Wes Craven proves he’s a master of horror and innovation with Scream, over 10 years since his last smash which pulled a similar trick – A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven had been a legend for 3 decades, but with this he made possibly his best known film, reinventing a dead genre for better and worse, making horror films profitable again. More importantly it gave horror fans something to cheer about – a smart, funny, sexy, but above all scary film.
Scream’s intro has already gone down in movie history as the benchmark of a shocking and effective way to start a film. Take an established actress, and eventually butcher her to set the tone. The phone, the knife, shocks, inevitability of death, blood, helplessness, and a love of scary movies. Craven turns what we expect on its head, and we know we are in for something special.
We are introduced to Sydney Prescott, a teenager whose mother was murdered a year ago, trying to get on with her life – coping with school, a boyfriend, the court case involving the man (Cotton) who has been charged with her mother’s murder, and intrusion from journalists. She has become strong through this ordeal, but is still vulnerable. Her boyfriend Billy wants sex, but isn’t pushy. The news of a new murder comes as a shock to the whole town though because of the town’s recent history, journalists flock in including Gail Weathers, who had previously accused Sydney of lies. In school the news spreads, and the cops question the students. Sydney’s tight group of friends try to work out who the killer was, believing everyone’s a suspect. Her friends are Tatum, feisty, strong whose boyfriend is similar yet comically manic, and Randy – movie nerd who secretly loves Sydney. When Sydney is attacked, it seems the killer is not done and may have a larger plan. The teens of the town gather together for a curfew-baiting house party all the while debating who the killer is, and who could be the next on their hit-list.
This is clearly one of the best horror movies of the decade, not just an excuse for gore, but clever on many levels, and self-referential. It is more than that, being one of the best looks at teenage life in the last few years. The characters are extremely well drawn, taking stereotypes, but changing them against our expectations, enhanced by some brilliant performances. Every cast member performs well, with special mention to Kennedy, Arquette, and Lillard for bringing the laughs. Cox is good, but Campbell is excellent, going through a myriad of emotions and proving that her character does not have to be stupid like most final girls are typically shown to be.
Craven is in control, feeding us clues as to the identity of the killer, but ensuring that by the end we are surprised. Gore is used effectively, the scares and jokes come thick and fast, but it is the story of Sydney which makes it a classic. She is strong willed, smart, and we go through every emotion with her, aided by Neve’s performance. We feel for her, and are frustrated we cannot help. The film is shot beautifully, with Woodsboro shown as an idyllic place to live, but with dark secrets. I love near-Leone style facial close-ups, and the care given to each character so that we are hurt when one is killed, but suspicious of each. The script is sharp, with many references to horror movies which fan will try to recognise.
Thematically we return to Elm Street territory; We must fight for ourselves in the world, and while our friends are the most important people in our lives, they may not be around forever and we must be able to cope with their loss. Parents are either not around, don’t care, don’t understand, or are to blame. Sydney’s mum seems to be the catalyst for the deaths, the only authority figure to gain respect is Dewey, who isn’t much older than the teens. The opening scene as Casey crawls towards her nearby parents, with the killer behind her highlights this, that the older generation will not always be able to keep us safe. The Headmaster, played by Henry Winkler hates kids, but he cannot organise or gain respect from them either.We are never certain of Gail’s intentions, another point to do with the media’s involvement in society today. Death has become trivialised, the victims just a ploy for ratings or power for those who tell the stories. Our thoughts on violence, on violent movies are challenged – Craven a veteran of criticism over use of violence. In the end it’s up to us as individuals. The film shows that places we believed to be safe -our homes, our schools, have become dangerous places today too, that we are not safe anywhere. In a group, or by yourself, we are still vulnerable. The scene in the school toilets emphasizes this point, and is another beautiful scene. However, the film teaches us that rather than being overcome by fear, by the fact that we are not always safe, we should fight.
I wanted to mention a few of my favourite scenes – Sydney on her porch, staring over the hills; Sydney and Billy in her bedroom while Gus’s cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper plays in the background. It gives a perfect glimpse of what it is like to be in love at that age, and together with Campbell’s beauty makes an odd atmosphere, especially when viewed again, having watched the other 2 films. We become intimate with Sydney, wishing we could save her from her pain.
With the combination of genres subverted, a brilliant script and score, some excellent acting, good scares and jokes, Scream paved the way for a new breed of horror films, none of which, like Halloween and Elm Street, have matched it. We should be thankful for Craven, as he has provided the world with another film which should be watched and talked about as much as those felt to be the best movies of all time. This is certainly one of the best of our time.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Scream!
Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a minute (do the kidz still say that?) since I’ve squeezed out one of these, but luckily I’ve had a lot of fibre recently and things are moving again, if you take my meaning. Wes Craven is one of my favourite directors of all time but I’ll be the first to admit he’s made a lot of rubbish over the years. He’s one of my favourites because when his films are good, they are second to none. There’s basically three tiers to Craven movies – Iconic, okay, and crap. Most people agree on what’s iconic, everyone disagrees on what’s crap/okay. No matter where you stand, there’s no doubting his place in horror, inventing or reinventing pieces of the genre at least three times, and providing us with some of the best scares, best villains, best heroes, and best movies in horror history.
10. The People Under The Stairs
It’s true to say that most people love this more than I do. I like it, but I don’t have the nostalgic connection to it which most fans have. My favourite thing about it is the Twin Peaks connection – Wendy Robie and Everett McGill star again as another unusual pairing. The story and the film, are fairly unique, but then again we’re talking late 80s, early 90s horror – a time when anything goes, so when we’re talking about a ghetto kid trying to save his family from being evicted by a pair of murderous landlords and their cannibal children, you know you’re on safe enough territory. It’s certainly funny, it’s borders on outright weird, you’d never see anything like it getting made today, and there’s plenty of gore.
9. Swamp Thing
This little seen action/comedy/horror hybrid is well worth a watch for anyone bored with today’s superhero stories and want something a little different. This is certainly a little different, Craven this time dealing with more established stars and a bigger budget than his earlier 70s work. While campy and not going for the jugular as he had been known for, this still has plenty of violence and sexy times and features genre favourites Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise.
