On Ice (Chiller, 1985)

Miles Creighton was cryogenically frozen due to an incurable disease. Ten years later his chamber malfunctions. Miles is resuscitated, much to the joy of his mother.

But while his family is elated, the Priest his mother trusts worries that this is something that should never have been done.

Miles behaves in a creepy fashion at first, seeming distant and uncaring. He also seems to have some disturbed interests in his sister. Meanwhile, he starts to integrate back into the family business. As people begin to wonder if something is wrong with Miles, they have mysterious accidents (well, not to the audience). Miles is cold both to the touch and soul. Is this Miles? Or has something else returned in his body.

This is not a terrible concept, and there are all sorts of ways the film could have gone. It does raise the question of whether Miles was actually dead, or what became of his spirit. But this is done in a bland and basic way. There is no solid exploration of the meaning of life and death, and the spiritual dimension brought by the character of Reverend Penny (Paul Sorvini) is a very surface level Christianity.

Really the film leans towards being rather boring on top of a shallow exploration of the meanings of life death, life beyond death and the attempts to subvert mortality.

The Eyes Have It (The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, 1984)

Just on the verge of the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven got talked into a sequel to the Hills Have Eyes. and so they put together a script revolving around Bobby Carter and Ruby. Ruby apparently stayed with the surviving members of the Carter family after helping them escape her evil family.

Now Bobby and Ruby are part of a motor cross…uh…gang and they are going on a road trip. The film makes it clear that people are aware of the legend of Ruby’s family, and when the bus breaks down, they find themselves in the same vicinity. because…well, they have to so the story will work.

The truth is, this film was a labor of a paycheck. Craven had no real interest in making a sequel. And at one point they stopped filming because the studio ran out of funding for the film. When they later decided to have Craven finish the film, it did not get easier. They ended up relying heavily on archival footage from the first film to pad things out. And if you think I might be exaggerating…well…they have a scene where the dog has a flashback. The dog.

But honestly, the story is a convoluted mess and even with a bigger budget, there was little meat here. Characters decide to run off even after they know they are in trouble, rather than everyone banding together. At least in the first film, when the family split up, they mostly had no idea the danger they were in.

There is a blind girl with magical Daredevil level senses. Characters who spy on their naked friend while she showers and when discovered, he just stands in front of her talking to her like a creep.

You can tell Craven had little interest in making this tale and it really is embarrassingly bad.

Suburban Hell (Invitation to Hell, 1984)

So, if Deadly Blessing was mediocre? Invitation to Hell is a bit of a campy and predictable take. It opens with a driver who is making his way through a community. He is distracted and accidentally runs a woman over. It is okay, because she is Susan Lucci and is not going to die in the first three minute. She points a finger at the guy and he blows up or bursts into flame…I have already forgotten.

But the real focus of the (TV) movie Robert Urich as Matt Winslow. Matt is a scientist who has taken a high level job that requires his family to move to a prestigious community. There is an elite club run by Jessica Jones. She immediately sets about trying to convince Matt to join her club. While her family wants to join, Matt does not trust her.

Jessica tells Matt’s wife Pat that she could make an exception to the standard requirement of the entire family joining. So Pat and her kids commit to the club…with a whole selling your soul type of ceremony.

As time passes, Matt starts to feel like an outsider in both his family and the community at large. There are mysterious deaths and ominous goings ons…but um…well, it is pretty obvious between the title and early moments in the film…Matt has to save his family from hot demon lady.

I wish I could say this is campy fun…but it is boringly predictable and silly.

Dark Faith (Deadly Blessing, 1981)

Taking on religious zealotry, Deadly Blessing focusing on a couple who live in a farming community of Hittites. Jim was a Hittite, but left the faith when he married Martha. When Martha becomes pregnant, they seek the help of a local midwife who is also not a part of the Hittite community. When Jim is murdered one night, two of Martha’s friends come from the city to help and comfort her.

The women find themselves at odds with the local Hittite leader Isaiah who is certain they are a threat to his community, seductresses who tempt the men. When his son is murdered, things begin to escalate.

There are some pretty good frights in the film, especially some nightmares involving spider. Ernest Borgnine chews some scenery. The nightmare imagery hints at what was yet to come. But the storytelling just barely rises above the level of a TV movie (one of the writers was also a writer on Craven’s Summer of Fear). I never found myself feeling invested in the characters.

This is not a Wes Craven classic, and that is too bad. Seeing Craven explore religious and secular conflict feels like it would be fertile ground for him. But in the end, Deadly Blessing is fairly mediocre.

Replacement (Summer of Fear, 1978)

Wes Craven’s career took a detour into the world of TV movies. His first was the Linda Blair thriller Summer of Fear.

Blair plays Rachel, a teenager living in rural California with her loving family whose life gets shaken up when her recently orphaned cousin Julia comes to live with the family. As Julia seems to become accepted by the family and locals, Rachel starts to believe Julia is a menace out to replace her.

Rachel sees a series of misfortunes that convince her that Julia is a witch and sets out to convince her skeptical friends and family.

As TV movies go, this is… okay? There are no standout performances or anything. It is also not a very special effects heavy film. It is pretty forgettable and not particularly exciting. It certainly lacks Craven’s voice.

The Hills Are Alive With Blood (the Hills Have Eyes, 1977)

After some uh, detours, Craven returned to the horror scene. His return was a violent fight as a family finds their RV Camper breaking down in the middle of the desert. But the family does not realize that they are not alone. Somewhere in the seemingly barren hills around them there are a threat greater than the sun or scorpions.

Inspired by the Scottish legend of Sawney Beane and his family of robber cannibals. Adding to this was Craven’s appreciation for Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And the results? Unlike Last House on the Left, I find the Hills Have Eyes to be a film far easier to rivisit.

