Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Short Attention Span Review - Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

A simplified version of the story for Five Shaolin Masters would read something like this: Five righteous dudes get their asses whipped by five heinous dudes.  The five righteous dudes go train together, developing their skills and formulating plans for the upcoming rematches.  At the end, all that hard work and training really pays off as the five righteous dudes kick the shit out of the five heinous dudes.  That's about the sum of it, yet with a film like this, it doesn't really matter.  It's the delivery that counts, and kung fu flick maestro Chang Cheh is calling the shots.  No director was better suited to helm one of these pictures, and no one was better suited to produce the movie than the Shaw Brothers.  This is another colorful epic that surely ranks among their best offerings.  It's not quite on the same level as the studio's crown jewel, The Five Deadly Venoms (also directed by Chang Cheh), but one could certainly make a great argument for putting Five Shaolin Masters next on the list.  This is one of the few Cheh Chang films that isn't highlighted by stars from the fabled Venom Mob, but the cast is legit.  My main man David Chiang is on point, and his Blood Brothers co-star Lung Ti also does a tremendous job.  There are several extremely effective fight scenes and there is some top-notch weapons choreography on display.  The action is great, the characters are bold, and the end result is an entertaining kung fu romp that concludes with a monumental showdown.

Final Grade: A

These five righteous dudes bond over a series of good beatings and come
together to train as they prepare to turn the tables on five heinous dudes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Short Attention Span Review - Ronin (1998)

Often overlooked, Ronin is a polished thriller that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat from start to finish.  It's an excellent picture starring Robert DeNiro in his prime and featuring Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Natascha McElhone, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, and Jonathan Pryce.  Everyone involved does their best to keep up with DeNiro, and there isn't a bad performance in the picture.  Even director John Frankenheimer (who had pretty much been written off at this point) does an exquisite job, balancing the tension and intrigue with sensational chases and shootouts.  Every time you think that Ronin has peaked, it manages to raise the stakes with a bigger and bolder showdown.  It was a hit with critics and it made money, but it seldom comes up when people talk about really good movies.  I think that this slick heist flick is exceptional, and I absolutely love the performances.  There's a scene early on where DeNiro "ambushes" Sean Bean with coffee that is 100% awesome, and Frankenheimer really nailed it with all the gunfire and vehicular mayhem.  The action bits are well-staged, exciting, and integral to the plot--such as it is.  While there is a bit more dialogue and a quality MacGuffin (a mysterious case that everyone is after), Ronin isn't all that different from something like Mad Max: Fury Road in that the story essentially exists so that a number of riveting action scenes can be strung together.  That's okay, it's all a matter of execution, and Frankenheimer did a fine job at the helm.  Ronin is a top-shelf thriller with Robert DeNiro front and center.  That could never be a bad thing, and in this case, it's a great thing.

Final Grade: A

Ronin is a fine picture with an equal blend of action and suspense.  This is DeNiro
at his best and it's possible that the same could be said of director John Frankenheimer.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Surprisingly, This is Spinal Tap merely enjoyed modest success during its theatrical run before landing a cult following on home video.  Over time, it has become an iconic parody and the make believe band of the title has actually sold a lot of records and played a lot of shows.  The film hasn't lost its power to amuse thanks to all the keen wit on display, and the music industry has only grown more and more absurd, so the picture remains timely.  Rob Reiner's actual direction of this mockumentary and his performance as director Marty DiBergi are both rock solid, but the leads (Michael McKeen as lead singer David St. Hubbins, Christopher Guest as guitarist Nigel Tufnel, and Harry Shearer as bassist Derek Smalls) are so superb that I have to give them the lion's share of the credit for the movie's success.  All three are capable musicians and they are beyond perfect choices for the film--it's an adequate tribute to their efforts that this ridiculous comedy led to genuine confusion among many fans as to whether or not Spinal Tap was a real band.  This is Spinal Tap is so awesome that it is damn near impossible to pick the funniest part.  Is it the amp that goes to 11?  Is it Derek getting trapped in his pod?  Is it the Stonehenge set?  Is it being billed second to the puppets?  What about the woeful legacy of the band's drummers?  I'm sure that every fan has a favorite part, mine just might be that perspective-laden trip to Graceland, though I'm also rather fond of the big show at the military base.  In fact, there are so many amusing sequences that This is Spinal Tap never seems to fall flat, and even the few bits that don't work are often saved by one of the brilliant performances.  I'm a fan of silly comedies and rock and roll, so my affection for this one should come as no surprise.  Still, I think it is fair to say that That This is Spinal Tap's greatness extends well beyond any niche or niches--it's not just a good comedy, it's a remarkable comedy.

