Hey folks, Trav here. I thought this one was lost in the internet hinterlands, but I found it tucked away in a forgotten corner of my Dropbox account. Way back in 2011, one of my first big interviews for X-Press Magazine was with the late Wes Craven for the then-impending release of Scream 4. In the wake of the horror-meister’s death, it seemed suitable for some kind of posterity – so here it is.
WES CRAVEN Horror Honcho
To the fiercely loyal tribe that is horror fandom, few filmmakers are held in such high esteem as Wes Craven. Over a career that spans four decades, Craven has left an indelible mark on the world of fantasy cinema; this is, after all, the man whose fertile imagination gave birth to Freddie Krueger, one of the most iconic villains of all time, along with such ’70s gorno classics as The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House On The Left, both recent grist for the remake mill.
But to younger audiences he is perhaps best known as the director of the Scream trilogy, which introduced a whole new generation to the arcane lore of the slasher flick, all wrapped up in a slick, post-modern script by Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson. Now, over a decade since Ghostface last carved his way through a cast of nubile up-and-comers, Craven and Williamson have reunited to deliver Scre4m, a fresh installment of one of modern horrors most recognizable franchises.
Scream 3 was a long time ago. Why return to the well now?
Well, why not? I was talking with Bob Weinstein (former head of Miramax and now co-owner of The Weinstein Company) and he said that he was glad that we didn’t make any more Scream movies after Scream 3, because the original concept was always as a trilogy, and if we had done another one any time soon it would have been an unnecessary sequel. So he said ‘I’m gonna wait. I’m gonna wait a good long time.” And I think what that allows us is the perspective to look back on a whole decade, a different portion of the genre. A lot of new things have happened, given the acceleration of the development of the media and technology, and so we’re able to address a whole new historic era of the genre, and hopefully give everybody something new, with the beginning of a new trilogy.
How do you think the horror landscape has changed in the interim?
I think it went through a lot of different gyrations. There was one thing we can’t ignore, and that’s 9/11. 9/11 and the Bush administration, which among other things ended up endorsing torture, and exporting people to be tortured in other countries. That, I think, is very much a big part of where torture porn came from. So there’s that, and conversely there’s also a lot of censorship, which led the studios to take two tacks: one was to do a lot of sequels, and the other was to do a lot of ghost stories from Japanese and Asian cinema, which were kind of new for us, and they were more immune to censorship for violence, they were more about atmospheric scares. And I think towards the end, especially with the torture porn – maybe that’s a pejorative term, maybe I should just say films involving the application of torture and so forth – reached a kind of a nadir, and it seemed time to do something new, but no one seemed to know exactly what. So it seemed a good point to insert a new way of looking at things at the beginning of a new decade.
Is the genre still healthy?
As of Scream 4 I think it is! (laughs) We talk about that a great deal in this film, about the
plethora of remakes and sequels and so on.
Why are there so many? Why do we feel the need to retell these stories?
Well, I think that’s an eternal human need that goes right back to the dawn of time. Like
The Iliad, it’s not even about writing; that’s kept by an oral tradition. It’s a way of teaching history, and of teaching moral lessons. It’s a distillation of not only the most amazing and uplifting things in life and also the most frightening and confusing things. I guess the horror genre deals with the latter.
Who’s doing good work in the horror genre now?
Oh, I think there’s a lot. There’s a lot. From Let the Right One In to many, many other films. I tend not see a lot of films, and I tend to get in trouble with other filmmakers because I don’t! But there are many fine filmmakers working in many countries at the moment. I think the genre is basically alive and well. In any given time, I think, the majority of films that are being made are not good. It’s just very hard to make a good film, and it’s an extraordinary event whenever somebody pulls it off. It kind of takes a period of time to look back on, where you can look and go “I like that film, and that film, and that film.” and you tend to forget all the films that were not good. It did feel like we were kind of coming to an end of a decade where we’d used up all the ideas that were around, so it’s interesting to see where we’ll be going now.
