Remembering Wes Craven

If a Mount Rushmore were to exist for horror film directors, there is no question that Wes Craven would be on it. Eyes wide open. Certainly not sleeping. It was with great sadness that film lovers learned of his death at age 76 due to a battle with brain cancer. His influence has been inescapable and that is no understatement. When I learned of his death, I was watching the MTV VMA’s (a horror show of a different kind) and the network was incessantly running promos for their TV version of Scream, based on the franchise he directed.

For over 40 years, Mr. Craven’s work was synonymous with being on the cutting edge of the horror genre. 1972’s The Last House on the Left and 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes are hard edged genre classics. 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street brought the slasher flick to new heights. 1996’s Scream both parodied horror movies while being a brilliantly effective one of its own.

These are the obvious titles that will be discussed with his work but allow me to put forth two more that probably won’t be focused on as much. 1988’s The Serpent and the Rainbow is a voodoo infused underrated effort that is definitely worth a look. 2005’s Red Eye is an effective B movie thriller with taut direction and quality performances from Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.

Craven is also responsible for 1982’s fun monster pic Swamp Thing and directing Meryl Streep to an Oscar nomination in 1999’s drama Music of My Heart. There were missteps too. His 1995 Eddie Murphy vanity project Vampire in Brooklyn immediately comes to mind. The Scream sequels tended to go down in quality as they continued on.

Yet few filmmakers have defined and redefined a particular genre as much as Wes Craven. His works have and will continue to stand the test of time. One only needs to look at how many of his pictures have already been remade or spawned sequels. The original editions of Elm Street and Scream in particular stand as hallmarks of horror that will continue to make audiences lose sleep and laugh about it forever. When it’s impossible to imagine a genre of film without the contribution of one man, that’s a legacy of greatness. Few directors can make that claim. Wes Craven was one of them. Sleep well, Mr. Craven.

The #1 Movies That May Shock You

So get this… when James Bond made his triumphant return to the silver screen in 2006 with Daniel Craig and Casino Royale, it did not open at #1 at the box office. That’s because it opened against the animated hit Happy Feet and those darn penguins never allowed 007 a top spot.

Yet two years later, the critically massacred Bangkok Dangerous with Nicolas Cage did manage to open atop the charts. This is a picture that’d almost certainly be relegated to a VOD only debut today.

This is one among many surprising examples of films in the last two decades that were fortunate enough to claim that they were the #1 movie in America that you wouldn’t expect. It’s all about timing. And there’s a host of easily forgotten pictures that accomplished the number one feat due to debuting in January or April or September in many cases – often seen as dumping grounds for studios. The reverse holds true. As with Casino Royale and others, the fact that they opened in more competitive weekends prevented them from top dog bragging rights.

Neither Austin Powers (in the original 1997 pic) or Ron Burgundy can claim a first place ribbon. Austin came in second to Kurt Russell’s Breakdown out of the gate. The first Anchorman couldn’t topple the second weekend of Spider-Man 2 in 2004. The 2013 sequel couldn’t get above the second Hobbit flick.

However, David Spade’s Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star somehow hit #1 in 2003 when it came out in the doldrums known as early September. And how about that Classic Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt comedy romp Heartbreakers? It also reigned supreme for a week in April 2001. The 2011 Farrelly Brothers dud Hall Pass with Owen Wilson accomplished the same, but it took his Wedding Crashers three weeks to get to first due to interference from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Even Frozen couldn’t open first and it may be the most beloved kids flick in some time. You know what did? 2003’s Kangaroo Jack and I didn’t see too many kids wearing his Halloween costume…

In 1996, Jean Claudde Van Damme had two #1 premieres with The Quest and Maximum Risk. So did Steven Seagal in 1997 with Fire Down Below and Chris Brown and Hayden Christensen in 2010 with Takers. Much better known action pictures such as Wanted, World War Z, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Bourne Identity cannot claim the same.

How about horror classics Urban Legends: Final Cut, Darkness Falls, The Covenant, The Roommate and The Possession? Number ones they all were. Real genre classics Scream and Saw? Nope.

Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for The Blind Side, but it never got there. Christoph Waltz did for Django Unchained. Same story. These films did open #1 and have a combined zero Oscar nominations among them: Eye of the Beholder and The Musketeer from 2001. SwimFan in 2002. The Forgotten (how appropriate) in 2004. Glory Road in 2006. Lakeview Terrace in 2010.

So, as you can see, longevity counts in box office world and being #1 doesn’t always equate to adoration. Just ask James Bond. And then ask Dickie Roberts.

My Top 25 Michael Jackson Songs Of All Time: Nos. 15-11

Continuing along with my personal Top 25 Michael Jackson Songs Of All Time – tonight comes part three with numbers 15 through 11. You can read my two previous posts covering 25-16 here:

15. “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (from Got To Be There – 1972)

MJ’s oldest song on the list was released when he was just 13 years old and certainly sounds more Jackson 5 than anything else on here with its Motown roots. It reached #2 on the R&B chart. It’s not too well-known anymore, but it should be. This is the only song on the list pre-Off the Wall from 1979, but other noteworthy early MJ songs include “Got To Be There”, “Ben”, and “We’re Almost There”.

14. “Scream” (from HIStory – 1995)

The lead off single from 1995’s HIStory is from mega-producers Jam&Lewis and features his only duet with his sister Janet. It’s my highest track listed from that album, but other quality songs include “They Don’t Care About Us”, “Stranger in Moscow”, “This Time Around”, and “Smile”.

13. “Black or White” (from Dangerous – 1991)

The lead single from 1991’s Dangerous featured a controversial video that included Macaulay Culkin and MJ turning into a panther, but it’s a fantastic song with memorable guitar work from Guns&Roses’ Slash. This is the final Dangerous track included. Those that missed the cut but are great include “Jam”, “Who Is It”, and “Give In To Me”.

12. “Thriller” (from Thriller – 1982)

The title track from the bestselling album of all time is a Halloween time classic with one of the best known music videos ever shot. While one of his most famous songs, there’s plenty of other Thriller tracks still to come in top ten.

11. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (from Off the Wall – 1979)

The first single from his breakout solo work Off the Wall is a disco-infused club jam that marked MJ’s first #1 single on his own. The track also gave the artist his music video as a solo artist — a medium he would perfect better than anyone before or since.

Tomorrow – we get into the Top Ten! Stay tuned.

This Day in Movie History: December 20

Continuing with my new blog series – This Day in Movie History – December 20th brings us three more important films celebrating their anniversaries and two celebrity birthdays.

It was seventeen years ago today that the influential horror flick Scream opened. Wes Craven was already a legend in the horror genre for The Last House on the Left and especially A Nightmare on Elm Street. Scream would turn into a smash unexpected hit that spawned three sequels and injected some much needed humor and irony into a genre that was growing stale.

22 years ago today marked the opening of Oliver Stone’s controversial JFK. The picture, no matter what you think of its abundant conspiracy theories, is brauvura filmmaking at a high level and earned Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor for Tommy Lee Jones.

Another heavily Oscar nominated pic, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, debuted eleven years ago today. It was considered an Academy heavyweight, but lost Picture and Director to Chicago. It would be four years later before Marty would finally be recognized at the ceremony for The Departed. The film is also notable for beginning the Scorsese/DiCaprio partnership that has since spanned to five films thus far.

Today marks Jonah Hill’s big 3-0! You may know him from some of your favorite comedies of the past near decade – The 40 Yr. Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 21 Jump Street, and This is The End. He also broke out dramatically in 2011 with an Oscar nominated turn in Moneyball and is again receiving Academy buzz for his role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. He’ll be seen next summer in the sequel 22 Jump Street.

Finally, today would have marked the 67th birthday of character actor John Spencer. Known to most viewers as Leo McGarry from TV’s “The West Wing”, Spencer also had a successful film career. He turned up in well-known titles including Sea of Love, Presumed Innocent, The Rock, and Cop Land.

Keeping with my theme of connecting the birthday actors in Six Degrees of Separation:

Jonah Hill was in This is the End with James Franco

James Franco was in City by the Sea with Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro was in Cop Land with John Spencer

And that’s today, December 20, in Movie History!