The Legendary Horror Director Still Has Eyes
by Brad Balfour
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 30, 2007.
What a long, strange cinematic life Wes Craven has had. From his start with the ground-breaking gore fest, Last House on The Left, to The Swamp Thing to A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven has been a constant re-inventor of the horror genre.
A driving force in many of his films is the blurring of fantasy and reality – through nightmares or the conventions of horror – witness his genre-busting 1996 blockbuster Scream. Most recently, Craven has taken to re-imagining his own film series, this time by producing and co-writing a new, updated and politically charged version of The Hills Have Eyes and now, The Hills Have Eyes 2.
At the recent New York Comic-con, Craven hosted a little press preview for the latest Hills with his son and co-writer Jonathan and several members of the cast including Daniella Alonso and Jessica Stroup.
What’s your sense of the political timing of this film? This film is pretty political for a horror film.
Well, yes and no. Certainly, when we were writing it, we felt like, okay, what’s it like for American troops going into Iraq? Where you think you’re going to be facing one thing, but it’s like something that’s so totally different and has a different order of values and beliefs and everything else and it’s almost like they’re an alien being. So it’s like, let’s follow that feeling with this picture, that the government has stuff they’re not telling you about, there’s rages, or there’s mutations of humanity or ways of thinking, not in the sense of monsters but in the sense of that things are so different and want to kill you for reasons you don’t even know. That’s kind of an interesting, horrific position to be in as a kid.
How is it to be having this deja vu with these lovely mutants again?
It’s fun! It’s interesting, [Hills Have Eyes director] Alexandre Aja sort of took it in a different direction by the atomic thing. So, that was kind of funny, putting it on a test range and speaking very specifically about that with last year’s picture. This is also very specifically set at a military base, and obviously the first one was just a very veiled reference to the fact that they were on some kind of military base. This is a little bit more specific.
How much fun do you get just in the pure sense of the gore and perverse?
We’re all bodies, if you boil it down to the simplest thing we’re just bodies and we all have our physical vulnerabilities, our bodies and the subconscious parts of our minds are so aware of our vulnerability, to being attacked, to being killed. I like reminding people of that, because everything gets so urbanized and abstracted in American cinema, it’s nice just to remember that we’re animals, and it’s good to remember that. It’s really interesting, and again I’m not trying to be political but just going into Iraq with these incredibly complicated machines and airplanes and everything else, and then there’s these people throwing rocks at you or blowing up munitions and they’re giving you a really hard time.
So it’s like that sort of twist where you have this highly advanced technical thing that’s kind of grinding to a halt because there are people out there loading up their car full of munitions and driving into your thing, so it’s pretty mind boggling. You can’t say “How could they do that? Where do they find all these people willing to blow themselves up?” for instance. Americans can’t think that way. But here’s an enemy that does think that way, and that to me is fascinating.
Do you feel a responsibility to keep the horror genre vibrant?
No, I feel a responsibility to keep films I’m associated with vibrant. And that’s not a messianic thing at all, I mean, everybody that makes films, I think that’s one thing you need to do is try not to repeat yourself and make every one the best you can do and as original as you can make it.
But don’t you feel a little messianic going out into a crowd of horror fans?
No, it’s exciting that there’s an audience out there that’s excited. It’s really unusual, it’s stating the obvious but there’s not that many kinds of films made in the United States where a director or somebody is followed by the audience very closely as a filmmaker and they get excited about it. It means that the genre is very vital and it speaks very specifically to the audience. I think that’s good and healthy.
Should the Oscars have a separate horror category?
I think if horror was at the Oscars then I would have died. It is an animal that should not be put in the cage.
What is your sense of the cage right now in terms of horror’s popularity?
I think there’s a tremendous amount of it being done and most of it is pretty good and pretty intense. What I’ve noticed is that there’s much more of a fanbase in the studios now than there used to be. Studios used to be, “Oh, we want to make one of these films, we don’t know much about it but you go ahead and go do it.” Now it’s like a studio head saying, “I was a fan of yours when I was a kid and I’m so excited to be working with you,” so you know they’re not put off by the kind of film that you make and they’re enthusiastic about it, they’ll promote it well, they’ll give you decent money to make it, so better films are made.
Do you think the resurgence of the hard R-rated horror film is coming to an end?
