Tag Archive: Wes Craven


Chiller-poster-2-328x500Is this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, or Amazon Prime? Chiller is only available for rent via Amazon Prime. I have also provided a link below where you can watch the entire film for free on Daily Motion.

Starring: Michael Beck, Beatrice Straight, & Paul Sorvino

Directed by: Wes Craven

Written by: J.D. Feigelson

Wes Craven’s Chiller reminds me of Stephen King’s short stories (as an aside, with the exception of The Stand, King’s short stories are better reads than his novels). Those stories typically have straightforward, simple plotlines that cut right to the chase without wasting any words. They don’t dwell on huge character backstories or veer off into the author’s political or philosophical views. These stories are essentially fun, cheap thrills. This pretty much describes Chiller and if you can get past the HUGELY shitty VHS transfer (it is so bad that in one scene you can hear on one of the soundtracks a sound feed that must have been picked up from another channel by whoever recorded the film), Chiller is a fun ride that is best enjoyed with a group of drunk (or high) friends sitting around with absolutely nothing to do on a Saturday evening.

When I first heard of Chiller, the first question to enter my mind was why a director with the presumably big clout that Wes Craven had (he had just released the popular A Nightmare on Elm Street the previous year) would opt to make a TV movie? I mean sure, there was some pretty rock-on shit that was made for TV back in the 80’s (Shogun, North and South, The Winds of War, Burning Bed), but once you have established yourself as a feature film director, you only go back to doing TV if your feature film career stalls out. However those who are familiar with Craven’s work will know that Craven didn’t hold himself above working in television. In fact, Craven has put out some pretty memorable stuff for television, such as the 1980’s version of The Twilight Zone and two other made-for-television films, Invitation to Hell and Summer of Fear.

For someone who didn’t enter the movie business until the late age of 33, Wes Craven has created quite a colorful filmography for himself. He has gone from making visceral 1970’s grindhouse movies like The Last House on the Left (Craven’s first film, which is still one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen) to 1980’s supernatural horror classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street to the post-modern 1990’s slasher film Scream. Craven’s best work tends to be those films that were made for a low budget. The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Now please don’t interpret “best” to mean that these films are actually good, award-deserving movies. Many of them are not, but they are the best that Wes Craven has put out and they provide, at most, the fun, cheap thrills that I attributed to Craven’s also-low-budget film, Chiller. Again, lest I lose my good-taste-in-film credentials, I really want to stress the fact that Chiller is by no means a good movie. Putting that aside, however, I had great fun watching over-the-top performances from Michael Beck, Beatrice Straight, and Paul Sorvino.

Chiller is about Miles Creighton (The Warriors and Xanadu’s Michael Beck), a young man who died 10 years ago. Refusing to accept the finality of his death, Miles’ mother (Poltergeist’s Beatrice Straight) has his body cryogenically frozen until such time medical technology can advance far enough to bring her son back to life. That time arrives when one night, Miles’ preservation unit malfunctions and Miles’ body begins to thaw out. Miles is rushed to the hospital, where doctors perform an operation that was not possible 10 years ago. The operation is a success and Miles returns back to the land of the living. However, although Miles is successfully resurrected in body, he comes back without a soul.

With Chiller, Wes Craven makes no bones about the fact that the pipe dream concept of cryogenically freezing your body for a later lease on life is creepy as hell. Aside from the fact that scientists have yet to bring back a person to life after cryogenically freezing their body, this controversial process poses very interesting questions for those who believe in an afterlife. Craven explores this idea in a scene where a priest (Goodfellas’ Paul Sorvino) questions how someone like Miles can be brought back to life when his soul has either gone to heaven or hell. The priest asks whether the soul can even be brought back to Earth to its host body and he concludes that it cannot – once the soul has left this world, it is gone forever. The film’s best dialogue exchange follows this scene, in which the priest finally confronts the true nature of Miles Creighton. Expecting to get a description of heaven or hell, he asks Miles what it was like being dead for 10 years. Miles replies that nothing happens when you die – its all just blackness. Michael Beck gives a wonderful delivery of that line and just as fun to watch is the priest’s shocked reaction to hearing that his faith in God may be a sham.

