The goal of Wes’ antagonists seems to boil down to the corruption of youth and innocence. In Wes’ “ode to vampires” movie, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” our centuries old vampire clearly states to his ghoul sidekick that he is in search of a bride to turn to the dark side. We meet this “bride to be” and find she’s an innocent. She’s a young woman living an independent life. Despite her partner Justice’s obvious attraction to her, she remains chaste, adding to the innocent persona: A strong female role.
In 1984, with “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, the innocent teens of Elm Street are first taunted, broken down, and then murdered in their sleep, their most vulnerable state. Flash forward to 1996 Slasher Film “Scream”. Which is the hip, pop culture rendition of that “un-purify the innocent teens, drive them mad, then kill them” horror film ideology.
In “The people Under the Stairs”, (which has an “Alice in Wonderland” feel) our innocents, again in the form of youth, are collected, and kept in the basement for not “being innocent enough”! In “Deadly Friend”, Kristy Swanson’s (teen age girl) character Samantha is beaten, thrown down her stairs and killed by a father who’s been tormenting and abusing her long before the opening credits. Which brings up another underlining theme: “Forced Villains”.
In a twisted way of portraying one of Thomas Moore’s “Utopia” arguments “That we first create criminals, then punish them”. “Deadly Friend” (A fresh look on Frankenstein) shows us a cute young girl murdered, then turned into a robot who runs rabid killing “mean people”. Our victim is our villain in this case! Wes gives us the methods behind the madness. The motivation is usually one of vengeance, so you are forced to see the antagonist’s point of view, and in turn relate, whether you want to or not. It’s revealed to (our strong female role) Nancy, in Nightmare on Elm Street that the neighborhood parents including her own, killed Fred Kruger. They are the reason this child murderer now has supernatural power’s granting him far more effective ways to get to his victims. They made their monster.
The antagonists in ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ look, act, and live in the conditions they do because our government’s experiments went wrong and these, now, mutants were left behind and subsequently cannibalize people who resemble the life they once had.
“Scream’s” killer, Billy Loomis, reveals to Sidney (The Strong female role) that he blames her and her mother Moreen for his mother abandoning him at a young age.
In these tales of “Good vs. Evil”, we witness “Role Reversals”. The heroes of these films must eventually become killers themselves! Scream’s Sidney Prescott kills Stu Mocker and Billy Loomis. In order to save his baby, “The Hill’s” Doug must put aside his “peace, love, and anti-gun” views and massacre a family of mutants, as do his young siblings Bobby and Brenda. In “The People Under the Stairs”, character “Fool” and Alice (Strong female role, and the embodiment of innocence) must kill their captors in order to save themselves and the “collection of kids” stored below. Elm Street’s Nancy has to “kill” Freddy.
Once the parents of 17year old Mari find their unexpected houseguests are responsible for her death, they too sink down to premeditated murder. How do the parents carry out their vengeance? Another Wes Craven favorite past time of course! Booby Traps! “The Last House” is booby-trapped to slow down and torment the “killers”. Once Nancy realizes she can pull Freddy Kruger into her world to defeat him, she too booby-traps her house to aide her in this mission. In “The Hills Have Eyes”, the mutants have loads of traps set up in the hills. The surviving members of the family set up their own booby traps to warn them of the mutant’s presence. They even rigged their R.V. to blow up with the mutants inside. The house itself in “The People Under the Stairs” was nothing but a giant death trap. The whole place was rigged with traps, tunnels, and secret doors.
Wes Craven is no stranger to irony or comedic relief. Seeds of dark, witty dialogue are planted in clever ways throughout his works. In one particular scene in “The People Under the Stairs”, the villain shouts out in a hilarious fit of rage: “There are children misbehaving in the basement! And one in the wall!” – all the while her brother aimlessly shoots off his shotgun in the house. It’s absurd. Scream’s Stu Mocker’s reaction to the thought of his plot being foiled and going to jail was simply, “My mom and Dad are gonna be so mad at me”.
In “The Last House On The Left”, our comedic relief is provided by two bumbling Podunk cops, wandering around attempting to hitch a ride only to get mocked by passersby, completely clueless to the tragedies taking place that they could have prevented – a character concept later revisited in ‘Scream’ with the boyish Deputy Dewy. Clever use of foreshadowing with music was utilized early on in ‘Scream’, with Sidney and Billy having a romantic kissing scene as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays in the background. In this sad case of irony Sidney is unknowingly embracing the bringer of death. The incestuous, S&M sibling duo in the people under the stairs punish the stolen children by removing their tongues and eyes, for “sinning”. They must not see, speak, or hear evil. The ironic thing is those children never stood a chance at being in the absence of evil once they entered that house. Good The child would have to be blind, mute and deaf to be perfect for this couple.
Why do I think Wes Craven reiterates such concepts? Simply put, self-exploration and expression. Perhaps his educational background in psychology and writing mixed with his wide array of inspirational sources, steeped in the Horror genre, can be deemed responsible for his methods. He projects on the big screen philosophical questions of moral values. What is good or evil? What is justice? Is an eye for an eye just? With his films we explore each end of the moral spectrum. I think Wes would agree with Fredrick Nietzsche, “Be careful when hunting monsters that you do not become one. If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at you.”