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Exclusive: Horror Master Wes Craven

Source: Edward Douglas
March 19, 2007

As one of the top two or three names in horror, director Wes Craven has pretty much seen and done it all, but in recent years, he's been shifting his focus to producing remakes based on some of his earlier works, the first one of these being the 2006 sleeper hit The Hills Have Eyes. Just over a year later and Craven has a sequel ready to go, co-written with his son Jonathan Craven and directed by noted German music video director Martin Weisz. The Hills Have Eyes 2 takes a group of rookie National Guard soldiers into the Nevada desert where the group of killer mutants from the first movie are still looking to kill and breed with anyone who falters into their hillside home.

ComingSoon.net spoke with Craven about the sequel and his upcoming plans.

ComingSoon.net: I haven't seen the movie, but I saw the footage at New York Comic Con, and I understand that this is a completely different story from the original "Hills Have Eyes Part 2" and that instead of bikers, you have the National Guard. Why did you decide to make that change?
Wes Craven: Yeah, we didn't think of it as a change from that film, because we didn't take that into account at all. The way that Alex [Aja, director of the original remake] had done the remake at a very specific base where atomic testing had taken place made it feel like, "What would happen after that particular point in the story happened?" Certainly, whoever in the army was in charge of that base would catch hell from their superiors, and they'd have to do something about it, or there would have been massive denial that anything like that was going on there. The original idea was then to go in with a group of young soldiers that were sent to ferret out the last of these people. At a certain point we said, "You know what? It doesn't feel that scary if you send in a bunch of trained soldiers, but what if they were recruits and they're only halfway through their training. They were not sent in to do this at all, but they were just in there and just get swept up into it. So it kind of developed that way. It seemed interesting and it seemed to have parallels to things that are in the news, and we couldn't help making those comparisons.

CS: Did you already have an idea for a sequel before releasing the first movie?
Craven: Not at all. I think we were so glad to get the first one made. We didn't know how it would do, and we certainly didn't get any indication from the studio at first that they were interested in making another one. I think what happened was that the first one not only did so well over a period of time at the box office, but then when it came out on DVD, it did incredibly well. At a certain point, I believe the studio woke up and realized they had something they owned that could make them some money, so then when we said, " Well, let's do another, 'cause we have an idea."

CS: You co-wrote this with your son Jonathan and I assume you were a bit more involved with the sequel than you were with the first movie.
Craven: I've always been a part of it in a sense of final approval on the director and that type of thing. Obviously the first one, I didn't do the writing. Alex and his partner did it and did a great job. This was a case that Alex was originally thinking of writing it and decided to go another way. It was kind of up to the point where if we didn't have a script, the studio probably wasn't going to make it. We pitched an idea, and the studio was willing to pay us to write a script, but they wouldn't green light it until they saw a script, so my son and I went into our hotel suite and wrote the first draft, which the studio read and gave us the green light.

CS: Thanks to the "Saw" franchise, it's become almost the norm to crank out sequels to successful films fairly fast, but was it hard as producer to get the movie done quick enough for it to come out a year after the original remake?
Craven: Well, yeah. We were told that we had to have it ready on March 3 for them to be able to release it on March 23, and we didn't get a green light until the end of May. You can do the math and realize that we had an incredibly short amount of time to make the film. I don't know. It was just one of those things where we called in all of our skills and all of our top people. Our post-production supervisors did genius work, and everybody that we honed and brought up along the way came in and helped us do it. Martin did a great job of directing, he had great energy. It all worked out but it was enormous work because of the shortness of the schedule.

CS: Being a filmmaker yourself, is it hard to step back as a producer and let this fairly new director do his thing, especially since you co-wrote the script? Did you spend a lot of time on-set while they were making it?
Craven: No, no. For the first one I wasn't on set at all, the second one I came to visit towards the end of the picture. I sort of went through all those scenarios in my mind before I even thought about doing this sort of thing. The idea was very much that if I was going to do this, I was just going to submit to another guy and walk away. I have final cut and I certainly have to give them notes, but the idea was to find really talented directors and then let them do their thing.

CS: Did Alex and Martin come to you to ask for your expertise or advice on certain things, knowing that you would be a good resource if they had any questions?
Craven: To a certain extent, but I have to say that Alex is a very opinionated guy and he has his vision. For instance, we had many discussions about whether the hill people should be more of a family, so you know who's brother to whom and so forth, and Alex just didn't want to do that. Frankly, I thought that might hurt the picture, but it turned out that it didn't. He just was not in desperate need of advice or anything like that. He's a guy who has his own vision and opinions, and he'd already done one really terrific film ("High Tension") so it was more just stepping back and letting Alex and Martin do their job.

CS: How do you feel about the slew of horror remakes in recent years? You're obviously involved with remakes of your own movies, but that's not always the case, and I wondered what your take is on this recent trend.
Craven: I think it's a very simple paradigm of if a film can get made, that's good. If it makes money at the box office, that's good because it gave the opportunity for people to make a film. If it made the studio some money, the business goes on and horror is considered something that studios think is a good idea to back. Out of that mass of films that are made that given time can be called horror films then within that mass, there will be certain ones that are really interesting and really good. Then there'll be others that are kind of fodder to just fill out the studio's schedule. But I think there's been a lot of interesting films made, some very disturbing films, but sometimes, those are just the films that are at the cutting edge of the way our thoughts will be going in the next decade.

CS: Is there a danger of original horror ideas falling by the wayside if studios see that remakes and sequels are the best way to be successful in the horror genre?
Craven: I think the biggest danger is that people just think that any kind of horror film they make will make money or that they don't have to bring the highest standards to it, which sometimes can happen. I think it kind of happened in the '80s and the end of the '70s, around the time of "Nightmare on Elm Street," people were saying that horror was dead. It was really just that there were a lot of imitative and repetitive films being made, and a lot of sequels. So doing remakes and making sequels will work for a certain amount of time, and a film scholar pointed out that "The Maltese Falcon", the Bogart version, was a third remake of an earlier film, so there's really nothing necessarily about a remake that means it's not going to be a good film.

CS: Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" is another good recent example of that.
Craven: Yeah, so it's more about whether it's a good film. It really comes down that.

CS: I know there's been talk of you producing a remake of "Shocker." Since you made that fairly recently compared to "Hills Have Eyes," do you have ideas of how you want to approach it differently than the original movie?
Craven: Well, that film has not been seriously discussed yet, though it has been mentioned that possibly "Shocker" or possibly "The People Under the Stairs." The next film we'll probably be remaking will be "The Last House on the Left." I think that if we were going to do "Shocker," the original film had some real disasters happen with the special effects and opticals. It really fell short of what I wanted to do because we ran out of money and ended up having someone do them that didn't know what he was doing. I think if that were done with better technical finesse in the opticals and special effects, I think it could be a lot of fun.

CS: In more recent years, you've been involved with the "Scream" series and your last movie as a director was "Red Eye." Do you have any ideas to do sequels for that or anything else with the "Scream" series?
Craven: Right now, I'm going to sit down and start writing something based on an idea I have, and I have a contract with Rogue Pictures to do that, and then direct it, so that's what I'm up to right now. We've all started talking about doing remakes that I would produce, so I'm kind of working on two fronts, one on what I'll be doing next myself as a director and then other things that I'd just be a producer on.

The Hills Have Eyes 2 opens on Friday, March 23.





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