An Eye for an Eye (Red Eye, 2005)

The same year as Cursed, Craven gave us Red Eye. An entirely different creature than Cursed or Scream, Red Eye is a thriller set primarily on a plane. Rachel McAdams is hotel concierge Lisa, returning home to Miami after a funeral.

While waiting for her flight, she meets the charming Jack. And, for awhile, he seems to be a friendly guy…but once the flight is in motion, he reveals a dark motive. He tells Lisa that if she does not do him a favor, he will have her father killed.

Red Eye is, in contrast to Curse, a tight and tense story that never overstays its welcome. In the course of ten minutes, we learn that Lisa has been devoted to her job and has a “always serve the customer” ethic. When the young woman filling in for her, Cynthia, struggles with demanding regulars, Lisa politely chastises her. Lisa serves and as the film goes on, we discover there are reasons for her having chosen this attitude.

McAdams is someone you root for in the film, she is kind and loves her dad. Her increasing determination and Jack’s ability to interfere keep you at the edge of your seat. There is a moment early in the film where Lisa tries to calm down an irate and impatient person in line and Cillian Murphy’s Jack steps in when he continues to be rude. He is excessively polite with the man, but then gives him this look that suggests he could end the guy in a second, causing the man to back down.

Honestly, I cannot understand why we did not get some more of these from Craven. Effective and exciting smaller films would have paid off wonderfully for Craven, I suspect. He does such a terrific job here,I feel like we missed out.

Once Bitten (Cursed 2005)

For Cursed, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson teamed up to bring us a take on a different type of horror. Rather than slashers, they tackle werewolves. Jimmy and Ellie are brother and sister who witness a car accident one night, when they attempt to help the driver, they are both bitten by a wild animal that mauls the driver.

But as the days pass, the siblings both find they are feeling different. They heal quickly and Jimmy finds himself becoming both a better athlete and more desirable to people. While Ellie is skeptical of Jimmy’s werewolf theory, she becomes convinced as she feels the changes coming on. They then try and determine how to free themselves of the curse. In the grand tradition, they must end the blood line of the werewolf that bit them.

They discover who the werewolf is and then have to fight to end their curse. But there are complications…is the werewolf the one that is killing people?

You know…unlike Scream, this effort from Williamson and Craven lacks any punch. It has some decent twists and fun moments (for example, Jimmy’s dog gets infected and becomes a werewolf dog). But this really feels like an attempt by Craven to make a film in someone else’s style. Lots of fast cuts, rock music driving the soundtrack. I know Scream did something similar, but more effectively. This film has a good core cast, but is also filled with a very early aughts TV cast. You have actors from Dawsons Creek and Smallville. Pop singers.

There are no scares in this werewolf tale and it really collapses under its own reference heavy weight.

Scream and Scream Again (Scream 3, 2000)

Unlike Scream 2, this follow up took three years. And was it worth the wait?

Set a few years after the second film, Sydney lives in a remote location and is employed as a crisis hotline worker. But when murders start occurring the set of the latest Stab film (the movie series within the series based on the events of the series), Gail, Dewey and Sydney find themselves pulled into the plot of a possible trilogy.

Bringing everyone together for this one is a bit more convoluted. Dewey has been hired by the actress playing Gale (Parker Posey who is terrific and plays off against Cox really well). Gale is there to investigate after the killing of Cotton Weary. And Sydney is there… because? Like I said…convoluted. And while the film makes an effort to be clever…it just feels tired.

The twists and reveals are downright tortured as the film reveals a mastermind who was behind the other two films.

While there are some fun things in the film, and it is not unbearable…you can tell this was not written by Kevin Williamson who was too busy with Dawson’s Creek to return. And so only hal;f the magic is there. Craven does what he can, but Scream 3 feels like a true stumble for the franchise, especially for one to end on.

Back At It (Scream 2, 1997)

Scream was a massive success, and a sequel was green-lit and put out right away. Like, barely a year later. And for a lot of horror films, that can be a bad sign. So is Scream 2 a rush to cash in on success?