8. Red Eye
A late in the game box office and critical success for Craven, this is a surprisingly straight, taut, and effective thriller which holds up well today. Featuring reliable performers Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, and Brian Cox it is another entry in the ‘bad shit happens on a plane’ sub-genre. It has the twists of Scream without the meta stuff and plays out like a modern Hitchcock film, cranking up the tension until the climax. This gets straight to the point, plays its game with no chaff, and remains gripping throughout.
7. The Hills Have Eyes
Here’s an interesting one – I much prefer the remake of this. Craven’s ideas are solid and the story and characters all in place, but it lacks the budget and power to be executed fully. The remake has the money and conviction and it is wonderfully brutal in all the most delightful ways. Still, this is the original and therefore worth giving due attention and respect. Like his previous film, this works as a nightmare scenario of US family values, of how simply and quickly the perfect family can devolve into gruesome violence. The film follows the extended Carter family on a road trip who take a wrong turn and end up being picked off by another family – albeit deformed cannibals. The invention and wit and energy here tends to surpass most modern horror but is only defeated by the lack of money to fully pull off everything required to make it perfect.
6. Scream 3
Often seen as the weakest in the series, while that may be true it always holds a special place in my heart. It was the first in the series I saw in the Cinema and brought along my girlfriend at the time who was also a series fan. The ideas were wearing thin at this point, but there are enough trilogy smarts and in jokes to still make it a fun ride. With Neve, Courtney, David and co all returning, that affinity with the characters is still present and I enjoy the callbacks to the previous entries. The series remains one of the best written and fun in horror, and it’ll always be dear to me, even if it isn’t a patch on Part 1.
5. Music Of The Heart
I imagine I’ll get a lot of heat for this one, but for some reason I’ve always enjoyed the ‘tough kids get won over by teacher’ movies. I don’t know why, but they give me a kick. To see Wes Craven making one, to see Wes Craven directing a Meryl Streep movie, is still hilarious to me, and I think he pulls it off. Sure, there isn’t an original bone in its body, but it proves that Craven can work completely outside horror and make an effective light-hearted drama. Streep even got nominated for an Oscar, as did the title track, but it was a box office flop. It’s a little overlong and probably came out a few years too late, but it’s still one of my under the radar favourites.
4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Craven’s first experiment with meta or post modern horror or whatever the hell you want to call it, sees him returning to his most famous franchise and ostensibly releasing his most feared creation upon the real world. New Nightmare’s set up is that Heather Langenkamp – Nancy from the original movie – is married and has a son, and that the boy’s nightmares about Freddy are somehow bringing the clawed killer into the real world. This means we have various actors, writers, and directors playing themselves while being stalked by Kruger. It’s clever, and it’s violent, with Robert Englund playing himself, playing traditional Freddy, and playing the all new, more vicious Freddy.
3. The Last House On The Left
Englund’s first impact on the horror scene was this low budget exploitation movie about a family resorting to revenge and torture upon the rapists and killers who did the same to their daughters. It’s a film of two halves, each half complementing the other while advancing the plot and showing how violence begets violence. The first half follows a couple of teenage girls heading to a concert but who are attacked by a group of killers, the second finds the killers accidentally stopping off at the parent’s house and seeing the tables turned. It’s not an easy watch and Craven doesn’t hold back in his depictions of torture, rape, and murder. The remake ups the budget and gore and makes for an interesting companion piece, but for me it lacks the gut punch and shock of the original.
My top two picks aren’t going to surprise anyone. Scream is a perfect film in my eyes. I understand why others will disagree with me and I’m not so blind to agreeing with its criticism, but that doesn’t change how I feel about it. It’s my generation’s horror movie and even though I was 13 or 14 when it released it still felt like it was made for me. I understood most of the references, I loved the twists, I recognised most of the characters in myself and people I knew, the dialogue was sharp, and the cast was peppered with people I either already loved or would come to. It gave us two new horror icons in killer Ghostface and heroine Sydney, played by my other world wife Neve Campbell. It’s funny, stylish, and has some great scares and kills, and it’s a movie I’ll never tire of.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The only film which could beat Scream is my favourite horror movie of all time. This is the one which got me into horror, even before I’d watched it. I knew Kruger, I knew the plot, and I’d seen bits of it when I was a child, and the artwork in the video stores always intrigued me. It’s one of Craven’s most successful movies, it’s his best work, his most inventive, and it is even critically acclaimed to a certain degree – not always unusual for horror, but definitely rate for one so visceral. The film and its villain gained iconic status leading to a long series of spin-offs and sequels, none of which have matched the skill and precision of the original. Langenkamp and Englund are terrific, the effects are nightmarish, and the idea of someone stalking your dreams (for the sins of your parents no less) remains potent. Horror often bleeds into fantasy, but I don’t think it was ever worked so successfully than with this undoubted masterpiece.
Let us know in the comments which movies you would include in your Top Ten Wes Craven list!
The late, great, Wes Craven ended his career with the final part of his Scream series, and this badly received film which I had avoided for some time. Having now seen it, it is difficult to not agree with the critics who savaged it for being muddled and formulaic – but is it really that bad?
Honestly, no. It’s not good, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is well enough acted and like many of Craven’s middling or lesser films it suffers from wasted opportunities. With any Craven film you go in with certain hopes and expectations, so when those are not met the frustration and disappointment is heightened. A director making this as their first film would still be criticized, but may be encouraged to improve, but Craven as an experienced and successful horror maestro should have known and done better.
The story begins around sixteen years in the past as a deranged conflicted man murders his wife in front of their daughter before being shot by the police. As he is being taken to hospital, he somehow wakes, causes the ambulance to crash, and escapes. We flash forward sixteen years and learn that the killer has become something of a local boogeyman – the local kids meeting on the eve of his disappearance each year to perform a ritual to prevent his return. The main players were all born on this date and are known as the Riverton Seven. I’m not sure how likely it is for seven kids to be born on the same day in a small town, and I’m not sure why the killer, now known as The Ripper decides to hunt them down instead of anyone else, but that’s the gist of the plot. We meet Bug, the quiet outsider of the group who is continuously picked on, his smart ass friend Alex, jock Brandon, ring-leader Fang, as well as a pretty one, a blind one, a religious one, and a creative one. As you would expect, they begin to get picked off.
