Wes Craven Reveals What Scares Him — And One Shocking Upcoming Project

Legendary horror director longs to make a less messy movie.

For a man who makes his living from depicting gruesome death, Wes Craven is a pretty nice guy.

Granted, he’s spent much of his life dreaming up mutant cannibals (“The Hills Have Eyes”), blade-fingered dream stalkers (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”), ghost-faced serial killers (“Scream”), and various other monsters and maniacs, and his latest production is a sequel to the 2006 remake of 1977′s “The Hills Have Eyes.”

But what Craven, 67, really craves is … something a little less messy. Something for the whole family. Maybe a mystery. Or how about a nice romantic comedy? Because even a horrormeister likes a change of pace — especially when he never planned to be a horrormeister in the first place …

MTV: So what scares you?

Wes Craven: Almost any front page of The New York Times these days. The Bush administration. You know, the honest answer is that I make movies about things that scare me. If you sit down to write something, you say, “Let’s see, what will be scary?” You’ve got to think about things that are in your mind. Those situations when you’re dealing with human beings that are violent rather than reasonable, and they’re smart and they see you as a target. Madness. Nightmares. I don’t think I have any fears that aren’t shared by a lot of people — that’s probably why my films do well.

MTV: Agatha Christie used to come up with murder mystery plots from her dreams. Do you keep a writing pad by the bed to remember yours?

Craven: I actually do, and certainly some of my films — like, “Nightmare on Elm Street” was written like that. And I do write my dreams down, not laboriously, every morning, but from years of writing down my dreams, I have very good recall of them. Like “The People Under the Stairs” was almost entirely from a dream, the outline, the basic story. The opening scene was giving me a lot of trouble, but I woke up realizing that I had just dreamed the whole thing, so I went back to sleep and re-dreamed it, and then got up and wrote it down for four hours, and there it was. And I dream in film language — dissolves, colors — so that helps. Some things just come through the window, you don’t know where they’re coming from, but they’re strong.

MTV: What about everyday life? Stephen King says he gets most of his ideas from just living in a small town.

Craven: A couple went to a charity event with us, and they had left their two [teenage] kids at home alone for the first time, and I said, “OK, you’re going to come home — you see fire engines as you go, you see the neighborhood smoking, you realize it’s on your block, your house is burned down, and your two kids are there, giving you the finger, because you left them alone.” They were looking at me in shock, and I’m rattling this off by instinct. I’m always thinking, how can something take a really strange turn and still be scary?

MTV: Do you prefer to film your own ideas, or do you like tweaking others?

Craven: The original “Scream” script was a little gem, and I think the only invention on that was devising what the character looked like. Kevin Williamson had written a character — a “Person in a Ghost Mask” — and he never revealed literally who it was. But I knew as a director, well, you’ve got to be looking at this person, so they might be wearing a mask, but you’ve got to see who it is just from their clothes and everything else. So we came up with a costume that covered every inch of the person, and we had to cast people more or less the same height.

MTV: Do you think there’s more of a mainstream acceptance of horror films now?

Craven: I think it kind of started with “Alien” and “Silence of the Lambs,” where directors who normally did conventional films took it on and did really great jobs. And the other thing that’s happened that I’ve noticed … [During] the first half of my career, if I went into a meeting at a studio, you could see people talking to each other, “He must be really sick.” They didn’t go to see those kinds of films; they did them because they knew they made money. Now, typically I’ll be dealing with people who saw “The Hills Have Eyes” when they were 13 and that’s why they decided to go into the film business. That’s a whole different thing, see? They’re sophisticated about the genre and they don’t think it’s a horrible thing. You get much more support and get better releases because the studios are now fans.

MTV: That’s funny, because you don’t typically think of people who mostly make romantic comedies as being love sick.

Craven: That’s true! [He laughs.] And the way I got into making horror films was a pure accident. Somebody literally said, “We have some money, the backers want a scary film, can you do a scary film?” I said, “Fine, whatever.” I think if they had asked for a funny film, I could have done a funny film. And once you do that, everybody assumes that’s who you are and that’s what you get offered. And at a certain point, you say, “Fine, I like making movies and this is actually interesting,” so you put yourself into it.

But I know I can go out and make a “Music of the Heart” or a “Twilight Zone” or things that are not bloody and are also good. There’s always a part of me that feels like, well, I’m being restricted, but also, just to have the chance to make movies is such a rare opportunity, and you can put almost anything in anything. You can put a lot into a horror film: humor, commentaries about the culture, stuff that makes them interesting and dense, something that will last.

MTV: And the next film you’re writing for Rogue Pictures isn’t a horror film at all …

Craven: It’ll be scary, but it’s not a maniac with a knife. I tell people different things every time, but it’s about a kid who discovers there’s a series of murders taking place in the small town where he’s living, and he learns about them in a way that doesn’t make it easy to prove that they’re actually happening, and at a certain point, the killer realizes that this kid is aware of what he’s doing and is the only one who knows, so he goes after him.

MTV: What kind of film would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?

Craven: We have several scripts we’re developing, one is a comedy — a romantic comedy.

MTV: A romantic comedy. From Wes Craven …

Craven: Yeah, exactly! It has edge, but it’s not bloody or about death at all. So there’s that. And this thing I’m writing is more of a mystery. There’s been developed a sort of prequel of the “Hills” story by other people, a graphic novel, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t say, “Let’s make that.” But other remakes? I didn’t grow up on movies because I was raised in a very strict family — my influences were classic literature, of all things — so I don’t have a lot of, “Oh, I want to do that.” I’m not saying [adaptations and remakes] aren’t great things — I thought “Sin City” was just fabulous, it really expanded the boundaries of film in a really fascinating way. But it’s not the area I really know. It’s more interesting to make your own stuff if you can. Then it’s all you — and you end up with a “Nightmare on Elm Street” that is completely your own and feels good.

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