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How Wes Craven’s Porno Predicted His Entire Filmography

If you’re a hardcore Wes Craven fan, you have to be willing to let things get a bit… well, hardcore. It’s a well-known fact that the master of horror spent many of his early years in the 70’s New York film scene editing and producing pornography, but there exists only one film that actually gives us solid enough evidence to suspect he directed it. That film is 1975’s THE FIREWORKS WOMAN, officially credited to the fictional writer-director Abe Snake (it was co-written by Hørst Badörties, which I suspect to be a pseudonym for the Swedish Chef).

Although the film has never conclusively been confirmed to be directed by Craven, there are certain clues that point us in his direction. Most notably, there’s the tiny hint that he literally has a cameo in the movie, as the mysterious Fireworks Man who may or may not be the Devil.  But even if his face wasn’t literally imprinted on the celluloid, his fingerprints are all over the tone and plot of the film. And yes, it actually has a plot.


In fact, THE FIREWORKS WOMAN might just be the Rosetta Stone of Wes Craven’s entire career. The favorite themes he started to develop in 1972’s brutal THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT come out in full force in this totally uninhibited film, which covers material that he would flesh out time and time again in literally very single one of the 19 films he wrote and directed until his tragic death in 2015.

If you remove the explicit scenes, the plot of the FIREWORKS WOMAN is very straightforward (Spoiler Warning: if it’s possible to spoil the plot of a porn film, that’s what’s about to happen): Angela, a young woman who possesses the quasi-supernatural power to ignite unbridled lust in those around her, seeks to win back Peter, an old lover who has since joined the priesthood. He also just so happens to be her brother. He resists her advances and she seeks lustful solace with a variety of mustachioed men, but in the end she seduces his entire congregation, forcing him to confront her. He leaves the priesthood and they literally sail off into the sunset.


That might just sound like a brutally efficient porn plot, but any scholar of Craven will delight in recognizing threads that would lead all the way to his final film. Immediately, one of his most common themes rises to the fore: the dark side of the American family unit. Craven’s troubled upbringing gave him a great distrust of society’s institutions, and he unearths skeletons from the closet of the outwardly perfect suburban family in almost every film he’s ever directed.

From A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (neighborhood parents can no longer hide evidence of their long-ago murder when their victim returns to exact bloody revenge on their kids in their dreams), to THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (a white family uses their real estate prowess to oppress black minorities and locks up discarded mutant children in their basement) to the SCREAM franchise (a decade of murder and intrigue stems from the affairs of two small town parents), every blissful suburban idyll hides an ugly secret.

In Craven’s world, the suburban family harbors murder (SHOCKER), abuse (DEADLY FRIEND), and absenteeism (MUSIC OF THE HEART even gets in on the fun). Compared to the rest of his filmography, the incest between Angela and her brother might just be the tamest, healthiest family relationship there is. At least they like each other.


However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In THE FIREWORKS WOMAN, Craven busts out some superb nightmare imagery (one moment depicts Peter crucified on the mast of a sailboat), a common visual theme of his long before ELM STREET. Like the nightmares in DEADLY BLESSING or THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW especially, these sequences say way more about the character’s state of mind than any piece of dialogue possibly could. It’s probably the most terrifying non-sexual scene you’ll ever see in a porno, but speaking as a horror fan it’s delightful.

And don’t underestimate these scenes. For Craven, nightmares aren’t just an opportunity to shoehorn in some spooky imagery. They represent a facet of psychology that cropped up time and time again throughout his filmography. These nightmares are a symptom of Angela repressing herself, showing her desires spilling out from her subconscious. Repression actually affects both main characters in crucial but different ways.

For Angela, repression drives her to outbursts of eroticism, much in the same way that the family in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT were driven to violence. For Craven, holding back vital aspects of one’s self would always lead to dangerous explosions of passion, usually of violence in his horror films like THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Any attempt to mold themselves to fit into society’s expectations will always lead a character to self-destruction.


For Peter, on the other hand, his repression comes from an entirely different external institution: the church. The oppressive hypocrisy of organized religion would be tackled again in DEADLY BLESSING and to a certain extent in MY SOUL TO TAKE (another film with a twisted, violent family tree spanning generations). However, Craven spits more bile toward the church that shaped his upbringing during THE FIREWORKS WOMAN than in any other film in his career. He relishes in depicting the church’s inability to control its priests, who smoke and have sex. He also indicts religious hypocrisy by displaying the absurd willingness of the congregation to succumb to their carnal desires.

Those are the main threads that link THE FIREWORKS WOMAN to Craven’s other films, but even more lies beneath he surface, including his feints toward the supernatural and his tendency toward goofy comedy (a potential rapist is hit in the head with a giant fish).

Much in the way that Angela and he brother embracing their desires freed them from their own repression, Craven unlocked his innermost cinematic thoughts and fears when he embraced working in porn.

Any film director probably views making a porno film as slumming it, but Wes Craven gave it his all. I’ve always respected his ability to crack open the deepest recesses of his mind and pour it into a screenplay, but the porn genre actually allowed him to flesh out his twisted, transgressive ideas further than any other, more inhibited genre, ever could have. THE FIREWORKS WOMAN is only a must-watch for the most certifiably insane of completist fans (like Yours Truly), but it’s a film that finds an auteur discovering his voice, and for that it’s a truly fascinating and historic motion picture, taboos be damned.

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