Picking up one year after the first film, Sydney is at college trying to make a new life. The past keeps haunting her though. The exonerated Cotton Weary (accused of killing Sydney’s mother) is insisting on Sydney participating in an interview with Gail Weathers. But the killings begin again, this time on the campus. Conveniently, Sydney and Randy decided to go to the same college, so Randy can explain the rules of a slasher sequel. THERE ARE RULES, PEOPLE.

Deputy Dewey shows up so that we can have some romantic conflict with he and Gail and the four survivors can investigate the killings on campus.

Scream 2 is written by Williamson and directed by Craven…and this is more of a case of striking while the iron is hot. The return of Campbell, Cox, Arquette and Kennedy makes for a lot of fun. They all have a real chemistry together. The new additions are a cast of solid talent… even in smaller roles (Timothy Olyfant and Liev Schreiber are guys who can carry films as leads).

The writing does not cheat, even the repeating of incidents from the first film are deliberate call backs. Craven’s direction is on still strong. Scream 2 is one of those rare sequels that feels like it compares to the original favorably. It is clear that Williamson and Craven had a vision for a continuation of Sydney’s story. And I think what helps here is that Scream is not about its killer. It is about Sydney Prescott and her friends. This makes Scream 2 an admirable follow up.

I Wanna Hear You (Scream, 1996)

The slasher ruled the late seventies and well into the eighties. But in the early nineties, the slasher was looking to be dead. And then came the future creator of Dawson’s Creek.

An ambitious writer, Kevin Williamson arrive in L.A. in 1990…/and then saw no success for a few years…his first script sold, only to not get made until after Williamson’s script for Scream fell into the hands of Mirimax and Wes Craven.

Scream is the story of a small town beset by gory murders of local teens. Our central antagonist is Sydney Prescott. A year before the murders, her mother was brutally killed by her lover. Sydney has tried to come to terms with the tragic loss through her friendships. Her boyfriend Billy straddles the line of supportive and selfish as he really wants to have sex with Syd, while she is rather hesitant. But after the first murder, it seems the killer is not content with the act of murder alone. No, the killer is playing a cruel game.

Testing his victims with horror movie trivia, teasing them with the notion of survival if they can just answer the questions right. In a way, the killer (nicknamed Ghostface) is your typical gatekeeping Internet troll.

The killer seems focused on Sydney, and after a failed attack on Sydney, the cops focus on protecting her along with the crime. There is a lot of stuff going on in Scream and a big cast. So trying to recount the plot seems pointless.

Just know that Scream really delivers the goods. Williamson has crafted a solid script full both great scares and the humor that his scripts became known for. The kids have defined personalities that separate them from each other. And you tend to like them.

The cast is really quite good. Campbell proved she could carry a movie, Courteny Cox showed range beyond Monica on Friends and David Arquette was a lovable deputy that was supposed to die by fan love saved him.

Skeet Ulrich was one of those guys who looked like someone else (he and Johnny Depp could play brothers in a film) but also had a certain draw. The stand outs are Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy. Sadly, this series is the only place where Kennedy shined. Lillard just turns the insanity up throughout this film and is a real goofy joy to watch chew the scenery.

This is a nice comeback for Craven on the heels of Vampire in Brooklyn. His direction keeps a consistent tone throughout. The satire never comes into conflict with the horror. And when Craven builds the tension, it is effective without being oppressive.

Scream is a fun and exciting thriller. And almost 25 years later? It is just as effective. I mean, I know the twists, yet, I still had a great time watching this year. Craven and Williamson proved a solid team with this film and it is one of my favorite slasher films.

Vampire Swipes Right (Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995)

Vampire In Brooklyn was a meeting of minds. Eddie Murphy was coming off a string of films and sequels that were not failures, but not grand successes. Eddie states he agreed to make the film for the studio for the rights to the Nutty Professor.

Maximillion is the last of a clan of Caribbean vampires who arrives one night in Brooklyn via a large freighter. He is seeking a woman to be his queen, and to help him, turns small time hood Julian into a servant ghoul.