Final Grade: 11 (A+)

This is Spinal Tap is one of the best comedies ever, and it is
a must-see for anyone who enjoys a good laugh or rock and roll.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane has to rank among the most poorly-received films of all time.  The movie was ripped to shreds by critics and failed to perform at the box office.  Many protested the fact that it was released at all, aiming politically correct arrows at Andrew Dice Clay's offensive persona.  Let's be clear: the movie is vulgar and boasts numerous lewd jabs that are guaranteed to bother sensitive viewers.  Gays and women are among the primary targets of the lead character's off-color humor, but there are plenty of jokes to go around and it might not be easy to identify any particular segment of humanity that isn't targeted by some of the zingers generously sprinkled throughout the picture.  Having said all that, the question remains: is The Adventures of Ford Fairlane any good?  Honestly, I think it's a minor classic of sorts.  Clay (whose stand-up has always been rather hit-or-miss) is perfect as the lead, a private dick who specializes in cases that involve the music industry.  Ford's keen detective skills aren't as apparent as his love for one-liners and his inability to control his raging libido, but maybe a lack of motivation is to blame--his rock star clients tend to pay him with gifts and memorabilia as opposed to cash.  Wayne Newton is superb as the slimy villain.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I'll say it again: Wayne Newton is superb in this movie.  If it had fared better, who knows what his sleazy turn as a corrupt and murderous producer would have done for his acting career.  Robert Englund generates a lot of laughs as a kooky henchman, and Ed O'Neill damn near steals the show as a smarmy cop who can't stand Dice's cocky P.I.--the scene where he finally reveals the origins of his animosity toward Fairlane is one of my favorite parts of the movie.  There are a few decent action sequences and Renny Harlin probably did his best job as a director with this glitzy exercise in style and excess.  Yes, those who are easily bothered by such material should steer clear of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, but those who like dirty jokes and obnoxious comedies will find that this much maligned feature film from 1990 is funny, cool, and exciting in equal measures.  It's very offensive, to be sure, but it is also very entertaining, and it remains one of my favorite comedies 25 years after it limped into theaters.

Final Grade: A

One of my favorite aspects of this vulgar comedy is the antagonistic
relationship between Dice's private detective and O'Neill's stiff cop.
Their exchanges are priceless.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

EODM's New Song Totally Rocks (No Surprise There)

Zipper Down from Eagles of Death Metal is due out on 10/2.
Thus far, those dashing Eagles of Death Metal have released three tracks from their upcoming album, Zipper Down.  The first two, "Complexity" and "Got a Woman," are solid tracks.  The first is cheeky and upbeat and the second is a lightning-paced rock and roll jam that I liked a bit more.  However, both of those songs pale in comparison to the track the band debuted most recently.  "Silverlake" is a fab song that is full of oomph and humor, allowing the band to shred and make fun of hipsters in equal measures.  The end result is one of my favorite songs from this groovy band and it definitely ramps up my enthusiasm as the arrival of Zipper Down draws nigh.  If you've never experienced this silly rock affair anchored by the lovable Jesse Hughes and his wacky pal Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) on drums, this new album may prove to be a great starting point.  Arriving seven years after they last dropped an album on us (2008's Heart On, a nifty record that I liked--even if it is easily the band's least impressive offering to date), the upcoming release boasts eleven tracks, including a cover of Duran Duran's "Save a Prayer."  If it lives up to the feel good vibe that the red hot and unabashedly cool "Silverlake" generates, music lovers everywhere are going to have a great time getting down with Zipper Down.

