Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wes Craven, Stephen King... and me

Cover art by Tom and Sian Mandrake
Earlier this year, I published my sixth nonfiction book, Beyond Fear -- a study of Stephen King, Wes Craven and George Romero's "Living Dead" films.   It's a very personal book for me, because it gets at the root of why I love the horror genre.  Even more than that, it's a book about why I love stories.  For me, everything is a story, and I think we are defined as human beings by the stories we believe.  I don't mean to suggest that I believe in supernatural monsters, but I do subscribe to the philosophies that Romero, Craven and King express in their fiction: romanticism, humanism, open-mindedness, and the importance of facing our fears.  These three storytellers have influenced me deeply, and in my mind their stories are not about escapist fantasy, but about inescapable truths. 

I suppose that's why, even after writing my book, I'm still not done with them.  This month, I have written two new essays about Wes Craven, and I'm planning to take part in a communal tribute to Stephen King.  (I've also got a lot more to say about George Romero -- maybe next month?)

Wes Craven (a.k.a. "Abe Snake") in THE FIREWORKS WOMAN
The first essay is an in-depth look at Craven's little-known 1975 porn movie THE FIREWORKS WOMAN.  This is a film that the director has been understandably reluctant to talk about over the years.  He doesn't want to be known as a pornographer, because that label has very different connotations today than it did in the mid-1970s.  Porn movies today are about one thing.  THE FIREWORKS WOMAN is about many things, not the least of which is Craven's fascinating and complicated perspective on organized religion and mysticism.  I think it's a real shame that no one has paid serious attention to the film as part of the director's ouevre -- and I hope to turn the tide a bit with an article that's been published in the latest issue (#33) of Fangoria's GoreZone magazine.  You can order a printed copy of the issue HERE, or a digital version HERE.  

Wes Craven and Kristy Swanson on the set of DEADLY FRIEND
The second essay is a deconstruction of the convoluted creative process that produced DEADLY FRIEND, Craven's followup to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  This is another movie that the filmmaker doesn't talk about much, because it was made during a particularly troubled time in his life, and because the final film is a chaotic hodgepodge of many people's ideas.  Even so, DEADLY FRIEND has its fans.  Some people respond to the over-the-top murder set pieces, others to the almost-buried hints of a poignant love story, but everyone seems to wonder: What the hell were the filmmakers thinking?  In the new issue (#3) of the digital magazine Deadly, I have tried to answer that question, drawing on exclusive interviews with Diana Henstell, the author of the novel that DEADLY FRIEND was based on, and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, who allowed me access to multiple drafts of the screenplay, several of which included notes from the director and producers of the film.  If you have any interest in DEADLY FRIEND, I promise that this is the most comprehensive study of the film that has ever been published.  You can subscribe to Deadly magazine HERE.  (And I'm told that the magazine will soon be available on Nook and Kindle, so that people can purchase single issues.)

Another writing project that I'm excited about this month is Richard Chizmar's "Stephen King Revisited".  Chizmar, the founder and publisher/editor of Cemetery Dance Publications, has already proven his enthusiasm for all things King by publishing numerous limited editions of the author's work.  Now he's setting out to examine and explain his affinity for King's work by revisiting all of King's books (the latest, Revival, is #63) in order of publication.  I did the same thing when I was writing Beyond Fear, although I attempted to follow the order of composition rather than the order of publication.  As a result, I have literally hundreds of pages of informal notes about remembered impressions of reading each work for the first time, as well as my impressions of rediscovery.  I didn't get as personal in Beyond Fear as I could have, because I was trying to maintain a linear narrative, so I'm thinking I might record some of my more tangential musings here on my blog, as I follow the progress of Richard's journey.  And I won't be the only one.  Chizmar has promised contextual essays for each book by Bev Vincent, and guest essays by others.  This should be a thrill for any true Stephen King fan.  So...

Buy a ticket.  Take the ride.

me and Christine


  1. Hello Richard,

    I've been trying to find a more personal way of contacting you, but had no luck, so I'm leaving a comment here hoping that you can see and reply.
    I still haven't read your essay about Deadly Friend but I'm dying to. I don't live in the US, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to purchase from where I am.
    Deadly Friend is one of my favorite films (yeah, not the greatest film ever, but brings back a lot of stuff to me). I've always been curious about the troubled production of this film, and now with Internet, Google, IMDB, I read about how Wes Craven and Bruce Joel Rubin shot a completely different film that Warner Bros killed it to turn it into a more straightforward commercial horror film. I'm sure your essay will have a lot of details about that, and that's why I'm so eager to read it.
    Thing is, I started this online petition for the release of Wes Craven's original cut of the film. Probably won't get me anywhere, but it can't hurt, and it's good to see there's more people around interested in seeing that. If only Craven had some kind of love for the film and could do what Clive Barker did with Nightbreed...sigh. Anyway, I just would like to ask you, if during your conversations with Bruce Joel Rubin, were you able to determinate if their original version was indeed shot and finished? If so, there's a possibility it might still be in Warner's vaults. Otherwise, I might be fighting for a dead cause.

    Well, in any case, here's the link for my petition:

    It would be an honor if you could sign. I hope you can see this and answer me. Sorry for the long message, I couldn't find any other way to contact you.

    1. Hi Igor -

      It doesn't appear that my "Deadly Friend" article is available for back order, so I will post it in full on this blog. I think it will give you the information you've been seeking about the production. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, the original cut of "Deadly Friend" no longer exists in any form. I asked a friend who works for Warner Brothers to see if he could track down any of the raw footage, and he came up empty handed.


    2. Hello Joe -

      First I'm sorry for calling you 'Richard', just saw that now haha. I was doing some other stuff while I wrote that to you. Sorry about that.

      It'd be really great if you could post the full article. I have a couple of friends who are dying to read it as well. I'll pass it on to them.

      Boy, you really broke my heart with the news about the footage. Now I have to break the heart of the 200 people who signed my petition for the release of that. Are you sure it's gone 'gone'? I remember Morgan Creek once said the Nightbreed footage was gone, but later it was found and Director's Cut is here (just trying to be hopeful lol)

      Anyway, I really appreciate your quick reply and the fact that you can post the full article for us. And thanks for writing that essay on Deadly Friend. It's nice to see some love for the film.



    3. Obviously I can't say for certain whether or not the footage still exists. It's always possible that Wes Craven might have some of it, or that it could be in the hands of some private collector who rescued it from the WB trash bin. You never know.

      Here's a link to the full article: