations of the 70s: The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes.
His name alone was synonymous with horror, so much so that he often lentit to horror flicks like Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000and Wes Craven Presents They, giving them an air oflegitimacy they wouldn't have otherwise had—and frankly often didn't deserve. He often cameoed in his own films, and sometimes even gavea boost to his friends' projectslike John Carpenter's Body Bags and Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Craven also made quite a few television movies, at a time when television was viewed as a lesser art form. Among them are Stranger in Our House with Linda Blair, Invitation to Hell with Robert Urich and Susan Lucci, and Night Visions with James Remar and Loryn Locklin. Craven's films are also notorious for having their budgets slashed during production. In fact, it wasn't until his late 90s renaissance with the Scream franchise that he ever really got a chance to run wild with a big budget.
Though his early work is defined by a down and dirty, almost documentary like flurry of activity in front of the camera, he came to embrace the lighter side of horror in his later years. He even made a bizarre detour into the world of drama with the Oscar nominated Music of the Heart (aka Mrs. Holland's Opus). However, no matter the quality of his work, his filmography is united by a clean, classic style, and a mastery of tone from which other directors working in the genre could take more than a few lessons.
But, as we always do, let's start at the beginning...
Following a collaboration with future Friday the 13th
creator Sean S. Cunningham's flick Together
, Craven chose for his first film to make an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's TheVirgin Spring
, which itself was influenced by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon
. Gone, however, is Bergman's ending where the vengeful father vows to build a church on the site of his daughter's murder, replaced instead with some very violent sexual content.
As a staple of the midnight drive-in circuit, the flick had many posters with one hell of an awesome tagline: "It rests on 13 acres of earth over the very center of hell!" The film tells the story of two teenage girls (Lucy Grantham
and Sandra Peabody
) whose detour to score some weed prior to heading to a concert finds them brutally attacked, assaulted, and murdered by a gang of thugs. When the thugs end up seeking shelter for the night in the home of one of the victims, the parents decide to enact their revenge in an equally savage manner.
The film itself was mostly savaged by critics, though Roger Ebert did give it a positive review that he stood by when given the chance to change his mind on several occasions. Unfortunately, most of the sex and nudity in the film is of the violent variety, with almost none of it being played for titillation.
If nothing else, this is the film that establishes Craven's love of the bathtub and bathing beauties in general, bringing a brief nip slip from Jeramie Rain
nine minutes in...
The attack on Sandra Peabody
and Lucy Grantham
itself occurs thirty minutes into the film, with Grantham (right) attempting to calm an hysterical Peabody (left)...
For her efforts, Grantham also gets socked in the stomach after having her shirt opened and her breasts exposed...
Unlike other films of its ilk that would follow—like I Spit On Your Grave
, Forced Entry
, or Kiss of Death
—Craven featured suggestions of violence rather than explicit portrayals of violence. Yes, there are some of the latter, but mostly he favors cutting away at crucial moments and leaving the audience's imaginations to fill in the blanks. This, of course, makes the film feel a lot worse than it actually is, but it was a savvy move on Craven's part, and an early chance for him to do quite a bit with very little money—a theme that sadly ran through most of his films.
Craven clearly didn't have the whole murderous cult thing out of his system when he embarked on his fifth film—provided you count 1975's X-rated The Fireworks Woman
which he directed under the hilarious pseudonym Abe Snake. Deadly Blessing
tells the tale of a former Hittite who is murdered when he attempts to leave the cult.
For his final girl this time around, Craven selected Battlestar Galactica
beauty Maren Jensen
, fresh off of playing Lieutenant Athena on the series. Here she plays the late Hittite's widow being preyed upon bythecult led by the villainous Ernest Borgnine—sans his trusty Swiss Army knife
. Craven also reunites with Hills Have Eyes
co-star Michael Berryman, sort of the Danny Trejo to Craven's Robert Rodriguez.
Craven's famous bathtub between the legs shot originates here in a much more overtly sexual context. Rather thanFreddy's glove emerging from the water, here it's a snake that serves as both a biblical and overtly sexual allegory.
The snake rises from the water to both frighten and arouse Maren Jensen
, who sadly leaves her only brush with nudity on film to a body double...
Jensen gave up acting altogether after this, appearing on screen only one more time—in a music video for her longtime partner Don Henley. As for Craven, he was off to the big time after this with his first big franchise film...
Craven brought his talents to the then-nascent comic book movie genre with 1982's Swamp Thing
. The third DC property—following heavy hitters Batman and Superman—to make the leap to the big screen, this was another Craven effort where budgetary restrictions ultimately hampered the film. While it is most assuredly a case of a director doing the most he can with the very least, it also reeks of unfulfilled promise.
—who appeared in another comic book movie, Creepshow
, released the same year—stars as government scientist Alice Cable, a feminized version of an existing Swamp Thing character.Cable travels to the swamp to monitor the work of her former flame Dr. Alec Holland (a shockingly young Ray Wise), who is on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough involving genetics and plants or something. It's all sort of ill-defined and the film takes more cues from the mad scientist monster movies ofthe 1950s than it does the character's comic book origins.
is a perfectly serviceable piece of camp cinema, and Craven does all he can to make the film as fun as the rubber suited monster movies of his youth. The film's climax is where the budgetary restrictions hurt the film the most, with the villainous Anton Arcane (a delightfully hammy Louis Jourdan) turning not into a giant spider monster—as he does in the comics—but rather some third-rate Halloween storeversion of South Park
's infamous Al Gore nemesis, ManBearPig...