Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special

Sounds of Cinema's month-long Halloween theme concludes with the annual Halloween Special. This hour long program will feature music from a variety of spooky movies as well as some other audible surprises.

The Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special can be heard over the air and online the evening of Friday, October 30th at:
  Tune in for the soundtrack to your Halloween.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

89.7 KMSU Fall Pledge Drive

89.7 KMSU FM "The Maverick" is currently holding its fall pledge drive. If you listen to Sounds of Cinema from this station or believe in independent radio, please consider making a financial contribution. You can make a pledge by calling 507-389-5678 or 1-800-456-7810. You can also make a pledge online at the the station's website.

The funds raised in KMSU's bi-annual pledge drive pay for the overhead cost of running the station, maintaining and replacing the equipment, and keeping KMSU on the air.

If you listen to KMSU and enjoy its content, please help to ensure that the station continues to broadcast its unique blend of programming. In stressful and uncertain economic times we all have to take extra care in how we spend our money. But it is also important to remember that we demonstrate what we value by where and how we spend our money. Consider the impact that KMSU's content has on the community. Many of the programs, especially those that are locally produced, provide a very important service to the listenership and to the Mankato area as a whole.

It's also important to remember that pledges are not just about money. Space and funding are at a premium across higher education. When you make a pledge to KMSU you demonstrate that the station is valued by the community and that helps justify its continued existence.

On Sunday, November 1, those listening to Sounds of Cinema from KMSU will hear a special pledge drive episode. Those listening from 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona will hear the regularly scheduled program.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Presentation on 'American Sniper' at Winona State

On Wednesday, October 28th J. Paul Johnson will present "Screening American Sniper on the 21st-Century College Campus" at 7pm in Stark Hall room 103 at Winona State University. The event is part of the university's CLASP series.

Early in 2015, numerous scheduled college campus screenings of Clint Eastwood’s acclaimed war biopic American Sniper were protested, and of those, some cancelled, as Muslim and other student groups protested the film’s representation of Iraqi soldiers and citizens as “savages.” This presentation will chart the controversy over campus screenings of American Sniper, locate them in a historical context, and advocate for those who have been misrepresented by its depiction of non-Americans as “savages.”

J. Paul Johnson is Professor of English and Film Studies at Winona State, where he also serves as chairperson of the Mass Communication Department. He has published books and articles on composition and rhetoric and presented at national and international conferences on film and literature. His current research focuses on the intersections of genre identification, reception, and representation in film studies.

Here is a discussion about the film from The Young Turks:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Haunted House Movies

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued the month-long Halloween theme with a look at haunted house pictures. What follows are the movies discussed on today’s show as well as some additional titles.

Based on a short story by Stephen King, a writer who specializes in debunking paranormal activity checks into a fabled haunted hotel. The movie had two endings, one that was shown in theaters and another, darker ending, that was included on the home video release.

The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Horror was based on the supposedly true story of a haunting experienced by the Lutz family in their Long Island home. The facts in the case have been a matter of dispute but that controversy only added to the mystery of the Amityville haunting. The 1979 movie was enormously successful and inspired a series of sequels although the follow ups had little to do with the original material.

The Beyond
Lucio Fulci is one of the legendary directors in the horror genre. His movies were mostly known for their gore but he mounted ambitious productions on small budgets. One of the most popular titles among Fulci’s cult following is 1983’s The Beyond (also known as The Seven Doors of Death). The movie concerns a hotel constructed over a gateway to hell. At the time of its release the movie was subject to censorship and like most of Fulci’s films it was critically derided but it has since achieved a modest reputation as a surrealistic horror title.

The Changeling
A man mourning the death of his wife and child rents an isolated mansion and is accosted by the spirit of a murdered child. Martin Scorsese named The Changeling one of his favorite horror films.

The Haunting
One of the great titles in the history of haunted house movies is 1963’s The Haunting. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House and directed by Robert Wise (who also helmed The Sound of Music and The Day the Earth Stood Still), The Haunting involves a scientist testing paranormal researchers in a haunted mansion. The film is so effective because of its use of suggestion. That was lost on the makers of the 1999 remake.

The Hellraiser franchise is now synonymous with the character of Pinhead but the original movie is really a haunted house picture. A married couple move into the husband’s childhood home but the reanimated corpse of the husband’s older brother is living in the attic and he seduces the wife into bringing him victims so that he can regenerate the rest of his body. Hellraiser was one of the best horror pictures of the 1980s and it’s one of the best debut features by a director in the genre.