This raises further questions – Bug is our protagonist and throughout the movie he is accused of and mocked for being in and out of institutions – none of this is explored. Each time someone is killed, he begins to exhibit their traits and mimics their voices and behaviour, making it look as if he is the killer. Again, none of this is really dealt with or explained, or leads anywhere beyond trying to make the audience suspect him. The film throws curve-balls later to point us in the direction of the other survivors until the final muddled minutes. Nothing is ever surprising and the twists mostly miss the mark. You’re likely wondering why you should watch this. As mentioned, most of the cast are good and a few of the faces will be familiar in earlier roles. The kills are gore-lite but effective enough for someone just getting into horror. There are funny moment, both intentional and otherwise, and every so often you’re reminded of Craven’s better works. The idea of a killer possibly leaping from body to body is one that is not often explored in cinema, with Fallen remaining the best example – there is potential here for something better but whether it was a case of too many ideas or a bad script, or nobody knowing what they wanted, the end product doesn’t work. It’s difficult to recommend this now to anyone beyond Craven fans and horror fans in general. There are much better films out there in the genre, films which do better with similar ideas, and much better films by Craven, but as one of the final works by one of the legends of the genre it should nevertheless be required viewing.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of My Soul To Take!
After 10 years, Wes Craven returned to the series and characters which brought him his greatest success, in an attempt to inject some life into the franchise and again try to re-define the horror genre. A New Nightmare is a success on both counts, even if it was mainly an experiment and stepping stone between projects. A New Nightmare brings attention to themes such as art imitating life and vice-versa, adoration of horror movies, the life of a cult figure, how we perceive violence, censorship, and of course the relationship between parent and child.
Wes Craven has been having nightmares and is using them to write a seventh installment in the Elm Street series. He contacts the star of Parts 1 and 3, Heather Langenkamp, and asks if she would be interested in returning to the role one last time. She turns down the role as she is a happily married mother who has tried to put the films and Freddy behind her. However, the fans are ravenous for more. Recently, Heather has been getting strange phone calls, probably from a stalker or obsessive fan who claims to be Freddy, calls which upset her and her son Dylan. She has also been having nightmares of her own, some involving her old nemesis, but puts it down to stress. Her husband Chase is out of town working on a film, and on his return home he falls asleep at the wheel, crashes and dies. Heather insists on checking the body, and finds claw marks over his chest. She now believes that Freddy, or someone pretending to be him is stalking her family. Freddy is not happy that he has been forgotten and wants out into the real world. He attacks Heather in her dreams, and she is drawn into a final battle to save her son and self from the demon who now seems to be scarier, stronger and more violent.
The film returns to the scares, imagery, themes, and gore which made the original so popular. Bringing back several members of the original cast, Craven manages to create a perfect, dreamlike blend between the real world and the dream world. Heather is an actress but must remember that it was the spirited youth of her character which saved Nancy’s life. However, the fact she has grown up, and that it was just a real world job means that it is difficult to believe such things – she is in danger of becoming like her character’s mother. Freddy is now presented as pure evil, albeit with a few catchphrases, a creature completely intent on becoming real.
Langenkamp takes the difficult role in her stride and is just as good as she was in the original, now a protective mother rather than a paranoid, survivalist teen. Englund revels once more in his role and seems to enjoy himself more here than in some of the previous films. Saxon and Craven are good in small roles, Miko Hughes is annoying at times as Hughes but still good, and the rest of the cast are adequate. The gore is back to basics, not overblown like in the last few films, and certain scenes are shocking – the ‘skin the cat’ scene is probably the most memorable. Craven again knows how our minds and fears work – the fact that Dylan thinks his toy dinosaur can protect him is a good example of this, that we create a blanket or defender for ourselves when there is no-one else to help us. This is overall a good idea well executed, a precursor to the Scream series, and a respectable ending (so far) to the Elm Street franchise.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of A New Nightmare and how it fares alongside the others in the series!
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part One is my favourite horror movie of all time; The Elm Street series has been an obsession of mine since before I’d even seen a single film. When I was young, I used to visit the local video store with my family to pick up a few flicks for the week – usually something for the family, and something martial arts related for me and my brother to enjoy. While my family looked, I would inevitably find myself in the horror section – always off in the corner, and always filled from floor to ceiling with gruesome covers depicting terrifying characters who were maimed, mutated, or scarred, and with titles that would haunt my nights and days. Chief among these were the Elm Street movies and the central antagonist Freddy Krueger, whose burned face leered at me from every angle. I remember catching trailers for the movies, or snippets of scenes late at night on TV which both horrified and intrigued me, and would chat about them in school with friends. Flash-forward many years and the series has gone from strength to ridicule to infamy to respected horror canon. While I bought the series on DVD, I always felt that the features were a little light, so when it was announced that a massive retrospective documentary charting the entire series as a phenomenon was being made, that weird little boy inside me returned.
A New Line in the Murder Range
Never Sleep Again is a glorious piece of work for the fan, and a prime example of how to make a rewarding, entertaining documentary which both respects and pokes fun at a film series. With contributions from cast and crew who talk about their respective work on every movie in the series, as well as some of the spin-offs, it is an extremely well-researched and interesting feature. While it is clearly catered towards fans like me, I think those with a passing interest and even someone who hasn’t seen one of the movies would find something to enjoy within. Narrated by Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) herself, the feature documents the beginnings of the series in the minds of Wes Craven and Robert Shaye – how it catapulted both Director and New Line Studios into movie stardom, and how it was an unexpected commercial and critical smash. For those of who who have a particular favourite in the series, don’t be concerned that it will be passed over as each entry is given the same level of reverence and coverage, with witty stories on how directors were hired, how the stories were written, how the effects were made, and the impact the movies had on the lives of the cast members. At four hours long, we cover the 7 seven main films in the series, Freddy Versus Jason, and the short lived television series, with contributions from Craven, Shaye, each of the directors, and most of the writers and actors (no Depp, Arquette, Fishburne and a few others) who discuss their favourite scenes and how they approached the particular film.
