I’m of the opinion that Wes Craven has yet to make a truly bona fide classic. A horror picture that from stem to stern is what could be deemed “perfect.” Even his best and most beloved works, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, are saddled with little narrative tics that seem tailored for mainstream audience satisfaction. They never quite go for that extra leap of faith towards transcendence beyond being strong films. Naturally, this is all purely subjective on my part.
That’s not to say the filmmaker hasn’t been an important and influential force in the genre. If one views Craven as brilliant, then his genius lies in the ability to insert bold underlying concepts into features that still have the malleability to play to wide audiences. Think of a less intellectual Cronenberg when Cronenberg wasn’t pre-occupied with fishing for highbrow accolades in recent years. But then the question becomes does Wes Craven merely pull out an ace every so often in appeasement to both studios and horror fans? Or is it dumb luck? It’s a tough call when looking at his directorial filmography.
It’s funny how Craven’s career hits seem cyclical, amongst the staples like Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, and Scream rest “others” that are best described as guilty pleasures largely forgotten outside our obsessive sect. Now dated tangents are indulged before the planets align once again for a massive hit that also once again solidifies the director as Hollywood’s Horror Darling.
But then we have Shocker. If there ever was an example of ammo for those that believe Craven to be “hackish”, Horace Pinker’s electric rampage is the stockpile. The 1989 film after the solid Serpent and the Rainbow, was pimped to the depths of hell in all the trades as the next big thing, furthering the filmmaker’s fledgling comeback and marking the beginning of a new era for mainstream horror. While Shocker made moderate bank, the result certainly wasn’t the monolith that ushered the genre into the ’90s. Craven essentially re-invented his Freddy Krueger formula in Pinker and exacerbated the vague stigma surrounding his longevity. Of course, Scream was a phenomenon and the prior decade’s worth of stumbling was erased with the greenback.
Now ol’ Wes is in the same predicament of sorts with another ten years without a clear wavemaker. The long-awaited return of the Scream franchise is in the wings, but October 8th’s My Soul to Take is more interesting when viewed in the context of the 71-year-old’s cannon. Judging from the TV spots and trailer, the premise appears so threadbare that one has to wonder what writer/director Craven is getting at? It looks at home with the slew of attractive teen-geared slashers that arrived in the wake of Scream. Unless this is a masterclass in this type of horror film, it’s hard to determine how to approach what’s being pushed here.
The most juicy possibility is that, perhaps, Craven is actually pessimistic at the state of the genre he helped perpetrate and is purposely crafting the most formulaic pap conceivable? Maybe My Soul to Take is another tailor-made attempt at showing that he still has his finger on the pulse of those that flirt with the genre on date nights? Or is the whole thing some form of penance for Scream 4? Whatever the case, sight mostly unseen, this one just feels like a baffling return to horror for a man whose name is synonymous with the genre…at least to Joe Six-Pack. Or is that the point?