A troubled novelist moves into the home of his recently deceased aunt in order to complete his next book. The movie isn’t a horror comedy but some of the visuals are a bit silly in a way that makes the movie campy fun. Interestingly, House was produced by Sean Cunningham, director of Friday the 13th, and directed by Steve Miner, who helmed Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3.

House on Haunted Hill
Directed by William Castle and starring Vincent Price, The House on Haunted Hill tells the story of a millionaire who offers ten thousand dollars to five people who agree to be locked in a spooky house overnight.

Monster House
Monster House is a good example of a family movie that respects the intelligence of both kids and their parents. This is an animated film but it gets pretty intense and is thematically heavy while managing to be appropriate for the family audience.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
The second film in the Elm Street series combines a slasher film with a possession movie and a haunted house story. Taking place in the home were Freddy Krueger was defeated in the original picture, the sequel sees the villain attempting to cross from dreams into the real world.

The Orphanage
A couple renovates an orphanage into a home for handicapped children and their son plays with imaginary friend who might be ghosts. The Orphanage is a very thoughtful haunted house picture. It may not deliver the shocks of a mainstream horror film but it does tap into something that is mysterious about childhood.

The Others
Written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, The Others is a very effective haunted house movie. The story concerns a mother and her two children who have an allergic reaction to sunlight. The mother maintains strict control over the household but her grip is disrupted by supernatural phenomena.

Paranormal Activity
The glut of sequels has pushed the series into absurdity but the original Paranormal Activity was a very effective found footage movie.

The Shining
Based on the book by Stephen King, The Shining has been adapted twice. The more popular version is the 1980 motion picture directed by Stanley Kubrick. This film starred Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a married couple who spend the winter as caretakers of an isolated hotel and the husband gradually goes insane. King was unhappy with Kubrick’s film, as it diverged greatly from the novel, and he produced a made-for-television remake that aired on ABC in 1997.

Poltergeist was a very intense and quite successful haunted house picture in which a family’s young daughter is abducted by ghosts. Released in 1982, the movie was rated PG but it is more intense than that rating suggests. Poltergeist inspired two sequels and a television series. A remake of the original film was released in 2015.

What Lies Beneath
Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer play a couple whose marriage is strained by the wife’s visions that might be supernatural or the result of head trauma.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

'U.S. vs. John Lennon' Showing on Oct. 22

The U.S. vs. John Lennon will be shown on Thursday, October 22nd at 7pm in the Stark Hall Auditorium on the Winona State University campus.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a documentary film about Lennon’s art and activism. The film recounts Lennon’s post-Beatles career and the way he used his star power to draw attention to political issues. As a result, Lennon was identified as an enemy of the Nixon administration and was targeted for deportation.

Admission is free and open to the public.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon runs 99 minutes and is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America.

This event is sponsored by the Winona State University Art Department, English Department, Mass Communication Department, Sociology Department, the Darrell W. Krueger Library, and Sounds of Cinema.

More information about the screening can be found here.

Join the Facebook event page here

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Wes Craven Retrospective

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued the month-long Halloween theme with a look at the career of filmmaker Wes Craven. The writer-director-producer passed away on August 30, 2015 at the age of seventy-six. He left behind a filmography that is distinguished within the horror genre and across American cinema as a whole.

Wes Craven began his career in the early 1970s, first gaining experience as an editor and then becoming a writer and director with 1972’s The Last House on the Left. From there Craven would helm such horror classics as The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs,and the Scream series as well as the mainstream drama Music of the Heart.

Coming from a Midwestern working class background and a family that belonged to a fundamentalist church that rejected movies as literally the work of the devil, Craven was not disposed to become one of the great American filmmakers. But it’s difficult to deny that few figures in the history of horror cinema—and for that matter the history of American film—have created as many movies with the impact and longevity that he did.

One of the extraordinary aspects of Craven’s filmography is the role he played in reinventing the horror genre multiple times throughout his career. In doing so he created many of the scariest, most intelligent, and most influential horror films for three decades running. In the 1970s Craven was a key player in the new breed of independent horror cinema that occurred alongside the New Hollywood movement and The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes are as indispensable to the cinema of the 70s as Mean Streets and The Deer Hunter. In the 1980s Craven wrote and directed A Nightmare on Elm Street. In addition to creating slasher villain Freddy Krueger and launching one of the most successful franchises in Hollywood history, A Nightmare on Elm Street also changed the horror genre again by combining the realistic scares of the slasher format with surrealistic elements that paved the way for titles like Hellraiser and Paperhouse. In the 1990s he would reinvent the horror genre once again with Scream, bringing pop post-modernism and horror together.

