Tag Archives: wes craven

Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing

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Today, I’m going to be taking a look at Wes Craven’s comic book film adaptation: Swamp Thing.

The plot of Swamp Thing is summarized on IMDb as follows:

After a violent incident with a special chemical, a research scientist is turned into a swamp plant monster.

Swamp Thing was written and directed by acclaimed horror master Wes Craven.  Craven is without a doubt one of the most influential horror filmmakers of all time, having been behind such films and franchises as Last House On The Left, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Hills Have Eyes. That said, Swamp Thing marked his first and only foray into the science fiction genre.

Swamp Thing is based on the comic series and character of the same name created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. The character first appeared in House of Secrets #92 in July of 1971, which was intended as a standalone story. However, the character’s popularity led to an initial 24 issue solo series that ran throughout the mid-1970s. Since then, Swamp Thing has been a mainstay of DC comics.

swampthing4The cast for Swamp Thing was primarily made up of Louis Jourdan (Octopussy, The Return of the Swamp Thing), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Creepshow, Batman: The Animated Series), Ray Wise (Dallas, RoboCop, Twin Peaks), and David Hess (The Last House on the Left, Zombie Nation).

The cinematographer for the film was Robbie Greenberg, who also shot the films Free Willy, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, and Wild Hogs. The editor for Swamp Thing was Richard Bracken, whose credits include The Hills Have Eyes Part II, numerous episodes of the television shows Ironside and Columbo, and work on six different Power Rangers series.

The musical score for Swamp Thing was provided by Harry Manfredini, who is best known for his work on the Friday the 13th franchise. However, he has plenty of other films to his credit, including A Talking Cat!?!, The Omega Code, DeepStar Six, and House.

swampthing3Two of the producers for Swamp Thing were Michael Uslan (The Dark Knight, Batman, The Spirit, The Lego Movie) and Benjiman Melniker (Mitchell, Constantine, National Treasure, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).

The makeup effects team for the film included Tonga Knight (Cosmos), Steve LaPorte (Van Helsing, Deep Blue Sea, Caddyshack II, The Howling), Ken Horn (Battle Beyond The Stars, The Hills Have Eyes), David Miller (Batman & Robin, The Mangler), and William Munns (Return of the Living Dead, The Beastmaster).

Swamp Thing was filmed primarily on Johns Island, which is located near Charleston, South Carolina. The island measures 84 square miles, and its marsh-y environment made it a perfect backdrop for the story.

Interestingly, Swamp Thing received a sequel many years later in 1989: The Return of Swamp Thing, which featured a handful of returning cast and crew members. However, it wasn’t received terribly well, and currently holds an IMDb user rating of 4.5/10.

The production budget for Swamp Thing was estimated to be $3 million. While I wasn’t able to dig up any box office numbers for the film, I suspect it made a profit due to its low price tag, and the fact that it received a sequel.

Swamp Thing wasn’t exactly embraced by audiences and critics. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.4/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 64% from critics and 34% from audiences, all of which are less than stellar marks.

One critic who was a fan of the movie was Roger Ebert, who gave Swamp Thing a solid 4/5 stars, citing that it is “one of those movies that fall somewhere between buried treasures and guilty pleasures.”

Swamp Thing is as much a throwback to earlier monster flicks as it is a comic book movie. There are definitely plenty of moments that conjure memories of flicks like Creature From The Black Lagoon, as you might expect. The fact that the movie is very low budget and small scale really helps keep it grounded, which makes it feel all the more nostalgia-inducing. On top of that, there is no lighting trickery to be found here: the eponymous Swamp Thing is always in full light and in the open, much like the rubber suit monsters of olden days.

This is where things get complicated, though. The Swamp Thing suit straight-up looks terrible. However, maybe that is part of the homage, and the greater vision for the film? It is hard to say. Even Roger Ebert, who was a fan of the movie, referred to the creature as looking like “a bug-eyed spinach souffle.” Personally, I don’t think he is even as interesting as that: I think he just looks like a big, wrinkly dude caked in mud. Similarly, there are some hilariously terrible scene transitions (stylistic wipes, particularly) that stand out a whole lot over the course of the movie. While they definitely look like shit, maybe they were supposed to look like shit? It is an interesting boundary to consider, as many movies straddle the delicate line between faithful homage and honest craftsmanship.

As you can gather from the name of the creature, the setting is pretty important for Swamp Thing. And, honestly, I think that they absolutely nailed that aspect of the production. It is hard not to like the South Carolina lowlands in this movie: it has the exact sort of look that you would want and expect for a movie about a swamp monster. I have no idea how or why they decided on this obscure location, but it is fantastic.

swampthing2Something that I have seen written quite a bit is that this movie is supposed to be a comedy. Personally, outside of a few lines, I didn’t see comedy in this at all: it is a pretty straight sort of monster movie, with the modification of the monster being the good guy. I think it is pretty earnest about what it is: I suspect Craven was a big fan of the classic monster flicks, and wanted to do a little throwback.

