Wes Craven is one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers, with a career that spans almost 40 years. He’s primarily known for his work in the horror genre, where he has helped to launch several of its most successful franchises, including "The Hills Have Eyes," "Nightmare on Elm Street," and most recently "Scream." The latest installment in the "Scream" series, "Scream 4," came out this past April, and arrives on DVD tomorrow.
I spoke with Mr. Craven about the upcoming DVD release of "Scream 4," about the genre in general, and about some his own worst fears. Below are the highlights of our conversation.
EC: Scream 4, like the other films in the series is very self-aware. This one even more so than the others. It’s loaded with pop culture references to other horror movies, social media, even to the series itself. Was there ever a point when you were making it, where you felt like you were taking it too far? Did you end up cutting anything that felt like it was breaking the fourth wall?
Wes Craven: Well, you’re kind of walking that line all the time, you know given the fact that there’s a series called ‘Scary Movie’ out there, you just have to be very careful that you’re not becoming the center of your own film. (Pause) I think that’s all that I can say, and I’m not trying to be evasive, but we’re all aware of that danger, that we could be too self-referential, that we don’t say ‘Hi! Everyone out there in the audience. How are you doing? We’re so clever with what we’re doing.’ We’re trying to keep it to a level that’s not dwelling on it in any way.
EC: There’s a scene in the movie, where they’re at the high school cinema club and I noticed some of your movie posters show up in there. But also ones from Rob Zombie and John Carpenter. Did you pick them out? Who are some of your favorite filmmakers in horror right now?
WC: Well yeah, I did choose them obviously, and all of them were run by me of course. I put my own ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ because I felt in a way it would be almost strange not to have it in there. But you know John Carpenter is one of the Horror Masters so I had fun putting that in and just other films that I enjoyed myself or thought were significant films for the genre. That’s just kind of how it was. And I always feel hesitation when you see ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ poster that maybe I shouldn’t have done that, maybe I should have not made that sort of overt statement that I’m winking at you. That’s the last thing you want in a ‘Scream’ film.
EC: I didn’t mind it, but I was really curious to find out who some of your favorite horror filmmakers are out there, sort of who really impresses you, or someone that you really just love their films, but John Carpenter is definitely one of them for you?
WC: I think Carpenter has a great body of work from the past. He hasn’t done that much recently, but I tend not to mention specific names because then the other guys get mad at me…
EC: (Laughing) That’s understandable. Speaking of which, you’re a member of the group The Masters of Horror. Could you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with that group and how it has impacted you interacting with some of your peers?
WC: It’s allowed me to, it’s a very informal thing, and it was started by one guy who thought it might be interesting to have us all get together for dinner. And so that started, once or twice a year and it did allow me to meet a lot of the younger filmmakers that I just haven’t come into contact with. In that sense it was a lot of fun. It was very nice to be treated as sort of, one of the respected elders. They also like to bring in people from Europe quite often which is fun to meet those people, after watching their films but never met them. It’s a bit of validation that I think a lot of us were lacking for a long time in our careers, and feeling like we were sort of out there in this strange group of people that made horror films, that nobody else acknowledged, existed…except the fans of course. Kind of interesting to get together and share stories, and feel a solidarity of sorts.
The next question contains information on the ending of Scream 4. If you have not seen the film and do not wish to know the details, please skip to the next question.
EC: With ‘Scream 4,’ you introduce a lot of new characters but, you kill all them off in favor of the 3 original main characters. Was that your way of saying don’t mess with a good thing, or in Sidney’s words “Don’t eff with the original?”
WC: (Laughing) I think it was, in a way, you know we didn’t want to do in a way of saying, we’re superior as filmmakers who are older than you are. (Laughing) And the debate was had, we did talk about it, killing one or more of them, or even all of them at various stages of script development, but Bob Weinstein didn’t want to do that, and I could totally understand why he didn’t want to do that. I could see in the next installment of this trilogy, that one them, one or more of them will go, just because there’s a certain point you can’t artificially keep people that are in the middle of such danger intact. But this time we decided to keep the people the audience suspected we’d probably kill off, and we killed off the people the audience suspected we would keep alive, just so as not to be predictable.
EC: How do you feel about the way the modern horror genre has been shaping up? Are there any places where you think it could improve or even things you think it’s doing really well?
WC: Hayden (Panettiere) has a speech at the end of the film, before she leaves the film, about what sucks about all the remakes and sequels. It’s kind of where I am now with most of the horror films, but occasionally that’s quite good and original, but I think there’s a certain stagnation right now, that usually indicates the end of a cycle. I’m looking for the film that I’m like ‘Wow this is really taking risks.’ It can remain fresh for a really long time. ’28 Days Later,’ I think was a pretty spectacularly good. I guess you could call it a horror film of sorts. The South African film, what was it Area?
EC: ‘District 9.’
WC: ‘District 9’ I think was really well done and its social message, was just a real page-turner. Every once and a while a sort of one-off film comes along. Beyond that, I’m not sure any of us know where the genre is going next. It’s going to be whichever one of us wakes up in the middle of the night with a terrific idea.
EC: Since you’ve been around for a while are there any stories that you’ve always wanted to tell, but haven’t had the chance to? Anything, that you’ve been sitting on, but you’re just waiting for the right moment?
WC: There are things outside of the genre, that I’ve had an idea for, for a long time, but have not yet had what felt like the right opportunity to do that. But in the genre, no. I feel that right now, my wife, who produced the picture, and myself, we just said okay, after the press finishes on‘Scream 4,’ we’re just gonna go some place, kind of go to ground, and have vacation, and re-feed our brains, and relax. That’s what we’re doing right now.
EC: Are you going to do a little bit of bird watching? I’ve read that you’re an avid bird watcher.
WC: Definitely doing that. Actually I’m on the board of directors of Audubon California, so I’ve been doing a lot of traveling to various places in California for bird watching, and seeing some of the things that Audubon is doing to improve the environment for birds, which is frankly, quite gratifying to see that people are actually out there, trying to bring back the environment for some animals. Plenty of them die off, because they don’t have a place to live anymore.
EC: This might be one that you get a lot, but I’m just curious. What things are you afraid of, if anything?
WC: My worst fear right now, is what’s going on both politically with extreme, sort of fundamentalism on both sides. Certainly the financial situation, sort of greed running unchecked and getting us into a terrible situation. And what’s going on with the environment, is getting quite serious. Like on the board of Audubon, you get closer to a lot of really serious scientists, and you start to realize that they are really worried with global warming and what the ramifications are. That more than anything else scares me, because it feels like nobody is really on the level of leaders of our country, are doing much about it. Certainly Europe is doing much more about it than the United States. Obama has made a lot of promises, but has not come through on most of them. The fact that people are out there trying to take apart the EPA, to me, that’s scary.
EC: I’ve been saving this one for last because I’ve been trying to think of the right way to phrase it, so please hear me out on this one. I read online that before you got started in Hollywood that you directed some X-rated pictures. Do you think that experience shaped who you became as a horror director at all? Did it teach you anything you were able to apply to your craft?
WC: We all look pretty much the same even when our clothes are off. (Laughing) No, I mean there was one film that was really not that heavy duty. It had nude scenes, simulated sex that kind of stuff. I was brought onto it as an editorial assistant, where I learned some editing techniques, then I went on and did my first film, so it was never a big part of my life, just about a month or so.
EC: Ah okay, so the Internet blew it out of proportion. Thank you very much for your time.
WC: It has been my pleasure.
Scream 4 arrives on DVD and blu-ray tomorrow, October 4th.