Another of the exceptional aspects of Wes Craven’s work was the intelligence of his movies. Coming from an academic background, Craven approached his films with both the artistry of a storyteller and the cerebral qualities of an intellectual. He always attempted to give the audience their money’s worth but Craven was also interested in a cinema of ideas and in telling stories that questioned authority, interrogated the limits of rationality, and penetrated the cultural zeitgeist. Even movies that weren’t successful like Deadly Friend and Shocker had something in them that was thought-provoking. Because of that, Craven’s movies are not just spooky stories. They are also important cultural artifacts from the last four decades of American cinema.

Here are some of the highlights of Wes Craven’s filmography:

The Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven’s first feature film was Last House on the Left. A reworking of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (which itself was adapted from a 13th century Swedish folk song), The Last House on the Left told the story of two young women who are kidnapped, tortured, and killed by a gang of criminals. The killers inadvertently seek shelter with one of the victim’s parents and the mother and father take bloody revenge.

Last House on the Left is often cited as one of the most disturbing films of all time and that’s mostly attributed to its violence. Released in 1972, Last House on the Left was a key title in a swath of movies that changed the rules of on-screen brutality. However, the violence of Last House does not entirely account for the visceral reaction that the movie continues to elicit from audiences. The movie went beyond the prurient thrills of a trashy drive-in movie. This was a smarter picture than that and its story suggested that violence has no redemptive or regenerative qualities.

The impact of Last House on the Left was also enhanced by the circumstances of its production. The movie was made by people who had little or no experience in filmmaking. For his part, Wes Craven lacked an understanding of how to stage a sequence so that the action cut together in the editing room. As a result, the movie has a rough patchwork quality and many sequences play out in a gritty cinema verite style. Craven was also not entirely in control of the tone of the picture and moments of brutal violence alternate with slapstick comic relief. That contrast of violence and humor, along with a folk music score, creates a discordant tone that is perverse and nauseating.

Last House on the Left provoked an uproar in 1972, eliciting protests and calls for censorship. For audiences of 2015, the amateurishness of the production overshadows the controversial material and the movie is more interesting as a cinematic artifact than as a piece of entertainment. But Last House on the Left is an important film that led the way in dragging the horror genre into a new age.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
After 1972’s The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven attempted to work outside the horror genre but with the success of his first film the director found himself pigeonholed as a horror filmmaker. Unable to get any other projects made, Craven wrote and directed his second horror film, which remains one of his best: 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes. In this movie a vacationing middle class family is stranded in the desert and preyed upon by a feral group of cannibals.

In terms of its filmmaking, The Hills Have Eyes was a major leap forward from Last House on the Left. The movie was made with a more experienced cast and crew and Craven showed a great deal of improvement as a director. The action and violence are thoughtfully staged but so are the quiet moments before and after the scenes of high terror. This is especially true in the raid sequence in which the people of the hills break into the family’s RV. The sequence builds from the mundane to the creepy to the ultra-violent with startling impact.

Like Craven’s best work, The Hills Have Eyes delivers horror movie thrills by working on deeply embedded fears. The narrative is based on a template that is familiar from old westerns in which white settlers in covered wagons were attacked by Native Americans. But like Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes is also a reaction to the societal unrest of the 1970s and in particular urban riots and the war in Vietnam. Even as it borrows the template of the western genre, The Hills Have Eyes inverts its politics. As the civilized family members fight off their uncivilized attackers they are required to become just as vicious in order to survive. As the tagline to the movie stated, “They didn’t want to kill. But they didn’t want to die.”

The Hills Have Eyes was a modest success in 1977 but the reputation of the movie has continued to grow and it is now properly recognized as one of Wes Craven’s best works.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
In the early 1980s Wes Craven directed a couple of television thrillers as well as 1981’s Deadly Blessing and 1982’s Swamp Thing. These films were not very good but Craven subsequently came up with an ingenious idea that would become one of the great American horror stories: 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. In this movie a group of teenagers are haunted by Freddy Krueger, a bogeyman who stalks the teens in their dreams. If Freddy kills the dreamers in their sleep they die in real life.

A Nightmare on Elm Street was produced amid the slasher boom of the 1980s. After the success of Halloween in 1978, the slasher subgenre took off with the release of Friday the 13th and Prom Night in 1980. In the subsequent years literally hundreds of slasher movies were released but by 1984 the formula was worn out. A Nightmare on Elm Street rejuvenated and transformed the horror genre by introducing fantasy elements.

The metaphysical component of A Nightmare on Elm Street was more than a gimmick. It allowed the filmmakers to tell a more complicated story than the average slasher film. That’s implied in the very title. “Elm Street” invokes mainstream, Norman Rockwell Americana while “Nightmare” is of the suppressed madness and violence of the unconscious. This is a movie about the ugliness underneath polite society personified by Freddy Krueger.