Maximillion is searching for a woman born of a vampire and he discovers police detective Rita ( ridiculously gorgeous Angela Bassett) is the woman he is seeking. As he tries to enter her life, he runs into competition from her partner.

Vampire in Brooklyn really feels like a movie competing with itself. On the one hand, it is a gory vampire flick. On the other hand? It is an Eddie Murphy comedy that has the things you expect, like Eddie in various costumes as side characters. One is an Al Sharpton styled preacher which does result in an amusing scene where he bursts into flame and convinces the congregation to rush outside.

It is not that comedy and horror cannot mix, and honestly it is hard to tell where the conflict lies. I have read accounts that Eddie and the other writers intended this to be a more serious vampire film and it was Craven who altered the tone. Other accounts suggest that Craven pushed for Eddie to play the role more serious and Eddie did his own thing.

The movie is full of terrific performers, and so there are plenty of fun bits. Kadeem Hardison’s Julius finds himself falling apart as his body begins to rot, which results in a lot of funny moments as he freaks out. John Witherspoon is funny. And I think it is the problem…these are all talented performers and creatives…but it often feels like they are all working in totally different movies.

Tele-Visions (Night Visions, 1989)

James Remar is Sergeant Thomas Mackey… a plays by his own rules guy who is forced to work with psychic Dr. Sally Powers (sigh) who has multiple personalities so solve his case. There is a serial killer who is killing women and…sigh.

Folks…I cannot say enough that this was a complete slog to get through. There were no surprises and it feel like the ultimate paycheck movie from Craven.

The characters are bland. The settings are boring. It feels like a dull; pilot for a dull series that the network wisely passed on. It is just terrible.

Shock Therapy (Shocker, 1989)

Shocker, Wes Craven’s follow up to the Serpent and the Rainbow is the entirely opposite animal. The story is that one night high school jock has a nightmare that a serial killer is murdering his family. He awakes and rushes to his family’s house where he is met by his police detective father who informs him their family has been slaughtered by the notorious local serial killer.

Using his dreams, Jonathan and his father ultimately identify and catch TV Repairman Horace Pinker. The evidence is damning and Pinker does not plead innocent, so it is a pretty slam dunk case. On the day of his execution, the guards find he has some elaborate set-up going on in his cell with his TV. While they fear he is killing himself, the audience can see he is performing some sort of ceremony.

Once in the chair, he uses his final words to to reveal that he is Jonathan’s real father. After the electrocution seems to go very wrong, they find Pinker is dead. But it turns out, Pinker’s body may be dead, but his spirit is alive and he can take over bodies.

Pinker and Jonathan begin a game where Jonathan hopes to find a way to stop Pinker’s new rampage, one where he can be anybody.

Where Serpent and the Rainbow was an attempt at a more serious film, and just a one off tale, Shocker feels like a blatant attempt to start a franchise with a new Freddy Krueger in Horace Pinker. But the inspiration is obviously from the late era Freddy. Pinker is a violent psychopath with a one liner for any situation. The dream connection feels like Craven was not even trying to set Pinker apart.

I enjoy a lot of the characters, even though the majority of them are fodder for Pinker to kill in his attempts to destroy Jonathan’s life. But without a doubt, Mitch Pileggi seems to be having a good time in the role.

Shocker gets incredibly goofy, as Horace can jump through TV signals as well as bodies. So when we see him outside of bodies he is transparent and has a static effect applied to him. When a person is possessed, the tell is that they have Pinker’s limp. I am not sure why his spirit would have a limp…but whatever, it is his tell. The goofiness goes off the rails when Jonathan and Pinker are flying in and out of TV shows and TV’s (landing in random living rooms, impacting television shows). And honestly? This is what kind of saves the movie.

While it lacks any nuance or deep themes, Shocker is a ridiculous and fun movie with a rock and roll soundtrack. I am almost a bit sad we never got Shocker’s two through six.

