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Horror Debates: Is Wes Craven a Hack That Got Lucky?

In our next debate, Carl from I Like Horror Movies will be teaming up with Rhonny Reaper from Dollar Bin Horror to cover both sides of the topic at hand. The rules as always are to keep it civil, keep it thoughtful, and keep it under 500 words:

Is Wes Craven a hack that got lucky?

"Yes" Carl:

Wes Craven is a knowledgeable, cultured, and articulate speaker that could have become a brilliant professor if he had stuck with his original profession. It was his background in Literature that drew him to THE VIRGIN SPRING, a drama based on a13th century Swedish ballad that also served as the basis for his feature debut THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. It is this film in particular that we must now draw our focus. Many genre enthusiasts consider Craven to be one of (if not the) masters of horror, while still others place him as a talentless hack that got lucky with his first film. While that language may be harsh, the argument is not without merit. Although there are strong prevalent themes lying beneath the surface of LAST HOUSE relating back to the destruction of the nuclear family and the breakdown of civility, these themes are completely overshadowed by the abusive sex and violence the film portrays. There is very little style of substance in many of the deplorable acts, filmed in a crude “guerilla” style that lacks all of the polished professionalism of the studio system. The characters are written to such extremes as to achieve a level of comic book supervillainy. The burden of these exaggerated characterizations did not fall on the actors, but rather their creator. The characters were written by an irresponsible director that specifically engineered them to generate sensationalism and to perpetuate the perversity and gore in the script. As THE VIRGIN SPRING proved, the story was strong enough to succeed without these elements. The senseless tortures and humiliations are unnecessary additions included to upset and disgust the audience rather than seize them in a grip of suspense or terror. Cheap exploitation techniques, then, become the driving force of the film, not character or plot. Cruel characters and gore alone do not make a poor director, but when added to the weakened structure of the film, cracks do appear. Zany music, goofy cops, and an uneven blend of sadism and sitcom are just a few of the faults leading to the film's ultimate technical failure.

Craven benefited most from a genius marketing campaign and a dramatic shift in the times that brought forth a desensitized audience craving carnage and bloodshed as a cathartic release from the struggling social and political climate post-Vietnam. While he would strike gold with later hits THE HILLS HAVE EYES and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, his spotty track record often reflects the same inattention to style and character that made films like CHILLER or INVITATION TO HELL fall flat. Were it not for the perfect timing of LAST HOUSE'S release during a period when Exploitation was a thriving new market, Craven may easily have been written off and forgotten before HILLS or NIGHTMARE were ever conceived. Luck and timing had everything to do with his future success as a filmmaker, and not skill.

"No" Rhonny Reaper:

Wes craven is a familiar name to horror fans. His legacy of films has kept him relevant to new and seasoned horror buffs, but with greatness comes scrutiny. There are those who would say he got lucky because not all of his films are good. Well to this, let me ask you, name a director who every single film they ever made you love? Carl focuses on Last House on the Left, but lets remember this was his FIRST FILM; he wasn’t a seasoned pro yet! Did Big Ben win his first super bowl, I think not! Sure Craven had some missed with films like Last House on the Left (which I actually liked), Chiller and Vampire in Brooklyn (even though I kinda sorta liked that one, don’t shoot me it was funny), but when he hit it, he fucking hit in on the bulls eye.

The Hills Have Eyes (If it wasn’t for this film, you wouldn’t have your Wrong Turns and crazy redneck films!), A Nightmare on Elm Street (come on, he created Freddy for fucks sake, the slasher that broke the strong, silent type mode!), Scream (The original 90’s slasher with my future husband, Billy! lol)…he hit it in all of these! And not only were this films great, but they reached out to THREE different generations of horror fans! Hacks get lucky once and ride of the successes of that one glimpse of greatness, Wes Craven has proved several times over that he knows what he’s doing, and does it well.

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Join in the fun and voice your opinions on Horror legend Wes Craven in the comments below, and thanks again to our contributors in this tonight's debate!

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19 comments:

Matt-suzaka said...

Great arguments on both ends, but for me, craven is not a hack, though he certainly has sizzled quite a bit and the only good thing he did in the last 15 years was Scream, which was just the perfect film, at the perfect time, for a genre that was quite dead at the moment.

He has done more than enough to give his master status, and I think he still has at least one more good movie in him, though it probably wont be Scream 4. Even some of his lesser films have an enjoyable aspect to them, like Shocker (which I fucking love!), Deadly Friend, and to an extent, The People Under the Stairs. So while I think he is not a hack, he has definitely run out of steam as well as always being very hit or miss.

forestofthedead said...

Wes Craven(a response in poem form)
Last House on the Left did not sterilize the reality of violence
Hills Have Eyes was so shocking it brought us to silence
Nightmare on Elm Street is beyond great
People Under the Stairs rocks, please do not hate
Scream trilogy was a breath of fresh air
The man is a master of fright beyond compare
Word to your mother

Carl (ILHM) said...

I actually have to agree with everyone else, I think Craven has created some of the most classic Horror films in the genre, and that LAST HOUSE is an important and remarkable film despite its flaws. I just thought this would be the most challenging of any of the topics besides Argento being overrated lol..

Jonny Metro said...

I've stated this before, but the one thing about Wes Craven that REALLY gets my goat (and I can't really say why) is his over-use of booby traps in his films.

And, I know we're not talking about Dean Koontz here, but these two pet peeves go hand-in-hand with me: What the hell is his obsession with hyper-intelligent golden retrievers? I was thrilled with the fact that his Frankenstein series didn't have any smart canines--then the third book dropped, and, lookie here! It really kind of ruined the whole series for me.

