The Man Behind The Screams
As I write this the horror world is reeling from the loss of one of its modern legends – director Wes Craven. The loss of Mr. Craven is a bleak reminder that many of the great horror talents from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are entering their twilight years. I certainly don’t want to belabor the point because with the loss of Mr. Craven we should celebrate what he gave to the genre and film in general.
Horror has never had a really great reputation. Most actors seem to think they are slumming if they do a horror film. Critics lambaste the genre as trash. Studios treat horror as if it’s a sort of lottery that you play when you need some quick cash – throwing tropes in with pretty young people and some casual nudity once in a while and BAM you may have another franchise to lean on for some extra bucks. Saying all that, horror does have its advocates and its stewards and Wes Craven was most certainly one of those. Looking through his career he was a man that looked deeper than the blood to find what really frightened people. He was interested in the hidden sins of the family, the savage that lurks just beneath our exteriors, and the frailty of suburban bliss. He was a filmmaker that was just as interested in the psyche as he was the visceral scare. Craven molded horror for three decades with Last House On The Left, A Nightmare On Elm St., and Scream and influenced an ocean of imitators and wanna-bes. Last House captured the utter terror of the death of what we told ourselves were the ‘good old days. It was a reflection of the death of free love. It was the horrors of the world, whether it be an ongoing war or monstrous criminals, coming for us in our beds. Nightmare was truly the sins of the past coming back. It was the idea of the old mentality of taking the law into your own hands and rooting out ‘evil’ in a community yourselves. Nightmare was all about how unsafe we really were in the suburbs and how taking revenge has its consequences. It was truly the rot within the American dream. And with Scream you had a reflection of a generation that was too clever for its own good. A generation that didn’t want to be the hero anymore but wanted to be the villain. That wanted fame at any cost and a world that would grant it, if just for a moment.
You see similar themes in his other films as well, his interest in the Middle American suburban nightmare casting a long shadow over his work because it was right in broad daylight that he knew some of the worst monsters chose to live. Man, he understood, was often the worst monster of all. The savage within, waiting to be coaxed out of hiding.
What is fascinating to me is that Craven created two horror franchises that spoke to essentially two generations of teenagers. While he left the Nightmare franchise until the last film it was the first of those movies that set template for what scared kids of the ‘80’s and the Scream franchise rejuvenated the slasher genre and turn it in on itself. I am not sure there are any other filmmakers in horror history that can lay claim to such a feat. It’s not easy making entertainment that speaks to young people but to do it with two franchises and in two different decades is a heck of an achievement. The effects of both franchises are still felt today as they keep trying to revive Freddy from the Nightmare films and there is currently a Scream television series on MTV.
For me, what made him more important to horror than anything though was his thoughtful, intelligent views on horror as a genre and as a natural part of the human experience. There are a lot of very intelligent people working in horror but not many are as articulate and well-spoken as Craven was. He was a gentleman of horror and he portrayed the genre in a much kinder and smarter light than many seem to see it. He was someone who knew his place in pop culture and embraced it.
You have to give him credit too that he got a chance to do films outside of horror – something few directors that make a successful horror film are able to do. And when he did those films he was not one to act as if he had finally ‘made it’ and was always better than horror. No, he returned to the genre to finish out the Scream series, the hope being to end those movies on a high note as he had been able to do with the Nightmare franchise. We fans don’t like to share our creators, especially ones like Craven who have brought so much to the genre, but it’s nice that he got to stretch himself, even if it wasn’t for many films.
Truly, the loss of Wes Craven is something that horror will feel deeply. His influence is one that will be written about, talked about, but more than anything felt. He was a filmmaker that was able to elevate the genre and yet still entertain and most importantly scare. All we fans can hope for is that he understood how much he meant to us and the genre we love and that future filmmakers will look to him for inspiration and not for someone to ape. That is what Mr. Craven deserves, not just the accolades, but to have inspired other fear creators to not imitate but to innovate and to re-invent horror as he did, and it’s my hope that that is what we’ll see.
Thanks for everything, Mr. Craven.
I have been doing conventions for a long time. A long, long time. Both comic and horror with some art and book festivals thrown in for good measure. This past weekend I went to what was easily the biggest horror con I have ever done – Days of the Dead, Indy. I was so fired up for the show I even booked a room in the host hotel. I know, CRAZY!