Listen to the latest from EODM here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Dreamscape (1984)

Dreamscape is the kind of whacko thrill ride that I can really get behind.  The 80s were a good decade for silly films like this, and there are few sci-fi/horror/fantasy/action/political intrigue medleys that I enjoy as much as this one.  Dennis Quaid is a great lead and David Patrick Kelly is a wonderful villain.  Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer are also on hand, and Kate Capshaw and Eddie Albert are among the other performers who do a splendid job of bringing a wild script to life.  The movie concerns scientific efforts to manipulate dreams that essentially result in the development of dream warriors who wield extraordinary power in their nocturnal adventures.  This is troubling, as these dream warriors can invade the dreams of others.  One is good, a likable psychic crook (Quaid) who finds purpose helping people dealing with traumatic nightmares.  One is bad, a cold-blooded psycho (Kelly) who is soon working with a shady government official (Plummer) who wants him to kill the president.  The dream sequences are unique and satisfying, and the movie mostly succeeds at the various things it attempts to accomplish.  The horror and sci-fi elements work best, while the action bits frequently fall flat.  Most importantly, Dreamscape requires Quaid to help a young boy who is menaced by Snake-Man (a groovy menace who appears thanks to a crafty combination of stop-motion animation and practical effects) in his nightmares.  Snake-Man is equal parts cheese and classic goodness, and he's the coolest thing about Dreamscape, a goofy thriller that I really dig.

Final Grade: B+

Is Snake-Man the best thing about Dreamscape?  Yes, I do believe that he is.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Short Attention Span Review - Salem's Lot (1979)

While the decision to go with a Nosferatu type vampire is a wild departure from Stephen King's novel, the 1979 television adaptation of Salem's Lot still succeeds in bringing that terrifying book to life.  There are other differences and this miniseries is surely vastly inferior to the vampire-filled pageturner that I rank as King's best, but it still has a lot going for it.  David Soul doesn't look anything like the main character that King described, a haunted writer named Ben Mears, but he excels in the role.  I think his presence is perhaps the most impressive thing about this adaptation, though the ghastly Marsten House is also beautifully realized.  The effects are solid throughout and the score is sheer perfection.  Soul is surrounded by worthy performers like James Mason, Bonnie Bedelia, Elisha Cook Jr., George Dzundza, and Geoffrey Lewis, among others.  In addition to putting together a nifty cast, this production also nailed the quaint setting of Jerusalem's Lot, a neat little town that is drained of all life by the horrors that lurk in this imaginative shocker.  When King wrote the book, he set out to bring Dracula to Maine, and that premise works as well on the screen as it did on the page.  The 2004 remake starring Rob Lowe was downright dreadful, but I'm a big fan of this 1979 spookshow from the mind of the most demented author of our time.  As with any of King's adaptations (and adaptations in general), the book is better, but Tobe Hooper's take on Salem's Lot is cool, creepy, and lots of fun.

Final Grade: B

Though he looks nothing like the character that Stephen King described, David
Soul's work as Ben Mears is the biggest strength of this TV mini-series from 1979.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Devil Fish (1984)