Okay...End Rant. And now back to Craven.

--J/Metro

Unleash the Flying Monkeys! said...

I sided with Rhonny in this debate. Unfortunately, my response was too long to post in a comment box, so I added it to my blog late last night - check it out if you're interested: The Man Who Created Freddy Is NO Hack

BJ-C said...

I wouldn't say he's a hack by any means...but I think he's a lucky SOB to be who he is and where he is considering how lamesauce some of his films are...

the jaded viewer said...

His early films are Tarantino rehashes and you could call him a hack for doing that so I side with Carl on that.

But with Elm Street and Scream, he actually reinvented the genre so you gotta give him his props.

venoms5 said...

I don't think he's a hack, although he has done some awfully terrible movies such as DEADLY FRIEND and SHOCKER. He openly admitted he and his crew sought out to make the most brazenly offensive movie he could. Considering the decade and how angry people were over Vietnam and whatever else was going on at the time.

Award Winning director, Ralph Nelson did an incredibly violent and incendiary movie during the 70's as well. His sole purpose was to incite a certain feeling from the audience just as Craven had done. Wes Craven has done enough good, or memorable movies to keep him from attaining 'one hit wonder' status.

HILLS HAVE EYES is a virtual rehashing of themes and ideas from LAST HOUSE, just the setting is different. The film is still highly regarded. DEADLY BLESSING (1981) is quite an interesting movie (which I reviewed some time back) that has much to recommend it and any who haven't seen it, should seek it out. The restored Aussie DVD is still available. I feel that one is an underrated classic. SERPENT & THE RAINBOW was also pretty good.

Some of his films being lousy were out of his control, though. HILLS HAVE EYES 2 (1985) and CURSED (2005) suffered from various production problems such as budget cuts and studio interference. I didn't see RED EYE, but it seemed to be very popular and made quite a bit of money.

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET speaks for itself and NEW NIGHTMARE was a rather intelligent take on the Krueger mythos and an interesting spin on the series. I think that film brought more to the table than the bulk of the sequels did. Then there's SCREAM, which, I am not a fan of, but understand why so many like it. It did single-handedly rejuvenate the slasher genre, though.

Bloofer Lady said...

Last House On the Left has got to be one of the worst horror films I have ever seen, and I have never really liked Craven's films in general. I think he relies far too much on shock value in his films.

Andre said...

Ummm Carl what happened to 500 word arguments! :p

I side with the majority, I will always love Wes because of one movie....The People Under the Stairs.....Hallelujah

B-Movie Becky said...

I'm probably somewhere in the middle of this argument. I think hack is harsh, especially when referring to such a kind man as Craven. I just like him and respect him so much as a personality, it's difficult for me to think ill of him. However, I do think he has a lot more luck than directing talent on his side. He has been blessed with some great scripts/ideas, but his execution has never been superb. Last House is greatly overrated and from a technical standpoint, not really good at all. Nightmare on Elm Street is a brilliant concept, that again, has never been executed to its full potential. Freddy has never been scary--not even in the first film (although there is ONE scary scene). And Scream, well Scream is not Craven's genius...we all know that praise belongs to Kevin Williamson.

All in all, I still like Craven and a like several of his films, but I don't think he's a great director--just a wonderful, intelligent man who played his cards right when it counted.

LJ said...

I don't think the guy is a hack, but I only consider him a master for the Nightmare series. Everything after that was substandard in comparison. I also can't consider him a master for involvement with the Scream series, and in my opinion, ushering in the decline of the genre itself. Call me a purist, but the horror we had the 70's and 80's is far superior to anything that's been slapped on the screen, today. Scream included, although the first one was good and should have been left to stand by itself. I feel he had a little bit to do with that decline.

I think he's had some hits, and a lot of misses. Last House should have been rated X as it was darned near porn and I don't consider it horror at all. In my opinion, he didn't "really" start doing horror until the Hills Have Eyes, in '77. Last House was like......a snuff film. I consider it largely irrelevant to the genre as a whole.

As for the Nightmare series, one thing I will never understand is why he decided to go cheese horror with the rest of it. /sigh

Highly Caffeinated said...

I'm definitely on the 'not a hack' side here, and although some of his films are cringe worthy, another point in defense there is the director is not the be all and end all, especially in a studio situation. (Big kudos Becky for being the first person I've seen actually give credit behind the real person who brought Scream to life).

As for any issues with Last House, my first film is merely a bunch of gigabytes wasting away on my hard drive. At least his first foray was successful enough to be a coherent whole that could be released.

And for you blog post, Flying Monkeys, I would love to be on the 'Tobe Hooper is A Hack' argument (as I kind of started on that with my remake debate).

Matt-suzaka said...

It saddens me that so many seem to dislike Last House...I think it's Exploitation at it's finest and without films like that, movies would be just a tad safer.

Brian McNail said...

No Craven is just the type of person that gets a hit and then runs it into the ground with pointless sequels.

Carl (ILHM) said...

I hope my side was under 500, I ran it through the word count in Open Office before posting! =D

Zach S. said...

this has become my new favorite series to read. These posts are astounding.

Destroy your idols!

Craven has milked a generation of horror fans from his teat, but consider the fate of the upcoming 25/8. Will it be the first Nightmare on Elm Street or the last (and I'm not talking Freddy vs Jason).

oducerproducer said...

I actually wrote an article for a forum i used to go on a few years back just on Craven, i may have to find that file on my computer.

T.L Bugg said...

This was a question I posed, and I'm glad to see it argued so well from both ends. I myself still feel split on the issue after reading your arguments, and that's a feather in the cap of both the authors.

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