INT: Wes Craven

For a guy who’s made so many brutal and memorable horror classics, director Wes Craven is a very soft spoken guy. Craven is currently producing a remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, a film he originally directed back in 1977. Craven’s version is a true cult classic and was caused quite a stir in its day. With the new version being directed by HIGH TENSION filmmaker Alexandre Aja, Craven sat down to discuss his thoughts on his old film, the new film and the subject of remakes.

Wes Craven

So how do you think this compares to your film?

(Jokingly) It’s a mere shadow… (laughs) Listen, if it’s better then mine, that’s fabulous. I don’t know, I think they’re both very intense films, but Alex certainly made it his own and didn’t pull any punches.

How excited are you that a new generation is going to see this?

I find it very exciting, it’s a tribute to the original film I think, that it’s had such legs and people know about it. And that a young director like Alex literally met his closest friend Gregory Levasseur, who’s his co-writer/producer, when they ran The Hills Have Eyes at the house - one had heard about the film, the other said I have it, and that’s how they met. And it’s one of the reasons they got into the film business and I keep hearing that more and more. As I get older, my early fans get older too, so now they’re in the studios. As a director, first of all, it’s just a nice thing to hear and it also gives you much more receptive people at the studio you’re working at because the true fans have taken over the asylum and that’s nice.

Do you think the theme of nuclear radiation has a different impact today then when the original film came out?

Yeah, I grew up in the duck and cover era. I can remember distinctly in third grade the first time they made us go out into the hallway. Girls first and then boys behind us. (laughs) Cover your head! I’m on the floor just thinking I’m gonna be incinerated. I think the resonance to me is that there’s a sense that the government’s doing things that are hidden from us that are very important and that contributed to people in another part of the world being really pissed off at us. That is the linkage. But it might just be my interpretation, that’s kind of my sense of what the resonance is. It wasn’t in the first one, it was incidental, I mean I had intended for it to be the test site where Doug had gone off and come back with a bunch of stuff, but never went there, couldn’t afford to. I thought half the audience might guess that was the test site because they refer to that in the map and the other half it’s not important.

In the original film there was a very prominent and intimate look at the deranged family alongside the more normal one, whereas in this one the family is mostly in the shadows. Do you feel that it lessons the impact of what you had seen as the vision of your original film?

I’m not sure that it does. I know the original intention was to take kind of mirror opposites and confront them with a part of themselves they don’t even know they have. The vicious people having tenderness and the tender people having viciousness. Alex I don’t think was interested in that, I think he had a totally different take on it. So those people they had names and stuff, but you knew them much less, which also worked very powerfully because you don’t have any sense of familiarity with them at all. It was one of the interesting things to me as a filmmaker was to see them take something that I’d done and take it in quite a different direction in many ways and it’s effective that way too. The premise is kinda the same, but just a different take.

I was really interested how you were so hands off with this, you didn’t even go on the set. Did you see the dailies, help with casting, what did you do on the picture?

I was very much there in the selection of the director and the original concept. I was very much there in the writing, tons and tons of notes and things. When they started shooting, I was just stopping shooting Red Eye and I was in the editing room, so it would have been impossible for me to go. But I though a couple of times maybe on the weekend I’ll do it, but you know what, I would be the eight hundred pound gorilla on the set, you know. As a young director, imagining myself back then, I would not want the old guy who done the original around, you want to be doing your own thing. It’s like somebody in your bedroom.

Is there something that you weren’t able to do in the original film that they were able to do in this that you were happy with?

Well yeah, I mean the whole town, we never could have done something like that. We sunk everything we had into this trailer. (laughs) I mean the car that we used cost about two hundred dollars - and it wouldn’t make it over the hill. It was an extremely limited budget, we didn’t have cranes, we didn’t have a dolly, we had, I think, a crew of eleven, it was very minimal resources. I think we got what we needed, but there was very much a Guerra operation.

Do you think it easier to get a horror remake made today than an original horror idea?

Yeah, I would suspect. My preference is a good script. I’m serious, I can’t tell you how many scripts I read before I find anything that I even want to go past page ten. What you have with a remake or a sequel is you have a movie that has been constructed by somebody very clever cause it’s been a hit someplace else, it has a story line that’s all set to go and basically just to make it minimal you need to plug in new actors. And then the great part is that the director can actually make it come alive and change it to his own thing. But the studio knows what they’re dealing with in a way. Studios are always taking these humungous gambles that all of us would have a heart attack if we had to make. So there’s always that delicate balance between art and commerce.

To remake a film where the original is a bonafide hit, it’s an easy sell. But some of your early movies grew over time with their cult status…

(Jokingly) Kind of like mold.

Yeah, but good mold. Do you think it’s odd to remake this film?

Yeah, but they get a hot young director, who’s new to the genre, they get a good old director to go out and do promotion and put his name on it. They get a story they know is pretty good and they get a new version of it, so there’s a lot they get right at the get go that’s important.

Are there certain films of yours that you personally don’t want to see remade, like Last House on the Left?

Deadly Friend? (Laughs)

I liked Deadly Friend!

It was one of the most troubled films I’ve made. It was my first studio film, there were eight producers and the all had different ideas. No, as matter of fact I’ll probably shock you, we are quite advanced on talks about re-doing Last House.

How do you feel about that?

It doesn’t bother me if it can be done well. It needs to be a really quality film, I don’t think it should be at the level of an assault, because if we did it at that level then you have to literally kill people on screen or something and none of us would want to do it. But I think it’s a really compelling story, it’s another one of those stories where there’s that flip where the civilized family suddenly becomes really, you know.

What’s happening with FEAST (which Craven executive produced)?

The basic thing the press needs to realize, cause they keep asking me questions, is that most of the time when somebody is involved like myself I don’t control it at all. So that’s controlled by what was Dimension and is now the Weinstein Company. And they were going to open the same weekend (as The Hills Have Eyes). They were going to open against us and got afraid of that, I heard they pulled it, so the answer would have to come from them. I don’t know why, I think it’s really good. I’ve seen it and I think it’s funny and very blood and greasy and everything else, but just fun, you know. So I don’t know. I think Gulager turned out to be a hell of a director, which is what we saw early on with his films and I don’t know. The script for Feast was a train wreck. I thought they’re never going to pull this off for the budget and they didn’t, they had to get more money, cause they had 21 speaking parts plus monsters - expensive and time consuming.

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