Archive for Wes Craven

Flame-Grilled Whopper

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2017 by dcairns

The people in my neighbourhood — my neighbours, in fact — who have been setting off their bonfire night fireworks since before Halloween, are undoubtedly arseholes, but I guess they aren’t as big arseholes as the person in my editor friend Stephen’s neighbourhood who set off at least one big firework in broad daylight. So there’s that. Anyway, we are now properly approach Guy Fawkes’s night — time for some pyrokinesis.

I yield to no one in my admiration for the good Tobe Hooper films, and I’ll stick up, in a half-hearted and befuddled way, for the merely strange ones which can’t quite be called good. And now I must admit that even the bad ones are still redeemingly peculiar… like SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, which stars Brad Dourif and ought to be better than it is. There aren’t enough movies with meaty roles for this thespian.

Something about Hooper seems to need incoherence, and here he has plenty of it, despite a lengthy prologue and lots of exposition setting up and then unravelling a fairly clear conspiracy story in which an adorable ’40s couple are irradiated by the US army and give birth to a pyrokinetic offspring, who grows up to be Dourif. This structure was obviously too sane for Hooper’s liking, so he augments it with things like: Melinda Dillon as a German scientist who doesn’t visibly age from 1945 to 1990; a nuclear power station plot line, complete with miniature cooling towers, that doesn’t ever pay off or connect to the rest of the story; John Landis making a cameo appearance with his knee exploding; Dourif turning into a luminous puddle for no reason.

Pure liquid Dourif.

This crazy stuff is actually quite welcome — we need more of it — because there’s a creeping blandness to the characterisation and dialogue and settings, though a few lines stand out. “I heard you burned your finger. Are you OK? Should I come over?” is a great little telephonic speech. How come I never get attention like that? I’m not such a bad guy when you know me.

Hooper’s filming style is elegant and expansive as ever, despite some obvious budget difficulties — the first two key deaths happen offscreen, which seems odd for this kind of movie, and the opening desert scene is a terribly cramped and unconvincing interior set.

Question: is the worst Tobe Hooper film better than the best Wes Craven film? On the basis that Hooper is always at least dementedly distracting, always has stylistic surprises. Craven joints are certainly efficient and loaded with suspense and jumps, but never look very interesting, to my eye. His NEW NIGHTMARE strikes me as the only one with an actual idea in play, which it proceeds to worry to death. With Craven, the good stuff and bad stuff are oddly interrelated, and there are sometimes more ideas than the films can handle.

John Landis’s knee explodes.

The Wind that Shakes the Barbie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 12, 2009 by dcairns


Wes Craven’s RED EYE is only an hour and fifteen minutes long. I mention that up front as a big justification for my having watched it. Also, Fiona brought it home from the shop she works in and demanded to see it. So I was just being sociable. She takes the view that Wes is due a return to form, while I take the view that he never had that much form to begin with.

That’s not quite fair, though. He’s an adept manipulator of the audience as far as shocks and suspense are concerned. Give him a scene of violent conflict and tension and he can be relied on to make a good, effective job of it. I never find anything very imaginative in his filmmaking, which always follows the fashion, with a little visual taste and conservatism to stop him going all Michael Bay on us.

If Craven has a particular, giant, glaring flaw, it’s probably in his casting. Rachel McAdams in RED EYE gives a “decent” performance, but she’s just not interesting. Probably she’ll get more interesting and authoritative with experience, if she can get the parts, but she just doesn’t have the fascinating essence, the life experience, or the skill to really hold a film together. She’s in a direct line of descent from Heather Langenkamp and Neve Campbell, and all these actresses played characters with traumatic backstories, but were completely unable to suggest any kind of tortured inner life going on behind their eerily smooth surfaces. It seems that all Craven requires of a starlet is a perfect complexion. (His interest in the skilled and magnetic Emily Mortimer, whom he cast in SCREAM III and his episode of PARIS JE T’AIME, is a saving grace.)

It’s a double shame, this casting of pert vacuums, since Craven has an ace up his sleeve with Cillian Murphy as his villain. Murphy has a handsomely sculpted potato for a face, and piercing blue special-effect eyes — he could join the Fremen in DUNE without touching a grain of spice. I want to say he’s intense  enough for two, but nobody is, given the collaborative nature of performance — nobody can strike sparks off a damp tea-towel.

