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Sell-Out or Not: Wes Craven!

03.11.2013by: Jake Dee

Ready to decide who's a SELL-OUT OR NOT? Last time out, the majority of you felt that the great George A. Romero has NOT become a sell-out over the years. Well this column, not unlike the last, will unofficially indict either an actor, director, producer, writer - basically anyone who at one time or another held clout in the genre world - only to ultimately kowtow to the powers that be and give in to commerce over artistic integrity. We'll present the case before you, weigh the pros and cons of the career decisions made, and leave it up to YOU, THE READER, to decide if the person under the hot interrogation lamp is indeed a Sell-Out Or Not. It's entirely your call!

THE POTENTIAL CULPRIT: WES CRAVEN

THE SELL-OUT FLICKS (as producer and/or director): SCREAM 3, SCREAM 4, LAST HOUSE REMAKE, HILLS HAVE EYES REMAKE, HILLS HAVE EYES II REMAKE, MUSIC OF THE HEART?

Regardless of his recent track record, Wes Craven will likely always be etched on the horror mount Rushmore. Dude's living legend, arguably as iconic as any of the enduring characters he's created, notably Freddy Krueger and all his ELM STREET pop cultural spinoffs. However, creative decisions in the last dozen years or so have made us really start to question whether Craven, one of the all time horror mavens, has sold out his artistic merit/productivity for a cushy financial remuneration? One needn't look further than the facts to make such a damming accusation. Since the year 2000, Craven has directed only 5 films (SCREAM 3, CURSED, RED EYE, MY SOUL TO TAKE, SCREAM 4) and written only 2 originals (PULSE, MY SOUL TO TAKE)...yet has produced twice as many projects since (9), no less than three of which being remakes of his own past hits (HILLS HAVE EYES 1 & 2, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT).

Additional movies Craven has produced since 2000 include DRACULA 2000, THEY SHOOT DIVAS, DON'T THEY?, FEAST, THE BREED, MY SOUL TO TAKE and SCREAM 4. I'm opining now, but I'd say only FEAST and SCREAM 4 have any critical value among the bunch, the others being little more than cash investments Craven served as exec-producer (money men) for. So, in the last dozen years or so, Craven has clearly donned the business hat more than his artistic one, and the results are starting to show in the quality of his work. I do think SCREAM 4 is his best flick in ages, but even that seemed like a desperate attempt to recapture past success...you know, mining familiar and successful territory. I will give him credit for directing it himself, and not simply collecting dough by having his name attached. Still, his involvement in the LAST HOUSE remake and the two HILLS remakes (not to mention earning character credit in the ELM STREET remake), it's pretty clear Craven doesn't mind his films being remade if the price is right. And then there's the Wes Craven Presents monicker. Basically him lending his name to a film for $$$, even though he had nothing to do with the actual making of the picture. THEY, DRACULA II ASCENSION and DRACULA III LEGACY are examples of that.

I could go on to cite possible sellout misfires such as VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, in which Eddie Murphy plays a wisecracking NY bloodsucker. Trying for a comedic hit with one of the funniest men alive at the time obviously backfired. Or MUSIC OF THE HEART, which I actually applaud Craven for going out of his comfort zone with, but it does raise the question of whether or not he completely sold his horror roots to potentially profit off of Meryl Streep's name? Had the movie been a bigger hit, it'd be interesting to see if Craven pursued non-horror direction or if he would eventually return no matter what.

THE GOOD STUFF: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, NEW NIGHTMARE, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, SCREAM, SCREAM 2

Wes Craven has obviously earned the right to do whatever he damn well pleases in the horror genre. His first feature LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT holds up 40 years later as the definitive grindhouse-faux-snuff film, and remains nearly as disturbing as it must have been in the early 70s. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET not only changed the face of horror in many ways, it helped establish New Line Cinema as a major player in genre cinema...in a franchise run that, at 8 films and counting, has continued to transcend mere movie entertainment over the last 30 years. Freddy Krueger will live on ad infinitum in the lexicon on pop culture. That would be enough for any single filmmaker, but Craven then reinvented himself entirely with the SCREAM franchise, albeit with diminishing returns (part 3 is pretty abysmal). In the mid 90s when horror was left for dead, Craven and future partner Kevin Williamson revitalized the slasher genre and pumped new lifeblood into it for a whole new generation to follow. To a lesser extent, Ghostface has become almost as iconic as Freddy Krueger.

It seems then that, given all he's contributed to the realm of horror, Craven has a certain amount of creative leeway. That said, he's never made a huge blockbuster or a summer tentpole, a giant superhero movie, or ever adapted a bestseller he knew would be a hit. The few times he did try to branch out to a broader audience, they were either small enough (MUSIC FROM THE HEART) or too much of a failure (VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN) to continue to branch out. Because of this, he's never really turned his back on horror. Perhaps those other films have proven he can't, or shouldn't...but be it out of desire or necessity...he's largely remained loyal to the form. Has to count for something, right?

WHAT DO YOU THINK...SELL-OUT OR NOT?

The case is before you my friends. Wes Craven is an undoubted legend in the horror film biz, but has his filmmaking track record in the last 12 years or so indicate a sell-out or not? He's produced twice as many films as he's directed in that span, writing only two originals. In that span he's also produced remakes of his original films HILLS HAVE EYES 1 & 2 and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, though he had little involvement outside character credit in the ELM STREET redo. He's tried once or twice to widen his horizons, only to find middling success before coming back to the well with SCREAM 4.

A lot to consider, but it's up to you. Is Wes Craven a Sell-Out or Not?

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