This week I've been reviewing some quality Italian horror films for those of you who dig my blog.  I've provided my take on one of the late Lucio Fulci's better films, City of the Living Dead.  I also gave you my thoughts on my favorite chiller from Dario Argento, Deep Red.  Well, today we're taking a look at another Italian horror film, but I can't really vouch for the quality of this Lamberto Bava movie from 1984.  In fact, I think it's safe to say that Devil Fish is a terrible movie.  No, it's worse than that.  Calling it terrible is an insult to all of the movies out there that are merely terrible, and not so awful that it is downright embarrassing.  Yet, I have some affection for this turd, and here's why: it is absolutely one of those "so bad that it's good" pictures.  Scary?  Shit.  Hilarious?  Absolutely.  It is entirely possible that Devil Fish represents a high-water mark for unintentional comedy.  There are special effects that are so pitiful that one might wonder if the filmmakers let their children design and operate the creature.  There are death scenes that are so poorly acted that you may wonder how anyone on set was able to keep a straight face during filming.  You won't be able to keep a straight face while watching, I can promise you that.  The direction is woeful, the score sounds like the work of inept musicians playing broken instruments, and the script is idiotic at its best and dumber than Dumb & Dumber at its worst.  As a result, the laughs are frequent, and I am being 100% sincere when I say that Devil Fish is funnier than a lot of comedies that I've watched.  Like many films of this sort, it probably wears out its welcome long before its over, but if you turn it off at any point, it's not like you have to worry that you're missing a cool part.  There are no cool parts.  Lamberto Bava is the son of notable director Mario Bava, a terrific filmmaker whose worst feature film was surely about 100 times as good as this atrocity.  Lamberto would go on to direct Demons (a personal favorite of mine), so he was capable of making a good flick.  With that in mind, it's hard to say what went wrong with Devil Fish.  Actually, it's pretty easy, I guess, as obviously EVERYTHING went wrong with Devil Fish.  It's a blatant attempt to produce a Jaws ripoff on a shoestring budget with a lousy script, a lousy cast, lousy effects, and a lousy score.  The end result is a lousy movie that only finds redemption by virtue of failing so badly that it winds up being amusing.

 Final Grade: F+

"Do as I say or I'll make you watch Devil Fish again!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Deep Red (1975)

Yesterday, I reviewed one of Fulci's better movies (City of the Living Dead), so today I'm turning my attention to another notable Italian director who made his name in the horror genre.  While Fulci was celebrated for his excessive use of gore, Dario Argento was better known for his deft use of a moving camera and the way his creative cinematography and lively color palettes served to inject a surreal element into his work.  Dario was no stranger to gore either, and he also shared Fulci's enthusiasm for twisted plots.  Though he has completely lost his ability to make a decent film in this day and age, Argento was lighting up the screen with sensational chillers and gruesome thrillers in the 70s and 80s.  In my personal opinion, Deep Red may just be his best feature, though Suspiria will always be more popular.  Hey, that's okay--Suspiria is a top-shelf horror film, but for my money, Deep Red is more riveting and far more fulfilling.  While Suspiria is a fairy tale of sorts, Deep Red is a blood-curdling mystery that is equal parts slasher flick and ghost story, though to label it as either would be inaccurate.  David Hemmings stars as a pianist who witnesses a horrific murder without being able to identify the killer.  Soon, he and an intrepid reporter (the wonderful Daria Nicolodi as Gianna Brezzi) are trying to solve a vicious mystery that reaches into the past.  As they work to uncover the truth, the death toll rises and it becomes quite clear that they are in great danger.  Stellar cinematography, an amazing score by Goblin, and one of Argento's most inventive plots come together in Deep Red, an elaborate whodunit that is full of scares and twists. 

Final Grade: A

In Deep Red, David Hemmings is drawn into a savage mystery.  As he tries to unravel
a brutal murder, bodies continue to pile up until this shocker reaches a grim conclusion.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: City of the Living Dead (1980)

Widely celebrated as a filmmaker who greatly enjoyed showering his audience with gore, Lucio Fulci was also incredibly talented when it came to establishing mood.  His movies also benefited from quality cinematography and unique plots.  City of the Living Dead is a great example of just what Fulci was capable of.  It is incredibly disgusting at times, so disgusting, in fact, that several sequences are truly difficult to watch.  It is also incredibly creepy, and the sinister mood deepens as the kooky story progresses.  Fulci seldom had the privilege of working with a stellar cast, but City of the Living Dead features Christopher George and Catriona MacColl as a mismatched pair of strangers who set out on a spooky trip to save the world.  They shine in this demented gem, and the supporting cast does a nifty job with the gruesome material as well.  Now, Fulci was always more interested in taking audiences on a ride than maintaining plausibility, so this blood-splattered oddity does include a few plot holes and some random crazy shit like teleporting zombies, people bleeding from their eyes and then puking out their intestines, and maggot showers.  The score is ominous, accentuating a number of tense moments that make all the brutal demises sprinkled throughout the picture that much more intense when they arrive.  City of the Living Dead isn't a great horror film, but it's very effective.  It's a strange zombie film with a bit of a Lovecraft vibe and a lot of energy.  It's not Fulci's best film, but it is one of his better offerings, and those who enjoy this sort of material should definitely take a little trip to the City of the Living Dead.  Just make sure to pack a barf-bag. 