It was an interesting weekend. I don’t really have a huge interest in writing a ‘review’ of the con per se because it was a good show, a big show, and there was a ton to do. If you were a fan and wanted to go to a show that gave you the best bang for you buck I am betting this is one of the ones you’d want to hit. I never want to go to shows as a fan just because I figure I’d get bored but man, there were events going late into the night on Friday and Saturday and you’d be hard pressed to be bored if you were looking for some fun. As far as I could tell it was very professionally run, the traffic flow was as good as you could have expected, and people were having a good time. Any issues were the kind of things you have with every show – it’s too cold, I didn’t sell enough, this happened, or that happened, or whatever. That’s the sort of stuff that falls under the ‘annoyances’ category but which I can’t really slam the con for – it wouldn’t be fair. No show is perfect. None.
That was one of the big takeaways for me this weekend was that, as big as this show is and as small as our Flint show was our little show got a heck of a lot ‘right’ in regards to how we ran things. Our experience came from doing community and arts events, not large scale conventions, so we did pretty darn well. We had our hiccups like every show, and limitations, but with what we had…we did pretty darn well. I was always disappointed we didn’t get more folks out to the show but I forget that we were a one day show, which limits attendance. And let’s face it, whatever it is, people will always tell you they are going and not show up. It’s not you, it’s them. It’s life. It makes me happy though to know that we did things right. We always felt like we did but it’s nice to see that, compared to big shows, we were right in thinking that.
I love, love, love the atmosphere of these shows. The ‘freak show’ nature where everyone is doing their thing and flying their particular flag. It was great to see the sheer enthusiasm people have for horror, for the guests, and for everything in between. It’s great. It really is what pure fandom is about, the fun of it all. Fans get painted in a negative light pretty often, especially horror fans, but when you see the fun these folks are having, and talk to them and see how passionate they are you see them not as a stereotype or idea but as PEOPLE. Fans. It’s silly that horror fans are seen as freaks and weirdos because we love things on the dark side, as if watching two people beat the crap out of one another in the name of money and sport is an innocent way to pass the time. Sheesh. And I tell you what, you rarely find more welcoming, friendly, and generous celebrities than you do with the genre films. Not everyone is great but man, most of these folks understand that without the fans they might not be working and they appreciate that. It’s nice to be appreciated!
It does make me sad, I have to say, when it comes to celebrities because I wonder who the next generation will be that will do these shows. There just aren’t the personalities or career horror people that we used to have. Many actors look down on genre work and would never ‘stoop’ to do a convention. It makes me wonder who the next generation will be then to populate these shows. They will find folks but I am not sure if they’ll be as compelling and fun as the generation we have now though.
I had one of those weird things happen to me that happens from time to time that I just…I just don’t get. Once in a while at shows you get the Know It All, the person that feels compelled to tell you what you’re doing wrong, that they don’t like your stuff, that you’re a hack, any number of things that are just nasty and childish to say. Giving unsolicited opinions is something a child does, not an adult with any common sense. Ah, but these people don’t have common sense. There was a woman at the show, a fellow author selling vampire books, who kept wandering around the show being three shades of obnoxious. She came up to me as I was just standing behind my table and proceeded to tell me how well she was doing, incredibly well. Great, I told her, genuinely happy for her because to me, I am not in competition with other writers. I do what I do, they do what they do, whatever. People read what they want. Well she had said this, literally, in passing, and turned to start a conversation with me. She spoke in the most condescending tone I think I have heard in many years and started quizzing me – so you’re the author, so you’re self-pub, oh… She looked my table over, then picked up one of my novels, flipped through it, got a very upset look on her face then said ‘ooooooh, do you have many copies of this?’. I was freaked out because I thought that there was some obvious typo that she’d found. I told her ‘yeah’, because I had a few copies for the show but it’s not like a keep a vast stock on hand. ‘Well, black words on white paper burn reader’s eyes. That’s why they print on off white’ she said matter-of-factly. I was at a loss for words. I had been growing angrier and angrier with her but that was the topper but I kept my cool because I am too old for games and I didn’t really wanna get into some silly vendor war at a convention. I thanked her for that ‘sizzling hot tip’ – something an ex-manager would say, which always made me laugh – and she spun around again, satisfied she had imparted her wisdom on me and heading off, and she gave me a crap eating grin and told me something like ‘any time’ and wandered off. I assume she was drunk. Both times I ran across her she seemed terribly drunk. If not, she’s got issues to deal with. I was not the only author she did this to. She made sure to go by another author I know to pull the same sort of nonsense with him, telling him all about how great she was doing and taking down to him about his work.
