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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2005 10:00 pm

Craven more

Why the king of horror doesn't deserve his crown

Why would Wes Craven, who has been called the “king of horror,” fail so miserably with the werewolf film Cursed (2005)? Perhaps his reputation is a little overstated. Craven achieved greater box-office success than Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), John Carpenter (Halloween), and George Romero (Dawn of the Dead), but unlike his rivals he has not made one true horror classic. I know many will disagree.

Craven’s reputation began with the grim cult film The Last House on the Left (1972), a violent thriller that only peripherally fits into the horror genre. Two teenage girls are raped and murdered by a group of escaped convicts, and the killers unwittingly stay in the house of the parents of one of their victims. The plot is a bit farfetched, but it was lifted from Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960). It hasn’t aged well, but at least it isn’t marred by the slasher clichés that became prevalent after the success of Halloween. The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is considered a horror classic, but this Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style thriller about a group of savages terrorizing a family is surprisingly boring. Its sequel, The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985), also directed by Craven, ranks among the worst films ever made. Deadly Blessing (1981) follows a similar pattern, but it is a bit of an improvement.

Craven’s one great contribution to the horror genre is the maniacal killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The idea of a psychopath inhabiting the dreams of a group of teenagers was clever, but the execution was slightly uneven. Craven directed only one of the many sequels. He really hit the jackpot a decade later with Scream (1996) and its two sequels. Scream essentially spoofed the slasher genre, but in a violent manner, by playing on all its clichés and conventions. The opening sequence is the best thing Craven ever directed, but the ending is painfully stupid. That isn’t a good launching pad for the two inferior sequels.

Expectations ran high for Cursed, but it pales next to the modern werewolf classics, An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Howling (1981), and the more recent British cult film Dog Soldiers (2002). The storyline is anemic, and the use of computer-generated werewolves diminishes its impact. Craven recently shifted gears with the new theatrical release Red Eye. Can he handle a non-horror thriller?  

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (Aug. 30): Sahara, Monster-in-Law, The Purifiers, and Ong-bak.

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