The success of A Nightmare on Elm Street was partly due to the casting of Robert Englund as Freddy. Assisted by the script, the makeup work, the costuming, and the mechanical effects, Englund created one of the most memorable villains in the history of movies. The contribution of composer Charles Bernstein is also important and this film has one of the great horror movie scores.

A Nightmare on Elm Street was a film in which everything came together. It was an exciting concept that was extremely well executed and told a frightening story that appealed on primal, mythological, and sociological levels. Its success went beyond the box office and A Nightmare on Elm Street was the rare motion picture that become part of the fabric of popular culture.

The Freddy Krueger Phenomenon
One of the ironies about the making of A Nightmare on Elm Street was that writer and director Wes Craven shopped his script to virtually every studio in Hollywood and was universally rejected. Craven finally got a green light from New Line Cinema, which at that point was a small operation that was primarily distributing movies to prisons and college campuses.

New Line founder and president Bob Shaye saw the potential in Wes Craven’s script and Shaye raised the money to get A Nightmare on Elm Street made. The movie was a hit but in order to get his original script produced, Wes Craven had relinquished all rights to the property and New Line, because of its financing deals on the first film, didn’t make a tremendous amount of money from Nightmare’s theatrical run. What the studio did come away with was a copyright on a potentially valuable property and the decision was made to start producing sequels, something Craven was not happy about.

Wes Craven sat out of 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The sequel was a hit but it was regarded as a disappointment by fans, critics, and even the filmmakers themselves. Craven returned to the series as a writer and producer on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The initial script was co-written by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner and it returned the series to its roots while expanding the conceit. However, the final script was revised significantly by Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont, with Russell directing the movie.

Dream Warriors was an even bigger success and launched Nightmare on Elm Street into the mainstream. It also fundamentally changed the series. The tone was lighter and Freddy came out of the shadows to become the centerpiece of the franchise.

Throughout the remainder of the 1980s New Line Cinema continued to exploit the Nightmare on Elm Street series. In addition to movies, Freddy Krueger appeared on television, comic books, model kits, video games, and t-shirts. But the series became increasingly diluted and by the end Freddy had become a consumer-friendly corporate logo, much to Wes Craven’s chagrin.

The Universal Years
While New Line Cinema was preoccupied with the further adventures of Freddy Krueger, Wes Craven went off and made other movies. The first was Deadly Friend, a disastrous production for Warner Bros. that was supposed to be a PG-rated fantasy movie but was contorted into an R-rated horror film because of studio interference.

Wes Craven moved on to Universal were he made a series of very interesting titles. The first was 1988’s The Serpent and the Rainbow. Adapted from the nonfiction book by Wade Davis, the story dealt with an anthropologist who travels to Haiti in pursuit of a drug rumored to resurrect the dead. The Serpent and the Rainbow explored the limits of rational Western thought and linked medicine, science, and superstition. The storytelling is clumsy in places but The Serpent and the Rainbow is unlike any American horror film made before or since.

Craven’s next effort was 1989’s Shocker. In this movie a serial killer transforms himself into an electricity-based specter. Compared to The Serpent and the Rainbow this was a much more conventional scary film and it was intended to create a franchisable character for Universal. Shocker’s box office performance was tepid and so it never led anywhere. But the movie does have an off-the-wall performance by Mitch Pileggi as the killer and it is one of Craven’s first experiments with characters crossing between media and reality. The 1998 movie Fallen, starring Denzel Washington, is remarkably similar to Shocker.

The best movie to come out of Wes Craven’s tenure with Universal was 1991’s The People Under the Stairs. In this movie a young African American boy takes part in a heist of his landlord’s home and discovers that the proprietors are psychotics who have booby-trapped their house and keep people locked up in the basement. As a piece of entertainment, The People Under the Stairs is a wild mashup of gruesome horror and the madcap hijinks of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.  But like A Nightmare on Elm Street, this movie is also a contemporary fairytale with a political edge. In this case, it’s a parable about the haves and have-nots.

New Nightmare (1994)
New Line Cinema brought the original cycle of Nightmare on Elm Street films to an inauspicious close with 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. But despite the subtitle of that film New Line president Bob Shaye felt that there was room for one more movie. Because of the way the contracts and financing had worked out in the production of the original film, Nightmare on Elm Street creator Wes Craven had been shut out of royalties on the Nightmare films he wasn’t directly involved with. In a very un-Hollywood gesture, Shaye offered Craven compensation and recruited him to make another Freddy movie.

