Veteran horror writer/director Wes Craven borrows scares from his classic chiller A Nightmare on Elm Street as well as numerous other horror franchises for My Soul to Take, his first feature since 2005's Red Eye and his first stab in the popular 3D horror trend. Craven, 71, has earned the right to borrow liberally from other horror movies. After all, three of his fan favorites, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street have been remade recently. Still, by piecing together jolts from past fan favorites including Elm Street, the I Know What You Did Last Summer movies, Candyman and the Scream series, Craven's big-screen return, the tale of a group of teens battling a serial killer back from the dead, turns out to be a huge disappointment. My Soul to Take lacks quality 3D and the one, standout, never-seen-before scare necessary to get horror fans spreading the word to fellow scary movie buffs.
My Soul to Take is entering a very crowded multiplex, with Let Me In enjoying critical praise, Buried promoting its Hitchcock-like inspirations to beguile the non-horror fans and Saw 3D and Paranormal Activity 2 just around the corner. Rogue and producers Relativity Media and Corvus Corax will struggle to attract the young male fan base in sizable numbers on opening weekend and will experience dramatic fallout once the horror competition heats up in late October.
The best scares occur at the very beginning. Mild-mannered husband and father Abel (Raúl Esparza) finds a switchblade on his basement workbench that triggers his hidden personality, the Riverton Ripper, a serial killer that's been terrorizing the small Massachusetts town. After attacking his pregnant wife and young daughter, Abel battles the police and his psychiatrist in a brutal standoff. Just when Abel appears subdued and headed to the hospital, he leaps to life just before a fiery crash.
Abel's possible survival triggers the bloody legend of the Riverton Ripper. 16 years later, seven local kids, including shy Adam "Bug" Hellerman (Max Thieriot), his best friend and fellow outcast Alex (John Magaro), pretty Brittany (Paulina Olszynski), school bully Brandon (Nick Lashaway) and the conservative and paranoid Penelope (Zena Grey), face what they believe is the Ripper brought back to life
Craven's many fans will leave disappointed that the creator of Freddy Krueger fails to capitalize more on the Riverton Ripper and the many secrets surrounding the nervous teen nicknamed "Bug" and his peers.
Still, with strong production values from cinematographer Petra Korner (The Wackness), who makes spooky use of an abandoned railway bridge; production designer Adam Stockhausen, who captures small-town life beautifully; and composer Marco Beltrami (The Hurt Locker), who accents the drama with a creepy score, My Soul to Take shows that Craven remains as skilled a filmmaker as ever.
For Craven, the crippling, stumbling blocks are a derivative script and a lackluster use of post-production 3D. A clever animated credits sequence at the end of the movie suggests that some 3D specific production did occur after the choice to push to 3D.
Genre fans in search of good horror will wait for Paranormal Activity 2 and the promise of killer 3D on Saw 3D. With regards to Craven's reputation as a Master of Terror, he reunites with scriptwriter Kevin Williamson for Scream 4, the highly anticipated reboot of the hit horror franchise.
Horror fans, the majority of whom will likely catch My Soul to Take on DVD, will accept this copycat tale of the Riverton Ripper as a brief stumble before Craven comes back to life with Scream 4.
Cast: Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker, Zena Grey, Nick Lashaway, Paulina Olszynski, Jeremy Chu, Emily Meade, Frank Grillo and Danai Gurira
Director/Screenwriter: Wes Craven
Producers: Wes Craven, Anthony Katagas and Iya Labunka
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, and pervasive language including sexual references.
Running time: 108 min
Release date: October 8, 2010