"My goal is to die in my nineties on the set, say 'That's a wrap,' after the last shot, fall over dead and have the grips go out and raise a beer to me."
—Wes Craven, The Los Angeles Times, 2010
So you won’t be sending Freddy Krueger to Iraq?
Uh, no. But now that you mention it, can you sign this release?
—Craven, interview with the author, 2007
The Hollywood machine is often a transparent business, but its profit motive rarely becomes more blatantly obvious than in the case of remakes and sequels. The upcoming version of "Nightmare on Elm Street" may promise a louder, faster take on Wes Craven's 1984 original, but that alone hardly necessitates it. Craven himself embodies a stranger paradox: He understands the reductive nature of revisiting the same old story while remaining oddly tied to that very tendency. He has led a strange career.
Craven's "Scream" franchise, which began in 1996, began as a clever means of satirizing horror conventions that simultaneously played into them. The subsequent sequels lost much of the original's appeal as they grew increasingly parodic at the expense of real thrills. Meanwhile, the "Scary Movie" series exploited the comedic value of "Scream" far beyond its original playful nature, reveling in the gag potential of its ubiquitous indulgence in horror genre clichés. Lean, mean, no-holds-barred graphic storytelling morphed into box-office gold with the birth of "torture porn" movies like "Saw," "Hostel" and their spin-offs. The publicity scandal of Abu Ghraib and two unstoppable wars put authentic horrors on American televisions. The basic conceit of "Scream," which used fun as a refuge from fear, was starting to look a little moldy.
Nevertheless, this week brought news that Craven plans to reunite with screenwriter Kevin Williamson and the original "Scream" cast for a fourth installment of the series. Have belated fourth entries in a long-dead franchise ever yielded good results? The latest additions to the "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" sagas ought to answer that question.
But there's reason to pay close attention to this fourth entry in particular. Since the early days of his career, Craven has developed a trustworthy reputation behind the camera. "The Hills Have Eyes" offers a haunting vision of post-nuclear rage, while "The Last House on the Left" reconstitutes Ingmar Bergman's "Virgin Spring" as an appreciably subversive revenge flick. Incidentally, both movies have been remade in recent years, with mostly positive results, perhaps because the cult legacies of the originals loomed so large. But those remakes also work because they follow Craven's attention to story. Almost all of the movies he made in the ’70s and ’80s display an ability to make his characters seem like real people in peril, an ingredient frequently ignored by innumerable by-the-numbers slashers.