Showing posts with label wes craven. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wes craven. Show all posts

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Invitation to a Terrible Movie

Tonight, Hollywood salutes the year’s best movies, but I say that’s garbage. Anyone can make an award-winning movie. Just walk into the cinema section of your library, and there are literally dozens of books advising you how to properly make a film. Much harder, I’d wager, is making a terrible movie that people will forget about, and in tribute to shitty cinema, I present to you Invitation to Hell.

A TV movie that aired on NBC in 1984, Invitation to Hell is notable today because it was directed by Wes Craven. “Oh, the Wes Craven of landmark horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream?” No! This is the Wes Craven from Vampire in Brookyln or Shocker or that movie where the old lady gets killed by a basketball. But while Invitation to Hell is pretty bad overall, it has enough good moments — wonderfully made-for-TV special effects, utterly baffling line readings and references to 1984 computer technology that sound hilarious today — that it merited a Cliffs Notes version. So here you go, movie nerds, horror fans, Craven completionists and people who just have nine minutes to spare: everything you need to see from Invitation to Hell, including all of Susan Lucci’s shitballs wackadoo outfits.

Things to note:
  • Yes, you are correct: The plot does play out like a supernatural blend of two Simpsons episodes: the one where the family moves to Cypress Creek so Homer can work for the villainous Globex Corporation and the one where Marge joins a ritzy country club and figuratively loses her soul. 
  • And yes, Joanna Cassidy in the role of Patricia looks a bit like Maureen Prescott.
  • The cast is a who’s-who of people who did better elsewhere. In addition to Susan Lucci, there’s Brenda’s mom from Six Feet Under, Punky Brewster as the daughter, Bastian from The Neverending Story as the son, Frank Fontana from Murphy Brown as the dad’s friend, Patty “The Bad Seed” McCormack as the friend’s snitty wife and even Anne Marie McEvoy (the one and only Kathy Santoni) as the neighbor girl.
  • Blame the dialogue on Richard Rothstein (Universal Soldier, the original Bates Motel), but you can’t say the movie doesn’t have a few nice shots, at least for a TV movie.
  • It wasn’t Craven’s only TV movie. He also directed Stranger in Our House in 1978. It starred Linda Blair, which makes her cameo in Scream make a little more sense.
  • Is the whole movie a parable about the dangers of moving your family to the San Fernando Valley? Sure, why not?
If my condensed version isn’t enough for you, the full version is currently posted on YouTube. I also found an on-air promo that triggered all kinds of TV nostalgia.

And in case you just don’t have nine minutes to spare — ahem, FANCY — here’s the opening scene and then nearly a minute of Robert Urich’s family kicking the shit out of him.

Pop culture that time forgot, previously:

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Short Story About Sharon Stone and Wes Craven

I ended up on the Wikipedia page for Wes Craven today as a result of one of those aimless Wiki-walkabouts that teach you stuff you didn’t need to know. I got to this page wholly independently of the previous entry here on Craven collaborator Kevin Williamson, but this little nothing fits in well with that Williamson-style pop culture mishmash narrative.

wes craven, john milton, sharon stone now, mimi craven then
Craven has been married three times, first to Bonnie Broecker — mother to Jessica Craven, who formerly sang with The Chapin Sisters — and after that to Mimi Craven. This actress is probably most familiar to Wes Craven fans for roles in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Swamp Thing and to non-Craven fans for playing Russell Dalrymple’s bored, beautiful date on the Seinfeld episode “The Watch.” Mimi and Wes Craven divorced in 1987.

According to Wikipedia, director Jos Eszterhas’s 2001 book American Rhapsody alleges that the Cravens divorced as a result of Mimi’s affair with Sharon Stone, whom Craven directed in the 1981 film Deadly Blessing, and that Stone sent Wes Craven a bouquet of black roses upon the finalization of the split. That’s quite a story, and I’m kind of surprised I’d never heard it before. Though Wikipedia says that Wes Craven has never remarked about the lesbian affair rumors, he does edge around the topic in a 2011 interview with the New York Times. Upon being asked whether his marriage ended because his wife had an affair with Sharon Stone, Craven says this:
The marriage did not end for that reason. Sharon and Mimi had a very close friendship for many years. And dead black roses were sent to me. I called my ex-wife and asked her if she had done it. She didn’t exactly say she had but did say the reason that I deserved them was because I had once referred to her as a stewardess rather than a flight attendant. It’s as absurd as that.
Craven also adds that the black roses “might have been Sharon’s idea, but that would only be speculation.”

