The world of horror cinema lost one of its masters on Aug. 30, when director Wes Craven succumbed to cancer at the age of 76. His work lives on — but what of his legacy? Who will be the “scream king” of the early 21st century?
The world of horror cinema lost one of its masters on Aug. 30, when director Wes Craven succumbed to cancer at the age of 76. Craven changed the complexion of fright flicks in 1984 with “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and its scorched ravager of dreams, Freddy Kruger.
The renowned auteur stamped his signature on a nation’s fright or flight reflexes time and again with “The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Last House on the Left,” “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” numerous “Nightmare” sequels and the Scream franchise, his meta-commentary on the genre he ruled. He would prove his merit as a director in 1999, guiding Meryl Streep to an Academy Award nomination in the drama “Music of the Heart.”
His work lives on in commemorative Blu-Ray collections and cable television marathons — but what of his legacy? Who will be the “scream king” of the early 21st century? Is there another Wes Craven among the young camera jockeys filling theaters with horror fans every autumn?
Let’s take a look at four of the most likely candidates.
Not exactly a new kid on the block (he was born in 1965), the musician-director debuted with much acclaim in the genre with “House of 1,000 Corpses” (2003) and “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005). His attempts to reboot hallowed ground — John Carpenter’s “Halloween” — proved less successful, and Zombie has reverted to his indie roots in recent years (as well as forays into television). 2013’s “The Lords of Salem” received a limited release, garnering mixed reviews. Critics waffled on the storytelling yet praised Zombie’s visual artistry.
From Nick Schager of Slant Magazine: “Rob Zombie understands horror as an aural-visual experience that should gnaw at the nerves, seep into the subconscious, and beget unshakeable nightmares.”
Nevertheless, “Salem” failed to connect with horror fans, and only time will tell how many shots Zombie has left in his chamber.
He’s been making his bones as an actor (“Inglorious Basterds,” “The Man with the Iron Fists”) and producer (Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove”) in recent years, but Eli Roth made his name helming the cult classic “Cabin Fever” (2002) and “torture porn” flicks “Hostel” (2005) and “Hostel: Part II” (2007). Chastised for their images of bloody and sexually suggestive violence, the “Hostel” films have stained Roth’s career, which sought merely to pay homage to the Von Hammer and Corbenesque fare of his youth.
He returns to the directing chair for the first time since then with “The Green Inferno” later this year. He’s young enough to rewrite the header on his resume. Does he want to?
Neil Marshall made the action horror comedy “Dog Soldiers” in 2002, a thrilling directorial debut. He followed that up with “The Descent” (2005), winner of the Saturn Award for best horror film, and the one horror movie I refuse to watch again. This movie — the story of six young ladies spelunking unmapped caverns only to run across some very disturbing scenarios — is scary.
The 2009 sequel was just as scary, a rare feat for a follow-up. (Marshall served as executive producer.) The future was bright on the big screens for Mr. Marshall but the Brit found welcome waters on prestigious television programs (“Game of Thrones,” “Black Sails,” “Hannibal”). His Applebox Entertainment will spend the next couple of years developing TV projects for Legendary, while audiences wait for Marshall to clinch our hearts again with his planned gothic horror western Sacrilege.
I’m mailing my copy of “The Descent” to my daughter, because I need this out of my house.
I would not be surprised to learn that James Wan was a distant relative of Wes Craven, because both men introduced films that rewrote the DNA of the horror genre only to later follow that up with ingenious homages to their predecessors. The path Wan took from his intense suspenseful debut in “Saw” to the haunted house redux of “Insidious” is similar to the road traveled by Craven from “Nightmare” to “Scream.” “Saw” is often cited as the precursor to the torture porn craze that took over the genre from 2005 through 2012, a criticism which ignores Wan’s use of minimal staging and deliberate pacing to establish an eerie atmosphere sorely lacking in its sequels and films of its ilk.
Moving away from the type of film he was becoming synonymous with (Wan was an executive producer for the poorly reviewed but highly profitable “Saw” sequels), he made “Insidious” (2010) and “Insidious: Chapter 2” (2013) and “The Conjuring” (2013) a return to the moody restraint of 70s classics “The Exorcism” and “The Omen.” Unfortunately for horror fans, Wan only found box-office gold with “Fast and Furious 7,” which led to Warner Bros. placing 2018’s “Aquaman” in his hands. Sequels notwithstanding (“The Conjuring 2” is scheduled for 2016), James Wan will not be scaring us anytime soon.