She doesn’t know us.
She doesn’t know what we do.
She can be the world’s bestselling author of books about vampire knights but baby, if you got no class, you got no class. She has no class. I do this because I love it. I wish, wish, WISH I could make a living with my writing but I don’t. It is what it is. I get that some people look down there nose at me for being self-published and I deal with it. I wish I had other options. I don’t. Unless someone wants to read all of my work and prove to me that my work is lesser than much of the garbage dropped into the mainstream market then they can eff off all day and night. It’s funny to me that musicians, poets, and artists are ‘allowed’ to self-publish and produce things themselves but authors can’t. We’re trash if we do. That’s ridiculous. Don’t tell me it’s about ‘saturating the market’ and ‘watering down the talented writing with bad writing’. That doesn’t wash. People choose what they want to read. If I read something I don’t like I don’t punish the world of writing by not reading anymore. I doubt anyone does that. It’s the old guard being afraid of the new wave. Sure, a lot of crap is getting published, but BIG SURPRISE! Look at the bookshelves and you’ll see a lot of crap, but someone reads it so it is what it is.
Back to our friend.
I just don’t get the mentality of talking crap to people, especially people doing something they love. It’s petty, childish, and pathetic.
We ran into her later that night and she said ‘hello author’ as if she had told me to screw myself with a wrench.
The thing too is that her ‘tip’ doesn’t hold a ton of weight. Sure, black on white CAN hurt the eyes, but that tends to fall on the lighting more than anything else. You know why paperbacks were printed on ‘off white’/news print style paper? Because it was inexpensive. There may not be a lot of books printed on white paper but, really? Magazines? White paper. Computer screens? White. Many books? WHITE! If I fail as a writer because of the color of the paper in my books then I am in bad shape.
I wish her well in her writing, I hope she’s successful, but more than anything I hope she wakes up one day and gains a little humility and some better people skills.
It was definitely not a show where I did well though with the books. I don’t feel terribly bad because a lot of the vendors and my author friend didn’t do well either. A lot of the fans were either spending their money elsewhere or not at all. It is what it is. It sucks for me, but fans know what they wanna buy and buy it. I had some sales. I had some nibbles. I got a couple people who were unimpressed I was self-published and some that were surprised at my book output – to which I answer that for ten years all I had to do was write with no publishing outlet so work piles up, as well as ideas. I get the impression that, for whatever reason, my books just won’t do well at shows, at least not horror cons. Again, maybe it’s me. Maybe the books stink. All I can do is promote and sell what I have. It is what it is.
I did realize on this trip that yeah, I am too old for the loud, late-night drunken shenanigans. I sorta always knew this but the trip definitely pressed the issue.
If there was one thing that upset me about the show it was that vendors, our writer friend among the very first, started shutting down at 3PM on Sunday. That really bothers me, as a vendor, as a fan, and as someone who put shows on. It’s unprofessional and it cheats the show and the fans. Things die around then at a three day con, I get it. You start to get antsy, you get bored, and you wanna go home. I even packed up and left at 4:30 because EVERYONE was packing up save two or three vendors by then. There were no fans. It was so bad that the hotel had a scissor lift out removing things that were hung up. If we didn’t have a four and a half hour drive we would have stayed ‘til five, but I still feel bad. I feel worse though for the fans that came for that one day and come to find vendors and guets coming in very late, some hungover. Then to have the vendors shut down early too. Why get a weekend pass? Why bother?
This is why I wish, wish, wish conventions would just move to two days shows. When you take how mediocre Fridays are, and how mediocre Sundays are and put them together you have another solid day, making two solid days. I get that venues, and guests have better prices if you book three days. I get it. But it just makes way more sense. It makes a weekend pass more exciting because you won’t get bored as easily. For vendors and guests it means you don’t have to waste Thursday to get to the show or get ready for it, you can just head out on Friday. Have two, solid days where people may miss stuff but miss it because they were so busy with awesome stuff. I’d rather that than run out of things I wanted to do.
It will never happen, but it’s my dream.
The way vendors treat Sundays it’s basically a non-day anyway right now.