And I suppose that’s as classy a way you can answer a rather awkward question like this one. But here’s a thing that occurred to me, a guy who’s seen Wes Craven’s Scream, like, a million times: Regardless of whether the affair rumor is true or who sent Wes Craven black rose, Scream mentions Sharon Stone repeatedly. Even in a script that makes a point of packing in the highest possible number of pop culture references per page, Stone comes up more often than other celebrities. First, Tatum argues that the killer could easily be female, using Basic Instinct as evidence. Second, Gale Weathers mentions that instead of reporting from Woodsboro, she should “be in New York, covering the Sharon Stone stalker.” And finally when Sidney learns the motive behind the murders — her mom had an affair with her boyfriend’s dad, thus ending their marriage — the killer explains, “That woman was a slut-bag whore who flashed her shit all over town like she was Sharon Stone or something.” (Cue Matthew Lillard’s character, doing some impression I’ve never been able to place: “Let’s face it, Sidney: You mother was no Sharon Stone.”)

Now, I realize that Kevin Williamson wrote the script to Scream, not Wes Craven, but the director is still responsible for the whole movie. And if you’re constructing a narrative about some bad blood between Wes Craven and Sharon Stone — existing either because she stole his wife or because she’s simply his ex-wife’s buddy (non-sexual sense) — and how this blood leaks out in a way the general public gets to see, these Scream references make for interesting footnotes. If he wanted to, Craven could have said, “By the way, can we make these Sharon Stone references into Demi Moore references? Long story.”

I feel like it’s also worth mentioning that the catalyst for the whole Scream series — and for everyone from Drew Barrymore to Emma Roberts getting bumped off onscreen — is a nasty relationship between a director and a would-be actress. At the end of the third movie, you find out that things went south for Sidney’s mom following ambiguous badness between her and John Milton, a horror movie director who serves as a stand-in for Craven himself, though not in any awful sex crime ways. Obviously, I can’t say on my own what it means or if it means anything, but it makes for an interesting parallel for the life of a director best-known for a series of movies about Hollywood, actors and the give-and-take between movies and real life.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that Googling around to write this also landed me on this page, which Sharon Stone can never, ever see.

(Image sources: Wes Craven, John Milton, Mimi Craven, Sharon Stone.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Still Screaming After All These Years

On the heels of my post about the movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, I offer this, however unenthusiastically: We will someday see Scream 4. By which I mean that we may someday see commercials and billboards promoting it and likely bearing the text “Scream 4.” Whether any of us will go see the actual film is another matter altogether.

An allegedly credible source recently leaked the news that director Wes Craven (whose filmography includes the previous Scream movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the poorly conceived but hilariously named Shocker) and screenwriter Kevin Williamson (Scream and Dawson’s Creek, both of which he departed from before their conclusions) may retream for another round of self-referential horror comedy, this one, of course, involving a newer, younger set of potential body bag-fillers. Whether the rumor even approaches the truth remains to be seen, of course, but the possibility of Scream 4 ever hitting theaters prompted me to reflect on the original movie.

image from new york post

Looking at this blog as a gauge of what has grabbed my attention over the past few years, a reader could hardly tell that the first Scream played a major role in my teenage years and, now that I think about it, helped me love movies in general. I haven’t written much about Scream here, perhaps because the passage of team has strengthened my critical eye and perhaps because I eventually realized that the people who rave about slasher movies are, in general, weirdos.

Whatever the reason, the three Scream movies now represent a part of my life that feels longer ago than it actually was: high school. And rightly so — the movies basically framed my high school years, with the first coming out at the start of my freshman year and the third in the winter of my senior year. A relic of my former life though these movies may no be, they nonetheless made an impact on me — and pop culture in general.