Final Grade: C+

In City of the Living Dead, once the bleeding from the eyes begins,
watch out--things are about to get incredibly disgusting.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Slayer - Repentless (Released 9/11/2015)

Slayer hit us with Repentless today, the first album the band has released since Jeff Hanneman passed away.  The impossible task of stepping in for Hanneman falls upon Gary Holt of Exodus.  Holt is a quality guitarist and he works hard to fill a significant void, though his efforts are somewhat diminished by Kerry King taking on a larger role.  For the most part, King actually plays it straight, but there are enough "Hey, look at me!" solos around to drag the proceedings down at times.  Paul Bostaph fills in nicely for Dave Lombardo on drums; there can be no doubt that he fits this band just as well as Lombardo, though I still give Dave a slight edge in ability and a bigger edge in finesse.  Tom Araya does a fine job with the vocals and bass, but that should come as no surprise.  It's a good album, much better than much of what's out there right now.  How does it stack up alongside Slayer's best recordings?  Come on, man.  Still, an average Slayer album trumps a top-shelf disc from the vast majority of acts playing the heavy metal scene in 2015.  I contemplated giving this album a "C+" but it occurred to me that I wasn't being very fair.  This would get no less than a "B" if it was released by most bands in the same vein, and there are several big name entities out there that have never produced something as worthwhile as Repentless.  The opening track, an instrumental entitled "Delusions of Saviour," is perhaps my favorite cut, though it seems like it should exist as the intro for the title track.  Speaking of the title track, the song is cool but the "Repentless" video is totally gnarly.  Slayer + Danny Trejo + a grisly prison riot = 1 extremely metal music video.  Other standout tracks include "Piano Wire," the punk-esque thrashfest that is "You Against You," "Vices," and "Pride in Prejudice."  I don't think that any of these offerings stack up well against any of Slayer's best cuts, but none of the songs on Repentless fall flat.  In the end, I am enjoying this one, even if it will never be confused with one of this legendary metal band's greatest albums.  It's still Slayer, even if things look and sound a little different, and Slayer still raises hell better than anyone.

Final Grade: B-

Slayer's new line-up delivers a solid album that is head and shoulders above
most of what's out there right now, though it is surely a far cry from their best stuff.


The NFL was back in action last night, and while Pittsburgh's inability to kick field goals and punch the ball in at the 1 kept the game itself from sizzling, Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski was on fire.  The top fantasy player at his position showed why he went in the first round of so many drafts by finishing the game with 94 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns.  It was a performance that inspired teammate Julian Edelman to aptly describe his teammate as an eighth grader playing ball with second graders.  Heck, that monstrous stat line also includes a key fumble recovery that kept the game from becoming more competitive when the Steelers finally had a chance to stop Tom Brady and the Pats.  Look, if you have Brady (25 out of 42 for 288 yards and 4 TDs) on your fantasy squad, you enjoyed last night's contest.  The same could be said for those who own Edelman (11 receptions for 97 yards), particularly if they play in a PPR league.  However, there can be no doubt that the big winners in the realm of fantasy football today are those who drafted Gronk.  Likewise, the big losers a single game into the first week of action have to be those owners like myself who were facing a team with this powerhouse in the starting line-up. 

We got Gronk'd.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Slayer - Repentless Singles (Album is Due Friday)

Like many Slayer fans, I'm looking forward to the release of Repentless on Friday, but I'm also a bit conflicted about this latest offering from heavy metal's biggest and baddest act.  While Dave Lombardo is probably my favorite drummer, it isn't really his absence that bothers me.  No, I'm still on board in light of that unfortunate development, largely due to the fact that Paul Bostaph is a monster on the skins in his own right.  It's the fact that Jeff Hanneman is no longer around to contribute that makes me wonder if the album will measure up to the band's considerable legacy.  Fortunately, Slayer has dropped four singles to give us some idea of what to expect.  None of them are bad, that's for sure.  Each new song has some value and there is surely no indication that Repentless won't be a solid release.  Having said that, none of the songs are great either, leaving one to wonder if we can hope for more than an average record from Tom Araya, Kerry King, Bostaph, and newcomer Gary Holt.  Slayer fans don't dig on mediocrity and the band has always rewarded their feverish base with blistering albums loaded with rich songs that most metal acts wish they could dream up.  It will be interesting to see if Repentless rises above the four decent singles that have hit the scene or simply offers up more of the same.  I guess it's possible that the rest of the songs could suck and Repentless could wind up being the trainwreck that some longtime fans are expecting, but I doubt it.  This is Slayer, after all.  Anyway, I'm going to provide track notes for the singles and you can drop by on Friday for a review of the album itself.

Tracks released thus far:

Track 2 - "Repentless" - Probably the strongest single we've gotten thus far, this is a fitting nod to Jeff Hanneman's love for speed and aggression.  It's a brief jaunt with a nifty chorus and it isn't overburdened with a lot of that Kerry King "Fuck the cohesion of the song and check out my solo!" bullshit.

Track 5 - "Cast the First Stone" - Brooding and brutal, it has some punch even though it doesn't really make any attempt to stray from the formula.

Track 6 - "When the Stillness Comes" - Bolstered by some deft vocals c/o Araya and a driving beat, this is a dark and demented song that doesn't disappoint.

Track 8 - "Implode" - This nearly rises above the pack and emerges as a stellar assault on the eardrums, but there is a bit too much of that Kerry King bullshit happening in the last third of the song. 

The new album hits Friday and I will be posting a review here at Land of Way.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Roger Goodeell Doesn't Have Time to Keep Losing Player Discipline Battles

Yes, the NFL returns to town this week, and if you're like me, you're rather eager for professional football to hit the scene once again.  Though the league has done a tremendous job of remaining at the center of the sports world even when games aren't being played, off-season intrigue is a poor substitute for on-the-field excitement.  In fact, it could be that all this extra attention on the combine, the draft, free agency, and the pre-season only makes fans more eager to see their teams get back to business.  Bonus points: sizing up games and breaking down the action will surely provide a welcome break from the steady stream of drama that Roger Goodell's misguided attempts to serve as judge, jury, and executioner for the league has provided.

Let's face it: Roger can't win for losing.  Maybe his heart is in the right place as he works to protect the integrity of the shield by dropping the hammer on players who can't stay out of trouble or teams and players who have a hard time sticking to the rules.  Yet it can't be denied that his track record and his overall performance toward those ends have him looking like the Washington Redskins in action.  Maybe the commissioner and D.C.'s beloved team in the lovely burgundy and yellow color scheme are competing to see who can lose more and sound less convincing as they work to convince us that they are trying really hard to succeed.  Goodell exceeds at pouncing on issues long before the legal system has a chance to do its job when he isn't ordering up investigations that move at a snail's pace.  His actions are either too fast or too slow for the NFLPA and the legions of fans who support the NFL, and those same actions are frequently out of touch with the general public's perception of a reasonable process and suitable punishment for the parties in question.

With this in mind, when Goodell took time out of his busy schedule to declare that he was interested in taking a less active role in player discipline moving forward, it was surely welcome news.  Of course, being the arrogant titan that he is, Roger didn't acknowledge that this move is a response to the constant stream of jeers, bewilderment, and calls for his job that his efforts to play Wyatt Earp have generated.  No, he wants us to believe that he simply doesn't have time to continue his sound imitation of an inept Emperor Palpatine at the helm of the NFL.  Said Goodell: "It's become extremely time-consuming and I have to be focused on other issues."  While he didn't elaborate on the other issues that he would like to turn into a circus sideshow, he was correct when he noted that a "discipline officer or some type of panel that could make at least the initial decision and then designate on some type of appeal" would allow for "a better system."  Of course, it could be said that doing anything differently would result in a better system at this point, so maybe we shouldn't give Roger a prize just yet.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Top 5 Wes Craven Movies

Wes Craven was undoubtedly one of the most legendary creators ever to make his mark on the horror genre.  This amazing director gave us two of the biggest and baddest franchises in that realm and he was also directly responsible for a number of fright flicks that will be cherished for years to come.  Anyone who lived through the 80s (quite possibly the greatest decade ever) is well aware of this, and Craven was still making waves when grunge hit the scene--and beyond!  I hope you enjoy this tribute to a true master's work, a Top 5 where I discuss my favorite offerings from the one and only Wes Craven.

