Hey folks, Harry here, with an excerpt from an as of yet unfinished book by Andrew J Rausch of an interview he did with Wes Craven. Now this isn't a piece about a lot of scoops about SCREAM 3 or his next film, but rather quite a bit on Wes Craven's feelings on the genre of horror films and his own career. Personally I found it quite fascinating... I hope you do as well...
A CONVERSATION WITH WES CRAVEN
by Andrew J. Rausch
Whether or not you're a fan of the horror genre, chances are good that you know of Wes Craven. The man is a household name. A brand name for horror, if you will--the cinematic equivelant of Stephen King. For over 25 years, Craven has been primarily associated with the horror genre. Now Craven plans to step away from the genre, calling Scream 3 his last horror film.
Craven has directed a number of genre-altering films, including The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream--all of which are considered horror classics. In the end, Craven may be remembered simply as the man who created the mythic horror figure Freddy Krueger. In 1995, Craven tried his hand at comedy, directing Eddie Murphy in Vampire in Brooklyn. Most recently, Craven directed Scream 3 and Music of the Heart, an art film starring Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn, and Angela Bassett. In addition, he recently published his first novel, a thriller titled The Fountain Society. Despite his crazed schedule, Craven managed to find a few minutes to talk with me via-telephone.
AR: I find it interesting that everyone is so amazed by your decision to step away from the horror genre to do art films. It seems to me that your last pure horror film was Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which was some six years ago. Vampire in Brooklyn had some elements of horror, but it was really a comedy at heart, and Scream, by your own admission, is really a thriller disguised as a horror film.
WC: Well, it's very difficult for me to even define what a horror film is. I think a lot of the films I've done are quite far from the "classical horror film." You know, the car stalling in the middle of the woods in a dark night beside a haunted mansion and things of that sort. Even the Hammer films. I've never really felt that close to that particular part of the genre. A lot of the films I've made are just kind of using the genre, because that's where I was in effect, to talk about violence and hallucinative reality and kind of the irrational curve of the 20th century. I mean Last House on the Left didn't feel like a horror film so much as a bizarre political commentary in a B-movie format. People Under the Stairs was certainly very political. I'm kind of talking about the ones that I wrote myself because I kind of did some real dogs in there, too. [Laughs.] And even the end of Nightmare on Elm Street--the seventh one I did there last--was already kind of deconstructing the whole format and looking behind the scenes at the people who made it and confronting issues of censorship and everything else. I don't know if anyone in the genre has, but I've never felt--especially since I didn't have a big background in the genre--that I was ever consciously making "horror films."
AR: You mentioned A New Nightmare, which brings me to an observation. As that film and Scream 3 both deal with a movie-within-a-movie, you seem somewhat interested in that concept.
WC: It did fascinate me. I think in my own work I kind of pushed the use of the genre beyond where it didn't want to stretch without kind of going to that next step of talking about what we were doing in a sense, in a way that the viewer was aware of you as a filmmaker. That was part of it and part of it was just a frustration that in the years during which I hadn't been associated with the Nightmare series, it felt like it had drifted so much that I couldn't find a recognizable theme anymore. I would always confront myself when asked to do something like that when given the chance with whether or not there was a way to take this up to the next level. When I was called and given the chance to work on Nightmare on Elm Street 3, I felt I could do that by using a character that was melded with other characters of the same sort of psychic gift or someone who had this vision of the way things could work. But once it was past that level, I didn't know a way to take it up any further without going outside of it. So that idea of talking with a film-within-a-film sort of started early. In that case it was watching characters watching a film they had made and seeing the effect it had on children or, as a whole, reflection on an earlier work in a time it was being watched in currently. So that was kind of my interest in that. For whatever reasons, Kevin [Williamson] sort of hit on that same theme with Scream 2 so I just felt very much at home with it and I liked it a lot. It gives you a way to talk about your own film or similar films without being completely tied to your own body of work. [Laughs.] You can kind of say, "Here's how it can be done badly," which is kind of fun.