Not only are the interviews entertaining and enlightening, but the duo who made the feature, Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch, along with Thommy Hutson should be credited for created such a coherent piece. With such an amount of material to wade through, and a massive amount of interviewees, they have assembled a masterpiece of horror lore, and a wonderful must-have accompanying piece to the series, one which deserves, nay, must be mentioned in any discussion of the series. We get nice animated pieces whilst moving between each film, and a friendly atmosphere which could only have been facilitated so well by dedicated, professional fans. The second disc contains bonus features which range from amusing novelties, to extended interviews, mini featurettes covering artwork, music, the Elm Street expanded universe, the fans and beyond. As if it wasn’t obvious, if you’re a fan of Freddy, then this is a must have. Due to the length of the feature, those who don’t know much about the series may be put off, but if you give it a shot, you’re sure to be sucked into the world which Craven and Co created, and I can only assume you’ll want to give the movies a shot.
Are you a fan of the Elm Street series? Which movie in the series is your favourite? How does the series hold up against rival series and which set of movies would you like a documentary of this size and scope to be made for? Let us know in the comments!
This week we lost one of the true innovators of horror, a director whose works spanned six decades. Naturally for a man so well-respected in the business, there has been an outpouring of grief, thanks, and remembrance from family, friends, fans, and those who worked with him. Personally, Craven was the first horror director I was aware of and was of a massive influence in my love of the genre. His creation, Fred Krueger, was the first horror icon I learned of, and A Nightmare On Elm Street remains both my favourite horror film ever, and my favourite horror series. While I haven’t yet seen all of his work, now is as good a time as any to watch those and also catch up on old favourites. Craven crafted some of the most important horror films of his generation, with Nightmare, Scream, and Last House On The Left each a ground-breaker, but he also tried his hand at acting, appearing in a number of memorable cameos, and directing outside of horror, most notably in Music Of The Heart – another favourite of mine.
Few people that we don’t personally know will have a major impact on our lives, but Craven was instrumental in leading many directors into the business thanks to the nightmares and dreams he inspired, and he will always be someone I look to as being important in my past, present, and future love of film.
Feel free to share your memories of Wes Craven in the comments section below.
In 1984 Wes Craven redefined the horror movie forever, bringing his own rules to the game, avoiding the clichés that had gone before, making an exciting, inventive, gory, wickedly clever, and above all-scary film. A Nightmare On Elm Street, spawner of sequels, influencer of crap is the movie horror fans hoped for in the early eighties, but is also an effective satire on small town life, our fascination with serial killers, our fear of the unknown, and the sins of our forefathers.
Nancy is fourteen. She has a cute boyfriend who would do anything for her, two friends (who frequently mock Nancy with their own sexual experience), and a load of baggage. Nancy lives with her alcoholic mother, while her father is the local Sheriff – her parents divorced some time before the events of the movie. One night when the four friends are staying together, Nancy’s best friend Tina is brutally murdered by a hideously disfigured man, seemingly while sleeping. Her boyfriend Rod watches on, horrified, while Nancy hears the screams from outside. Rod flees, and the cops look for him believing he is the only possible killer. It isn’t long before the Police catch up to Rod, but Nancy becomes convinced that someone else killed Tina, a man named Fred Krueger. Night by night she is haunted by increasingly violent dreams where she is stalked by a man with a razor fingered glove, and so tries to investigate further for fear that she may be next.
As the movie progresses Nancy’s relationship with her mother becomes increasingly strained, with the daughter frantically taking pills to avoid sleep and seemingly becoming unhinged, while the mother is unable to act or react in a responsible manner. Nancy’s mom takes her to psychiatrists in a vain attempt to keep her own guilt in the shadows, refusing to own up to the fact that her past has caught up with her, not knowing that everything she is doing is wrong. She goes so far as barring Nancy inside the house and refuses contact between Nancy and Glen – her boyfriend. Glen’s parents are only too happy to oblige, not wanting their son to associate with the loony across the street. Eventually, we learn the sordid history about Krueger – he was a child murderer who stalked the town a few years ago, was caught, but escaped unpunished by some loophole. The residents took the law into their own hands, burning and killing Fred, but somehow he has found another loophole and is getting revenge by killing the children of Elm Street once more in the place they should feel most safe – their own homes, their own dreams. With no-one to trust, Nancy needs to overcome the enemy alone.
This is one of the most imaginative horror movies ever, blending dreams with reality so the viewer never knows whether a character is asleep or not. The fact that we don’t know what is real and what is a dream gives a sense of tension throughout as we don’t know when Krueger will appear. Craven uses all the force which caused his previous films to be censored and banned but makes his themes more subtle, and substitutes the realistic and grim visuals of The Last House on the Left for the fantastical sights here. For the most part it is the fault of the parents that their kids are killed- they created the monster by trying to kill the monster, but more importantly they then feel like their job has been completed, not realising when their kids are still in danger. There is a total lack of understanding between the two generations, and little trust in the abilities of the youth. It is not only a tale for those nearing adulthood to be afraid of the world – that in the end we have to rely on ourselves rather than those who have protected us so far – but it is a story about the older generation’s fear of the next generation. They want to be leaders but have their own insecurities, they want to be respected but show little in return, they want to protect but cannot see when something is really, seriously wrong.
The young cast is good, particularly Langenkamp. Garcia and Wyss have little to do, Depp has a bigger role and shows some of what would make him a legend. It is Langenkamp who carries the film, and she is excellent in her portrayal of fear, paranoia and helplessness, all the things we face when we are teens. We forget these things as we get older, but they rarely leave us, and often in forgetting do we lose the ability to cope when confronted once again. Nancy screams, but thinks; She is not the typical stupid teen over a hundred other Slashers. She makes an assertive step towards saving herself and her friends, while trying to hold her family together. She takes on the traditional roles of both father and mother, becoming hunter and protector, indeed she proves to be the strongest character in the film, preceding Ripley by a few years. She knows her own survival is down to herself.
The older cast members are also very good. Blakley is brilliant as Marge, hapless, hopeless mother who cannot cope with Nancy, with her break-up, with her guilt, giving in to booze like so many others. Saxon is also good as the father trying to get on with his life, burrowing himself in his work to forget the evils of his past, yet coming across as the most sympathetic adult. And of course, Englund steals every scene he is in. He is terrifyingly believable, the perfect example of what lurks in our nightmares, waking and dreaming. His one-liners are darkly comic as he takes sadistic joy in following and killing kids. In later films they become increasingly silly, but here we get the sense that these are the exact words that would come from the maw of a paedophile and serial killer.
