Wes Craven has been making films for nearly forty years now, having made a huge impression with his 1972 picture Last House on the Left. And since then, Craven is just as likely to make a great film as a terrible one. Some horror directors – like John Carpenter – have an obvious hot streak, an uninrupted run of greatness, and most directors have periods where they’re doing great work, and off times. Whereas Craven followed A Nightmare on Elm St. with The Hills Have Eyes II. His 1996 film Scream is one of his best, which came a year after A Vampire in Brooklyn – easily one of his worst. Again, you never know. Craven is decidedly smart, but he’ll also pursue ideas that he seems passionate about or films that promise a paycheck. My Soul to Take was post-converted into 3-D and sat around for a while. It’s fascinating, though I don’t know which of the two categories it most belongs in – regardless, it leaves an impression. My review of My Soul to Take follows after the jump.
The film opens with a guy with a split personality finding out that he may have killed someone. But he has a wife and child! It turns out that he is the killer, and the voice inside his head resents him calling his psychiatrist (Harris Yulin). The cops show, he gets shot, and then springs up ala every horror movie film ever and tries to kill some more. He gets shot, they put him an ambulance, and he pulls the same stunt again, warning he will just come back in the soul of someone else (hence the title).
Hold up, okay, so the killer who can’t die cliché is just that – a cliché – and Wes Craven is aware of that, and that’s how the film opens. So you get the sense that the film is at least sentient of the rues and clichés of genre, and by opening the film with such a detail it suggests self-awareness. But the way this opening sequence is compressed, it comes across as lunatic. The way everything comes crashing about, and that the film opens in the heightened state of the conclusion of a horror movie sets the tone of the piece: There is definitely something interesting going on here, but it’s also a work that is slightly unhinged in a “I can’t believe someone made this, this is kind of terrible, but I can’t take my eyes off it” sort of way.
The film then – finished with its prologue – introduces the same town (Riverton) sixteen years later where the town’s teenagers celebrate the death of its famous serial killer. The ceremony goes askew when police show up, and it’s revealed there were seven kids born on the night of the serial killer’s death, and they may be cursed or some shit to inherent the killer’s soul. The main character is Bug (Max Thieriot), who’s an outsider and a weirdo, and the film traffics in the stereotypes of high schools of years past. His best friend is Alex (John Magaro), who is also an outsider. Then there’s the jock douche, the Heather-y lead bitch girl, the token characters and assorted stereotypes. The jocks are very interested in beating people up on a scale that leads to sexual favors, and the token black character (Denzel Whitaker) is blind. Yes, blind.
The film starts with the school, as the Riverton seven are killed off one by one, and Bug doesn’t know if he too is psychotic, as there’s things going on in his mind, and there’s a theory that one of the kid’s soul is possessed by the killer. Then there’s a scene where Bug and Alex do a variation on the old Marx brothers “Missing Mirror” gag that is played for scares. There’s a religious girl who warns of many things, a teen pregnancy, and the classic reversal when a killer tracks down the town’s asshole (who may be bad, but not deserving to die bad) that lead into the film’s build up of the reveal of the killer.
As the film moves into this final act, there are a number of secrets revealed about the main characters, some of which seem to be plot points forgotten about until necessary. For instance, the head bitch of the school – Fang (Emily Meade) – is Bug’s sister, but this isn’t clear until much later in the film. Then there’s reveals about which of the seven was actually the child of the killer, and that all seven souls seem to be connected, and then there’s a whole story of how someone ends up in a closet with a stab wound, which leads to an extended sequence right at the end of the film where the movie has to laboriously explain how someone could be someplace without having been the killer.
Great cinema leaves an indelible impression. So does truly terrible cinema. Thankfully I didn’t see the film in what amounted to a murky post-conversion done for theatrical. Instead, I got to watch this at home, and though there are things about it I think are legitimately interesting and a riff on what Craven has done with “dead teenager film” over the course of his oeuvre, this movie is bug fuck nuts and that’s sort of what makes it great. I can’t recommend the film, except as an experience, but that experience is indelible. I would argue it is classically bad, but in a way that only a very interesting artist can accomplish.
Universal’s DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround. I’m used to Blu-rays, but this looked fine. The DVD comes with a commentary by Wes Craven, Max Thieroit, John Magaro and Emily Meade, an alternate opening (2 min.), two alternate endings (4 min.) – neither of which help things – and five deleted or extended scenes (22 min.). The film was a subject of some reshooting (upwards of fifty minutes, from what I’ve read online), so this is likely the bulk of the original material.