#5) Red Eye (2005)

Craven is best known for movies about things that go bump in the night, but this tense thriller is one of his coolest features.  It doesn't hurt that the leads are Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams, two top-notch performers who made the most of an exciting script.  Murphy is menacing and manipulative as the villain, while McAdams makes for a gutsy heroine who is intelligent and surprisingly tough.  Most of the film concerns these two playing a nice game of cat-and-mouse while seated beside one another on a red eye flight, but the picture never suffers from the sort of strain that often undermines tales that unfold in a compact environment.  Red Eye is clever and inventive from start to finish and it is bolstered by a nifty score courtesy of Marco Beltrami.  For his part, the director deftly explores his primary characters and the frightening situation that pits them against one another while keeping his foot on the pedal and constantly ratcheting up the tension until the gripping finale.  Red Eye was a bit of a departure for this horror maestro, but he did a fine job with it and I think it is worthy of the #5 spot on this list.  As we move forward, we'll turn our attention to the scary movies that Wes Craven is best known for, but this underrated flight into suspense from 2005 was surely a worthy addition to his legacy.

Craven does a fine job as director, but perhaps the biggest strengths of
Red Eye
are Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams as the stars of the picture.
. . .

#4) The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

In 1977, Craven gave us The Hills Have Eyes, a horrific voyage into violence and terror.  The film concerns a fairly typical family on vacation who take a little detour into the California desert.  Yes, there's an old man who warns them of danger, telling them to stay on the main road.  Yes, they wind up stranded in an eerie expanse of rock and sand where cannibalistic savages lurk.  The sun sets and bloody horror ensues.  Craven is working with a strong script (he wrote it) and he does a great job with the mood and the atmosphere.  Additionally, though Dee Wallace and Michael Berryman are present in early roles, most of the cast consisted of unknowns, and the director was still able to wring sound performances out of them.  The Hills Have Eyes is exceptionally violent, and the family at the center of the picture is brutalized to such an extent that they damn near become monsters themselves.  Those who survive this grisly shocker will emerge with bloody hands and broken minds, and the carnage is laced with quality scares.  It's a simple picture, to be honest, and this film surely came at a time when Wes wasn't working with anything resembling a big budget.  However, the end result is a thrilling and disgusting tale of death and destruction that resonated with audiences.  In fact, The Hills Have Eyes was successful enough to generate a less potent sequel, and a modern reboot took the brutality to new heights and generated a less potent sequel of its own.  It's not classic Craven; he was still earning his stripes at this point, but it is one hell of a horror film and it clearly signified that the director was going to be a tremendous presence in the genre.

Savage and terrifying, The Hills Have Eyes is an ominous chiller
that features a wealth of violence and a handful of big scares.
. . .

#3) The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Here's a fantastic chiller from Craven that is often overlooked despite the fact that it is one of his most ambitious films.  Starring Bill Pullman, The Serpent and the Rainbow is a wicked fright flick that concerns an anthropologist who travels to Haiti to investigate claims that a man has been raised from the dead.  Arriving during a revolution, Pullman's Dennis Alan soon finds himself embroiled in a sinister saga that is ripe with political intrigue and black magic.  Zakes Mokae excels as the villain of the piece, a fiendish madman who wields both the powers of tyranny and voodoo.  The Serpent and the Rainbow is loosely based on a book by botanist Wade Davis (a Harvard graduate) and is thereby billed as being "based on a true story" despite the fact that it doesn't adhere closely to the original text and the book itself was heavily criticized by the scientific community upon release.  Regardless, the picture is filled with spooky imagery and boasts a number of sequences that are guaranteed to make audiences squirm.  Perhaps the most gripping scene in The Serpent and the Rainbow is alluded to in the poster and most of the marketing materials for the picture, and Craven doesn't disappoint when it's time to bury Bill Pullman alive.  In addition to being scary and provocative, this one is surprisingly exciting and moves at a faster pace than many horror films.  The top two spots on my list are reserved for a pair of Craven's grandest successes, films that every fan of the genre will recognize, but the #3 spot belongs to this creepy little trip to Haiti.  Warning: the next time you drop in, don't ask the local witch doctor to show you how to make a zombie.