AR: You've sort of become the cinematic equivelant to Stephen King in that your name has become a brand-name for horror. Now these films that you've produced become labeled as "Wes Craven's" Wishmaster or "Wes Craven Presents" Carnival of Lost Souls. What is that like?
WC: It's kind of a mixture of fun with a very cautionary feeling about the danger of selling out. You know, How can I exploit this? I've worked so damned hard, how can I cash in on this legitimately? There's kind of feeling of wanting to give back a little to the community of young filmmakers by shepherding something through that might give a young filmmaker a chance. It's kind of a mixture of all of those things. It's strange in a way because you don't have your hand on it the way you're so used to doing your own films, where you want every frame to kind of have your own initials on it someplace and you feel responsible for it and want to use every ounce of your strength to make it something that is completely your own. With this other kind of film we're talking about, you're kind of taking everything you've earned from that process and kind of lending it in a way to someone else. It's either a very good feeling or a queasy feeling depending on how you feel about the end product.
AR: In the past you've discussed the horror genre's penchant for always coming out with rip-offs of every successful film that comes along. Certainly there are examples of these rip-offs in every genre, but horror seems to take that to the next level. In horror, whenever there's something new and refreshing, you can almost count on at least half-a-dozen or so rip-offs coming out within the following year. Why do you think this practice is so much more prevalent in the horror genre?
WC: I think it's the finanical inducement that exists in the horror genre because they tend to make a lot of money when they're good and they generally cost very little to make. The Blair Witch Project would be a great example of that currently. This kind of makes the dollar signs light up in the eyes of a lot of people that usually wouldn't be drawn to the genre for the sake of loving it or for the sake of expressing any feeling about violence or whatever in the world at large. It's just, How can we make one of those and make some money? That's kind of the difference between a guy or an organization that sits down to make a rolex and a guy whoÃŠjust sits down to make something that looks like that so he can make some money. The result is that the genre is almost immediately engulfed by bad copies after something innovative has come along and I don't think that's usually true with films that sort of fall in the midpoint, which could be real artistic expressions but nobody would ever think of trying to copy them. Something like Red, White, and Blue. [Laughs.] Of course nobody ran out to try and make anymore of those to make some money. But with genre films that do well...you can just bet that there are 26 or 100 versions of Blair Witch because they're going to be done by everybody with no real impulse to do it except that it made so much money and they want to be on that gravy train. I think that's the curse of the genre really. It's what those who love the genre, or have come to love it as I have, kind of wince at it and kind of forgive the genre because that's not really its fault. It draws those kinds of films because of that financial payoff when it works.
AR: Do you feel that the perfect horror film--the Citizen Kane of horror--has been made yet?
WC: I doubt it. It's such a difficult medium to keep perfect. There are so many influences on any given film. There have been some really, really good ones, including, I would say, the first Scream. That was just a terrific script...
AR: I would agree.
WC: They got us great actors and you had a director at the top of his form throwing in his own ideas. It felt like a great combination. It's very rare when that happens. Obviously on Nightmare [Part] One where I just had an idea that sort of came to me with no financial inducement whatsoever and I just had the idea and wrote it completely on my own. I just wrote it because it felt like it needed to be written. Everything about the making of it just seemed to have that spirit about it...except for the last few minutes. [Laughs.] The last few minutes of Nightmare on Elm Street are a good example of how at the very end something can happen to make you feel like it's no longer quite mine. That is the hard part about making a film and one that you think is really quite perfect, as you say the Citizen Kane of horror films. You have to be making one entirely on your own in a situation like Last House where it was just myself and a producer. There were literally two guys making the film. And even that got cut at the end while I was absent. You really immediately lose the sense that it's your film anymore. That was after it was just released for about a week.
This conversation is an excerpt of an interview which will appear in Andrew J. Rausch's forthcoming book The Love of Film: Directors on Movies, which will feature interviews with over 50 filmmakers including Kevin Williamson, Kevin Smith, Frank Darabont, John Milius, and Bryan Singer, as well as quotes from noted-critics Roger Ebert, Manohla Dargis, Leonard Maltin, and, of course, Harry Knowles.