The effects also stand out, with the famous bloodbath bed scene, and Tina being torn all over the ceiling becoming some of the most famous images in horror history. Kreuger looks monstrous, those blades will be heard in our dreams, while the dream world is filmed with care – we can tell that there is something not quite right about the surroundings, and we are subtly unsettled. A highly effective film, scary, funny, thought-provoking and unnerving, and with one of the most frightening villains ever committed to film. This inspired many clones, but this is still the king and continues to influence many films, horror and beyond. And count the number of Simpsons references.
Features wise I would go for the 2-Disc special edition as it is slightly more expensive but has plenty of commentaries and documentaries to keep your nerd heart pumping.
*Originally written in 2004 – I never realised that it was basically a plot summary (and I’ve even removed some chunks for the above revised edition) – so apologies for a crappy review of one of my favourites movies.
Over 10 years before the Elm Street series began, Craven was already creating fear, disgust, invention and controversy, particularly with The Last House on the Left, a notoriously banned film which, like most banned films, is graphic more in theme than content. For its time though, it was heavy stuff; rape, murder, mutilation, torture, sadism, revenge, chainsaws…
The film begins calmly enough, with two teenage girls going out together to a rock concert, we watch them getting ready at one of their houses with one set of parents telling them to be careful, have a good time etc. After looking for pot before the concert, the girls are kidnapped by a group of sadistic escaped criminals including Krug (the leader), and his apparent girlfriend Sadie. The girls are raped, tortured, and eventually killed in a number of drawn out, brutal scenes. Craven directs these scenes in a plain, cold manner, so that they are almost unbearable to watch – this is particularly effective due to the lack of gore, close-ups, and other typical techniques overused in totrute porn today – it doesn’t feel exploitative even though we know it is. It helps that the performances of the unknown cast are excellent – to the point that uit doesn’t feel like acting. After the deaths, the killers seem to realise what they have done and there seems to be some sort of confusion in their eyes, if not remorse. In a Bergman-esque twist, the killers’ car breaks down and they look for help at a nearby house which just happens to be the Collingwood home, where the parents of one of their victims live. The Collingwoods have meanwhile called the police as their daughter did not return home, and they unwittingly invite the maniacs in. It isn’t long before each group recognises the other, and the tables are turned with the parents wreaking bloody revenge using a variety of dentistry and DIY tools to full, gripping effect.
Like The Hills Have Eyes, it is fascinating to watch how a middle class family with strong morale values etc can quickly become executers when provoked – to see how any person can become a monster in the ‘right’ circumstances. There are no happy endings here, no moral justification, just revenge pure and simple. The film is set up in every way to disturb – from the infamous trailer, the Texas Chainsaw style ‘based on a true story’ effect, and the scenes of torture and murder themselves. Krug and co. are thoroughly evil and take great joy in the pain of others, but they quickly change face when faced with a gun or chainsaw. The film is almost entirely grim and grainy although there are some funny moments involving the cops and a chicken farmer – these scenes have become infamous amongst fans and critics of the movie. My personal feeling is that it makes the carnage all the more awful, knowing that the usual source of Salvation is a bumbling non-entity – it exemplifies that great Craven message – YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN. There is some average acting of course, aside from the main players, and it is understandable that many will find this, and the scenes involving the cops particularly jarring. Many today will still find it unbearable. This should definitely be seen, but do not expect a bright affair, or even for your blood-lust to be satisfied – you will be uncomfortable throughout.
This double disc edition has since been improved upon by a 3 disc set, but this edition has plenty of extras including intersting docuementaries featuring Craven and cast and some shorts. For fans of the genre, and for fans of Craven this is an important piece documenting the extreme lengths film-makers were willing to go to provoke a reaction, to stir things up, and to horrify. If you want to check out the remake, which ups the gore, budget, and overall quality it is certainly one of the better remakes of recent years, but still pales in my opinion, to the stinking realism of the original.
Let us know what you thought of the movie – does it still retain the power to shock, or is it more tame that a flaccid sock?
Aah, Halloween- the most wonderful time of the year. When even those who wouldn’t usually subject themselves to all manner of terrors decide to watch the odd scary movie or 2. Unfortunately for me, this part of the Spac Hole which I currently inhabit does not indulge in the season as seriously and joyfully as other places, so I have always felt a little deprived. Sure, we had some parties, sure we threw fireworks at Gerry’s house, and yes we would watch whatever limited choice of movies were on over the few days but compared to other places (particularly you festive folks in the US) it just didn’t seem as much damn fun. In my mind, the whole month of October should be a vessel for Halloween activities, from dressing up to trick or treating, to watching scary movies and hiding under the beds of people you don’t know with a chainsaw.
To that end I have helpfully made a few lists of classic horror movies which sould chill you to the bone, and add to the singular atmosphere of this most evil time of the year. This list of 31 movies was created so that you can split the fun over the entire month (alternatively you could wait until closer to the day and have a few marathon sessions) and let yourself tremble ever so slightly in the supposed safety of your own home. Just be sure to lock your doors and windows, close the curtains, and tuck up the kids tightly in bed (checking underneath and in closets for me) before turning off the lights. Maybe check those locks once more, you can never be too sure or too safe. Oh, what’s that? That noise from outside? I wouldn’t worry, probably just the wind. By all means go out and check, but that would mean going into the basement to find batteries for your torch. Really, just relax and watch the film, your paranoia can’t hurt you. The thing outside, yeah- it could hurt you. But you locked the doors, right?
These don’t have to be watched in any particular order, but some would suit the big day (or night) better than others. This is not meant to be a list of the best or even my favourite horror movies (though I love them all) but rather I feel these offer something of the atmosphere of Halloween. Enjoy.
An American Werewolf in London: This one has it all- gore, jump scares, atmosphere, action, humour, and a great plot with likeable characters. WereWolves, like Vampires have taken a rather glossy beating recently. This proves that you can wrap up a love story with horror without being teeny, without being sparkly, without being demeaning to viewers with brains. Classic Halloween scene: The Nazi section.
