Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Wes Craven has a long and inconsistent career as a director and writer of horror films. His early 70’s films, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) are now considered horror classics, but I never liked either of them. Craven’s 80’s film highlights consist of Swamp Thing (1982), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Shocker (1989), all of which I consider mediocre at best. In the 90’s Craven not only did a lot of Television work, but still directed The People Under the Stairs (1991), New Nightmare (1994), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Scream (1996) and Scream 2 (1997). I found the first two films unwatchable and the vampire comedy dreadfully unfunny, but Craven’s satires of the slasher genre that he had a hand in creating to me are his best and most original films. In the 2000’s Craven released Scream 3 (2000), Cursed (2005), the thriller Red Eye (2005) and finally My Soul to Take (2010). I personally liked all of these, but My Soul to Take has got to be his most maligned film yet.

I was concerned that perhaps this time the critics were right and that My Soul to Take was indeed Craven’s “most dull, joyless, and formulaic” film to date. I waited for its Blu-ray release and rented it from Netflix, just to be on the safe side. Once again, the vast majority of film reviewers did not get this latest Craven poignant epitome. I can only reason that because it is more subtle than his Scream films, they thought it was just another “dead teenager” film and dismissed it before even watching it.

The film begins sixteen years in the past, with a man named Abel who is suffering from multiple personalities and kills his wife, but doesn’t remember doing it. Just as he is about to stab his daughter to death, Paterson and other cops burst in to the master bedroom and shoot Abel. Abel fools Paterson and Dr. Blake (who Abel had called for help) into letting their guard down, and he seizes the cop's gun, shoots Paterson (who is wearing a bulletproof vest) and then the psychiatrist before being shot again. Still alive, Abel is transported to a hospital and springs to life in the back of the ambulance, slashes Jeanne-Baptiste's throat and causes the ambulance to careen out of control. The survivors of the wreck crawl out of the thrashed ambulance only to find Abel has gotten out of his restraints and disappeared. That same night, seven babies were born at a Riverton hospital. Local lore has it that, if the Ripper died that night, one of the seven may harbor the Ripper's evil soul. Thus begins the legend of The Riverton Ripper!

The film returns to the present, where one by one the “Riverton Seven” are introduced. Bug is the friendless weird kid in school who may be showing signs of early schizophrenia. Alex is the talkative kid raised by an abusive stepfather and is Bug’s only friend. Penelope is the religious girl, with a secret crush on Bug, who wants to keep her soul prepared should the Ripper return. Brittany is the beautiful girl in class who Bug has a crush on, but is dating the school jock. Brandon is the school jock and likes to bully anyone he considers weak or weird – which of course includes Bug and Alex. Jerome is a blind African-American kid whom most everyone likes, but is still somewhat of an outcast. Jay is an Asian kid who likes to live life in the fast lane and joke around, but no one sees much of because he lives out beyond the tracks.

One by one, the Riverton Seven start dying in horribly violent ways. The first to die is Jay, who has his head slammed twice against the metal side of a bridge and then stabbed in the stomach by the Ripper. The next to die is Penelope, who is grabbed from behind at the school's indoor swimming pool and has her throat slit. Gradually, blame is placed on Bug, when circumstances that I won’t divulge here reveal him to be a prime suspect. After many more revelations and plot twists the film draws to a satisfying conclusion.

I still think that one of the most important and difficult times in a person’s life is that final few years of high school, where you are still deciding what type of adult you are going to be. This is why teenagers tend to form cliques or inner circles that allow them to bond with others of their behavior. My Soul to Take demonstrates this well and maybe it is Bug’s “loser” status that makes him such an relatable character. I really liked the way Craven developed the friendship between Bug and Alex. These two become stronger together and it allows them to deal with the physical abuse of Brandon and the mental abuse of Brittany. Their hardships in high school prepare them for the eventual devastating effects of the murders of their classmates by The Riverton Ripper. Even though “the jock” and “the pretty girl” are only given a small amount of time to develop as characters, you still get an idea of why they act the way they do. One pivotal character, Fang – whose relationship to another major character is revealed as part of a plot twist, so I won’t divulge it here – is shown to be both outwardly antisocial, yet strong-willed in a positive way, as a result of a traumatic event in her childhood. Wes Craven, who wrote the script, has created some familiar archetypes, but also develops them enough to make them feel like real flesh and blood people.

Technically, Wes Craven’s direction of My Soul To Take is exceptional! Even in the early stages of the film, he never spends too much time bogged down in unimportant or trivial details. While the killings are both sudden and brutal, they are not exploitive or needlessly gory. I like it that Craven used storytelling and editing to elicit the fear at the deaths of his characters. Relative newcomer Petra Korner’s cinematography is filled with dark and disturbing imagery; especially during the chase scenes through the woods. I may have felt a certain affinity with the locations, as the entire film was shot on location in Connecticut, not far from the New England woods that I spent much of my time in as a child.

I think that My Soul To Take is a classic example of a veteran filmmaker, who in his prime has made a film that speaks to his own personal concerns and not worried about delivering a film of illimitable commercial appeal. If you like your horror films to be more than just gore-filled hack-fests, then give My Soul To Take a try. This may not be Wes Craven’s best and it is certainly not his worst, but it is more than watchable. You might be surprised to find that the old master of horror still has a few innovative trickeries up his cinematic sleeve!


  1. This is the kind of "horribly violent" gore film I'm not a big fan of.

    You're interest speaks to the fact you can't be a complete fuddy duddy yet. Clearly the violence and gore here is viewed without exploitation. I feel that Battle: LA would have been implementing and manifesting the violence in a similar way.

    Your review of Wes Craven has me intrigued my friend.

  2. I’m surprised to see you commenting on a horror movie review, Sci-Fi Fanatic! Pleased, but still surprised.

    Although My Soul to Take is rated R, it’s level of realistic violence was fairly mild for this type of horror film. That’s why I mentioned it in my review that it wasn’t a film for fans of extreme or gratuitous bloody violence or gore. As a fan of horror films from the classic 30’s and 40’s to the more modern 90’s and beyond, I have learned to tolerate a certain amount of gratuitous blood-letting. However, I still prefer horror films that use my mind’s imagination to generate the frights, along with good old fashioned character development, plot progression and precise editing.

    Not being a horror fan, you most likely didn’t waste much time reading the national critics reviews of My Soul to Take, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were especially critical of its lack of any extended sequences of graphic gore or violence. Some went so far as to call My Soul to Take a throwback to the 90’s (when did the 90’s become “old fashioned?) Horror films. I think that the R rating that the film received is as much for the language and the “implied” sexual activity of the characters as for the level of violence.

    I sometimes wonder what the difference between a PG-13 rating and an R rating are. They used to be fairly obvious: Nudity + F-bomb = R. Now I’ve seen PG-13 films that have used the F-bomb (admittedly once) and shone all but full frontal nudity. Personally, since I don’t have children, I don’t care what they rate a film, but for some ratings raise certain expectations among film goers and when those expectations are not met, it makes some fans (especially horror film fans) angry.

    Yes, I like to think that an R rating would not have greatly affected the gratuity of the violence in Battle: Los Angeles, but it would have diminished the number of younger teenagers who could have seen it at the theater and I’m assuming that’s why the studio probably pushed for a PG-13 rating.

  3. I agree with you on your remarks from the end of your first paragraph. I connect to films like that such as The Fog. Love that one.

    And yes, your final paragraph nails it. I mean it's all about the numbers and getting those bodies in the theatre. Listen, I'm actually not complaining. Films like Battle: LA and Sucker Punch [nexty weekend] work beautifully for me because I can actually take my son. If these were Rated R he stays home. :( So I like having my son as my movie viewing comrade for an afternoon. : )

    Anyway, enjoyed your remarks here. I like horror films but I definitely do NOT like the gratuitous SAW stuff.

    I really loved The Mist, despite a few gratuitous moments. I liked that old style fear of the unknown stuff. I thought The Mist was a nice throwback. I wonder if you agree. I know I'm off topic of your post here.

    Good read just the same!

  4. One of these days I will have to write a post of my favorite films from each genre: science fiction, fantasy and horror. The lists would be so long that I’d probably have to break them up by decade, starting with the 1930’s (I’m not a huge silent film fan – although I’ve watched most of the classic genre films) through to the 2000’s. In the meantime, it is fun to toss around which films I like with you and others and which films I don’t like and for what reasons.

    I’m not a fan of either of The Fog films. I’m a fan of John Carpenter’s style of filmmaking, so I like his original 1980 version better than the Rupert Wainwright 2005 remake, but the storyline itself just didn’t quite work for me.
    I dutifully sat through the first three Saw films, but I will not be watching any more of these “torture porn” films. The first Saw film had some moments of skilled filmmaking. Saw 2 tried a slightly different tack plot wise, which I liked, but it still wasn’t a good film. Saw 3 was a virtual remake of the first film, had the most ridiculous plot-twist that I’ve seen and has kept me from watching any more of the sequels. Not being a gore fan, I have a hard time watching these types of films to begin with, so it wasn’t too difficult to stop watching the Saw films.

    The Mist is a difficult film for me. I thought this was one of the most powerful and frightening horror films that I have ever seen and liked it… right up until the last scene. That one scene in the car at the end (if you’ve seen it, you definitely know what I’m talking about here) turned me off from The Mist as a whole. Still, it is one of the better and more realistic “creature” films I’ve seen in a long while.

    It’s always fun going “off topic” with you Sci-Fi Fanatic! Thanks for all your fantastic comments!

  5. I'd love to see your lists and commentary one day. I think seeing those silent films and having a strong grasp of the history of film gives anyone a strong handle on the material of which they write.

    Like you, maybe more, not a torture porn guy. I saw some of Hostel once. Never did see the whole thing, and not that it's not good for what it is, but tough to watch for me personally.

    I loved The Mist. We agree on the whole. I loved that film. That end is brutal and up for endless discussion. I did a short review of that film some time agao at my blog, but I completely understand the trouble you had with it.

    I would have enjoyed about three alternate endings for that one. For me though, it's one of the best over the last decade. I love it.

    Enjoy the back and forth agree or not to agree. : )