Films which make the strongest impression on us make that impression for a reason. Sometimes that reason might be a slight one: you were in the right mood, you had nothing else to watch, everyone else liked the film and you can see exactly why. However, as you continue to study films, you will soon discover that the movies you remember the most typically have one thing in common: the story structure is solid.
As this thorough video essay by Cristobal Olguin points out, Wes Craven’s films are perfect to study for their structure. His films teach us that within any scene that truly frightens you, there are numerous relationships and correspondences that produce that feeling of fear. If one is missing, the entire effect might be lost.
Many of these elements are bound up in storytelling, in the little tricks Craven uses to move his tale along. This video takes a close look at a couple of the techniques Craven uses in Scream, written by Kevin Williamson.
[Spoiler alert twenty-one years later: this video reveals whodunnit in Scream.]
By the time you find out who the real killer is in Scream, you might not care. The movie has become less about suspense and more about how to tell a story. Using traditional story techniques in new and interesting ways can give your story a unique structure, such as Craven achieved from Williamson’s script for Scream.
Cool A Nightmare on Elm Street poster art… Happy Birthday Robert Englund.
In the town of Riverton, a psychopathic killer with split personalities is shot after killing his pregnant wife and is about to kill his daughter. En route to hospital he attacks the Police (again) and the ambulance crashes, his body is never recovered.
16 years later, seven teenagers born on the night of the ‘Riverton Rippers’ demise gather at a yearly ritual to ward off the evil spirit of the ripper who may want to kill them as they just might be hosts for the souls of his victims, released into their newborn bodies the night he died. The kids are a check-list of high school personalities, there’s the bullying jock Brandon (Nick Lashaway), pretty girl Brittany (Paulina Olszyinski), religious girl Penelope (Zena Grey), quick-witted geek Alex (John Magaro), Asian Jay (Jeremy Chu), blind black kid Jerome (Denzel Whitaker) and weird quiet kid Adam ‘Bug’ Heller (Max Thieriot). Bug has suffered more than most of the other kids; he was cut from his mother’s womb after she and Bug’s father were killed in a fatal car wreck. Bug has also suffered migraines, blackouts and hears voices, his older sister Leah/Fang (Emily Meade) doesn’t make his life any easier either, she spreads gossip and lies about Bug at school, convinced that her life was ruined the night Bug was born.
Now Bug is seeing visions of the teenage victims and taking on each of their odd affectations after they’re killed by the ripper. Is Bug absorbing their souls? Is he committing the crimes? Did the ripper survive and come back to wreak revenge? Who really cares..?
My Soul to Take is not one of horror guru Wes Craven’s better movies. The man who brought us ‘The Last House on the Left’, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, ‘Red Eye’ and ‘Scream’ has made another movie that has more in common with his lesser works ‘Shocker’ and ‘Cursed’. Not one of his better efforts then…
The script has a fairly simple premise. Can the souls of a killer and his victims survive within other bodies and can that killer’s soul exact revenge on his victims again? However Craven attempts to over complicate things as the movie nears its end, having characters extrapolating on the curse, their souls, the ripper and the real origin of Bugs grisly birth. The young cast are all fairly believable, proving yet again that Craven can elicit good performances from young actors better than most in the genre.
Not as bad as I’ve made it out to be, but I expect more from Craven. Rent one of his better movies.
Quality: 2 out of 5 stars
Any good: 2 out of 5 stars
I thought another list was overdue and wanted to do something slightly different. So over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a review of one of the five major groundbreaking horror movies of the late 60’s through early 80’s. The movies on the list are: The Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Halloween (1978) and The Evil Dead (1981). These movies set the templates that have been used to make and remake hundreds of horror movies of varying quality for the last 30+ years.
The first movie reviewed is The Last House on the Left. For no reason other than I lent my copy to a mate at work and when he gave it back to me I watched it again on the weekend.
On the eve of her birthday, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) and her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) borrow the family car to go to a concert in New York. They head to a seedier part of the city to score some marijuana before the show and it’s there they meet Junior (Marc Sheffler) who says he has some back at his apartment. The girls agree to go back with him. At the apartment Junior introduces the girls to his father Krug (David Hess), Weasel (Fred Lincoln) and their apparently shared partner Sadie (Jeramie Rain). Krug and Weasel are escaped convicts, dangerous and sadistic; they abuse and rape Phyllis in front of Mari.
The next day they put both girls in the car boot and head off to the country. They take the girls into the woods where their ordeal is about to get much worse. They dehumanise the girls, making them strip, soil themselves and touch each other, then they murder and dismember Phyllis. Krug cuts his name into Mari’s chest before he rapes and murders her.
