Wes Craven is a living legend in the world of horror, that's indisputable. Say what you want about his overall track record, this man created Freddy Krueger; he dreamt up the sickos in THE HILLS HAVE EYES and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT; he made horror relevant and fun again after years of dormancy with SCREAM. His name is synonymous with the genre we love, so any opportunity to chat with him is one that has to be taken immediately.
Craven is back again after a five year hiatus (technically four, as his last directorial effort was a segment in the anthology Paris, je t'aime, but his last full-length feature was 2005's RED EYE) with MY SOUL TO TAKE, a thriller that fits right in with Craven's affinity for supernatural killers. The story of a serial killer called "The Ripper" who swears he'll return to murder the seven children born on the night he dies, the film focuses on the teens on their 16th birthday as they discover that, indeed, evil keeps its promises.
How long ago did the idea for MY SOUL TO TAKE come about?
Craven: Probably about two and half years ago, I guess.
What was the first seed of the idea?
Craven: First seed of the idea was about a man who discovers that he has an alternate personality that has been killing people. And that kind of developed into a man who has multiple personalities, five of which he knows about and the sixth one that is the killer. Then I thought of the idea of when this man dies, the souls of his personalities being distributed back in the way that normally souls are usually distributed, into individual kids, and then following the lives of those kids. So that was the core of the idea, then after that came the details of the linkage between the man and the kids...
The original title was 25/8...
Craven: The original title was BUG. Obviously the name of the central character. The name for two reasons: The detective decided to name him in the ambulance, because he was cute as a bug. And I like the feeling of, in this vast universe we're as small as bugs. And then about the second draft or so we heard there was a William Friedkin movie called BUG coming down the pipeline. Then we changed it to 25/8, and that was part of a line that used to be in it, about if you want to fight the devil, 24/7 doesn't cut it, you have to fight him 25/8. But everybody who saw the title thought it was a date, so at some point I knew that was never gonna work out. We didn't give it any name at all until towards the end of it, somebody at the studio recommended the name that it's ended up with, and I thought it was very appropriate, because that prayer is very important in it.
Paulina Olszynski and The Ripper
What about the Ripper, where do you think he ranks in the canon of Wes Craven villains, like Freddy and Horace Pinker and Ghostface..?
Craven: Well Ghostface, I don't know, he's not quite in the Craven world. The others are kind of father figures run amok. The male element that, instead of being protective toward the child, it's set to kill the child, to kill the innocence. Everything that's bad about masculinity in our world, that's the general nature of all these guys. They're all having to do with the child having to deal with the malicious adult. It's very rare that there are malicious female threats as there are with the males. I've heard of the boogeyman, I've never heard of the boogeylady. (Laughs)
PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS deals with some bad parental figures...
Craven: Very true, they're bad.
What about the design of the Ripper, can you talk about how his look was crafted?
Craven: It's based on the myth as expressed by Brandon at the riverside ceremony. He lives by the river and sleeps under the bridges, lurks through the woods. The film posits that this character survived sixteen years ago and has been living out in the woods, or he was killed and is coming back in one of the souls of the kids. But it was going with the myth that he actually a man who lived out in the woods and slept by the river, so sort of a half mythological/half human...
The troll under the bridge.
Craven: Yeah, exactly.
John Magaro, Craven and Max Theriot
The cast is made up of mostly unknowns, it brings to mind a little bit A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, where no one knew who those kids were either. What was the casting process like?
Craven: I think, with the exception of SCREAM, where there was a substantial amount of money behind the casting, it's just finding the most talented kids but not having the money to hire a Neve Campbell or Drew Barrymore. It allows you to find some very interesting actors before anyone else finds them. It was just a matter of looking at every single kid who was out there, and we found a lot of kids who wanted to work with me, so a lot of kids came in on a horror film that they normally wouldn't come in on. We found who we found by casting extensively on the west coast and the east coast, we had two casting directors.
The two main kids are really good, Max Theriot and John Magaro.
Craven: The funny thing is that we had two other actors, but one got sick and the other, for a reason I won't go into, wasn't able to do the role. So we lost them both on a Thursday before shooting the following Monday. (Laughs) My wife and I went to New York and the casting agent said, "Look at these two guys." We had read John Magaro before, but he didn't fit with the other guy we originally had, but he fit great with Max. And Max was a big chance, because he doesn't talk a great deal, but I'd seen ASTRONAUT FARMER and his beginning in JUMPER and I just thought there was something special there. We just, frankly, crossed our fingers when he started to do the role, because the arc is so enormous. But he's very interesting. He has incredible taste in how to act, which I don't think you can teach anybody. How not to go too far, how to move, how to think. And he was able to pull this innocence out, and at the same time go over to something that's very tough and savvy and do this incredible acting job.
Max Theriot and Craven
So basically you got them on Friday and you were shooting on Monday?
Craven: We pushed a week, so for that week we just ran the lines and talked about the characters and all those things.
Did you guys have 3D in mind when you were shooting?
Craven: Completely after we delivered the picture, frankly. At first I was very resistant, and they [Rogue] just said, "Take a look at it". I hadn't seen any of the new 3D films, I hadn't seen CLASH OF THE TITANS although I read lots of horrible things about it. We actually went to the place that had done it, and they showed us a reel of it, and I was like, "Why is everyone complaining about it?" It was brilliant and crisp. And then I started to learn how much in involved in projecting, and the studio has to be willing to go to every theater and make sure they have their lamps at the right level and the right screen and all these things. And also I worked out an understanding with the studio that I wouldn't be asked to do anything stupid like, "Let's have that knife fly at the screen."
I went to meet the head of the company and went into the room and there were about twenty people in it, and he said the people just wanted to be there because they were fans. And they were from all levels of different processes. And that told me that the conversion was in the hands of people that really valued what I did and who would see that it was done right.
It's not happening on SCREAM 4 though, right?
Craven: Well it's a totally different studio, I don't know what their plans are. Way back I had a conversation with Bob Weinstein about it and he said, "Never, we'll never do 3D!" I would bet that he's going through a similar process that I went through, where you suddenly realize that this is coming down the road big time, it's not going away, and you'd better be smart about it, at least weigh your options before you say no.
Ghostface on the set of SCREAM 4
So where are you on SCREAM 4? Have you fully delved into editing?
Craven: It's been so recent. My wife and I went up to Massachusetts for a week and I arrived here yesterday, we'll do press for a week and then, right after this film opens, we'll be starting post-production.
Final question. We've seen ELM STREET, LAST HOUSE and HILLS HAVE EYES remade... For a while it sounded like THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS and SHOCKER were also on the block. Are those still actively in development?
Craven: No. Because of this whole massive series of changes at Universal, since those were Universal films, it's almost like you couldn't get anyone on the phone for a while. No one knew if they were going to have their job the next day, right up to the top of the studio people. It's complicated, because of the ownership of it goes between myself and a guy named Shep Gordon and Universal, so all three have to agree. And I, frankly, don't feel disposed to doing remakes, I'd rather be doing original material. That's kind of where they are.
I'd like to thank Wes Craven for his time - one of the most polite and friendly guys you'd ever want to meet. (I spared reminding him that we had met before, once in 1995 and once in 2000, when he was promoting VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN and MUSIC OF THE HEART, respectively.)