The character of Miles Creighton also represents Wes Craven’s swipe at the mantra of greed that defined Corporate America in the 1980’s. Upon Miles’ return to the living, he takes over his father’s company and immediately begins firing the old people, makes the women screw their way to the top, and cuts all corporate charitable contributions. Miles is a precursor to Gordon Gecko, who came onto the scene just two years after this film’s release.

Let’s face it – Michael Beck was never really a good actor. The only reason he became somewhat famous was due to the cult successes of The Warriors and Xanadu. Those films, in turn, became popular for reasons other than Michael Beck’s performance. I may be inciting the wrath of rabid cult fans of the films I just mentioned, but I would argue that Beck’s best career performance is in this made-for-TV movie. Sure, Beck’s performance is hammy and way over-the-top, but he is after all playing a man without a soul, which seems to be interpreted to mean people who are complete evil assholes. What helps sell the performance is Beck’s cold, calculating, yet handsome, look. In terms of looks, he is perfectly cast. With a movie like this, no one should be concerning themselves with plot holes, but there is one that I absolutely must point out: If Miles has no soul and is therefore, purely evil and uncaring toward his fellow man, then why does he have a soft spot (until the last scene) for his mother? Is Wes Craven trying to tell us that a child’s love for his mother can survive even without a soul?

Speaking of mothers, Beatrice Straight plays Miles’ mom. If you think you don’t know who Beatrice Straight is, then you are wrong. Beatrice Straight played the paranormal investigator in Poltergeist (she also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Network for a performance that is considered the shortest one to ever win an award) and she was one of the best things about that classic film. Straight’s style of acting is one that you don’t see in movies anymore and it harkens back to the acting style that was prevalent in Hollywood before the 1970’s. She, like Michael Beck, also plays up her character in a hammy manner and her character is not very well developed, but she is still a delight to watch.

It is difficult to imagine Paul Sorvino playing anything but a mobster, but he does a fine job as the concerned and reserved priest, who tries to convince Miles’ mother that her son is not the same man she once knew. I mentioned the scene between Miles and the priest, and that is the highlight of the film.

Chiller may not be something I would recommend to the discerning film snob. It does not have the signature Wes Craven gore and blood, it has a shitty VHS transfer, and it is low-budget in a bad, porno film way. However, Wes Craven offers up a straightforward tale that appeals to our very basest levels of entertainment and fun while also giving us a half-baked metaphysical discussion and a critique of 1980’s corporate America. I wish someone would put out a nice, pristine version of this movie with a Wes Craven commentary (like they did with Invitation to Hell).

I should never have been surprised to see a 4th entry in the SCREAM franchise. After all, horror films continue to make money (PIRANHA 3D, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, SAW, and the recent INSIDIOUS) and it’s a cheap way for the Weinstein Brothers to make some mint on a franchise that has been very good to them. The last SCREAM came out 11 years ago and even though it was a disappointing piece of shit that was seemingly phoned in by Wes Craven, it still made a ton of money for Dimension Films. Still, I figured Craven would think of himself beyond milking a dead horse and move onto other projects. Besides, SCREAM isn’t like the SAW series, where the premise lends itself to ever more imaginative ways to torture and kill people. SCREAM is simply about an implausibly difficult to catch serial killer who murders his victims with a big ass knife. The films are self-referential to the rules of the horror genre, but there are only so many rules to base sequels off of and you can only watch so many films with teenagers getting killed the same way. Clearly, that didn’t dissuade the Weinstein Brothers or Wes Craven from making a 4th installment and we now have SCREAM 4.

SCREAM 4 is set in the same sleepy California town of Woodsboro (AKA Walnut Creek), where the 15th anniversary of the Woodsboro Massacre is being observed. For those of you unfamiliar with the SCREAM movies, the Woodsboro Massacres started in the first SCREAM film in which a serial killer dressed in a ghost face costume went around killing teenagers with a big knife. The sole survivor of the massacres was Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who survived through three two more SCREAM films. Flash forward to 15 years later in 2011 and Sidney has returned to Woodsboro on a tour of her new book that describes how she coped with being a survivor of the massacres. To mark the anniversary of the killings, there is a new Ghostface killer on the loose and Dewey Riley (David Arquette), who is now Woodsboro’s sheriff, tries in his inept way to find and stop the killer. Also returning is Gale Weathers Riley (Courtney Cox), the investigative journalist who helped Riley discover the Ghostface killer in the past SCREAM movies (she is also now married to Riley).

