With Halloween right around the corner, it's the time of year when high profile horror movies start filtering into theaters with the intention of giving audiences an old-fashioned case of the heebie-jeebies. The season kicks off in a few short weeks, and who would be better to get the ball rolling than genre legend Wes Craven?
The filmmaker's latest tale of terror, 'My Soul to Take,' tells the story of seven children born the night a notorious serial killer died. 16 years later, people start disappearing on the anniversary of the killer's death. Has the psychopath returned to murder the seven teens, as local legend foretold, or was he reincarnated as one of them the night he died?
It's a return to the fertile ground of the director's 'Nightmare on Elm Street' -- a film that made Craven and disfigured boogeyman Freddy Krueger a household name -- and will, with any luck, show audiences why horror hounds hold the filmmaker in such high esteem.
So in preparation for 'My Soul to Take's' release on October 8th, we're looking back at Craven's career in fear. Hit the jump to read more about this maestro of the macabre's finest work.
Interestingly enough, Wes Craven's career was almost over before it began. His debut feature, the 1972 exploitation classic 'The Last House on the Left,' was so disturbing for its time that the director didn't find himself back behind the camera until 1977. The film, a brutal revenge thriller modeled after Bergman's 'The Virgin Spring,' finds parents housing the very criminals who have just killed their daughter. Bloody retribution and oddly out-of-place comedy coexist uncomfortably in the film, which heralded the arrival of a bold new talent in horror cinema.
It was five years before Craven released his next horror offering, 'The Hills Have Eyes.' This time, Craven explored the concept of familial disintegration -- and added in a healthy dose of social politics -- in his depiction of a family on vacation that runs afoul of a clan of mutant cannibals in the desert. Like many of the director's best films, this one is filled with allegorical elements including statements on nuclear testing and the Vietnam War ... and a heaping helping of gory death.
When Craven returned to the big screen several years later, the results were eclectic. He released the religious-themed film 'Deadly Blessing' in 1981 and followed that up with the cheesy adaptation of DC Comics' 'Swamp Thing.' Neither film was particularly successful; but good things were just around the corner for Craven.
In 1984 Craven teamed up with New Line Cinema founder Bob Shaye to create a film that would change the face of horror cinema: 'A Nightmare on Elm Street.' New Line, a film distributor, took a gamble on Craven's tale of a badly burned child-killer who stalked his victims' dreams and financed the production. The film was a hit, and the villainous Freddy Krueger became a pop-culture icon. Craven didn't return for the sequels, but his reputation as a top-notch fearmaker was secured.
Craven spent the next 12 years trying to recreate 'Elm Street's' magic, with mixed results. First, he made the unwise decision to return to 'The Hills Have Eyes' universe with a sequel that paled in comparison to his original film. Then, studio tinkering all but destroyed his teenage 'Frankenstein' film 'Deadly Friend.'
He got back on track with 1988's 'The Serpent and the Rainbow,' a movie about voodoo and real-life zombies that's arguably the director's most underrated offering to date. Bill Pullman stars in this creepy thriller as an anthropologist sent to Haiti when a drug company learns of a medicine that black-magic practitioners are using to turn people into zombies. Once again not content to make a simple horror film, Craven infused 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' with a healthy dose of political commentary as well. The effect is impressive and the title stands as one of his deepest and most beautiful films.
The filmmaker continued making horror films with veiled social messages in his next outing, but the results were varied. 1989's 'Shocker,' a movie about an executed serial killer who finds a way to come back from the dead as an energy source that can hop from body to body, is more silly than scary. An almost beat-for-beat retelling of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' -- only lacking the same level of depth and polish – 'Shocker' stands as one of Craven's most interesting experiments.
Equally ambitious, but more successful, 1991's 'The People Under the Stairs' is a modern urban fairy tale as only Craven could tell it. A heady mixture of racial politics, macabre humor, violence and fantasy, the title has found an appreciative cult following over the years.
Freddy fanatics got what they wanted in 1994, when Craven returned to the 'Elm Street' universe with 'New Nightmare' – an attempt to wrap up the series he'd started. In possibly the best 'Elm Street' since the original, Craven takes Freddy outside of the films and places him squarely in the real world with a narrative tied into reality-based events. The film succeeds in once again making Freddy scary, and serves as a fitting epilogue for the series as a whole.
1995's 'Vampire in Brooklyn' was an ill-fated film with comedian Eddie Murphy as the title character, and another miss. Unfortunately, audiences didn't know what to make of 'Vampire,' and most stayed away. Anyone worried that Craven had lost his touch was proven wrong the next year.
The release of 'Scream' in 1996 demonstrated Craven still had some tricks up his sleeve. Based on Kevin Williamson's screenplay, 'Scream" ushered in an era of postmodern slasher films where characters were aware of the conventions of genre cinema and utilized them to try to outwit their assailants. It was a clever movie, but the glut of imitators and two divisive sequels (also from Craven) have tarnished the film's reputation in some circles. Williamson and Craven would later reunite for a werewolf movie entitled 'Cursed,' but perhaps the less said about that, the better.
It's been over a decade since Wes Craven's last huge success, which means he's due. Will 'My Soul to Take' add to this master of horror's already impressive legacy? We'll find out on October 8th.