The killers head to the nearest house under the guise of a family on the road, they say that their car has broken down and they need somewhere to stay. The house belongs to Mari’s parents (Gaylord St James and Cynthia Carr) who discover what has happened to their daughter… they wreak savage revenge on the gang one at a time.
Last House was directed by Wes Craven who went on to make ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Scream’ and was produced by Sean S. Cunningham who made the original ‘Friday The 13th’.
The reason that this movie retains such a reputation almost 40 years after its release is not only due to the savagery of the violence but the way it is portrayed. Craven said that he wanted to represent violence in the movie the way that he was seeing it on the TV news in shocking footage from Vietnam. The violence therefore is shot in a documentary style without any score, it looks and feels real. Craven then intercuts the violence with blissful scenes of the parents preparing Mari’s party and comedic scenes of two hapless policemen (Marshall Anker and Martin Kove) looking for the missing girls. The gang are shown enjoying the violence then becoming bored by it. The movie is also accompanied by an odd late 60’s style score by actor David Hess; it lyrically tells the story as it unfolds and throws those scenes off kilter with the feel of the rest of the movie. None of this should work, but intercut together in the verite style it combines to make the violent shots feel worse… and it works.
The movie is brutal, shocking, disturbing, sickening, depressing, sadistic, intense, tragic, and legendary and of course it’s groundbreaking. To avoid fainting keep repeating, it’s only a movie… only a movie… only a movie… only a movie.
The best DVD version is the UK 3 Disc Ultimate Edition. It contains 2 uncut versions of the movie and some excellent documentaries: Celluloid Crime of the Century and Krug Conquers England as well as outtakes and trailers. The real bonus is the 3rd disc which contains Going to Pieces: The Rise & Fall of the Slasher Film, a feature length documentary on the slasher film genre.
Quotes from the documentary: “It was a film very much on the edge” Wes Craven; “We didn’t know what we didn’t know” Sean Cunningham; “What you’re seeing in her face is real fear” Fred Lincoln; “It never gets so bad that it’s funny, it’s just so bad” Jeramie Rain
5 out of 5 stars
Scream 4 opens with a parody of a parody of a parody… of itself. It sets its store out early to leave us in no doubt as to its intentions; this movie is all about the sequels. From the opening movie within a movie shots, lampooning the ‘Stab’ movies, the movies of the events from Scream 1, 2 and 3 (try to keep up…) while constantly firing barbs at countless horror franchises, Scream 4 doesn’t let up.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is back in Woodsboro for the first time in ten years. She’s back to promote her self-help book, a riposte to all the hype that has surrounded her since the killings years before. In Woodsboro, Dewey (David Arquette) is now the town Sheriff and Gale (Courtney Cox) is now retired from journalism as a result of her hugely successful books about the Woodsboro murders. However Sidney’s appearance in town seems to have brought about a copycat ‘Ghostface’ killer.
Sidney stays with her sister Kate (Mary McDonnell) and niece Jill (Emma Roberts) who is receiving calls from the killer, the calls say that Jill and her friends (Hayden Panettiere etc) will be killed next. Within minutes her next door neighbour Olivia (Marielle Jaffe) is killed before their eyes. They all receive Police protection but as expected that only leads to the Policemen’s deaths, preceded by a humorous interchange about cops on protection duty dying in movies. Cue a steady stream of killings by Ghostface.
Just in case we’re not getting it, there’s the obligatory horror geeks explaining how the rules have changed, in sequels there have to be more killings, in more inventive ways, there has to be a party for the finale, but in the sequel this is a premise to the real finale… this aspect of the movie although fun in a nerdy way becomes a little tedious and I must admit I was willing these guys to be killed next.
After the dreadful Scream 3 this particular franchise seemed to be dead. The horror genre had moved on, ‘girls locked in basements and torture porn’ were in vogue, slasher film fare was old hat and unfortunately the awful ‘Scary movie’ series seemed to be where the kids were getting their horror laughs… although for the life of me I can’t fathom why.
The original cast members all slip back into their roles easily and the new kids are all fairly good, particularly Hayden Panettiere and Emma Roberts who is good in her best role yet.
Kevin Williamson is back as scriptwriter and does a good job throwing all the clichés in there and making them work; he and director Wes Craven are obviously having fun deconstructing the genre again.
Not great but better than Scream 3 and the slew of awful horror remakes and other franchise sequels we’ve had thrown at us by the studios over the last decade. A good laugh, this is more of a black comedy than horror movie but still contains enough decent slasher moments to keep horror fans happy.
Quality: 3 out of 5 stars
Any good: 3 out of 5 stars