In The Serpent and the Rainbow, Bill Pullman plays
an anthropologist who has the time of his life in Haiti.
. . .

#2) Scream (1996)

Now, there are some who believe that Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson revolutionized the horror genre with this witty slasher flick in 1996.  I'm not one of those people, but I love Scream nonetheless.  I dig the entire series, to be honest, and I do love the way the characters in these films are so aware of the standard tropes that so many pictures in this vein employ.  Smart, edgy, and funny?  Yes.  Riveting and bloody?  Sure thing.  Revolutionary?  Well, I don't know about all that, but I'm still a big fan and I'm putting the first (and best) entry in this series at #2 on my list.  The cast is stellar and Williamson gave Craven one of the coolest scripts that he would ever get to work with.  The first scene is one of the finest openings in the history of the genre and the picture never loses steam.  Scream is ripe with gory kills, big laughs, and shocking twists.  What's not to love?  Neve Campbell offered up a performance worthy of Jamie Lee Curtis and would continue to thrill audiences in all four of the movies this franchise has produced to date.  David Arquette and Courtney Cox also excelled in what may be their finest big-screen roles, and the same case could probably be made for both Mathew Lillard and Skeet Ulrich if Lillard wasn't born to play Shaggy.  Scream isn't Craven's masterpiece (I imagine all of you who are reading this know where I'm going at #1), but it is one of the best slasher flicks of all time.  While it may not be the best slasher flick out there, I'm pretty sure that it is probably the most entertaining slasher flick of them all, and it is surely a fine example of a fantastic director producing a great film in a genre that he cherished.  

Anyone who enjoys a good horror film (and slasher flicks in particular)
should have a bloody good time with Wes Craven's Scream.
. . .

#1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

True story: the first A Nightmare on Elm Street is a genuine horror classic.  A first-rate slasher flick needs a fearsome villain, right?  Freddy is a demented icon, though later pictures would turn him into a bit of a clown.  That doesn't matter, for A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't require Freddy to play for laughs the whole time--he cracks wise here and there, but there's no doubt that he's out for blood.  The Freddy that we meet in this landmark venture is vicious and creepy in equal measures.  A classic horror flick needs an epic score, right?  We've got one here.  What about some grisly kills?  The wicked mayhem that unfolds in this one is very creative and very, very bloody.  We also need a good cast and a strong heroine (dudes can apply for the gig, but it typically works better when we give this part to a chick in slasher fare) to round things out, and once again, A Nightmare on Elm Street is firing on all cylinders.  Hey look, it's John Saxon!  We just raised the ante in a big way, folks.  Yes, Wes Craven was at his very best as a director when he was at the helm for this smash hit, a picture that continues to scare audiences worldwide.  It remains one of the best slasher flicks of all time--if not the very best.  Only Halloween could present a legitimate challenge on that front.  In fact, A Nightmare on Elm Street is so twisted and so expertly plotted that some might chafe at the fact that I've labelled it a slasher flick, but I love slasher flicks so I don't consider that to be a slight.  Regardless, it's a big winner, and I have no problem giving this motion picture the highest of grades.  Wes Craven was a great director and the horror genre won't be the same without him.  A Nightmare on Elm Street was his finest motion picture, and it's a movie that will continue to haunt audiences for years to come.

Over 30 years after it was originally released, this legendary
gem from Wes Craven is still giving horror fans nightmares.