Craven accepted the offer but the continuity and story logic of the Nightmare on Elm Street series was a disaster by that point. Instead of continuing the existing narrative, Craven came up with New Nightmare, in which the cast and crew of the original film would play themselves. In New Nightmare an evil force that looks a lot like Freddy Krueger haunts actress Heather Langenkamp (who played the heroine of the first picture) and movie reality gradually encroaches upon physical reality.

In making New Nightmare, Wes Craven was determined to return Freddy Krueger back to the menacing character he had originally envisioned but he also used the opportunity to reflect on what horror stories mean for the culture. According to the movie’s premise, an ineffable evil spirit that preys on humanity can be imprisoned by stories that capture its essence. When the stories stop the demon is set free. For Craven, New Nightmare was a warning to would-be censors. The movie suggested that attempts to clean up horror stories actually prevent us from confronting the dark and violent aspects of human nature and stopping these stories altogether allows human destructiveness to flow unimpeded and unidentified and eventually materialize in real life violence.

New Nightmare was a bold movie that was more successful creatively than it was financially. The movie did respectable office box but it wasn’t a hit. However, New Nightmare has since been rediscovered by critics and fans and it’s now regarded as one of the best horror films of the 1990s.

Scream (1996)
One of the underappreciated elements of Wes Craven’s work is his sense of humor. It’s a mordent sense of humor but it is nevertheless a consistent feature of his movies. Craven attempted to make a full-fledged comedy with 1995’s Vampire in Brooklyn which starred Eddie Murphy. The film wasn’t especially successful.

Wes Craven’s next project was 1996’s Scream. It proved to be one of his most popular movies and it effectively mixed scares with a biting sense of humor. Crossing the slasher film with a murder mystery, Scream told the story of teenagers stalked by a killer who offs his victims according to the “rules” of horror movies.

Within Wes Craven’s filmography, Scream connected the director’s early work with his later material. The movie is brutally violent in ways that recalled Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes but it was also self-reflexive in the manner of Shocker and New Nightmare. Scream aligned those elements in a way that packed a subversive punch and was very entertaining.

Craven certainly had a lot to do with the success of Scream but the contributions of other players shouldn’t be underestimated. Among them was screenwriter Kevin Williamson. Like John Hughes in the 1980s, Williamson had a feel for 1990s youth culture and Scream became one of the defining movies of the decade. The other major contributor to Scream was its cast. Horror films don’t always attract high caliber acting talent but the cast of Scream included some very good performers including Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette.

While the movie delivered as a horror film and as a whodunit, Scream’s greatest asset was its intelligence. The slasher genre has a reputation for being stupid and that is not entirely undeserved. For every A Nightmare on Elm Street there are a dozen z-grade knockoffs with cliché-ridden scripts populated by dumb teenagers who only exist to be dispatched in hideous ways. The characters of Scream generally made reasonable decisions, fought back against the killer, and they were hip to the conventions of horror films.

Scream was a huge hit and the Ghostface costume soon became as ubiquitous as Freddy Krueger’s glove. For the third time in Wes Craven’s career, his film announced a seismic shift in the horror genre and in American cinema as a whole.

The Scream Sequels
After Scream became a hit in 1996, sequels and imitators quickly followed. The movie had tapped into the culture of the 1990s and laid bare the new rubric for hip movies. Within the horror genre it was no longer possible to tell a straight slasher story. One of the characters had to make a sarcastic remark or compare their situation to an equivalent scene in a retro horror film.

Unlike A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven stayed on as director throughout the Scream series. Scream 2 was rushed into production and was in theaters less than a year after the release of the original film. Despite the accelerated schedule, Scream 2 was an impressive follow up. It couldn’t match the surprise of the first film but it was better than the average sequel. Like the first movie, its intelligence was key to its appeal. The characters of Scream 2 discussed the new string of murders in terms of a sequel and the film played on Hollywood serialization.

Several years passed before the release of Scream 3 in 2000. Wes Craven returned to direct but the movie was written by Ehren Krueger, who has since become known for writing Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. All franchises, if they go on long enough, eventually become self-parody and the filmmakers embraced their fate by making Scream 3 something of a spoof. It satirized Hollywood and has several connections with Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. However, it never fully commits to the horror or the comedy and so Scream 3 was the weakest link in the series.

Following Scream 3, the series was dormant for over a decade until 2011’s Scream 4. Between the third and fourth installments, Hollywood remade virtually every major horror title of the 1970s and 80s and Scream 4 played on the reboot craze. The screenplay is credited to Kevin Williamson but Ehren Krueger did an uncredited rewrite. This probably accounts for the diverted focus of the story and the patchwork ending. Like Scream 3, the final installment of this series is uneven but it is satisfactorily entertaining.

Scream has since been turned into a dramatic television series on which Wes Craven served as an executive producer.

Music of the Heart (1999)
Although Wes Craven was best known as a horror director, he fell into the genre by circumstance and throughout his career he tried to do something outside of horror and suspense. When Scream was a success, then-Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein signed Craven to a three picture deal in which Craven would helm two Scream sequels and 1999’s Music of the Heart. This film tells the true story of a violin teacher and her struggle to establish a music program in Harlem schools.

There is a small subgenre of movies about white teachers who go into inner city schools and inspire the students, who are usually of a non-white background, to work hard and escape their surroundings through art. Movies like Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers have achieved box office success but also critical derision because of the perceived soft racism of white savior condescension.

Music of the Heart fits that inspirational teacher template but the difference is in the details. For one, the movie addresses the racial criticism head on. The filmmakers deliberately clear the air and that leads to the second distinction of Music of the Heart. The movie doesn’t oversell itself. The teacher isn’t saving anybody and the students won’t be spared from the difficulties of life just by learning an instrument. But Music of the Heart does embrace the value of art education and the work ethic required to be a musician. Third, the film has characters who are colorful and complex. The music teacher, played by Meryl Streep, is a flawed individual and her students are distinct characters. Unlike some education stories, the other teachers and administrators aren’t demonized and there is a general good will about the movie.

There is one disheartening aspect of Music of the Heart. Wes Craven did well by the horror genre and movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes deserve to be taken seriously. But Music of the Heart demonstrated that Wes Craven had a broader set of skills that he might have applied to a wider range of movies had he been given the opportunity.

Red Eye (2005)
The last notable title in Wes Craven’s filmography is 2005’s Red Eye. In this movie a woman is held prisoner while on an airline flight and forced to cooperate with a terrorist attack.

Those who have made motion pictures or know something about how they are made can appreciate the skill on display in Red Eye. Cinema is about movement and as challenging as it is to coordinate an action sequence, a filmmaker’s skill is rarely tested the way that it is in a long dialogue scene. The bulk of Red Eye consists of two people sitting and talking on an airplane. What’s more, their conversation must be tense and that tension has to escalate over the course of the movie. Red Eye succeeds and the film is extraordinarily well put together.

Red Eye is in many respects the PG-13 version of Scream. It does not have the gore of the horror series but it does come down to an equivalent situation: a young woman is terrorized by a villain and she must draw on all of her wit and courage to survive. Like Scream, the success of Red Eye is due to the combination of good casting, a smart and witty script, and Wes Craven’s filmmaking skills. The link between Red Eye and Scream is most apparent in the ending and the finale has a lot of similar set pieces.

Red Eye showcases one of the underappreciated aspects of Wes Craven’s films and the horror genre as a whole: the regard for women. As it is, women are grossly underrepresented in Hollywood movies, comprising only about twelve percent of lead roles and only about thirty percent of speaking roles. Horror is one of the only film genres that consistently features female protagonists and puts women in situations in which they act with volition. Throughout his career, Craven consistently helmed movies with women in the lead such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and Music of the Heart and he always portrayed these female characters with respect and intelligence.

Final Thought
Although his output veered wildly between classics and forgettable junk, there is no denying that Wes Craven was one of the most important filmmakers in the history of American movies. Most filmmakers are lucky if they create one indelible movie. Craven literally changed the landscape of American horror cinema not once, not twice, but three times and he created characters and images that have resonated around the world and continue to terrify audiences.

In October 2014 Wes Craven participated in a wide ranging interview with fellow horror director Mick Garris.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Travel Horror

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued the month-long Halloween theme with a look at travel horror. These are movies about road trips and vacations gone horribly wrong. What follows are some of the movies discussed on today’s show as well as some other titles.

An American Werewolf in London
Two backpackers traveling the British countryside are attacked by a wolf. One of them is killed and the other is cursed with lycanthropy. This film was renowned for its groundbreaking visual effects.

Cabin Fever
Eli Roth’s first feature was a mix of gory horror and black comedy in which vacationers in a secluded cabin contract a flesh eating virus. The movie works on its own terms and it contains a glut of nods to classic horror films like Night of the Living Dead and Evil Dead. A remake of Cabin Fever is anticipated for release in 2016.

Cannibal Ferox
Throughout the 1970s and 80s Italian filmmakers churned out a lot of films in which white adventurers are killed and eaten by cannibalistic natives. One of the nastier entries in this trend was Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (a.k.a. Let Them Die Slowly). In this film anthropologists in the jungles of Columbia are caught between drug dealers and an anthropophagous tribe.