A Nightmare on Elm Street: Wes Craven, Johnny Depp, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, and Robert Englund- lovely ingredients for a tasty Halloween Pie. This is the original and best, before the horrific character of Freddy (Here just Fred) became a snuggleable, bantering chum. What could be better for Halloween than scaring yourself so badly that you can’t sleep- knowing that something terrible may be waiting for you in your dreams. A story with more depth than it gets credit for, dealing with the Craven standard of ill-advised parenting and how the children have to cope with the mistakes of the elders, this is full of genius set pieces and bloody action. Classic Halloween Scene: Nancy gets a bloody post coital surprise- but not what you’d expect. And did they say she was 14??
Alien: Often described as Halloween in space, or a Haunted House in Space, Alien deals with our fears of isolation, of being trapped, of being in s situation way beyond our control and way above our heads. Remove the alien, remove the setting, and this could be any slasher movie from the time. However, that would be taking away the fun, the fear, the atmosphere, and the ingenuity. This is dark, claustrophobic stuff, and the perfect film for Halloween to make you look out the windows into pitch darkness and wonder if something is staring back. Classic Halloween Scene: Dallas goes hunting, but realizes too late that he is the prey.
The Blair Witch Project: Similar to Alien this deals with our fears of isolation and the un-experienced unknown, but spices things up with issues of abandonment, paranoia, and things that go bump in the woods. A classic survival tale for city folk poking their ill-prepared noses where they don’t belong, Blair Witch succeeded because of it’s innovative filming and marketing techniques. It still succeeds today amongst a rubbish tip of similar films because the plot is solid, the acting is real, the rising tension and fear played out between the characters feels exactly like how we would react, the growing dread is almost unrivalled, and the climax is absolutely chilling. Classic Halloween Scene: The search for Josh in the freakshow house at the end will get you tingling and gripping the seat every time.
Creepshow: Halloween isn’t just about traumatizing each other, it’s also about good old fashioned camp-fire tales to warm the heart and soul. This is cheesy at times, but never boring or irritating, it feels nostalgic both for children of the 80s and of the 50-60s. The tales are brief, well written and acted, the effects are still top-notch with an earthy feel, and the scares are tense and fun. Classic Halloween Scene: Trying to convince your abusive wife to enter a box where a monster lives has never looked so enjoyable.
Candyman: Both Cliver Barker and Tony Todd are vital ingredients in any scare-fest- put them together and you’d better have a few spare pairs of pants lying around. An intellegent, sexy, city based horror which merges old world supernatural fears with the modern world of big business, CSI policework, snooping journalists, and end of the century hairdos. Barker at his height was a fountain of invention, bringing a freshness to the genre which made everyone else’s ideas look like old creaky mummy movies. Candyman merges urban myths with ancient folklore, mysticism with science, gore and shocks with beauty and lyricism. Todd’s presence is as powerful as any of the classic monsters, while Madsen gives a refreshing twist on the final girl character. Classic Halloween Scene: Hook through the chest.
Carrie: One for the teens this, though it may have aged some due to being so authentically 70s, the scares and the themes of abuse, loneliness, bullying, and separation are no less relevant or universal today. The story is simple but pumped up by ideas of religion, extremism, and psychotic mummies (not those ones). The acting by the main players is superb, there is something bleak about the whole sordid business, and we manage both to sympathize with and be scared by Carrie. And wish we had her gift. De Palma twists the tension knobs until they break off, though some of the intrusive camera guff is laughable now. Classic Halloween Scene: Everything between the bucket dropping and the school burning.
Child’s Play: The evil doll is a well worn sub genre of horror, but one which has very few, if any, classics. Child’s Play is amongst the best, and the series is certainly the most notorious. Like many 80s horrors, the series was unfairly derided for it’s supposed impact on our youth with some people going so far as blaming it for some grisly murders. As with most of these series, the quality decreased as the sequels increased, but the original remains surprisingly effective given the silly subject matter. If you don’t know the story- multi murdering maniac transfers his soul into a popular doll moments before his death, doll is picked up by young boy, doll begins murderous rampage again until it realises that it needs to sacrifice the boy to become human again. There are sure to be some laughs, some screams of just kick him in the balls and throw hm out the window!’, but maybe a few jumps too. Classic Halloween Scene: Chucky terrorizes the baby-sitter and we all jump when the phone rings.
Dawn Of The Dead: There is something quite special which you may not know about Dawn. If you watch it at Dawn- depending on where you live etc, try to time it where the film will just be ending as the sunrises. Then go for a walk immediately. It’s likely there won’t be many people around. The ones you will see will probably be shambling. The bleak nature of the film rarely hits harder than in these moments and you will surely look around yourself and feel a stark aura fill your being. There are few things more terrifying than waking up to an otherwise beautiful day and not wanting to be any part of it. Classic Halloween Scene: So many to choose from, from funny, to scary, to bleak, but I’ll go for the truck parking section as we realize that paradise can quickly become hell, and a haven can suddenly become a tomb.
Day Of The Dead: Surely the most grim of all the DEAD films, this is perfect Halloween viewing, not only because of the exquisite gore and effects. Claustrophobia and paranoia again play a large part, and you can’t help wondering why all these psychopaths keep getting in the way of your enjoyable apocalypse. Most people would be happily looting and whiling away their days watching DVDs, playing games, reading books, getting drunk, but there always has to be a crazy doctor or maniacal military group to spoil your good times. Halloween is all about good times, stick this on to reap the benefits. Classic Scene: When the Zombies step on the lift and it begins moving downwards- you just know all hell is about to break loose.
Dracula (30s): A classic to chill the bones of all comers, this still has the ability to… worry those who haven’t seen it before. A film that’s almost a hundred years old- how could that possibly be scary? Well, there’s a reason why this is still considered the best version. Classic Halloween Scene: When Harker first meets The Count.
The Exorcist: Now we get into the truly demanding territory. A rarity in the genre, The Exorcist was a massive financial and critical hit upon release, pampered with awards and then…uh, banned. It may not be as hard-hitting these days, but it’s still rough, creepy stuff. Plus it is played extremely coldly, and without a hint of humour. This is as bleak as horror gets, and even the supposed happy ending leaves us with a bitter, fearful taste. Excellent performances, bewildering jump scares, and freaky moments all conspire to chill the soul and ensure you cuddle up to your beloved in bed. Classic Halloween Scene: Spider walk.
