Summer Tales, and Tributes to Basil Poledouris and Wes Craven

September 1, 2015 | By

Valerie Quennessen + stunning eyes in Summer Lovers (1982).


I delayed posting this blog in spite of a trio of review uploads this weekend (see very end) because I’d planned on squeezing in a related review – California Dreaming (1979) –  since the theme of this update is summer fun, although that review will appear late tonight, as a few things snagged some final editing.


First, many may have heard Wes Craven died at the age of 76 from brain cancer.

Craven was a true survivor from the 70s exploitation era, breaking new ground in grungy horror with Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), before re-emerging from a quiet period with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and once again with Scream (1996) – all genre classics and leaps in approaching horror via tales of next-door sadism, desert savagery, blurred dream-realities, and a self-referential slasher / homage / full slasher all in one, respectively.

It’s worth noting how whenever Craven seemed to reach a period of inactivity or critics felt his relevance was long gone, he popped back with an iconoclastic shocker that proved influential, especially Nightmare and Scream.

The former English teacher was a good director, storyteller, and script editor, and when at his best, he seemed to direct films with a persona that was subdued, witty, ever-smiling, and a quite but genuine love for making movies. He was among the luckiest of his lot – Last House producer Sean S. Cunningham launched his own directorial career with Friday the 13th (1980), but filmmaking wasn’t his full passion, hence a decision to step away from feature films when his success had peaked.

Craven directed TV movies and TV shows – I remember his Twilight Zone episodes were bland – and at his worst Craven tended to rely on montages that climaxed with a ‘Whew! It was only a nightmare!’ before the plot started to move again. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) is a beautiful production, but it’s disjointed and feels like an awkward attempt to create a fictional shocker based on a non-fiction text on Haitian voodoo, although it did feature a great Brad Fiedel score.

Craven’s films were often fertile ground for young composers, and Scream was the career maker for Marco Beltrami, arguably one of the top composers of his generation. It’s a funny, unsettling, ballsy score that blends modern orchestral sounds with fuzzy electronics, flowing beautifully between source cues that also support the film and its doomed, chatter-mouth characters.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) was an interesting albeit flawed attempt to reinvent the Nightmare franchise he inadvertently started but probably didn’t get rich from, appearing as himself in a film-within-a-film concept that poked fun at the genre, the franchise’s characters, and winked a lot at audiences.

I was maybe one of 8 people that watched Nightmare Café (1992), his super short-lived TV series which again tried to bend the rules of narrative TV by having doomed characters in a diner play out roles that save the lives of their so-called troubled clientele.

I may in fact be wrong about the show’s premise, simply because it was axed after 6 episodes, and I haven’t seen it since. It resides somewhere on VHS in storage, but I remember the scores by New Nightmare composer J. Peter Robinson were quite good. (A too-short soundtrack CD was in fact released, and that may be the lone proof that the show ever existed.)

Craven tackled straight drama in the Meryl Streep film Music of the Heart (1999), but he soon returned to horror with the unnecessary Scream 3 (2000). Five years would pass until Cursed would materialize – the film was almost fully reshot after it tested badly – and while Red Eye (2005) was fun, it was a light B-movie; what Craven clearly got out of it was directing a mostly 2 character film where a savvy woman manages to repeatedly undermine the machinations of a murder plot while seated next to its main henchman.

Craven’s last film was Scream 4 (2011), a sequel with absolutely no reason to exist except to give franchise fans a false sense of closure that already existed after Scream 2 (1997), or so meddling co-producer Harvey Weinstein believed. None of the actors look interested in the stale production, and while Craven probably had another film lined up, another directorial effort wasn’t in the cards.

Personal favourites include the key works at the top of this piece, and The People Under the Stairs (1991), a weird urban shocker with brilliant stunt casting (the two leads co-starred in Twin Peaks) and great mood and energy. I’ve even warmed up to Cursed over the years – it’s flawed, but there’s a tone that seemed typical of Craven’s work post-Scream: a bit wry, self-aware, and treating the audience as respectful participants.

Moving on.

SummerLovers1982_BRBack on Sunday I posted a trio of reviews, headlined by Randal Kleiser’s Summer Lovers (1982), a ménage a trois drama packed with a mostly song score and jaw-dropping beautiful visuals of the Greek islands and an attractive cast. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is the special edition that should’ve happened years ago, and fans will be very pleased by the HD widescreen transfer, Kleiser’s commentary track, and some other unique extras.

BasilPoledourisHisLifeAndMusic_VHSOne of the BR’s goodies is the documentary Basil Poledouris: His Life and Music (1997) which was to have been the first in a series of composer documentaries produced by Film Score Monthly, the venerable soundtrack magazine to which I occasionally contributed CD reviews, composer interviews, and profiles a while ago.

FMMasters_JerryGoldsmitg_docNot unlike the doc Film Music Masters: Jerry Goldsmith, another first but only installment in a separate composer doc series, the film only existed on tape, but whereas the Goldsmith doc is now a rare DVD (the music rights alone will probably ensure it’ll never make it to Blu), FSM’s film is at least limited to TT’s standard 3000 copy run, so there’s still time to grab Summer Lovers before it too goes fully OOP.

Tribute2BasilPoledourisFSM’s doc wasn’t the only piece on Poledouris, and I’ve ported another review from the archives, Quartet Records 2009 DVD Tribute to Basil Poledouris, which blends select concert footage from 2006 with doc material as a tribute to the late composer, who passed away later that year.

To my ears, Poledouris’ greatest work is still Conan the Barbarian (1982), and even if one doesn’t have a taste for John Milius’ film (like myself), that pounding, theme-heavy, score is a masterpiece.

BasolPoledouris_picThe title music alone is a work of genius, full of bold brass, heavy percussion, and rhythms that seem to drift, giving the impression of a coarsely woven cloth slowly coming apart – a great musical metaphor for a coarse, ancient culture being torn apart by a war-mongering warlord.

A cluster of reviews will follow within the next 48 hours, including a podcast and soundtrack reviews. For what should’ve been a lazy summer, there’s been plenty to do.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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