Wes Craven for “The Last House on the Left”

Horror maestro Wes Craven has made many a classic horror film in his time, from seminal hits such as the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to his first two features, “The Hills Have Eyes” and “The Last House on the Left” through of course to the “Scream” franchise.

It seems that Craven’s films are ripe for remakes, and with the success of his “The Hills Have Eyes” remake, we have the new incarnation of “The Last House on the Left”. The film tells of a trio of thugs headed by a prison escapee, that terrorizes and assaults a pair of teenage girls, one of whom is brutally raped and left for dead in a lake.

As they seek refuge in a house owned by a doctor and his wife, little do they know that one of the victims turns out to be the couple’s brutalized daughter, all of which leaves to a chilling showdown.

While this version bears a basic resemblance to Craven’s original film, there are clear differences that make this version more relevant for a contemporary audience.

In this exclusive interview with Paul Fischer, Craven explains why “Last House” needed to be remade today, as well as news on another “Scream” film and his latest directorial project:

Question: Why is the time right, do you think, to revisit this picture?

Craven: Well, part of it is just the accidental fact that we’ve come back into the rights of the original. You know, for 30 years, they were owned by other people. And part of it was just – I’m sure there was a business aspect to it. There was a creative aspect of, we bet we could make a deal where we had final cut and control of it, yet have a studio pay for it. And then it was the intrigue about having somebody – if we could find somebody who we really trusted, and thought we would be terrific. To have them go, and just give them the injunction, basically, ” Do your version of the story. And don’t try to remake the Wes Craven Last House, because that’ll sink you.” And in fact, with somebody like Dennis, that wouldn’t even occur to them. They wouldn’t even take the job if that’s what they were expected to do. So it was the idea of, bring your own sensibilities to the story. You know. We supervised the writing, and so forth, of it, and developed it before we met Dennis. But he had total control over the actors and everything else he did, virtually all the casting, and everything else.

Question: I take it that there was never any thought of you, or any discussion about you maybe even directing it yourself.

Craven: No. I was well into writing something completely new that I directed late last year, and a little bit into this year, called 25/8, so, I think it’s important to keep doing original material, and not to go back and remake your own films by yourself. But the idea of another person coming on with a completely different sensibility, and doing it – I was intrigued by that.

Question: And the original film very much belongs to the era in which it was made, I think. It’s a very 1970s version of this story, with the sexuality of it, and the rock concert, and all that kind of stuff. What did you insist on being kept in this version, and what were you happy to see go?

Craven: Well, I think some of the sort of off-the-wall humor of the first one. That was just me kind of flinging around, trying to invent my version of making a movie. I’d never been trained at making a movie and there was something of a subversive feeling of making part of it seem to be kind of just broad slapstick, and then the next minute, you’re into something quite horrible, just jarring the minds of viewers. But I think that wasn’t terribly successful. And, you know, I never did it, when people – well, I did, actually. One of the mistakes was intercutting it with the woods scene, which is so intense, which made you feel like I was trivializing the suffering. So, I was glad to see that go. I didn’t mind losing some of the outrageous stuff of the parents and the mother doing in the Weasel the way she did. I don’t know. I think, just, we didn’t want the intensity of it to be lost, the focus on the power of a family being assaulted in this way. And the rest was just wanting it to be elevated by somebody’s sensibility of having done films already, and being somebody who’s done a lot of advertising, to have that sense of staging and the beauty of shots. And somebody who had done something very nitty-gritty, and yet was artistic, in the best sense of the word. Which I think Hard Core was.

Question: Geography plays a vital role in this film. I mean, location and setting is as much a character as the human characters. Why South Africa? I guess for financial reasons. Was it hard to find the right location to create the mood of this piece?

Craven: Well, Dennis – I had never gone to South Africa. But Dennis had shot there. He’d done at least three commercials there, perhaps four. So he was familiar with it. He was very concerned that the weather hold for the early part of the film, before bad things were happening, so that we would have this kind of shiny sunlight, even through the rape. And he felt comfortable that that kind of weather would be there. There were certain financial realities, too, that were better there than here. Now, things have improved in the United States a great deal with the tax breaks. So 25/8 was done with 25, I think almost a 30 percent tax break. That was enormous for us.

Question: Have our attitudes, society’s attitudes towards violence, changed in the last 30 years, where you could do a film like this with t kind of violence in this movie – the rape scene in particular – and do it in a way that would be truly shocking to contemporary audiences?

Craven: Well, I think what is the most interesting and unusual thing to be is when it’s done with intelligence and with respect for the audience, that’s not just stupid stuff. and with two-dimensional characters. And the intention on this one was, let’s find somebody who can do it at a level above the first one, and have an aesthetic that is appealing to a broader audience, and yet be as hard-hitting as the first one was in almost all aspects. So, I think the most unexpected thing about this film – and also, in some ways, the most gratifying things for the audiences so far – has been just how good it is. And how you care about characters. And how complex the characters are, and how fabulous the performances are. This is not the ordinary thing you see in a horror film.

Question: It must have been very hard to cast a movie like this. To get the right balance, particularly when you’re casting the antagonists. I mean, that must be an interesting challenge.