The Evil Dead: This was mostly played for scares over the played for laughs sequel, and while there is humour here, the main focus is on sudden frights and wonderful, innovative camera techniques. You’ll have fun watching this one as each character gets picked off, comes back, and gets picked off again. Classic Halloween Scene: Cheryl at the window, not in the cupboard.
Friday The 13th: One of the original slashers and one of the most successful, this one has plenty of ideas and violence, and staples of the sub genre which have now become clichés. It has dated, it is silly and quite tame, but it was made with love and ambition and freshness. The ending is shocking, the performances are ok, and there isn’t a hockey mask in sight. Classic Halloween Scene: Arrow through the neck- don’t have sex kids.
Final Destination: Another rarity- an inspired modern horror film with great ideas which blends humour and genuine frights. We have a series of characters who rather than getting picked off one by one in an uncaring fashion, are shown to be real kids with real lives, fears, and concerns- and then they are picked off one by one in increasingly exciting, tense, and innovative ways. A film which deals with our fear of death, of inevitability succeeds on every level. Classic Halloween Scene: During a heated discussion in his car, one reckless character refuses to accept that his life is pre-destined or that death is stalking his every move. To prove the point he parks his car on train tracks with his friends as the train hurtles towards them. He soon realizes he was wrong.
The Fog: One of the great campfire spook stories, The Fog is still sadly underrated. Carpenter creates a wonderful atmosphere here which suits the season perfectly- even better if you’re near the sea or if there is fog around. Classic Halloween Scene: The introduction with the wizened old sailor sets the tone for the rest of the show, and should set the tone for your night.
Hellraiser: Another British one now, offering something different from our American cousins. We have sex, violence, lots of gore, and some S&M themed fun. This is gritty in an Eastenders sort of way- you don’t really want to look or have anything to do with these characters. Classic Halloween Scene: When Kirsty first meets the Cenobites- what is the finger in the mouth about?
Halloween: What more can I say? This is the movie which should be watched every Halloween- not only is it a genuine classic of the genre and a kick-ass movie no matter which way you look at it, it drips with and evokes that special Seasonal feeling that few things do. Make this the highlight of your night. After you’ve cut some throats. Classic Halloween Scene: Young Laurie runs screaming down her street being chased by a murderous maniac. She clambers to the front door of a neighbour, knocks and begs for help. A light is turned on. Then switched off. Did they think it was just kids messing around? Were they too afraid to help? Welcome To America folks.
Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (70s): Some us like to dress up at Halloween as ghosts, vampires, or our favourite horror movie characters. Some people go further and pretend to be the person that the costume depicts. This definitive version of Bodysnatchers takes the idea of hiding behind a costume to dramatic and terrifying extremes- what if person next to you on the bus, your neighbour, your friend, your wife, or child was no longer the person they once were? In fact, what if some alien creature had taken their body as host and was walking around as an imperfect mockery of that person’s life? What if this alien race had designs on all your friends and everyone you’ve ever known, and what if you were next? This chilling view of a world snatched away from under our noses is all about loss of identity and mistrust, and makes for unsettling Halloween viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: The final moments. I’ll say no more.
Night Of The Living Dead: A staple of midnight viewing, the surrounding darkness makes the black and white all the more stark and cold; There are no easy answers or happy endings here. If you are watching this with a group of people, ask yourself which ones you would trust in a life/death situation. If your cosy home was surrounded suddenly by thousands of undead, who amongst you would come out as leader? Would you sit back, would you make decisions, would you think only of yourself or would you think of the safety of the group? Either way, you’re bound to get a chewing. Classic Halloween Scene: They’re coming to get you, Barbara.
The Omen: So far we don’t trust our neighbours and friends, but what if you thought your son was the Antichrist? The Omen is an apocalyptic film in more than one way and is filled with strong performances, gripping and bloody deaths, and a memorable, frightening score. Music is often pivotal in horror movies, and as you clamber the stairs to bed after this, with infernal monks chanting obscenities in your head, that corner of darkness you can’t quite see clearly may fill with unspeakable evil more readily. Classic Halloween Scene: Damian decides to ride his bike.
Prince Of Darkness: I find this to be Carpenter’s most underrated film mostly because it is awesome and should be mentioned in the same breath as Halloween and The Thing. Sure the plot is messed up with it’s evil green satanic liquid taking over zombies and bums mixed with time-travelling dream messages and psych jargon, but seriously it is awesome. It has more effective jump scares than any of his other shows and there is a creeping sense of dread and atmosphere throughout. In many ways it is classic Carpenter- a group of different thrown together in a building who have to team together or fall apart and stand against an overpowering threatening external force. It is a siege movie, it is clever for the genre though at times it doesn’t know what genre it wants to be. I think that was part of the fun though- like Big Trouble In Little China it is more than just it’s labels instead transcending notions of what it should or shouldn’t be, and is well ahead of it’s time. Classic Halloween Scene: The final survivors holding up behind some furniture while one of the crazies admires himself in a mirror with a large blade.
Ring: Please please please watch the Japanese version, not the abomination that is the remake. Sure the remake has plenty of jump moments, but it also has a deer on a boat, Brian Cox in a bath, and a director who decides it would be clever to cut away from the movie’s most important scene for the sake of a car chase. The original has Nanako Matsushima and Hiroyuki Sanada and if that isn’t enough of a recommendation then please remove thine eyes from mine page post haste. Watch this deep into the night, possibly as the last film, then play the lovely game of phone your friend once they have left to terrify them. Unfortunately the ideas first seen here have been so over-used that these games have become diluted, but the film still has an unflinching power. Not a drop of blood is shed, there are no knives, guns, or people bursting in from behind doors with a loud noise- this is the best horror film of the nineties and goes against everything that decade threw at us. And it’s a damn good story with excellent performances. Classic Halloween Scene: Sadako. TV. Sleep tight.
Scream: The second best horror movie of the nineties is the stuff of parties. By know everyone should have seen it, but many of you will have forgotten it and how good it still is. Plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and action as well as a script the quality of which horror movies rarely get. And my beloved Neve Campbell is in it. Few horror films provide this much entertainment whilst still being scary, funny, and clever. The nods to horror movies will keep the nerds amongst your bunch happy and you can shout out when you spot a reference. Classic Halloween Scene: The final house chase scene as Neve doesn’t know where to run or who to trust.