In short, this: The mantra of the frightened movie-goer who is trying to mentally escape the dread of being slashed to death on the spot by a cinematic psychokiller is “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie,” or so we’re told. When it comes to Scream, however, I’m willing to argue that it’s not only a movie.

image from

Outside the context of my life, I think it’s interesting to look at Scream in the context of the flood of that particular type of self-aware, teenage-centered TV shows and movies that followed and which were released between the time I was 14 and 18 years old. Many owed a debt to Scream in some way. Think about it: Scream put Williamson on the map. Following its success in 1996, we had Dawson’s Creek, which Williamson created; the “true” TV series incarnation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which mixed teenaged angst, pop culture references and horror in a way that it may not have been able to do successfully were it not for Scream; and movies like She’s All That, which starred an astounding number of alumni from previous Kevin Williamson efforts. And She’s All That was released in 1999 — only three years after Scream hit theaters — which goes to show how quickly Williamson built a small teenspoitation empire. Even today, anytime a twentysomething actor playing a Billy Everyteen spouts a pop culture reference to emphasize a point, I think of Williamson, the guy who once turned a conversation about an edited-for-TV broadcast of The Exorcist into a PG-13-appropriate booty call.

Independent of the pop culture continuum, Scream resonated with me personally because, to put it simply, I was the perfect person to watch it. The 14-year-old version of me who wandered into the theater to watch Scream literally knew nothing about it save for the fact that the girl from E.T. was in it. Seriously. That’s it. I didn’t even know that Drew Barrymore’s character died in the first ten minutes much less that she would do so in a particularly gruesome manner. (“Her insides on the outside,” as the late Tatum Riley put it so succinctly.) Beyond that, I hadn’t seen horror movies before Scream. I’d read about them — allowing me to understand a lot of the film’s in-jokes — and had always been to type to scan the backs of the VHS boxes in the video store horror section until would make me stop. But I’d never actually sat and watched anything that would have actually scared me. (Okay, I had technically seen Halloween 5 at a fifth grade birthday party sleep over, but — and this is full disclosure here — I hid my eyes for most of it. Also, the movie sucked, I realize now, and seeing it without knowing who Michael Myers was or what had transpired in the previous films made it more confusing than anything else.) While I sat watching Scream, all these factors combined to create a perfect storm: I sat in my seat completely engrossed, my leg shaking with anticipation and my body involuntarily jumping at the kind of scare scenes a horror movie veteran would have seen coming a hundred miles away.

Immediately after, I went home and did my homework, using this new thing called “the inter-net” to read about how the movie came to be and the various sources it drew upon. As a result, I rented Halloween. I rented Suspiria. I even rented “that werewolf movie with E.T.’s mom in it.” I started reading movie reviews — of Scream specifically, but soon whatever happened to be out. I bought movie magazines. I suddenly had some idea what was coming to a theater near me before it actually did. I had a passion.

It helped, of course, that the movie was actually good. I’ll still argue in its favor today, perhaps less wholeheartedly than I might have when I was still a teenager but with reasonable vigor nonetheless. Scream was funny and scary, I thought, and that’s not an easy combination to pull off. (Case in point: The Frighteners, directed by a pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson.) It had some great lines, among them, “Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.” And, finally, it was far better acted that just about every slasher movie in history. I honestly think Barrymore has seldom acted so convincingly outside the opening “Jiffy Pop” sequence.

One review of Scream — in Entertainment Weekly, if I remember correctly — called it the first movie to ever merit comparison to both Clueless and Psycho. I agree with this claim. It probably was, and this fact helps demonstrate the final reason why I think Scream deserves to be remembered as more than just a scary movie that managed to make money: It embodied the late 90s in one glaring, unfortunate way, what with its creation of a media-saturated teenaged world that would be repeatedly punctured by violence. Keep in mind that all those teenybopper movies and TV shows I mentioned took on the world during the years when the post office shooting spree trend gave way to the school shooting spree trend. In the way that school shootings unnerved those of us who went to school those small towns where nothing bad ever happens, the students of Scream’s Woodsboro High had to fear being struck down in their adolescent prime, likely for no reason, likely at the hands of someone they knew and had previously trusted not to kill them. I can’t realistically compare the grief that school shooting survivors suffered to the phony dread of slasher movies, but the fact that Scream had revived the genre to the point that its peak coincided with the Columbine High School massacre seems noteworthy, though not for the alleged cause-and-effect relationship that some claimed at the time.

