Wes Craven is a man who needs no introduction. Whether or not you are a horror fan, you know this is the guy who is synonymous with horror — Last House on the Left, Hills Have Eyes, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream… and many more. For over 30 years, Craven has been bringing the best horror has to offer to generation after generation. Sure, maybe there was a flop or two (Cursed?) but he remains on top, in that realm of legends reserved for only the most exceptional.
I had the distinct honor and privilege to speak with Wes on September 27, 2011 about the DVD release of “Scream 4″… and while I would normally bring it to you verbatim, my skills in technology are not honed and there is no recording… so you will have to settle for my notes.
As I said, Wes Craven has made many a great film, and despite remakes of at least three, often the originals stay the strongest. Take “Serpent and the Rainbow”, the Bill Pullman voodoo tale of the late 1980s. I watched it again just a few weeks ago, says Craven, and it holds up great. He attributes this in part to its being based on a non-fiction book by Wade Davis. The story is, after all, true.
Going into production, “Scream 4” went through a few steps before it ever got to Craven. He explains that first Kevin Williamson writes a script, then the script is approved by producer Bob Weinstein. Weinstein approaches the principal cast (in this case, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette). They sign on, and then Wes is offered the director’s chair. I asked him if the film would have been made without the original cast, and he simply does not know. This, he explains, is a decision for Kevin and Bob. If someone declines a role, Kevin could rewrite the script to have that character die or move away, or maybe he would decide not to write anything at all. Although Wes Craven is at the helm, it is more Kevin Williamson’s baby.
In prior interviews, Wes had also said that he would only do a fourth film if the script was good. What made him decide this was the right film? Actually, the opening scene. From the first few pages, he knew that “Scream 4” was ready. And, if you have seen the film, you will understand why — the opening, featuring a film within a film, is beautiful work from both director and screenwriter.
While Campbell, Cox and Arquette were added to the film before Craven signed on, he did do casting from there on out. Some people have expressed doubt of Hayden Panettiere’s ability to act. Despite her long career, and solid run on “Heroes”, people still doubt her. Craven admits some of the crew — he refuses to name names — did not think she had it in her. But she came in to audition, gave a powerful performance, and when the choices were narrowed down to three, she won the part. Hayden’s strong performance in audition also shows in the film… if you are expecting a light, fluffy princess, think again.
I asked Wes to personally apologize for killing Rose McGowan in the original “Scream”, and he would not. Sometimes you have to kill the fan favorites, he says. Indeed, that was what “Scream” was about — breaking the rules, including killing off the big star in the first five minutes. I also asked him to apologize for killing Alison Brie, best known as Annie Edison on “Community”. He granted me that. Alison was wonderful to work with, he says, and he is truly sorry she had to die.
In one scene, the film calls out “torture porn” and how awful it is as a subgenre. But Craven insists that he was not “taking anyone to task”. He is quick to point out another moment where a character (I believe played by the aforementioned Hayden Panettiere) rambles off a list of horror remakes. As mentioned above, at least three were Wes Craven films. So he knows that he is not immune to criticism and any jabs to other horror films are meant light-heartedly, and he welcomes return criticism. For my money, the only criticism Wes deserves is either for “Cursed” or “Scream 3”. Even his lesser-known films like “Invitation to Hell” have their redeeming qualities.
Those with a keen eye will notice a poster in the film for “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”, one of Kevin Smith’s more recent films. Those same people might recall that Wes Craven appeared as himself in Smith’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” where he was directing Shannon Doherty, fighting a Ghostface played by an ape. The poster is not an accident, but a conscious nod to Smith, who Craven says he knows “conversationally”. He says if you look at the posters in the film class, you will find many for movies that influenced him, and he has also had a long-running trade with Sam Raimi where they would reference each other — “Scream 4” has a poster for “Army of Darkness” if you look hard enough.
What is next for Wes Craven? I asked him about a comment he made to Stanley Wiater 20 years ago that he wanted to make a children’s book, but felt he would have to use a pseudonym. Lo and behold, it was the right question to ask — Wes confirms that such a book is in the works. He refused to give out any details, but said that he has started it and it could be done as soon as this fall or winter…
Will Craven continue making “dead teenager” films at age 72 (and beyond)? Yes he will. He says it is a business decision and he keeps up on Twitter and e-mail, and knows his target audience. He has made the twentysomething film (“Red Eye”) and other films, but teenagers are where the money is at. He says he thinks of them as “people” and not “teenagers”, which does sound a bit more respectful for some reason. But he knows who buys the tickets and he would be a fool to betray them. Will he direct a “Scream 5”? Bob Weinstein wants him to (and a 6, for that matter) but he says what he said before: show me a good script. So the ball is in your corner, Kevin Williamson. Time to retire the series or keep your pencil extra sharp.