There has always been an underlying tongue-in-cheek element to the SCREAM movies. The characters are all very familiar with the “rules” that govern horror films and each SCREAM entry contains a scene where the characters discuss these rules. In turn, the rules serve as a guide to how the plot of the movie will proceed. With 11 years having passed between the 3rd and 4th SCREAMS, the 4th film follows the rules that typically govern “remakes” of the original entry of a horror movie. Unlike the past SCREAMS, the rules are a bit convoluted and difficult to follow this time around. This may be because there aren’t a whole lot of remakes of horror films and there don’t really exist any rules that are commonly found among remakes. For anyone who just wants to see a horror movie, the description of the rules isn’t going to be important. However, for a SCREAM fan and film buff such as myself, the self-referential aspect is one of the highlights of the SCREAM series. Without it, SCREAM turns into just another slasher film and a bad one at that.

One critic described SCREAM 4 as the closest sequel to the first SCREAM. Well, no shit! This film is supposed to be a “remake” of the first movie so its to be expected that it would remind you of the first movie. However, just because this installment may evoke the first movie, it doesn’t make it into a decent movie. In fact, SCREAM 4 comes off as a Bizarro version of the first SCREAM. It brings back the key actors (NEVE CAMPBELL, COURTNEY COX, and DAVID ARQUETTE), Wes Craven as director, and we even have the return of original screenwriter Kevin Williamson, but this time it all feels tired and awkward. No longer is having self-aware characters a neat idea because we already saw that in 3 films. By 1996, when SCREAM came out, the horror/slasher film genre had already bottomed out. The 80s and early 90s had produced so many horror/slasher films that the industry ran out of ideas and it began to rely on a bunch of clichés. The beauty of SCREAM was that Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven were able to take these clichés and fashion a movie that served as an homage to those earlier films while also producing genuine scares, interesting characters, and a sense of mystery as to the killer’s identity.

I was at least glad that Kevin Williamson returned to screenwriting duties instead of the severely overrated Ehren Kruger (who wrote SCREAM 3 and TRANSFORMERS 2 and 3, and THE RING movies). Williamson begins SCREAM 4 in a clever and entertaining way by crafting a meta-within-meta opening sequence (like nested Russian dolls) that gives a nod to the evolution of the horror genre over the past decade (for example, the emergence of torture porn, J-horror, found-footage, and zombie films). Where Williamson falters is in the film’s 3rd Act climax. As with all the SCREAM movies, the ending contains a classic Scooby-Doo ending, but this time I liked the identity of the Ghostface killer. However, the problem with the climax is the age-old problem of too much exposition. After the killer’s identity is revealed, the killer spends an inordinate amount of time pointing the knife at the victim and explaining why they did the horrible things that they did. Scenes like this always remind me of the scene in AUSTIN POWERS where Dr. Evil takes forever explaining his plans to Austin Powers before he tries to kill him. Ironically, for a movie that attacks the genre’s clichés, it succumbs to the worst cliché of all: villain exposition.

As a side note, for as modern as SCREAM 4 is supposed to be in referring to the present state of horror movies, Wes Craven interestingly shoots the film in a very old-fashioned style. Whether or not this was intentionally done, the look and feel of SCREAM 4 evokes the style of 80s and 90s horror films. I didn’t care for this look at first mostly because I wasn’t expecting it, but I grew into it as the film progressed.

SCREAM 4 is far from matching the phenomenal original or the even-better second entry and it’s a marginally better effort than SCREAM 3. In the end, Craven and crew have simply swapped in iPhones for the cordless to make something that fails to have the electric punch of SCREAM and SCREAM 2. I can see why Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven would return to this series. It makes them a LOT of money and by now, these guys can churn these films out with their eyes closed. In fact, many of the murders in this movie felt like Craven was in auto mode. However, in the end we get an unsatisfactory product in which the filmmakers attempt to catch lightening in a bottle for a second time. We’re simply left with more of the mundane same in which the film that tries to skewer all of the old horror clichés falls victim to those same clichés.