Overall, Swamp Thing can be summed up as unremarkable. I’ve seen this movie a few times now, and every time, I have forgotten pretty significant details as soon as I finished watching it. I know that the movie has its proponents, but I’ve always found it a bit boring. It might be a tad too faithful to those old monster flicks for its own good.

For Wes Craven completists, fans of the source material, or just fans of comic book movies in general, it is worth giving Swamp Thing a shot. It is not so bad that it needs to be actively avoided, but I wouldn’t advise that anyone go out of their way to watch it.

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The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs

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Today’s feature is a cult classic from the filmography of the late Wes Craven: The People Under The Stairs.

The People Under The Stairs was written, directed, and produced by the late Wes Craven, who was behind such films as Scream, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Last House On The Left, Shocker, The Hills Have Eyes, and Vampire In Brooklyn.

The cinematographer for the film was Sandi Sissel, who served as a second unit director of photography on such movies as Cellular, Daredevil, and Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World.

The editor on The People Under The Stairs was James Coblentz, who also cut the films Final Destination and Species III, as well as a number of episodes of The X-Files.

The makeup effects team for The People Under The Stairs was made up of Greg Nicotero (Maniac Cop 3, Pick Me Up, DeepStar Six, From Beyond), Robert Kurtzman (Maniac Cop 3, It Follows, Tremors), Earl Ellis (Captain America, Star Trek: Enterprise), Michelle Bühler (Communion, Swordfish), Howard Berger (The Black Cat, The Faculty, Pumpkinhead, Ghoulies), and Mark Maitre (Night of the Creeps, The Cell).

The special effects work on The People Under The Stairs were provided by a group of people that included Peter Chesney (The Ladykillers, Waterworld), Robert Clark (Mimic, Cocoon), Mark Goldberg (Robot Jox, Evolver), Camilla Henneman (Cocoon, The Blob), Timothy Huizing (It’s Alive, Smokin Aces, Small Soldiers, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), James McLoughlin (DeepStar Six, Wolf), Dean Miller (Suburban Commando, Fright Night), and J.D. Streett (Waterworld, Men In Black).

peoplestairs3Outside of Wes Craven, the producers on The People Under The Stairs were Stuart M. Besser (Scream, Scream 3, Need For Speed), Dixie Capp (Young Guns II), Shep Gordon (Cool As Ice, They Live), and Marianne Maddalena (Red Eye, Dracula 2000).

The musical score for the film was composed by Don Peake, who also did the music for the earlier Wes Craven film The Hills Have Eyes, as well as for the television series Knight Rider.

The cast for the film included Brandon Adams (The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot), A.J. Langer (Escape From L.A.), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), Sean Whalen (Tammy and the T-Rex, Twister), Kelly Jo Minter (The Lost Boys), Conni Marie Brazelton (ER), Wendy Robie (The Glimmer Man, Twin Peaks), and Everett McGill (Silver Bullet, Dune).

Eventual Academy Award winner Hillary Swank auditioned for the role of Roach in The People Under The Stairs, which was ultimately filled by Sean Whalen. At the time, Swank had only appeared in a handful of television series.

Noted film composer Graeme Revell (Sin City, Daredevil, Spawn, Tank Girl, Suicide Kings) put together a score for The People Under The Stairs that was rejected by the production, and replaced by the one composed by Don Peake. He still has a credit on the movie as a composer of “additional music.”

The concept for The People Under The Stairs was inspired by a real news story about children who were locked in their rooms by their parents, and were discovered during an investigation of a break-in. Craven was known for pulling horror plots out of headlines, which is also how he formulated the concept for A Nightmare On Elm Street.

The People Under The Stairs had a reported production budget of $6 million, and grossed just over $24 million in its lifetime domestic theatrical release.

The reception to The People Under The Stairs was mixed: it currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.3, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 59% (critics) and 58% (audience). That said, it has become a bit of a cult classic among horror movie fans.

The parents in The People Under The Stairs, played by Wendy Robie and Everett McGill, are incredibly creepy, and they sell their abusive, evangelical, overbearing characters very well. Honestly, their couple is more terrifying than most movie monsters I have seen.  However, as with many Craven villains, they rapidly devolve into comic book hamminess, and lose their sense of menace when they start trotting around in full body leather wielding shotguns.

peoplestairs2One of the most surprising things to note in The People Under The Stairs, however, is the fact that there is some really good child acting. That is quite a rarity for any movie, let alone a horror film.

This film has an impressively tense and slow-burning buildup in the first act, which is helped a bit by putting the audience in the innocent point of view of Fool, who is thrown out of his element very quickly. The eventual reveal of what is going on in the mysterious house is done slowly, which allows the uneasy atmosphere to build through the set design, acting, and music, rather than the writing revealing anything straight-out. However, once the situation is revealed, the atmosphere is quickly dissipated by a lot of hammy acting and action.

As far as negatives go, the attempts at humor really didn’t work for me in The People Under The Stairs, and felt a bit unnecessary and forced in an otherwise unfunny scenario. Some horror films lend themselves easily to humor, but a film about captive children, torture, and child abuse isn’t exactly a laugh mine like an Evil Dead movie can be.

