When Wes Craven passed on, horror lost one of its most beloved voices. In a series of reviews, CHUD looks back on everything he ever directed. This entry shines a light on four of his lesser known works, featuring the Exorcist girl shortly before her exploitation phase, a Michael Crichton inspired rip-off, a Disney TV movie, and a romantic short starring Alexander Payne as a ghost.
Yes, 200.000 years of human evolution lead you right here. Find out whether time has forgotten about four Wes Craven masterpieces.
Summer of Fear, initially released as Stranger in Our House (1978)
After having directed the terror & sex trilogy of The Last House on the Left, Angela is the Fireworks Woman, and The Hills have Eyes, Craven had to get away from darkness and directed a horror thriller very light on actual horror. 19-year-old Linda Blair who had just finished shooting The Exorcist Part II: The Heretic, with James Earl Jones in a locust costume, plays a girl with absurdly frizzy hair who lives on a farm. All day long she does nothing else but riding, caring for horses, and giggling with other teenage girls (one of them being Fran Drescher). One day the family gets a new member in form of cousin Julia. Blair’s character tries to bond with her, but soon all sorts of mysterious things happen. What she doesn’t know is that Julia is actually not her cousin, but a grown-up imposter who is into witchcraft (gasp!).
Sadly, the movie doesn’t craft anything exciting with that. Horses go crazy, Blair develops a serious skin condition and is forced to stay in her bed (yes, someone wants to subtly remind you of her other role)(not Chained Heat)(you should check out Chained Heat). Everything is extremely tame as if not to scare young viewers too much, and Blair is really slow at finding out what the hell is happening. Thus the movie is a real slog to sit through, until the showdown. After sheer endless scenes of bitching and hair pulling, a wild car chase begins in which Julia – looking like a demonic Linda Blair look-alike – hunts her down. Now The Exorcist Part II is often described as a terrible movie, and it is, but at least it’s full of craziness. This is a cheap, tiresome horror movie for girls who just went into puberty. There’s not a single thrilling or original scene, and Linda Blair proves that when not possessed by Pazuzu or showering with Sybil Danning, she’s no strong enough to pull of a leading role. Skip it!
> Watch Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan instead. And Chained Heat.
In this trashy CBS TV movie, wealthy douchebag Miles Creighton comes back to life after having been cryogenically frozen. Everything seems normal at first, but the process has literally turned Creighton into a cold hearted man. He begins to rule his former company with an icy fist, and soon people are dying under mysterious circumstances.
The title might suggest a cool killer who uses all kinds of murder weapons associated with low temperature, or that he maybe gained special powers (to kill with), but sadly that’s not the case. With Chiller, Craven tried to do imitate the style and tone of Michael Crichton’s techno-thrillers. Just like The Terminal Man, it’s about a man science dared to experiment on, turning him into an uncontrollable, evil madman. The movie doesn’t even try to hide the fact that Creighton has turned evil, as creepy music plays from the very first scene on. We immediately know, and it takes ages until the other characters finally catch up. Hell, it takes thirty minutes until Creighton even wakes up.
While similar movies spice up such a structure with well staged stalking scenes or kills, Chiller feels like filler. Creighton chooses to not help a man who has a heart attack, he secretly watches a woman change, and in general he’s just a dick to everyone. So, he’s not even much of a scary monster. The unusual hero of the flick is Creighton’s 70-year-old mother who later on manages to evade the thirty something killer like a ninja, only to imprison him into a – oh, the irony – walk-in freezer. Michael Beck who would later star in The Warriors before seeing his career being put on ice is effectively creepy as Creighton, but it’s not enough to turn the boring Chiller into a chilling experience.
> Watch The Chill Factor instead. And Chained Heat.
Between The Deadly Friend and The Serpent and the Rainbow, Wes Craven somehow found himself at Walt Disney studios, directing a TV movie of the week as part of their The Disney Sunday Movie series of anthology one shots (which today runs as The Magical World of Disney Junior). It doesn’t even run fifty minutes and tells the family friendly tale of a pair of teenage detectives who stumble upon a gang of counterfeiters. They call their grandpa (Pat Hingle, Gordon from the 90s Batman franchise) to bring them down. It’s cute, bland, and utterly forgettable. If you’re in the need of any kind of busters, watch Ghostbusters, anything involving Buster on Arrested Development, or Buster Keaton’s The General.
Or, you know, Chained Heat.
Got time for one more? I promise I won’t suggest Chained Heat anymore.
Paris je t’aime (2006): Segment Pere-Lachaise
This is an anthology movie combining eighteen little stories set in Paris, each of them set at a different district of the city. Among the directors were Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Tom Tykwer, Olivier Assayas, Isabel Coixet, and Vicenzo Natali. Craven’s story is set at the famous Parisian graveyard Pere-Lachaise and has Emily Mortimer and Rufus Sewell as a pair soon to be married. The woman tests her fiance by leading him to the grave of poet Oscar Wilde. When he reacts too stiffly to her appreciation of Wilde and levity in general, she suddenly says that she can’t marry him. She turns and runs away. Director/writer Alexander Payne (!) then shows up as the ghost of Oscar Wilde and enlights the man. The two lovers quickly reconcile and the ghost disappears.
Wes Craven directing a romantic short? Wait, there’s a ghost involved, and it is set on a cemetary. It’s only about five minutes long, but it has nothing special going for it. Wilde doesn’t do anything spectacular to turn bored Sewell into the man she wants to have, and the fiance doesn’t even seem fazed by what he has just witnessed. It’s neither romantic nor dreamy. Skip this.
If you want to see a romantic movie about Paris, watch Midnight in Paris. If you wanna watch a romantic short, check out Signs by – I kid you not – the director of The Expendables 3. It’s really, really good, and you’ll thank me later, although quite possibly for having suggested Chained Heat earlier on.