Overall though I had a great time. We saw a lot of friends, bought a lot of awesome stuff, got some photos with celebs, and I don’t regret the trip at all. I am sad that it feels as if another market for my books is gone but it is what it is. I don’t blame a show for that, and I don’t blame the fans, and I don’t blame me. It just is what it is.
If there was a lesson to be learned it’s to have fun, no matter what have fun, then the rest doesn’t sting as much. I also learned that I miss doing our show, but that’s another story.
There are topics that I write about and will swing back to time and again as new perspective emerges, as I discover I have more to say, or when I just plumb forget that I wrote about the topic.
As more and more films are remade it occurs to me that we still have a lot of legendary directors that are still among the living and still able bodied and who all deserve to go out on a high note. Now, WANTING them to do that and seeing them do that is another thing.
I have rambled at great length about this topic but it keeps nagging at me.
We have some filmmakers who are legitimate genre legends who deserve better.
I will grant you all day that the directors I can think of have seen better days, and have not produced anything excellent in a while BUT I also offer that most of them probably feel like the trouble to get funding, approval, a script, a cast, and then working with the studio system only to have your film dumped on home video has to really take the pleasure out of things. Worse, I can’t imagine the frustration of wanting to work on projects and not get support when countless re-treads and downright awful films are given the greenlight all the time.
Naturally, this isn’t foolproof.
It isn’t a sure thing.
It’s a what if.
But What If…
What if they did something similar to what they tried with Masters of Horror but did it with a feature film. Give the directors a hard budget of less than say, five million, pair them with a good young writer or let them adapt something. Let them focus only in the direction of the work. These are all folks that came up making no-budget films who should still have those chops where they can make a good film that isn’t about cost but is about the story and style.
You’re telling me Carpenter, Craven, Romero, Argento, Hooper and on and on, that these folks don’t have one last good horror film left in them?
Sure, not all of those people are even done with directing but they’re all getting close to being done and many directors are not focusing on horror any longer. So what if?
What if someone like Amazon or Hulu or another company came along and tried this experiment?
Old school. Low budget. Down and dirty horror filmmaking. Horror at its finest.
Maybe some aren’t any good…but maybe some are.
I can for sure tell you I’d rather watch something like this, a film from one of the old masters that has a spark of ambition and passion to it, than any of the dozen or so junk horror movies that get some manner of funding and get dumped right onto home video. You’re telling me The Pyramid was worth the time and money?
It’s a long shot and a dream. But dreaming is what we geeks do, isn’t it? Hoping and dreaming. Odds are if the stars did align a lot of the people would dismiss the idea altogether. Maybe with reason. There’d be strings. There are always strings. It breaks my heart to think we’ll never see one last try from some of these folks though. One last sincere effort that isn’t crap. There are too many yes-people surrounding them to protect them from the cruel realities of a studio system that feels like those horses should be left out to pasture. What if though?
These are folks that deserve to do things their way one last time. If they make movies after, then awesome, if not, then awesome. But one last time – their way.
With the talent in the horror world, the writers, actors, artists, effects people, lighting people, musicians, cinematographers, with all of these people we can’t get something together? People wouldn’t LOVE the opportunity to work with a legend?
I don’t get it.
Horror is so screwed up.
I get that it’s about money. It’s about franchise. It’s about popcorn and pop sales.
I get that.
It’s a business.
The thing though is that the core of the business is us, us horror geeks, and if you do right by us, we’ll come back again and again. We’ll tell people to watch the movie. We’ll buy the movie. We’ll buy the merch. We WANT to love horror, to geek out about it, blog about it, podcast about it, and tell the world about the good movies.
We just need more good movies.
We need more trust.
There is always an audience for boobs, blood, and drugs.
But that’s aiming for the lowest common denominator that MAY go see your film but will most just rent, stream, or torrent it. They aren’t invested in the genre or its creators.
It’s a risk. An experiment.
But what if?
It’s such a shame that of all the talent, all the money, all the passion that surrounds horror we can’t get more of these folks to work together.
Maybe it’s studios.
Maybe it’s fans.
Maybe it’s them.
All I can say is that, as a fan, I would love to see this.
Sure, most of these folks are done or nearing the end but wouldn’t it be nice – one last time, one last old school movie from the heart, one last hurrah, one for the road?
I recently got to have the fun of desecrating some of my own books for the cause of creating some artwork for a flier for an upcoming event. I really had fun with it, despite having to sacrifice some books for the project. I took a bunch of pics but here are a few of the fun ones.