Overall, I can definitely see how The People Under The Stairs has become a cult classic, but I can also see why a lot of people aren’t particularly fond of it. It definitely isn’t one of Wes Craven’s more noteworthy works, but it is still worth checking out for horror fans. It isn’t nearly as fun or violently goofy as Shocker, and certainly isn’t as intriguingly meta as New Nightmare, but The People Under The Stairs might be a more solid movie all around than either of those bordering Craven features. At the same time, I don’t think it is as memorable as either of those movies, which is definitely a weakness.

Shocker

Shocker

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Today’s feature is one of the popularly-regarded missteps in the storied career of the late Wes Craven: 1989’s Shocker.

Shocker was written, directed, and produced by the late Wes Craven, who was famously behind movies like Scream, The Last House On The Left, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and The Hills Have Eyes.

The cinematographer for the film was Jacques Haitkin, who is best known for shooting such horror features as Wishmaster, Maniac Cop 3, Evolver, The Ambulance, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Galaxy of Terror. The editor for Shocker was Andy Blumenthal, who also cut the films Waiting…, Waiting For Guffman, and Five Corners.

The team of makeup effects artists for Shocker included Lance Anderson (Wild Wild West, The Thing, The Island of Doctor Moreau), David LeRoy Anderson (Spawn, Waterworld), Suzanne Sanders (Surf Ninjas, Critters 3, Critters 4), A.J. Workman (Communion, Arena), Roger McCoin (Darkman, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie), Dan Frye (Creepshow 2, Shaun of the Dead), Jeffrey S. Farley (Evil Bong, Wolf, Carnosaur, Arena, Kingdom of the Spiders), Scott Coulter (Garbage Pail Kids Movie, The Mangler, Arena, It’s Alive), and David Atherton (Face/Off, Maniac Cop).

The special effects team for Shocker was made up of Robert Phillips (Volcano, Maniac Cop 3), David L. Hewitt (It’s Alive III, Willow), Joe Heffernan (The Ladykillers, Waterworld), Christopher Gilman (Watchmen, The Blob), and Larry Fioritto (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy),

The visual effects work for the film was done in part by Alan Barnett (Spawn, Volcano), Roger Dorney (Spaceballs, Ghost Dad), Jeffrey A. Okun (Red Planet, Deep Blue Sea, Suburban Commando), Allen Blaisdell (Theodore Rex, Red Planet), Joshua Cushner (Critters, Ghosts of Mars), and Samuel Recinos (Masters of the Universe, Big Trouble In Little China).

shocker4Outside of Wes Craven, the producers on Shocker included Shep Gordon (Cool As Ice, They Live), Peter Foster (The People Under The Stairs), Marianne Maddalena (Red Eye, Dracula 2000), and Robert Engelman (Foodfight, Mortal Kombat).

The music for Shocker was provided by the combination of rock star Alice Cooper, band-mate Michael Owen Bruce, and William Goldstein (Fame).

The cast for Shocker included Peter Berg (Collateral, Corky Romano, Going Overboard), Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files, Sons of Anarchy, Supernatural), Michael Murphy (White House Down, Nashville), Sam Scarber (Over The Top), and Ted Raimi (The Midnight Meat Train, Intruder).

Reportedly, it took Shocker 13 submissions to the MPAA rating board, each with new cuts, in order to get an ‘R’ rating instead of an ‘X’, which would have made wide distribution to theaters nearly impossible.

shocker3Shocker was designed to be the beginning of a franchise, but it didn’t ultimately make enough money to justify further installments. That said, it was a profitable feature: in total, it grossed roughly $16.6 million in its domestic theatrical release, on a budget of $5 million.

Despite the positive gross, the film was poorly received by both critics and audiences: it currently holds a 5.4 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 12% from critics and 30% from audiences.

The first thing that is painfully evident watching Shocker today is that the visual effects (particularly the various ghost and electric effects) have not aged particularly well over the years. I’m sure they looked perfectly passable at the time, but now it is a bit distracting and jarring to see cartoonish lightning bolts pop up in every other scene.

The villain of the film, played primarily by Mitch Pilleggi, is way over the top, and chews up the scenery in every scene he appears in. However, because of the nature of his power, he isn’t actually on screen a whole lot, which is a real shame given how entertaining he is.

In general, Shocker looks and feels a little too similar to the later incarnations of A Nightmare On Elm Street, with lots of one-liners thrown about and the surreal dread put on the backburner. Pilleggi seems like he is doing an impression of Kruger throughout the film, which doesn’t help with the existing parallels of an ethereal undead serial killer villain. As entertaining as he is, Pilleggi isn’t Robert Englund.

Overall, Shocker is plenty of fun as a cheesy horror movie, with acting and effects that are well over the top. However, it lacks Wes Craven’s typical vision and style, which made him one of the most lauded figures in the genre. It is worth checking out for its entertainment value, but it is a bit disappointing as a work from Craven.