WHY THE KING OF HORROR IS STILL ON A MISSION TO MAKE YOU SCREAM
From the May 2011 issue of Dazed & Confused
“I had nightmares growing up. My parents had a very rocky marriage and my father left when I was three. I remember being scared of him. I think my siblings also were. The few memories I have of him are that he was quite scary. I didn’t know anything about horror movies when I was young. I was raised in a Baptist church that didn’t allow us to see movies at all. I didn’t really have any serious exposure to film until I was out of graduate school. That’s kind of the joke!
I don’t mean to say anything against anybody else who is Baptist, but for me, a lot of that religion was frightening. There are all these horrible parts about how you are going to be burning in hell if you’re not right with Jesus, and I was convinced I was not right with Jesus. That trickled into a lot of my films(1).
I fell in love with film for the first time when I was teaching in college, but it wasn’t horror films. It was the new wave films from the European directors, Fellini and Buñuel. I went to New York just to learn how to make movies, without having any clue about what kind of movies I would make. I didn’t have any idea I would be doinghorror until somebody that I had worked for and subsequently became friends with, Sean Cunningham(2), got an offer from some theatre owners to make a film. He came to me and said, ’You wanna make a scary movie?’
That was when I wrote The Last House On The Left and I did it as kind of a hoot,if you want to know the truth. It’s funny because both of our careers took off in that direction and at the time when we made Last House neither one of us thought that was what we would be doing. We tried to do other kinds of films and nobody would back us. They thought we were obviously insane lunatics to have made such a film. We were both able to get money to make another scary movie though, so I made The Hills Have Eyes and he eventually made Friday The 13th. It’s been quite a ride.
I didn’t really have anyone encouraging me to be a director, but the films I made did well. After The Hills Have Eyes, I got offers to make those TV movies that led to A Deadly Blessing, then Swamp Thing, and that made me enough money that I could take time off and write. That’s when I wrote A Nightmare On Elm Street and conceived of the character Freddy Krueger. The character came from a combination of things. I have a memory from childhood of being frightened of a man who dressed kind of like Freddy. When coming up with his hand claws, I thought, ‘Okay, what have people been frightened by since the beginning of our evolution?’ Well, that would be the claws of a predator, sort of the idea of the ‘cave bear’. That must go back in our collective memory for 10,000 years.
A Nightmare On Elm Street had a budget of about $2.3 million. I think we only had one optical effect in the entire film, it was when the boyfriend is in jail and Freddy walks right through the bars(3). When you look at the budgets for most Hollywood films, mine are still made for very little. The Scream films are in the area of 20-something-million, but for a Hollywood feature that’s nothing. I never felt like I’ve ever broken into the full-blown Hollywood budget range, of around 50 or 60 million.
I’ve always felt that my films are still sort of independent and low-budget. The more money involved, the more studio people are involved, especially with the classic studio situation, which is that there are a million Vice Presidents and you have to answer to everybody. With Dimension Films, it’s just Bob(4). He is totally passionate, and you never have a doubt that your film is the most important film in the world to him at the time.
Reuniting with the characters from the Scream series for Scream 4(5) has been a lot of fun. The three primary characters from the previous trilogy are such rich, human characters, and very similar in many ways to the actual actors. At this point, we’re all friends, so it was great to get back together again. My god, this is a huge cast! I think it’s the biggest cast so far. It’s also the highest body count of any of the Scream films. It’s very gory.
When I reunited with Heather Langenkamp for New Nightmare(6) it was ten years after A Nightmare on Elm Street, almost to the month. Ten years is a nice period to be away and take an overview of things. Certainly, that’s the case with Scream 4. It was enough time to sort of let the Scary Movie silliness go away, and it gave me a whole decade to put in review as well, because a lot has happened in ten years, not just in terms of films but the whole nature of what kids do with their time on the Internet. I like to keep up on all cultures, and on all ages. I’ve just never totally grown up. I’ve never left that sense of wonder and fun behind, it’s just a part of me.
Scream 4 goes into the effect of the Internet on film and watching films on DVD, and so forth. All of that comes into account in a way that is more germane to our present day and age. There is a central
core to this that it is very much a conceptual take on where this current generation is, psychologically and spiritually. It’s about the way they think of reality and values and life. In A Nightmare On Elm Street there is a moment where Freddy is in the alley and the girl is there. He’s coming at her with those long arms and she says ‘Oh God!’ and suddenly he lifts his claw right by her face and he says, ‘This is God.’ It’s that kind of thing that really intrigues me. That sort of tension between thinking that there is a universe that’s benign and that we’re protected, and thinking that the universe is savage is very powerful in all of these films: it’s the knife being held against the body.”
Above: unseen behind the scenes photo from THE HILLS HAVE EYES
FOOTNOTES ON WES CRAVEN
1. In The People Under The Stairs you see people screaming “Burn in Hell!” Craven also directed a made for TV film called Invitation To Hell in 1984.
2. Producer Sean Cunningham became known in Hollywood for making films inexpensively and quickly, and went on to bring Friday The 13th into theatres.
3. According to Wes:“James Cameron did a shot several years later, I believe it was in Terminator, where someone walks right through the bars. The guy was carrying a gun and the gun wouldn’t go through the bars so he had to turn it sideways. I thought that was a great improvement on the concept.”
4. Bob Weinstein, the founder and head of Dimension Films, former co-chair of Miramax Films, and co-head of The Weinstein Company.
5. Scream 4 is the latest in the hugely successful slasher series and is out now.
6. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) was a conceptual return to the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, only with the actors playing themselves rather than the characters.