Interview: Director Wes Craven

Photo by Carly Feingold / Courtesy of Fox Atomic

Believe it or not, Wes Craven made quite a few movies before Scream (“You mean Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?!” jokes Wes), including the original versions of The Hills Have Eyes and The Hills Have Eyes 2 in the ‘70s and ‘80s. We recently caught up with Wes to discuss his latest film–a remake of The Hills Have Eyes 2–and his approach to scary movies.

JG: What is required to make a good horror film? Do you just need to have a morbid imagination to make a movie like Hills?
WC: I don’t really have to have a morbid imagination these days – I just have to read the newspaper… It’s basically doing something that’s intriguing to you at the moment that you find frightening. Not that there’s Hills Have Eyes people running around in the United States. But if you nudge that just a bit, you can understand what it’s like, say, for an American soldier in Afghanistan, encountering people that will literally skin you alive or cut your head off in the middle of the mountains. The Hills’ underlying concept is, ‘What do Westerners do when they confront people who would like to kill them, and follow none of the rules they were trained to fight by?’ What does that do to your own sense of personal confidence and morality? 

JG: So you’re tapping into our very real, collective fears.
WC: The first maniac that the audience should be frightened by is the filmmaker. You have to have a sense that you are not in the hands of someone who is going to be considerate of your deepest fears – in fact they’re going to take you there. And they will cross all sorts of lines of taste and gentility and morality and take you into the dark side of things, and it’s a very painful and terrifying part of life to see the dark side of life, of our personalities, of our friends, our nation, and just the way that mankind is. We build and we build and everything’s beautiful and then we tear it down or blow it up, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it, that sort of madness. These kind of pictures are scenarios of societal nightmares, and the human spirit needs ways of encountering these things… In real life if any of these things happened people would be devastated and traumatized and everything else. But in attenuated form of the fatal, you’re able to go through it with other people, in the safety of a theater. And you scream and you’re terrified but you know that you’re gonna walk out intact at the end. I think to the extent that you identify with the central character of almost all horror films, they survive. So you have that template of, ‘OK, this is not only the worst thing that I could imagine but the worst thing Wes Craven can imagine, and if that character can survive and that character seems a lot like me, then maybe I could survive that too.’

 

JG: Would you say there’s almost a hopeful element involved?
WC: I really think so. And most reporters you say that to just sort of stare at you and think you’re nuts. But why else would humans have retained nightmares? We’re involved in a war with all the military might of the United States, and the fact is that with all those resources we have not been able to defeat this enemy. And they continue to kind of have their way with us, and that is a profoundly frightening thing; everything that you think of as being there to protect you, if it cannot do that, then you feel incredibly vulnerable. And there’s a lot of kids from the core audience that will go into the armed services and will have to face these things. So it seemed to me very, very germane. But on the surface of it, I don’t think anybody’s gonna see that. It’s just a very scary movie.

JG: Is it different for you to make a movie that has a supernatural element as compared to the Scream movies?
WC:
I don’t consider anything in Hills to be supernatural. They’re just people. In a way, that’s one of the key statements being made. You can refer to these people as mutants, but they’re mutants in the same way as a person who was born with six fingers because of being exposed to radioactivity. The shock of recognition is that they’re not that different from us in most ways; they are part of the human family. I think that kind of stuff makes audiences think. The other thing I struggle mightily do is not put anything on screen that the audience has seen before, which is, I think, a common flaw of so many horror movies – ‘Let’s do something that’s a combination of Saw and The Ring.’ And the audience recognizes it in the first five or 10 minutes and then they’re bored. So we try to come at it from a totally new direction.

JG:
Do you go to a lot of horror movies?
WC: I see the ones that do very well, as kind of homework. Ironically, by and large I don’t like to go see horror films! It’s just that I don’t enjoy watching suffering. It’s funny. I go to see a lot of movies and watch a lot at home, but it’s more the whole spectrum of films, not just scary movies.

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN YRB MAGAZINE. COPYRIGHT © 2007)

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