Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Screams & Nightmares: The Films of Wes Craven" by Brian J. Robb

After the runaway success of the SCREAM films and the publication of David Szulkin's wonderful Wes Craven's Last House on the Left: The Making of a Cult Classic in the late '90s, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a detailed study of Craven's entire career, and Brian J. Robb delivers the goods with Screams & Nightmares. The bulk of the material in Robb's book comes from his own interviews and correspondence with Craven over a 10-year period (1988-98), and many of the featured photographs were provided by the director himself. Giving equal time to the losers (SHOCKER, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN) as well as the winners (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW) -- and all of the television work in between -- Robb has fashioned an entertaining and informative look at one of the genre's most imaginative, durable and consistently unpredictable filmmakers.

As the title suggests, Robb pays special attention to the dream motif that permeates Craven's work, and reveals that the director actually dreamed THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS in its entirety, from first frame to last, before writing the script. The 25 pages dedicated to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET -- as well as its five Cravenless sequels and the FREDDY'S NIGHTMARES television series -- delve deep into the insane (but immensely successful) marketing campaign that turned a child-killing burn victim into a wisecracking pop hero and nearly drove a permanent wedge between Craven and New Line Cinema. Best of all is the chapter on THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, which details some of the more bizarre incidents that occurred during the film's making -- like Bill Pullman claiming to have seen a green cow with TV screens for eyes.

After more than 20 years of trying to break free from the constraints of genre filmmaking, Craven finally got his chance to direct a mainstream drama in 1999 with MUSIC OF THE HEART. It failed to significantly alter his career trajectory, even with Meryl Streep getting another Oscar nomination out of it, and a year later he was back doing SCREAM 3. I'd love to see Robb update his book somewhere down the road so I can learn more about the third PROJECT GREENLIGHT (where the hell is that DVD anyway?) and the whole story behind the CURSED re-shoots, but until then Screams & Nightmares remains a good overview of Craven's work.

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