My Soul To Take isn’t a good film by any stretch, but it’s fascinating to watch in the same way an Ed Wood flick is. Wes Craven’s return to the director’s chair after a four year absence (and the first time he’s written and directed since New Nightmare) is an unmitigated mess, filled with unbelievable dialogue, the plainest kills possible, horrible acting, and a story that feels the need to rehash its exposition in lieu of a satisfying finale. In many ways, it feels like a Scary Movie entry from the future, compiling every cliché and random act of stupidity seen in genre films and trying to make them relevant again like fashion statements from a few decades ago. Even when considering that Craven hasn’t been at the top of his horror-game since Scream, My Soul To Take is still mind-blowingly inept. And yet, here I am, unable to take my eyes off the screen.
A few years ago, I read the 25/8 script (one of the many names Soul went by) and was baffled by how boring and drawn out it was, in addition to being poorly written and not doing a very good job establishing during what time periods certain scenes took place. At least the finished product did a better job laying out the background of Abel Plankof (Raul Esparza) aka The Riverton Ripper, which ended up being the strongest and only tense part of the film. After a hefty bit of exposition is given (the key to the entire film is given away less than fifteen minutes in!) right before an ambulance crash, we pick up sixteen years later with the “Riverton Seven”, a group of seven children born on the night of The Ripper’s death, at their annual puppet ceremony. After Bug Hellerman (Max Thieriot) chokes when faced with slaying The Ripper caricature, the birthday kids begin dying one by one, with all evidence pointing towards one of the seven or a reincarnated villain.
Considered to be on the cutting edge of horror more than once during his career, Craven’s strength has always been in his approach to material, but not necessarily his writing, especially when it comes to writing for teens. Even in A Nightmare On Elm Street, which was his big break-out project, the dynamic between the kids is way off; I still have no clue why Rod and Tina would hang out with Nancy or Glen, let alone say things like “Up yours with a twirling lawnmower.” But the film was made during the 80s, so it gets a pass or something like that. What makes it great, however, is that it employs several intriguing ideas, such as a slasher villain with a personality, switching main character halfway through the movie, ingenious special effects, and only giving the audience little bits of exposition at a time.
My Soul To Take doesn’t even begin to breach anything on that level, which is ironic since the premise is remarkably similar to Nightmare and Scream: a group of kids being persecuted by a shadowy figure from their past, or maybe even one of their own. Soul isn’t clever at all though; it gives away its twist in the first fifteen minutes, and then attempts a sleight of hand akin to Scream. I never saw the two killer twist coming, and Craven really tries to emulate that, in addition to copying Kevin Williamson’s tongue-in-cheek dialogue, except he ends up with lines like “Wake up and smell the Starbucks” and “Turn down the prayer conditioning.” This is not a film that is attempting to deconstruct a genre and build it back up again; this is a director playing a joke on his audience without a punch line.
Universal’s 1080p Blu-Ray encode is top-notch as usual, producing no banding, DNR, or weak colors. Blacks are particularly deep, and detail is crisp and clear. The film itself isn’t visually striking, working mostly with muted primaries and grays, blacks and browns; the high-def treatment properly recreates the appropriate appearance of mustiness that the script exudes. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is just as good, providing a nice, even audio presentation that properly balances dialogue and sound effects. It’s at its best during scenes in the woods, but creates some nice ambiance throughout regardless. The bonus materials are somewhat sparse and dry, but to be honest, I only would’ve loved the alternate endings if the blind kid ended up being the killer.
My Soul To Take is so remarkably unbalanced and poorly executed that it leads me to believe that Craven attempted a Neil Hamburger schtick on film. It’s a few hairs shy of immediately being heralded as a camp classic, but most of the key ingredients are there, giving viewers plenty to laugh and groan over.
Commentary – Wes Craven is accompanied by stars Max Thieriot, John Magaro and Emily Meade for a boring and uneventful track. The group covers all the normal topics, such as character development, the plot, and script revisions (of which there were many), but they’re very unenthusiastic about everything – a very telling attitude to have during a commentary. The most exciting thing to happen was Max getting up and leaving halfway through; a very sad day in a once relevant filmmaker’s career.
Alternate Opening (1:33) – Is it technically “ripping off” if you’re copying your own work? Starting with the final scene in Bug’s bedroom (and no blood on the knife, I might add), Craven goes on to play off an idea presented in A Nightmare On Elm Street. Surprisingly, the first scene of the theatrical cut with Bug actually makes more sense if part of this alternate opening had been used. Then again, the last thing this flick needs is more exposition.
Alternate Endings (3:55) – Both alternate endings replace the happier finale, and present Twilight Zone-ish closure that works with the metaphysical mythos presented in the film. One of them even kills off an extra character, though it still doesn’t make anything seen here feel any less tacked on.
Deleted And Extended Scenes (21:46) – The five scenes collected here include `Old Puppet Cememony'(showing a different Ripper puppet from the opening birthday gathering), `Jay’s House’, `Brandon On Phone In Woods’, ` Fang Plays Guitar’, and `Revelations’, which is about fifteen minutes long and contains an even more bloated explanation of the end. The only thing I really got out of watching these is an idea of how much ADR was used – and I’m guessing there was a lot judging by the bonus materials.