In the annals of travel horror, one of the most essential titles is John Boorman’s Deliverance. In this movie a group of white suburbanites on a canoe trip run afoul of murderous hillbillies. Deliverance is the film that made Burt Reynolds a star.

The Descent
The Descent is frequently cited as one of the best horror films of the 2000s. In this film a group of women on a spelunking expedition are trapped in a cave among subterranean creatures. The Descent has two different endings: one that was seen in U.S. theaters and another that was seen elsewhere.

Before Steven Spielberg became a Hollywood director he spent some years working in television. In that capacity he directed Duel in which Dennis Weaver plays a businessman driving across the desert in a compact car and is stalked by a truck driver. The film played on ABC in November 1971 and was later shown theatrically in Europe. In many respects Duel was a dress rehearsal for Spielberg’s Jaws.

The Edge
Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins play two wealthy New Yorkers who are stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash. They struggle to survive the elements while being stalked by a bear.

No, not the Disney cartoon. This 2010 film told a story of three young people who are stranded on a ski lift high above the tree line and must find a way down before freezing to death.  

Hostel: Part II
The original Hostel was about a group of hedonistic American backpackers abducted by an organization that allows rich people to live out murder fantasies. The sequel expanded and improved the original idea, focusing on female students studying abroad, and Hostel: Part II had some provocative things to say about violence against women.

House of 1000 Corpses
Rob Zombie’s first directorial feature tells the story of young people who come upon a sadistic family while on a road trip through the backwoods of Texas. House of 1000 Corpses was financed by Universal and shot on the backlot but when the studio executives saw what Zombie had made they refused to release the movie and it sat on the shelf for years before being released by Lionsgate in 2003. Ironically, the Universal Hollywood theme park incorporated elements of House of 1000 Corpses in its Halloween Horror Nights attraction in 2010.

Open Water
Inspired by true events, this film focused on the plight of a married couple stranded in the ocean when their tour boat accidentally leaves them behind. Open Water was filmed on a very low budget and was created by hiring two scuba certified actors and putting them in the water amid real sharks.

Red Eye
Red Eye concerns a young woman on a cross-country flight who is held captive by a mysterious passenger seated next to her. The movie plays very effectively on the fears of flying and then compounds it with a tense abduction story.

Snakes on a Plane
Throughout the 2000s there were deliberate attempts to engineer cult movies. Of course these things cannot be engineered as was discovered by the makers of 2006’s Snakes on a Plane. Before its release the movie was an internet phenomenon but it wasn’t as much shlocky fun as it was promised to be and the film was a box office disappointment. Nevertheless Snakes on a Plane is an interesting artifact from the past decade.

Who Can Kill a Child?
In this 1976 film a couple travels to a European island and find that the adults have been killed by the children. The movie was remade in 2012 as Come Out and Play.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Film Screening: The U.S. vs. John Lennon

The U.S. vs. John Lennon will be shown on Thursday, October 22nd at 7pm in the Stark Hall Auditorium on the Winona State University campus.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a documentary film about Lennon’s art and activism. The film recounts Lennon’s post-Beatles career and the way he used his star power to draw attention to political issues. As a result, Lennon was identified as an enemy of the Nixon administration and was targeted for deportation.

The movie utilizes Lennon’s music and archival footage as well as information from declassified FBI files and commentary from figures such as Yoko Ono, Ron Kovic, Walter Cronkite, Angela Davis, G. Gordon Liddy, and Gore Vidal.

Admission is free and open to the public.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon runs 99 minutes and is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America.

This event is sponsored by the Winona State University Art Department, English Department, Mass Communication Department, Sociology Department, the Darrell W. Krueger Library, and Sounds of Cinema.

More information about the screening can be found here.

Join the Facebook event page here

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Humor of Horror

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema kicked off the month-long Halloween theme with a look at movies that combine humor and horror. Here is a recap of some of the films discussed this hour as well as some additional titles.

The Addams Family
1991’s The Addams Family was a very good example of successfully adapting a television series into a feature film. The Addams Family was very well cast, including Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, and Christina Ricci. A sequel, Addams Family Values, followed in 1993.

Beetlejuice was one of Tim Burton’s early films and it remains one of his best. The movie has an effective mix of scares and jokes and a memorable performance by Michael Keeton in the title role. Beetlejuice was so popular that it spawned a cartoon television series and a line of toys. However, parents should be aware that Beetlejuice is scarier and has a dirtier sense of humor than its PG rating indicates.

The ‘Burbs
The Burb’s was a satire of suburban paranoia in which the homeowners in a sleepy subdivision become convinced that their new neighbors are cannibals.