I hope not. No, I think that was a studio thing and it was based on a kind of a fluke that there were a lot of good Japanese ghost stories being made that studios were just buying the rights to. A ghost story isn’t necessarily very bloody, so they tend to be able to get a PG-13. But I’ve been in a lot of studio meetings where a studio exec will say with complete conviction, “It’s another ten million in the box office to have a PG-13.” So as soon as that clicks in, it’s like okay, it’s gotta be a PG-13. But I think everybody wants to have at least an R, where you feel like it’s not all being censored.
What recent horror movies have you been watching?
I haven’t been out of the mixing studio in a week. I haven’t seen any, I’ve been watching movies late at night after I get back from the mixing studio. Watching all of the Academy screeners. I think Pan’s Labyrinth is about the closest to a genre piece, and of course that’s nearly an art film. It’s made by someone who’s done genre likeMimic. [Guillermo del Toro] came out of the genre and uses elements of the genre to make a statement that is very powerful and available to a very wide audience.
What was the experience of writing the movie with your son, Jonathan?
Terrible. He’s hard to work with. No, actually, it was a lot of fun. It was more time than we spent together maybe in our lives. Literally we were locked in a room every morning, 9:00 in the morning and we worked until late as we could stay awake, and worked on it and we got the script done in a month. Literally the month of May was just that, and I’m sure both of us thought that this was going to be a nightmare, but actually it was really good. Jonathan was a new dad recently, so when there was talk that wasn’t about the script it was about, “So, how’s the kid, what’s it like being up all night.” He did that to me, so it was something to share that wasn’t very horrible.
What’s the status on the Last House on the Left remake, and would you throw in an R rating?
No, you can only do that when they’re not watching. We’re talking about doing Last House as our next film, with Sean Cunningham. I’ve ironed out the legalities of it and everything, because the film had been passed through many studios and entities, so I think we’re cleared out.
Who owns it?
Essentially Sean and I, as we found out. It’s funny, I’ve lived long enough for all these things to revert to us. Thirty years from now they’ll be dead.
Are there any other genres you’d like to cover?
With a horror tinge?
A stalker tinge. It would be funny. We actually have a script that we’re trying to develop that is about that and it’s a lot of fun. I think horror is very close to comedy. It’s a lot of talking about the forbidden in a way that is entertaining and the timing is very similar, I think I could have a good time with comedy.
Would that be your next directing effort?
The next thing I’m starting to write is this thing for Rogue Pictures, the new Universal [production company]. This picture was very, very difficult, given the location and everything else. I kind of jumped in with both feet on this one. Going back to writing, we’re working on a script which we refer to as Bog, which was my original idea for the title, but it turns out someone else got to it first, so now we call it… that thing.
Can you give us an idea of what kind of picture it is.
No. Scary. Scary and fun.
What do you prefer: directing, writing or producing?
Well, I like writing, directing and editing. I haven’t edited in many years for a lot of reasons. One [reason was] because I had such a fantastic editor, but I like making the whole thing. But it is very time consuming when you’re not writing anything else and I do have a company, so that’s why I think for the last ten years I’ve pretty much been not writing. Plus theScream scripts came along and they were pretty great to start with, but every once in a while I’ll make a film from beginning to end.
Can you comment on the Shocker remake?
I hadn’t brought it up, but there’s talk about it. I think there’s a vague offer, and probably it could conceivably be through the same Rogue deal through Universal Pictures. I’m really open to doing any of those over again if they can be done in a way that are original takes like Alexandre Aja did with Hills. He started with the original story and then took it off in his own direction and made it something unique.
Is there anything in the Shocker remake that wasn’t in the original?
I’ll tell you one thing that wasn’t in the original was that we had all of the special effects completely collapse into weeks before the mix, and it turned out that none of the opticals were actually working. I found that out from our special effects guy who was trying a technique that didn’t work. I think one of Jonathan’s first big jobs in film was not doing that the standard way, calling everyone that we knew. The concept was that this was a guy who could go through anything electromagnetic, I think it could lend itself to a lot of interesting visual effects without losing the personal touch.
When did the idea come to get rid of the dog’s point of view (a much-maligned sequence in the original 1985 The Hills Have Eyes Part II) for the new remake?
I still think that was a thing where the world just wasn’t ready for it. They could have just let us use a piece of old footage so we could get our time up to level. I guess I’ll never live that one down.
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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 30, 2007.