A focus on class warfare, or more civilized versus feral, the story follows the Carters. The family is on a road trip. They decide to take a shortcut, in spite of warnings against it from a local gas station owner. When their RV seems to blow a tire, the Carter assume nothing to be wrong. But as the hours pass, they start to become aware that they may not be alone. As things escalate, the Carters find themselves in a place of fear.

Not understanding what or who they are dealing with, the struggle becomes one for survival…which family walks away? Are the Carters bound to be a statistic of people who disappeared in the desert?

The central conflict of the Jupiter clan and the Carter family is an intense one. The Carters have clearly never had to fight tooth and claw, and so they have a steep learning curve.

This is a stronger narrative and Craven keeps a strong and oppressive tone through out the film. This is, in my opinion, the real start to showing what Craven was capable of and worth a watch.

Death of the Maiden (The Last House on the Left, 1972)

In the beginning of the 70’s Wes Craven was a college professor looking to transition his life. With the help of future Friday the 13th producer Sean S. Cunningham, Craven set out to write and direct his first film, a loose adaption of Ingmar Bergman’s the Virgin Spring.

The young Mari and her friend head off to see a concert in anticipation of her 17th birthday. But on the trip, the two young women end up crossing the paths of a sadistic group of escaped criminals. They proceed to rape and murder Mari’s friend, but Mari runs and falls into the river. Leaving her to die the crew seek a place to hide. They come across a remote house and convince the family to let them enter. The thugs are unaware that they have actually happened upon Mari’s family.

But later Mari appears at the house, on death’s door. Enraged, her parents set about bringing angry retribution up the criminals.

To be honest, the Last House on the Left is a movie I originally saw over 20 years ago.  It left me nauseous and I really doubted I would ever watch it again.  But I recently got the blu-ray incredibly cheap and decided to get it for the special features.

But I chose to watch the film once more to reassess the work.  And honestly, most of the film would be a workable crime thriller.  It has scummy bad guys lead by David Hess who is scary beyond words.  But the film also suffers from some tonal inconsistencies with the cops appearances in the film almost being comical.

But the thing that keeps me from recommending the film is not the rough edges of a new writer and director. It is the long and lingeringly graphic rape and murder sequence. Certainly, Craven does not play it for entertainment. It is excruciatingly gritty and uncomfortable to sit through. It makes this a film I just have no desire to return to.

In Dreams

Welcome to the month of October. Our theme this month is looking back at the films of Wes Craven. I have always been a fan of his work. Wes was a film maker who wanted to explore things in his stories. Social problems, family conflict, politics…he came from a religious background, as I did. And we both found ourselves leaving that faith…but drawn to storytelling.

Wes Craven

I won’t be cover Nightmare On Elm Street, New Nightmare or People Under the Stairs as I already have written about them. I will be covering the rest of his horror and thriller releases right on up to Scream 4. I will also be including his TV movies and the remakes of his work.

Tomorrow we begin with the Last House on the Left.

Holy Land Hell (Jeruzalem, 2015)

Found Footage films always feel like an attempt to make a movie on the cheap with a hope for big returns. Ghosts are common because they are easy to fake. Sometimes you can strike gold…but frankly, a lot of times you have a forgettable film with wide hollow eyed ghosts in asylums.

This film tries to be something a bit different. At times it reminded me of Cloverfield, but with a religious bent. the film opens with footage and voiceover referring to three gates from hell and one that was discovered. There are glimpses of winged demonic looking creatures being detained by the military.

The film then jumps to two friends planning a trip to visit Isreal. On the plain they meet a handsome archeologist and decide to follow him to Jerusalem. But what they expect to be a fun party time suddenly is shook when the military starts flooding the city and bombing areas. They find themselves locked in the city and along with others seek to avoid the the monsters that seem to be infesting the city and get outside the city walls through tunnels.

The winged demons attack people and then those people start to exhibit behavior not unlike a zombie. It is a race against time to survive.

Like a lot of found footage, the film struggles to justify keeping the camera running. The film has decent looking monsters, even if the early stage is just “black eyes”. But I did find myself curious to get a better idea of the creatures and their motives. There were glimpses of large creature that the Israeli military is firing on, but we never really find out the nature of that.

The film never devolves into a preachy, God’s Not Dead take on religion and really plays up the mystery of the even. Even at the end it is left unclear what brought this all on.

As I noted, the film struggles to justify the main character constantly filming and honestly, they start adding “battle damage” to the picture which is meant to give more realism (hey the lens is cracked!)… but honestly is become kind of annoying.

This is a pretty middle ground found footage film. It will not leave you frustrated…but it is not likely to be one you are talking about long after watching it.

The Antici-(The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975)

I had never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show until 2020. Like, I have heard many of the songs. I have seen pictures and heard about the midnight screenings. I am fully aware of Tim Curry’s fame largely being inspired by this role. I know of the film and it’s legend. But I have never, simply sat down and watched it.

And so now I have watched the the legendary film and…uh…

I did not hate it…it has it’s charms. But I don’t know that I loved it.  Maybe this is because the film made its cult status through being an interactive audience experience…and sitting in my living room alone is not the same.

The story feels largely like an inconsequential mess. But there is no denying that when Tim Curry comes on screen, he is just an absolute delight.  Curry is reckless in his enthusiastic performance and I really enjoy every moment he is on screen. This is not to downplay the other performances, as the central characters are all memorable and fun. But Curry has a habit of outshining people in films for me.

I am glad I finally took the time to watch the film for the music and the performances, feeling like I have filled in one of the most beloved midnight films of all time.



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