All the preceding arguments may not win over those who never bothered with Scream or did and left the theater unmoved, I suppose, but they represent my reasons why those people perhaps should have bothered or might want to reevaluate their stance on the film. These reasons also encapsulate my motivations for doubting the motivations behind making Scream 4. As Ain’t It Cool News noted about the news of the purported sequel, “It seems possible that Wes Craven could be persuaded to come back to direct. Why? I’m told he's a big fan of the money.”

Indeed, I do assume that greed is a motivating factor here, and not some belief that some aspect of the Scream saga needs to be told again or some desire to once more parody the slasher films of the 80s. After all, those movies — with their photogenic, talentless serial killer fodder — aren’t even the dominant off-shoot of the horror genre anymore: It’s now Hostel-style gore flicks and bloodless remakes of Asian fright flicks. (The latter of which became a profitable type of movie only in the wake of The Ring, the script for which was written by Ehren Krueger, who took over the writing duties for Scream 3 after Williamson bailed to work Wasteland, his short-lived TV series follow up to Dawson’s Creek. And the torture porn and J-horror retreads already get mocked by the Scary Movie series, which itself began as a parody of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer and even takes its name from the Scream’s working title.

As most do, the Scream series deteriorated with each sequel, but not by much, at least, with Scream 2. Scream 3 did not fare as well, but even at the hands of a less talented screenwriter less familiar with the series, it still managed to offer some neat ideas, including some novel takes on the series-spanning theme of life and death interacting with the their representations in Hollywood. But though it ended the series with a series with more of a whimper than was deserved by the gasp of air that was the first movie.

No, the Scream series doesn’t need to extend into the new millennium, for the reasons I just mentioned — greed shouldn’t extend the life of movie franchises, the target of the series’ humor has been pretty well staked, the world may have moved to far beyond the point where a pop culture-saturated horror seems necessary — but also for my own indefensible, personal reason: I want to keep the 90s where they belong. For me, Scream was and is this particular time period in such away that I don’t look forward to watching some latter-day, tacked-on sequel try and absorb the pop culture that we now have ten years down the line. It can try, of course, and it might even succeed, but I’d much prefer to leave Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 3 in the same time period that allowed the bands appearing on their soundtracks to be popular. (Take a look at them, if you have a chance, and get a refresher in recently forgotten bands: Sugar Ray, Tonic, Less Than Jake, Orgy, System of a Down, Fuel even Creed, for god’s sake. Scary indeed.) Really, if there’s ever any hope for “smart” horror movies, one of the few to actually fit in that category should know better than to slowly let the life drain out of it over the course of endless sequels.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Three Weird Sisters

I wanted to like The Chapin Sisters, but I can't help feel like they are a humorless, tuba-less version of The Kranksy Sisters. Quite heavy on the dour, girls. And you have to feel bad for the one non-Chapin Chapin Sister, Jessica Craven, both for being the the third of the trio that doesn't match and for looking so much like her dad, director Wes Craven, that it's spooky. Which is kind of appropriate, if you think about it.

Judge for yourself:

On the other hand, I have to hand it to them: For three women all caught up in the Southern gothic schtick, they couldn’t have picked a better name for their album than Lake Bottom.

Also, I search YouTube and found some footage of The Kransky Sisters that wasn't up the last time I checked. You have to admit: The two bands have a similar take on the the three-woman harmony. Watch the below video, but fast-forward past the jokes to 2:30 if you just want to hear the vocal similarities.

Also, I can't help but notice that, like The Chapin Sisters, The Kransky Sisters have one member with a different father than the other two. The Kranskys, at least, make a point of mentioning this as often as possible.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Cici Creepies

The latest Netflix delivery is already on its way back home. I didn't much care for it. "The Serpent and the Rainbow," a zombies-and-voodoo ditty by Wes Craven. It's not scary. Or interesting. Or good, really. I only even put in on the queue because I can remember seeing five minutes of it on KICU when I was little and thinking it was the scariest thing ever. (Vague childhood memories inflated and exaggerated by decades of passing time must cease to be a motivation in my movie rental choices.) But IMDb gave me one reason to raise it from the depths of I-should-never-have-rented-this "Buckaroo Bonzai" levels.

I quote:
The CD Soundtrack to this film is rated one of the most expensive rarities in the world of film music trading because the principal release was on vinyl LP and fewer than ten CDs were pressed.
So if you're ever rifling through a bin of used CDs and you see the soundtrack for this movie, you're rich.

The zombie bride was kind of cool, I'll admit.