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Week of Wes: “THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2”, “VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN” & “CURSED”

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Though his track record is far from perfect, there’s not a single ounce of this writer that believes Wes Craven would purposefully craft a bad film. Out of the many horror filmmakers from throughout the years, there’s few that came under studio scrutiny as much as Craven, and even fewer that had bona fide hits beforehand as well. And Craven, for all of his exploration of fear and dread, was not a filmmaker simply mesmerized by horror: he wanted to find a richer idea among the terror, even if it was ambitious beyond the means of his budget.

Hence, we have Wes Craven’s maligned cinematic entries, which are surprisingly few and far between. In fact, more of his films are outright polarizing among the horror crowd than outright dismissed as bad, with films like SHOCKER and DEADLY FRIEND having attained genuine cult classic status. And then there are some who are still a bit too fresh to judge: MY SOUL TO TAKE and SCREAM 4, as divisive as they may be, have all the potential to become an after-the-fact genre gem (or at the very least, a midnight movie), much like NEW NIGHTMARE.

However, there are a select few pieces of Wes Craven’s work that just… does not work. On almost all instances, there was massive behind-the-scenes interference (not unlike DEADLY FRIEND, which somehow still worked out to memorable ends) as well as tonal inconsistencies, even if Craven’s fluid use of tone has become one of the defining traits of his filmography. But above all else, they simply don’t feel like a Wes Craven film; even if there are flashes of the director’s cinematic voice, they feel like an altogether passionless affair.

The first of these films is THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2, a film that has become renowned among fright fans as one of the worst sequels in horror history. With logic lapses, shoddy edits and inane retconning on the first film, THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 was such studio assassination on Craven that the director would eventually disown the film. And even among the lower entries in Craven’s filmography, HILLS PART 2 is regarded as Craven’s worst, notably only in that the completely uncut VHS is a worthwhile find among horror collectors.

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In fact, the story behind the scenes of THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 is possibly more horrific than the film itself, with Craven having shot two-thirds of the film before the production ran out of money. In fact, Craven was ready to leave the project altogether until the producers contacted him after A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was a hit, and was only allowed to finish the film using footage from the first film. Craven, in need of the money (especially considering the profit participation issues surrounding the first NIGHTMARE), finished the film merely out of a financial incentive, and rarely spoke of the film in the years between its completion and his death.

The second of these films was a much bigger production, and was simply inspired by Craven’s desire to work with an A-list Hollywood Star: VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN. Teamed with Eddie Murphy and Angela Bassett, Craven wanted to try his hand at comedy and knew that by gaming the system with a horror premise, he would be able to do so. However, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN’s big issue surprisingly enough wasn’t the studio executives, but Murphy himself.

Craven, who was working from a script from Murphy’s brother Charlie and collaborators Michael Lucker and Chris Parker, had given Eddie Murphy free reign to portray the character as comedically as possible, even affording the cast the chance to improvise at will. However, despite earning a story credit on the film, Murphy wanted something different from VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN: if he was going to go over-the-top while in make-up for the vampire in disguise, he wanted to play the vampire himself as a serious and vulnerable man. Furthermore, Murphy had agreed to do the film as a part of a distribution deal for THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, a movie he (correctly) saw as his big comeback film following a string of box office and critical failures. And then there was the unfortunate on-set stunt-gone-wrong that cost the life of Sonja Davis, who was working as Angela Bassett’s stunt double.

While Craven was proud enough of the film to keep his name on it, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN was a low point for the director as critics and audiences didn’t give the film any respect. And while the film may not be destined for cult classic status (at best, the film plays similarly to a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode), VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN is an interesting time capsule of both Craven and Murphy’s career.

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The last of Craven’s least appreciated flicks is one that is an interesting case from many angles, and proved that even after three massively successful SCREAM films, Craven was by no means untouchable. That film is, of course, CURSED, which had all the ingredients of a horror classic: Craven at the helm, an R-rated script from Kevin Williamson and practical FX from Rick Baker and KNB. Top that with a cast of up-and-coming performers such as Jesse Eisenberg, Shannon Elizabeth, Portia de Rossi, and Milo Ventimiglia as well as proven performers such as Christina Ricci, Joshua Jackson and Judy Greer, and CURSED was looking to be our generation’s AMERICAN WEREWOLF… or so we thought.

While Miramax Films initially wanted a werewolf movie in the shape of a “whodunit?” slasher, CURSED remains one of- if not, the– most troubled productions in Craven’s career. With the film reshooting no less than four times, cast members being written out and replaced at a moment’s notice and entire character dynamics shifting (Eisenberg and Ricci’s characters, for example, were initially conflicted lovers before being rewritten as brother and sister), CURSED perpetual delays and reports of on-set trouble became a punchline among the horror community. Add on reports of Rick Baker’s work all but being discarded from the product and replaced with CGI and CURSED became, at best, a trainwreck whose aftermath we were all curious to see.

And as expected, CURSED was a disaster on all fronts, being cut and re-edited into a PG-13 mess while Craven walked away from the film with a critical black eye, frustrated with the studio impositions. And while the unrated (yet not Director’s) cut won over easier-to-please Craven die-hards, CURSED became a film the horror crowd rather would forget. However, even CURSED came with a silver lining, as it led to what would inarguably be Craven’s last great film…

About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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