Anyone who's had the misfortune of suffering through Cleveland native Wes Craven's revolting The Last House on the Left during its original 1972 theatrical release never could have predicted that the former humanities professor would someday emerge as a significant force in contemporary American cinema.
Despite an uneven career that's seen more lows (Vampire in Brooklyn) than highs (Red Eye), there's no disputing the fact that at least two of Craven's films (1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street and 1996's Scream) are among the most iconic, imitated, and arguably finest horror films of the past quarter-century.
Craven certainly has come a long way since Last House's amateur-hour shock tactics. One of his movies (1999's Music of the Heart) even earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep, who played a real-life inner-city violin teacher. That stab at mainstream legitimacy proved short-lived, since Craven's second Scream sequel followed Music of the Heart into theaters by three short months.
Craven's latest chiller, My Soul to Take, opens Friday, and it seems like a calculated move to revisit his old Elm Street stomping grounds. Even the storyline — a serial killer returns to his hometown to stalk some teens who were born the night he died — practically oozes deja-vu. The major differences are that Freddy Krueger is nowhere to be found and the movie is presented in inevitable, increasingly wearisome 3-D.
Will Craven prove to be one of the few screen artists (like James Cameron, Henry Selick, and the Pixar brain trust) capable of utilizing 3-D for more than just cheap carnie effects? Will My Soul to Take spawn a brand-new Craven franchise? Or is it destined for instant — and maybe deserved — obscurity like, say, Craven's risible 2005 werewolf dud Cursed?
Considering Craven's Frankenstein-like ability to reinvent himself — and to somehow remain spookily relevant in the torture-porn era — it probably doesn't matter how many people see Soul on the big screen. After all, there's always an insatiable appetite for R-rated horror flicks on DVD. (And props to Craven for not jumping on the trendy PG-13 scary-movie bandwagon.)
Of course, the only new Wes Craven movie that fright fans truly care about is the upcoming Scream 4. Opening next spring, the first Scream sequel in more than a decade promises to reunite all of the old gang (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette) and introduce a rash of younger pretty faces, including True Blood star Anna Paquin, Emma Roberts, and Kristen Bell. Don't forget: Craven was the director who introduced audiences to Johnny Depp in the original Elm Street. The guy knows talent, even if he occasionally misjudged his own capabilities over the years.
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