Why do you think the filmmakers of your generation – guys like John Carpenter (Halloween) Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre) and Sean Cunningham (Friday The 13th) – have had such an influence on the current crop of genre filmmakers?
Well, our films were very visceral. And I think it was a generation that in a way were liberated by the profoundly artistic films of the ’60s, or at least in my case. And I think for a lot of us, we were also quick to take in the films of, like, Fellini or Bunuel, or some of the other great filmmakers of that era. Their films had a dreamlike element to them and a horrific element to them that was quite stunning. And I think it kind of announced to a lot of us who were quite young at the time that you didn’t need to stay within the bounds of consensus reality, that you could go deeper, you could go surreal, as long as there was a visceral kind of structure to it. Like in A Nightmare on Elm Street; as long as what happened in the dream affected characters in real life, you could have a whole new area to explore. I think what happened is that America does not sit down to watch art films, and I think the filmmakers sort of went, “Okay, we’ll do our own mythology, except it’ll be scary.” So I guess John and I and the others were just there at the right time. The slate was kind of clean for the genre, and we were free to kind of make a film that we would want to see, that incorporated those elements.
Unlike the majority of horror series, Scream has no recurring villain – the identity of
Ghostface changes in every film.
I’m trying to think of other films where you have a very articulate villain. Certainly Freddy talked a lot, but Jason and Michael Myers and the others not so much. It’s fascinating the way Scream has been able to regenerate itself whereby different people can be behind the mask. So you have the power of Ghostface, and you also have the power of the voice changer – you never see the two at the same time. But you take those two separate identities and somehow it miraculously merges into a whole character. And then there’s always someone, some person behind the mask. That makes it a very complex and intriguing villain. You never know from one moment to the next who you’re fighting against. The mask and costume gives it continuity, but there’s always an uber-persona if you will. It’s still somehow Ghostface.
Do you ever feel constrained by the genre? I know you directed one mainstream drama (Music Of The Heart), and at another point you almost directed the comedy Beetlejuice.
You know, I’ve talked about this in a couple of interviews. I think I’ve had a long period to
become adjusted to the fact that it’s most easy for me to get work in the genre. If you stop
kicking against it and instead think “How can I explore this genre?” it is, in a way, a great gift, because it’s a very fluid and non-binding kind of genre. You can do anything you want, really, from a thriller type film to something that‘s dreamlike or The Box, which is a kind of weird… I don’t know what that film was. You can do films about possession, you can do films about insanity, all those sort of areas of human psychology and human cognition and perception that are not generally dealt with in normal films. So it’s kind of the wild frontier. Although sometimes I think that’d it’d be nice to do a romantic comedy or something, I kind of don’t think I’ll get that chance. I don’t think anyone will be coming to me with that kind of material, probably. But I still have the chance to work in a very vital and interesting genre.
Many of your films deal with the high school experience. Why is that?
Somebody once asked an American bank robber why he robbed banks, and he said “That’s
where the money is.” The reason I keep making movies about teenagers is that’s where the vital and theatre-going audience is. More than any other age group, they’re the ones that are the most adventurous with the films they see, and the most loyal to film-going, and they like to see films in theatres. I think if you made films, made horror films for an older audience, they wouldn’t be that successful. So that’s the major reason, but it’s also a very interesting, very primal point in any human’s progression from childhood to the grave, that moment where you’re actually switching from childhood to adulthood. There are such dramatic, drastic changes – sexuality, for example: there’s this world that in childhood you’re not aware of, and then BOOM! It’s titanic. The level violence can rise because the people in your age group are now capable of badly hurting you or even killing you. So it’s very hard to figure all this stuff out, it’s a very dramatic age, between 15-16 and 20 to 25; very wild, erotic, vivid.
And finally, what do you have planned for the near future?
Just to keep making fun and scary movies.