The writing is fair-to-middling, with a constant supply of suspenseful situations, as Murphy blackmails hotel manager McAdams during a flight to Miami, so she will make a phone call and move a bullish Homeland Security politician into a different hotel room where he can be picked off by assassins. I was kind of uncomfortable with the idea that we should be rooting for a Republican reptile to survive the movie. But it was interesting to see that Craven was quite willing to buy into that and make a basically right-wing film, I was slightly surprised at him. The terrorists have no specific agenda or cause, like those in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE, but this struck me as more sinister in Craven’s case. It suits us in the West to imagine that our enemies have no point of view, are just guys in black hats. You can’t negotiate with them — or you might find out that they have their reasons. (I don’t say good reasons…)

Crossing the border

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2008 by dcairns

Cast and Crew 

People of Britain — go and see George A Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD! It got mostly wretched reviews here but it is pretty damn interesting. Certainly if you’re a Romero fan you’ll dig it, possibly more than LAND OF THE DEAD (hardcore gorehounds were disappointed with the 15 certificate levels of violence in that one, but I enjoyed it’s anti-neo-con satire and the Hawksian relationship between the three leads).

DOTD is plenty grisly, and packs in a lot in narrative terms as well. Seeing it in the midst of RED ROAD was certainly a lesson in what can be achieved in a low-budget digital feature. In the evening, I saw THE ROUND-UP with a q&a afterwards with octogenarian film god Miklós Jancsó, and he explained how his film’s long-take style enabled him to make it in 26 days. “Hah! DIARY OF THE DEAD was shot in 23 days,” I thought. And it has a higher body count, too. Plus, Romero is 68!

(Nevertheless, Jancsó and his film were amazing. Much more on Mr. J. later.)

Criticism of DIARY has centred on supposedly unlikable characters and the mockumentary technique whereby said characters, a team of film students, are seen making the film we’re watching, capturing the mayhem as it unfolds. Of course, CLOVERFIELD has already delivered the big-budget version of this trope, and rogue spanker Brian DePalma’s REDACTED uses a similar approach. It’s a zeitgeist thing, I guess, especially as the elephant in each film’s room is Iraq/Guantanamo Bay/Abu Ghraib, with only BDP’s film tackling the theme overtly. I’m guessing the reason the style and subject are coming together in this way is a reaction to the ubiquity of the war on YouTube, as well as the photographic documentation of atrocities at Abu Ghraib by the perpetrators themselves.

Horror Hospital

Romero’s fictional filmmakers are really not that unpleasant — compared to the fleshwads who litter THE COTTAGE, waiting to be disemboweled, they’re positive paragons of humanity. Their worst trait is their tendency to film everything, but it’s a good job they’re ruthless with the cameras, as how else would we get to watch? (But unlike in CLOVERFIELD, they have realistic travails with battery power.) One of Romero’s themes is how filmmaking is passed along like an infectious disease, parallel with the spread of the zombie contagion, so that the characters who morally reject the urge to document every tragedy are gradually tainted with by the process, and end up carrying on the film after the originator has gone.

Apart from the compromised heroes, some of the supporting figures are very appealing, or at least memorable. The deaf Amish guy with the sticks of dynamite ought to have a movie of his own. Hell, he ought to have a daily prime-time show. There’s a brilliantly scary National Guardsman-turned-looter, played by someone whose credit I can’t even find, but who ought to be a star. And there are cameos by Romero himself, Romero associate John Harrison (read of my encounter with the delightful Mr. H. here) and audio contributions by Stephen King, Wes Craven, Simon Pegg, Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro. Guillermo’s sound-byte is the best value, partly because he has a recognisable voice, and also because of his distinctive Mexican take on the zombie phenomenon: “What we have to worry about now is all these people crossing the border between life and death.”

The Mummy Returns

It’s kind of rare to see a film that basically gets better as it goes along. At first the mockumentary effect is rather unsatisfactory — you can’t have verité camera style unless you’re performances match it, and Romero’s are a touch too broad. The decision to use music (justified by one of the student’s explaining she’s added it because “I want to scare you”) seems a little cowardly, and Romero has never been great with music — it required Argento’s lurid skills to bring DAWN OF THE DEAD to full life in that respect. But as the action develops, taking the usual slow downturn into anguished despair (a big motif in all the Romero DEAD flicks), the film picks up increasingly, with sharp satire, surprising gore effects (a scythe through two heads at once? New to me!), and some disconcerting crazy humour. The post-modern version of gratuitous nudity struck me as naff — it may be a joke, but it’s still demeaning — but aside from that I was all in favour of this damn thing.

Pretty in Pink

Interesting to note that it was forty years ago that the zombie invasion began, in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. And in the new film, it’s still beginning. Message: the zombie invasion is a constant in our lives.