Evil Dead II
One of the great horror sequels is 1987’s Evil Dead II. The film is basically a remake of the original film but with much better production values and a more pronounced sense of humor. Director Sam Raimi was highly influenced by The Three Stooges and this movie is as funny as it is scary.

Fright Night
Fright Night concerns a teenager who suspects that his neighbor is a vampire. When no one believes him, the teen seeks the help of a local television personality. Fright Night was remade in 2011 and as remakes go it wasn’t bad.

The Frighteners
Before Peter Jackson made The Lord of the Rings he was primarily known for making schlocky horror titles like Bad Taste and Dead Alive. Just preceding his Middle Earth epic, Jackson made The Frighteners, a ghost story with a helping of comedy.

Perhaps the ultimate title in the horror-comedy niche is 1984’s Ghostbusters. The film tells the story of scientists who go into business as paranormal exterminators and it is one of the greatest comedies of all time. A sequel followed in 1989 and a reboot is scheduled for 2016.

Little Shop of Horrors
Little Shop of Horrors was originally a low budget Roger Corman picture released in 1960. The film was later turned into a successful stage musical which was then made into a feature film released in 1986. The ending of the theatrical version of the musical was altered to leave the film on a more upbeat conclusion but the blu-ray release includes both the original and theatrical versions of the film.  

Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator was adapted from the novella by H.P. Lovecraft. The story is a contemporary reworking of Frankenstein and the film has an absurd sense of humor amid a lot of very icky body horror.

The Return of the Living Dead
The horror comedy had its heyday in the mid-to-late 1980s as filmmakers working in the horror genre saw the comic possibilities and made movies that were good campy fun. One of the major titles at the beginning of that trend was 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead. The film has a lot of broad humor as well as plenty of subtle in-jokes while also telling a sufficiently scary zombie outbreak story. This title is also the origin of zombies eating brains.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Rocky Horror Picture Show paid tribute to many of the classic sci-fi and horror films of the 1940s and 50s in the midst of a bizarre musical. Although it was not successful in its initial release The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become the ultimate cult film.

Shaun of the Dead
The first film in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy (followed by Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) set the template for the director’s later work as it lampooned the zombie genre while also working as an example of the same. This is also the film that introduced Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to mainstream audiences.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
The sequel to Tobe Hooper’s slasher movie masterpiece came twelve years after the original film. By that point the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was regarded as a classic and so when Hooper made the sequel many critics and fans hated it because it was so different. Like Evil Dead II, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a comic send up of the first movie and it has a brilliant Grand Guignol quality.

The Witches of Eastwick
Based on John Updike’s novel in which the devil moves to a small Rhode Island town and takes up with three women. Jack Nicholson plays the devil, who goes by the name Daryl Van Horne, and it’s among Nicholson’s most over-the-top performances.

Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks’ 1974 feature Young Frankenstein parodied the classic Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 40s and Brooks considers it to be his best work as a writer and director. The film has since been adapted into a Broadway show.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sounds of Cinema October Programming

October is here and that means it’s time for a month of Halloween-related programming on Sounds of Cinema. Each episode this month will take a look at a particular theme or set of films and feature music to match. Here is a preview of what’s to come:

October 4: The Humor of Horror 
Horror and comedy are fraternal genres. They both rely on surprise, revulsion, and exaggeration but to different effect. This episode will take a look a some crossover titles such as horror films with a strong comic component like Evil Dead II and comedy films that include horror characters and tropes like Ghostbusters.

October 11: Travel Horror 
There is no fear quite like being a stranger in strange land and many horror stories are about people in the middle of nowhere. This episode will take a look at movies of vacations and road trips gone very bad such as Open Water, Deliverance, and Hostel.

October 18: Wes Craven Retrospective 
Filmmaker Wes Craven passed away in August leaving behind a career that spanned over four decades. This episode will take a look at the director's filmography, which includes such horror classics as The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs, and the Scream series.

October 25: Haunted Houses 
The creepy or cursed house is a staple of the horror genre and at the moment tales of domestic horror are quite popular. This episode will focus on haunted house movies such as Monster House and The Amityville Horror.

October 30: Sounds of Cinema Halloween Special
Airing on Friday, October 30th at 11pm on 89.5 KQAL FM and then again at midnight on 89.7 KMSU FM this special will provide the soundtrack for your Halloween with an hour-long mix of Halloween-related film music.

Sounds of Cinema can be heard every Sunday on the following stations:
9am on 89.5 KQAL FM in Winona, MN and online at 
11am on 89.7 KMSU FM in Mankato, MN and online at