The Shining: It’s rare for most people to get snow at Halloween, even more rare to be completely snowed in and surrounded. Try replacing the notion of snow with rain or darkness- would you want to go wandering outside if it was completely dark or hammering down? Anyway, this is another film which plays on isolation, claustrophobia, and paranoia. It’s probably best not to watch this one as a cosy night in flick with your little family- you’ll start wondering what the hell is going through each other’s minds. This is a giant of the genre with heaps of atmosphere and plenty of unsettling moments which deserves to be menti0ned at any Horror Movie Marathon. Classic Halloween Scene: Danny was warned not to go in that room. Prepare to be scared when Daddy goes looking too.
Silence Of The Lambs: The critic’s choice. Don’t invite any critics to your party as they will moan, groan, bore your girlfriends, and likely drink all your wine. There should be wine. This is nasty stuff from start to end as poor Jodie Foster tries to solve a murder whilst hiding her own fears from the unlikely Terminator Anthony Hopkins. This is better suited to smaller group viewing as it isn’t exactly cheery, blood n guts fun but it does the job when you’re on your own. Classic Halloween Scene: Anything with Bill really.
The Thing: In many ways the ultimate John Carpenter film, the ultimate macho man fest, and the number 1 examination of the paranoia which creeps into people during periods of isolation. The effects here still blow me away and they are only part of a long list of quality to describe this film- look at the cast, the performances, the music, the scares, the cinematography, and the way Carpenter drags the tension out of every shot until we don’t know who has been infected and who hasn’t. Great action adds to the great scares, but the special effects and story are kings here. Classic Halloween Scene: When the survivors are tied to chairs and Mac goes through each one by one to test if any are not human. Genius.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: This one still hurts today- it’s just so damn grim, dirty, and repulsive as to make the horror timeless. Sure they scares may be cliché now and the gore is almost non-existent, but the low down atmosphere, the miniscule budget, and the amateur (but good) performances all conspire to make this uncomfortable watching. I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who still think that there could be a family like this in their town, just as much as I’m sure that there probably are still families or people like this in the world- maybe not in your town, but possibly the next one over. And chainsaws are awfully easy to come by these days. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire dinner scene. Truly horrific, the use of sound and various camera techniques make this one of the most intense few minutes in any horror movie.
28 Days Later: A modern classic, and one of the few great British horror movies of the last few decades. Taking riffs from Romero and King this is a post apocalyptic survivalist’s wet nightmare. Empty streets, shops to loot, cars to steal- all great if it wasn’t for the hundreds of thousands of psychopaths charging towards you in search of your blood. This is the 21st century folks, and zombies ain’t got time to amble and stumble about- these are confident, successful, modern big business, stepping up to the plate, corporate bull-shitting zombies, and they won’t take closing a door in their face for an answer. If you can’t run fast, you’re screwed. And just to make things Mega Man 9 difficult- these fiends don’t even have to bite you to kill/convert you- one drop of their blood/saliva entering your body, through a gash, a scratch, a kiss, or a tear is enough it recruit you. And sheesh! They don’t even give you time to grieve for your fallen comrade- within seconds of getting exposed, your best friend will be diving for your jugular too. My advice- kill everyone you see and hide under a pile of coats till it all goes away. Classic Halloween Scene: An abandoned car sitting in the middle of an abandoned London- nothing to fear but technology.
The Wicker Man: Nothing to fear but religion. Look closely enough and all religions begin to look like cults; they all have a figurehead, the followers worship the figurehead unquestionably and offer prayers, thanks, songs, and sacrifices, there are certain rituals usually borne of centuries long since dusted, those involved are usually inviting to outsiders in person, but have a secret hatred, anger, or issue against them once backs are turned. So we have The Wicker Man, possibly the best British Horror Film of the whole sorry lot. Aah, the confusion of two worlds colliding as we watch a upstanding lawman and guardian of his own archaic faith fall victim ever so slowly to a cult even more decrepit than his own. He knows something terrible is amiss, but it isn’t until his toes turn to cinders that he realizes his fate was sealed the second his feet touched the land. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first see Mr Straw and realize our hero’s fate.
Paranormal Activity: Proof not only that horror movies still have the power to scare, entertain, and bring in the mega bucks, proof not only that a good story well executed can be more than a match for buckets of blood, but also proves that in this day and age of $200 million dollar movies that a small group with talent, an idea, and a few months worth of average salary can make a great movie. Romero did it in the 60s, Carpenter did it in the seventies, Raimi in the 80s, Myrick and Sanchez in the 90s, and now Oren Peli has continued the tradition. Using every trick in the book he has made a classic pastiche of the genre and a thrill ride akin to running naked through a field of land mines. The setting of the movie is perfect for Halloween viewing- primarily it is set in the home and most of the scares happen at night- the film invades you with a sense that you aren’t safe in your own house and makes you take a second or third glance at that cup that you swore you set on the table which now sits on the ground. Likely to lose its impact with subsequent viewings this is best served to people who haven’t seen it. The scares (while you sense them coming) are unexpected and rewarding and while the characters are painfully annoying, you’ll still soil your drawers. Classic Halloween Scene: NEVER leave your foot hanging out of bed.
Trick R Treat: Anthology movies have had their heyday- we had a succession of British hits in the 70s, then a slew of bloodier efforts in the 80s. Then for 20 years anthology fans didn’t have a lot to be excited about aside from a few cheap efforts (although Asia did produce some great ones at the turn of the century). Trick R Treat is good enough to kick start a revolution in the genre, or at least it would have been had it been released in any cinemas. Straight to DVD (yet with a decent budget and big name cast) Trick R Treat features four shorts linked by an over-arcing plot and is to Halloween what presents are to Christmas. This one is destined to be shown and loved every Halloween for years to come, possibly as a double header with Carpenter’s classic. Classic Halloween Scene: The creepy opener sets the tone for the movie and features everything we love about the season, dripping with atmosphere, and settling us in for a bumpy ride.
Please leave your comments and suggestions for films you think are best viewed at Halloween, and let us know which films terrified you when you were growing up at this time of year.
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.