Wes Craven hasn’t written and directed a feature-length film since New Nightmare. The creator of some true horror classics, he’s penned and directed such films as The Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes and Nightmare On Elm Street. He’s also directed the hugely successful parody of his own preferred genre in the form of the Scream series of films. You’d think that, with this pedigree, he’d do a good job of crafting something interesting.
So, here we have Wes Craven’s My Soul To Take, in which a seemingly undead killer stalks a handful of teenagers, despatching them in bloody and horrific ways.
Living a blissful life, Abel lives with his loving wife, young daughter, and a terrible, dark secret – he suffers from multiple personality disorder. By day, he’s a loving husband. By night, he’s a terrible serial killer called the Riverton Ripper.
One night, just as he’s about to be caught, Abel kills his expectant wife. Thankfully, the police are able to stop Abel from killing his young daughter but, despite putting bullets into him, he escapes.
16 years later (or the present day, depending how you want to look at things), a group of teenagers are celebrating Ripper Day, the birthday of seven children born in the town of Riverton, which also happen to coincide with the anniversary of Abel’s apparent death.
If it weren’t for Ripper Day, arrogant jock Brandon would have no way of telling us about the seven teenagers or about Ripper Day. It’s much easier to fill us in during this scene – telling us that they’re mirrors of Abel’s personalities, giving us some character traits for each of the seven and updating us on how the Ripper still moves around and the vow the Ripper has made to return. Thankfully, every year one of these seven participates in a silly ceremony to drive the Ripper, in the form of an effigy, back. and save the town from a bloody fate.
Bug, the slowest of the group, is supposed to take part in one of these ceremonies, to keep the Ripper buried, but bottles it at the last moment. Unfortunately for Bug, and his friends, the Ripper really does come back on this night, and starts picking off each of the Riverson Seven in turn.
While Bug and his best friend Alex go around being despised and bullied by their peers, his sister runs the girls’ faction of the school, administering beatings by proxy and manipulating those around her. It’s a lucrative business for Leah, though really it’s just a plot thread that leads nowhere interesting.
Leah, you see, is more than cool, she’s maliciously cool. Of course, Leah isn’t the only manipulative woman in these proceedings – their mother has been covering up for Bug’s mental problems, keeping the past well and truly hidden.
As Leah rants about her past, Bug discovers the truth about his father, and we learn that Leah is jealous of Bug’s seemingly perfect life. Leah and Bug, you see, are the children of the Ripper, living with their aunt (a fact that only seems to be apparent through a deleted scene), May. Whilst Bug treats May as his mother, Leah can’t stand the candy-coated world that she lives in, hence her bitterness toward the world at large.
As the Ripper continues to search for Bug, he manages to get a few more kills in before confronting the confused young lad in a bloody encounter that reveals a few more truths.
Much of My Soul To Take’s dialogue is awful. It seems to fall somewhere between Craven’s self-referential Scream and the most clichéd examples of the slasher genre. Worse still, it offers absolutely nothing new. Much of the dialogue, especially from Alex, is almost Shakespearean in length, and borders on being interesting, yet seems to exist only to fill in the scene or a bit of the back story in the clunkiest way possible, instead of moving the story along.
There’s one scene in which a character, having been mortally wounded, delivers a terrible death speech in which he explains what had happened to him pre-stabbing, before thanking Bug and then expiring. I’m not sure whether the scene was meant to be touching or funny.
It’s not to say there aren’t any good moments in the film. Some of the acting reaches the heady heights of passable, especially from Max Thieriot as the group loser, Bug, and John Magaro as his best friend and fellow outsider, Alex. The pair of them get their best scene in the last ten minutes of the film, just before the story comes to a head.
Mired by a dire script and hampered by some sub-par acting, it’s difficult to say who the audience is for this film. It carries an 18 certificate in the UK (for strong bloody violence and one use of very strong language), but lacks the bloodiness of the recently remade A Nightmare On Elm Street, or the relative depth or violence of Rob Zombie’s Halloween films.
The various death scenes are mainly of the stabbing variety, offering little gore. There are very few moments that make you jump, which is surprising, considering it’s a slasher film.
My Soul To Take doesn’t look that bad on Blu-ray. There are moments where the bitrate reaches into the 40s, but mostly it settles for 25Mbps.
There are also moments of blood that, when viewed in high definition, are clearly CGI. This is a real shame, and another jarring aspect the film. On the sound front, you’d be forgiven for thinking your rear speakers had turned off, as most of the audio seems to come from front and centre.
The commentary is provided by Wes Craven and actors Max Thieriot, Emily Meade and John Magaro. The commentary is a pretty random affair, with Craven being pretty laid back, sharing his experience of making the film and the difficulties on the shoot (including a rather tricky winter shoot that was meant to look like warmer weather), and letting the cast talk about the film and nonsense in general before bringing it all back on topic. Amusingly, Max Thieriot has to leave the commentary part way through as he has a flight to catch.
There are 21 minutes of deleted scenes that seem to have been removed for pacing, and to tighten up the action on screen. They often play with a moment from the preceding scene in order to help us place it in the context of the film. There are a couple of scenes that could have been included, particularly a portion of the overly-lengthy scene where Bug learns more about his background from Leah, and has a touching exchange with May.
The alternate opening gives us a monologue from Bug ruined by a cheesy moment, while the alternate endings range from dull to mundane.
The trailer makes the film look quite exciting and almost psychological.
Oddly, no Making Of, or anything looking at the mythology that is briefly mentioned in the film, is included – not even a feature exploring the prayer that is mentioned throughout the film, or the influences of serial killers in the slasher genre. In fact, the commentary, trailer, deleted and alternate scenes are all you’ll find in terms of extras.
My Soul To Take is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.