22 July 2009

“Craven Pardon”

I guess you have all heard Wes Craven's pseudo- psychological justifications for what he does, particularly specious with regard to his position that the original “Last House on the Left” was an anti- Vietnam diatribe.

Please. Spare me.

I am inclined to believe he- as we- finds something cathartic in horror, as opposed to John Carpenter's motivation, which by his own admission is the cashola and the kudos. (No problem with that, BTW.)

As many of you edge toward equally specious (and unnecessary) justifications for your taste (I saw a reviewer only last night declare ‘I liked the movie “300”; so sue me!) I replied ‘no lawsuits coming from this neck of the woods. We live in (partially) democratic environments, for the time being. Let’s make the most of them by killing once and for all the term 'guilty pleasures'.

In a world with precious few pleasures, you are not obliged to preface your tastes with apologies, no more than a film maker should use questionable revisionism to justify his own lurid preoccupations; completely unnecessary. Don't forget, even the trashiest of horror films are attempting to do something most mainstream movies do not- to jolt us out of our complacency, and turn our thoughts to matters metaphysical; why are we here, what happens when we die, what are nightmares for, what place has 'fear' in our makeup, etc. Yes, even Sage Stallone’s clumsy gore fest.
Even he asks questions like ‘what is the shape of rage’, ‘what primal beast lurks in the heart of all man and what does it take to unleash it’, and ‘how does my Dad make his muscles look so ripped at 60?)

Chemicals account for our love of horror. As horror fans, we go places others fear to tread, because it gets our juices going. Try to remember that as horror fanatics, you are at odds with the critics- those who bleat 'how can you watch that crap'- on a conscious level because you feel at home in being jolted from your complacency, and on a subconscious level, your mind is stretching to satisfy some basic questions about life and death.

I don't know you any of you, and have no right to psychoanalyse you, but reading between the lines I sense you love horror films for the reasons I do; because they explore- often without meaning to- some fascinating philosophical questions. I don't differentiate between the 'good' and the 'bad', as these words have no meaning for me. I appreciate trash, as much as I appreciate boutique efforts like 'Jacobs Ladder' and 'Stir of Echoes', because they satisfy my desire to transcend this mortal coil, and seek out that which lies beyond.

And they are fucking good fun to boot.

But I digress; going back to Craven, I have the same reservations about the pseudo 'verite doco style artistic choices' of the original “Last House” as many others do, and I most certainly resent the fact that the primary author of the piece used the 'Vietnam bullshit' to justify his grunge drenched choices. My guess, based on the accounts of those who were there, is that the production values were not deliberate stylistic choices adopted to reference a certain US incursion into Indo China, any more than this harrowing film was a deliberate metaphor for that same incursion.
This is sheer revisionism. And it is bogus. Only Craven knows Craven’s mind, but the evidence at the time tells us without a doubt that Craven and his cronies were doing nothing more elaborate than grinding pulp (which is fine and no shame), and he spent the rest of his career justifying the style, the politics and the mythology of 'Last House' with his Johns Hopkins mouth.
Why?? The bottom line is he and Seany went from porn to grind house, (still fine) did his best with next to no dough and produced something for shock value. And it's pretty fucking good. The rest is bogus rationalisation, and we all know most humans can go days without water and weeks without food, but not one day without a healthy rationalisation.

Watching Craven in the accompanying doco on the “Last House” special edition trying to play this shit with a straight face was like watching an orang-utan high on mescal trying to jam a square block into a round hole; sad because you like the poor brute, but still sad.
Let me just say this; I admire Craven for his early film work. You probably know the ones I am talking about- perhaps we agree on the good ones, and perhaps even the bad. I must say I have a fondness even for the much maligned 'Deadly Friend'.

The thing is, I want to make it perfectly clear, and I call Craven on his 'justifications' for 'Last House'- not his work as such.

It is easy for me to sit back and criticise a working film maker, when I have only had one film made of a script.
Let's agree on one thing- it is fucking hard work making films, even bad ones- and I am very cautious about putting shit on someone else's work. I admire anyone who gets ANYTHING made, and I give them one star just for 'showing up'; getting off their arse and doing it, rather than talking about it.

I do, however, reserve the right to call bullshit when I hear it- whether it be Craven, myself, or anyone.
And reading an interview with him in an old issue of 'Total Film' again making the offending comment, I simply feel, as I have said, that Craven's revisionism of the thematic intentions of 'Last House' to be inauthentic, insincere, and not a little cowardly. He should be proud of what he has achieved, and stand by it for what it is rather than trying to justify it according to some very spurious socio cultural or political rationalisations.

I don't believe Gaspar Noe once held 'Irreversible' up as a critique of American military incursions into Iraq using the metaphor of skull crushing or forced rape. At least, it isn't in the disc commentary, and I did not notice it in any of the press. I will readily accept that it could be a comment on the dark side of masculinity, or power and repression over women, just as 'Last House' might similarly be, but I don't for a second buy the contention that they are anti war diatribes, any more than I believe 'Chainsaw' is a critique of urbanisation and the death of the small town America. They are horror films. Simple.

You can say otherwise, and you might have your own reason or agenda for saying it, but there are enough genuine political allegories out there without attaching meaning to every film that comes down the pipe with some higher meaning when they are simple, visceral, even primal entertainment.

They are what they are, period; and that is all they need be. Leave the politics to the 'politicians', and hope and pray they leave the film making to the sincere and the articulate.

When Craven or any film maker makes these rationalisations, he panders to the rank and file who question his work, when I think he would be better served simply telling them to 'fuck off'. He doesn't need to justify his films- he has nothing to justify. He has earned the right to do any film he wants; and when he feels pressured to back pedal and patch up the visceral impact of his films with bogus diatribe, he makes it harder not only for the rest of us in his pandering to the delicate minded pussies, but sets back the cause of freedom of speech by decades.

Craven was a damn fine film maker, and his early work needs no Vaseline before being rammed up our arses. 'House' and 'Hills', in particular, are classic examples of 'fuck you' film making of the first order, and he has the right- same as any of us- to do the viewing public dry and not pull out.

I suspect his edge has been softened over the years- partly because he has aged, and partly because the stress of the backlash surrounding 'House' must have been murder for him, and who wouldn't be tempted to knock off the sharp edges of their subsequent work. He is only human.

But 'Last House on the Left' stands as a testament to first class classic hardcore horror film making; it is unrivalled in it's impact, and if there are those out there with delicate sensibilities who cannot digest it in it's sheer raw simplicity without some post partum sugar coating- a la being assured it is a Vietnam allegory hence letting them 'off the hook' for watching such sadism and being a little self conscious of the fact that they might actually like it- then they can fuck right off and take their hypocrisy with them.

Stand your ground, Wes. 'House' is what it is, without the political commentary, and you know it.

And fans of Craven and horror?

Keep the faith- I know you will. You, like me, have probably been doing this most of your life, and will continue to seek out new worlds beyond this temporal plane-via the fine art of film.

Forgive they who judge, for they know not what they do...

Authorised by "The Society for the Eradication of Bullshit Artistry." (SEBA)

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