Register Thursday | June 27 | 2019

why i love wes craven movies

I went to the quasi-annual Ladies' Horror Movie Sleepover Party Night on the weekend. This is an event that's been going on every so often for probably six years or so; a loose affiliation of girlfriends collect at the home of whoever's got the best A/V gear and sit up all night with snacks and booze and watch (in theory) five randomly selected horror movies.

It hasn't actually happened quite like that in a while. For the past couple of years, the party has started dwindling earlier and earlier. Two years ago, I think I made it through three movies. Last year, I managed two. This year, I could only handle one, and I left before midnight, even though the next one on the roster was Incubus and I was dying to see William Shatner speaking Esperanto.

It was still fun, though. Heather and Mara brought their babies, which was delightful (the babies went to sleep before the horror movies started), and Heather and I brought the traditional Horror Cake (last time, we made a giant papier-mache spider on a dark chocolate base that was split open with raspberry coulis and plastic spiders spilling out of the crack; this year, it was a sculpture in cake of a shark and an anaconda fighting underwater. Heather's design; very impressive.)

And we watched The People Under the Stairs, Wes Craven's Gulf War One-era exercise in Republican-bashing. It's about two evil slumlords (who look remarkably like Ron and Nancy Reagan) who kidnap children from the ghetto to raise as their own, then cut their tongues out and force them to live in the basement when they complain or try to escape. The Ronald Reagan character spends most of the movie charging around the house in full bondage gear, waving a shotgun and yelling "Burn in Hell!" Finally, hundreds of disgruntled tenants rise up against them and the hero, a resourceful little kid, blows up their mansion and all their money flies everywhere and the kid's mom doesn't die of cancer after all.

Obviously, it's great, but I was trying to figure out exactly why I find this kind of thing so incredibly soothing, and I think it's this: whenever I watch a movie, part of my brain's always trying to figure out the hidden agenda: But what does it mean that the talking reindeer can only fly over rural areas? Is it a statement against global urbanization? And how does that tie in with the sequence with the three department-store Santas? Are they taking on monotheism? IS GOD DEAD?!

I don't think I'm always wrong to do this - quite often there really are agendas (like in Dirty Dancing - Havana Nights, which was clearly a polemical drama about the history of the American trade embargo against Cuba, under a flimsy veneer of Diego Luna). But sometimes it's just silly, and I do it anyway. And a nice Wes Craven movie, with a simple plot and an even simpler allegory underneath, sets that anxiously probing part of my brain at ease. "Oh, I know what you're saying," I go. "Ha. Republicans are bad! The poor will rise up! I get it!" And, having got it, I can relax.