Dead and Buried and Back Again (The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1988)

Taking inspiration from author Wade Davis’ book of the same name, Wes Craven explores spirituality and politics. This is not a direct adaption of the book, with Bill Pullman playing Dr. Dennis Alan. Alan is sent by his employer (a pharmaceutical company) too Haiti to investigate the stories of Christophe, a man who died in 1978, but has reappeared from the dead.

While there, Alan starts to work with Dr. Marielle Duchamp, who is treating Christophe. With her help, he is introduced to practitioners of Voodoo who are open to teaching him how to make the toxins that produce the zombie state. Dennis is convinced there are medicinal uses that would revolutionize medical care.

However, Haiti is in a state of revolution, and runs afoul of the local corrupt constable Dargent Peytraud (played with ominous relish by Zakes Mokae). After a threat to his life Alan realizes he cannot escape Peytraud’s grasp and returns to Haiti to help the friends he has made and confront Peytraud.

For the two thirds of the story, Craven plays things a bit coy. Any horror moments could simply be happening in his head, under the influence of hallucinogens. Up until the moment he returns to the United States, Voodoo is treated pretty respectfully. But then the film swerves into horror fantasy with a spiritual showdown between Alan and Peytraud.

The effects in the film are really solid with all sorts of creepy imagery. But what really stands out is the beautifully shot scenery. Filmed largely on location in Haiti, the cinematographer John Lindley takes full advantage of the environments.

Wade Davis has expressed some disappointment with the film for how it sensationalizes Voodoo, while the whole point of his book was to present it as a valid religion alongside the more popular and accepted religions of the world. He does not seem to lay this at Craven’s feet, whom he has suggested was trying to make something less in the horror vein (Davis had hoped for something more like the Year of Living Dangerously). He feels the studio kept the pressure on to provide them with a Wes Craven thriller.

While the film has some tonal flaws, it is still a very strong return to form for Craven, especially after Deadly Friend. This is Craven managing to bring his more intellectual ideas alongside his thriller instincts. And it works. This is an engaging film worth a watch.

Friendship is Science! (Deadly Friend, 1986)

Paul is a tech genius teen who has built his own robot named BB. BB has the ability to learn and grow in intelligence. When Paul and his mother move to a new neighborhood, he is befriended by Sam (a girl abused by her father) and Tom. The three form a bond which is shaken up when Sam is accidentally killed by her father.

Paul uses BB’s brain to re-animate Sam’s body. Paul hides Sam in a shed, but she goes out to explore and starts killing people who wronged Sam and BB. Paul finds this a problem as he tries to cover for Sam, but he is terrible at this. Instead, his lies start falling apart and when Tom threatens to go to the police and expose him, Sam goes on the attack. Seeing the threat, Paul tries to stop her so she is not killed (again). But it is clear that Sam and BB are not the girl Paul wanted to bring back.

Deadly Friend is an interesting concept and one of the early forays into the idea of IA and learning computers. BB’s design falls into the cute robot category and has a fun vocal provided by Roger Rabbit’s Charles Fleischer.

The film makes use of dreams and nightmares, much like a lot of Craven’s work. And the early parts of the film are equal parts fun and ominous. The film makes it clear that Sam’s father beats her showing bruises. But there is also the disturbing implication that he has raped her as well.

But where the film goes wrong is the choices made with the resurrected Sam. To show Sam is more reanimated flesh, they give her dark under-eyes and pale skin with light blue lips. This would be fine, if the choice was made to give her slightly more natural movement. While you could argue that her movements should be awkward, as BB is not used to walking. And there are moments where it is clear Sam/BB are trying to understand what is going on. But there was a clear and conscious choice for Kristy Swanson to move like a robot. BB had metal pincers for hands. So Sam walks around like this…


It just looks hilarious, rather than scary or threatening. I do not know who thought this was a good idea. But it definitely makes it hard to take anything in the film seriously.

Deadly Friend had real potential on paper, but the execution is a pretty big disappointment. I mean, except for Anne Ramsey as the mean old neighbor who gets killed in a rather funny and memorable kill.

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