Wes Craven

The Art of Horror

By John Kenneth Muir.
McFarland &: Company, Inc. Illus. £33.75.
ISBN 0-7864-0576-7.

Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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This is a novel and interesting look at Wes Craven and his body of work. The first chapter is a career overview and in its thirty-two pages it ably condenses and illuminates for the reader what it is aboutthis man and his films, which have kept him in the public eye for such a long period of time.

Wes Craven has consistently and imaginatively scared movie audiences since the early 1970's. His films encompass a variety of styles, elements and themes, from the nihilistic existentialism of The Last House on the Left to the successful A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, to the hallucinatory dreamscapes of The Serpent and the Rainbow. For each film, a synopsis, cast and credits, history and critical commentary are provided. The chapter on the feature films deals with Craven's body of work chronologically starting off with 1971's The Last House on the Left progressing through 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street and finishes off with 1997ís Scream 2.

The critical commentary for each feature is well researched and written from both an informed viewpoint as well as a great deal of enthusiasm for its subject matter. There are many cross-references to other films and film-makers in the genre to which Craven's films allude from both an in-joke as well as a peer group perspective.

For those technophiles you can see the 'family' that Craven has gathered around him over the years to produce his feature films, and it shows how various individuals have risen up through the ranks to assume major creative roles.

Craven's return to the mainstream in the 90's with the Scream films was welcomed by his many ardent fans, but also garnered him new legions who regarded them as simultaneously funny, clever and scary films that overturned the horror cliches of the 8O's. However, Craven didn't limit himself just to working in the realm of theatrical features and the book also details his forays into television, including movies such as Stranger in the House and work on such series as The New Twilight Zone.

There are many interesting chapters including the one entitled 'The Battle Over Censorship', which covers a problem faced by many film-makers in this genre, that of creative and artistic expression and moral/public responsibility. The chapter covers both the critical and parental reactions to Craven's particular type of film-making.

The chapters are illustrated with photographs, which could do with being printed with more contrast to capture the atmosphere of the films from which they came. However, this is a small gripe considering the overall quality and standard of critical writing in this book. The filmography, notes, bibliography, appendices and index are of the normal high standard one has come to expect from McFarland's stable of film literature, This volume has some interesting appendices with 'Movie References in Scream', 'The Family in Craven's Films'; 'Recurring Imagery' and 'Rating the Films' providing both a way to view Craven's work as well as food for thought.

David Hilton 






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