Craven: Well, it always is. And as Dennis said – I heard him say it many times in interviews today – the tricky thing is to find somebody who’s not going to play it to type. And have the bad guy kind of tweaking his mustache, all that snarling, and brutal stuff without any reason, or just enjoying it, and sadistic. But the way Krug was played is, it’s like within his own world, he’s kind of living a normal life. And people just do irritating and annoying things with him, and get him mad. But any reasonable guy would get mad about that. I mean, that’s the way his character seems to think. And he just doesn’t seem to understand why it’s sort of reeling out of control the way it is. He just doesn’t – he’s like a sociopath, in a way. He doesn’t understand how ordinary minds work.

Question: You seem to be the filmmaker now whose work is being often remade or re-imagined. I understand there’s going – I know it’s been in the works for a while – but we’re going to see a new Nightmare on Elm Street.

Craven: I’ve heard.

Question: Which I think is a travesty, myself. But, why is that? What is it about your material?

Craven: Well, I think I’m not the only one. I think Carpenter’s work has been done a lot, and Friday the 13th has been done a billion times. I guess now they’re moving towards remakes rather than sequels, because at some point you can’t justify another sequel, but you can remake the original, because the audiences have gone through two or three generations. So.

Question: You weren’t involved in the Nightmare thing at all.

Craven: No. You know, when I wrote that, it was kind of an avante-garde film. and nobody in Hollywood thought it was a film worth making at all. Bob Shaye was the only person that right away got it, But he didn’t have, at that time, the wherewithal to finance it for almost three years. So when I did sell it, sold the script, I sold it outright. That was his insistence. I had no choice, oherwise, the film wouldn’t have been made. So unfortunately, I don’t have any ownership in it whatsoever, so they can do whatever they want with it, which is what they’re doing. I haven’t heard from them at all. They’re basically just doing a remake. That’s all I know.

Question: Will you see it?

Craven: That’d be a tough one to re-see. I mean, it was tough for me to see Scary Movie, because they basically just took my shots. It was like – I had done all the hard work, and then I was sort of the laughingstock of it. But, you know, if you move on from the films you’ve made– which I have tried always to move on – then it’s like, that’s in the past. You know, it’s had his life. And if they make a better film, maybe it will eclipse the original. I don’t know. If they don’t, then the original will look even better.

Question: What are the challenges for you as a filmmaker to develop as a filmmaker? I know when I spoke to you at the Red Eye junket, that you said that you really want to try to move on to a different direction. Is that still your intent?

Craven: Yeah. I think 25/8 is very, very different.

Question: Can you tell me what that is?

Craven: Oh, 25/8 is a play on the shorthand of 24/7. And there’s – you know, when you fight the devil, you can fight the devil 24/7, but that’s not enough. You have to fight him 25/8. So it’s a play on that phrase that pops up at the end. And it’s about the son of a serial killer who is schizophrenic, under treatment, and did not know he had one personality that was hidden, that was killing people. And this is the son of that man, and he’s been raised by an aunt who acted like she was his mother to hide him from all of this. And he grows up as kind of the classic innocent. And it’s following him and his six closest friends, who were all born on the same night. And unbeknownst to them, have the souls of each of those personalities. And him kind of piecing together his past about who his father was, and coming to terms with who and what he is, in the course of one day, which is the anniversary day of when this man died. So it has some of the classic aspects of – you know, 16 years ago – it all takes place on his 16th birthday, and the birthday of all the other kids too. And it’s hallucinogenic at some times, and visionary and funny and warm and scary. And it’s all sorts of things. It was just me trying to break the mold, and do something completely different within the genre. And we’ll see how I did. I don’t know. The kids were fantastic. We had some brand new kids, by and large that have not been seen. There’s one girl who did Disney films when she was 13. But a lot of them are first time, and they’re all fabulous. So we’ll just have to see. You know, I’m so far out on a limb on this one, that I have no idea how it’s going to be received. [LAUGHTER]

Question: Is it a studio release here?

Craven: Yeah. It was based on a conversation I had with Andrew Rona, who is the head of Rogue. I’d worked with him through all the Scream’s, because he used to work just beneath Bob Weinstein, so it was basically on the concept and the handshake, off I went to write it. And it was done just about when Last House was going into editing.

Question: Have they spoken to you about revisiting the Scream franchise? Is that ever discussed?

Craven: You know, honestly, it has been briefly discussed and I believe that Kevin Williamson is working on something. I haven’t heard a concept. I basically said, ” Show me a script, and then let’s talk.” So that’s where it’s at.

Question: How has the industry changed in the last three decades, when you were basically looking – I mean, New Line, when you started out, was an independent company, really.

Craven: Yeah. Yeah. Well, in some ways it’s changed, some ways it hasn’t. I mean, I think if you have a history of returning profitable films, they kind of leave you alone. Because they kind of like to think that you’re crazy and they’re not. [LAUGHTER] But – so, so far – like on the remake of Last House and 25/8, I had final cut. So, you have a lot of freedom. And, you know, Rogue, and then Relativity, which is the company who bought them, are pretty independent, and on the verge of being unknown. So it’s been pretty good for me. I can’t complain.

Question: Has the genre changed a lot? Do you have to be mindful of the fact that audiences have become so much more sophisticated, in terms of this particular genre?

Craven: Well, you have to watch that y don’t repeat other people’s work. As much as you have to watch that you don’t repeat your own work, and own shtick, So, you have to go see everything. But I always like to do a film that comes to me as an idea. That – ” Wow, I’ve never seen that. I’d go see that movie.” I mean, literally, that’s kind of when I have that – boing. That’s how it was with 25/8. And that, I always feel safe about.

Question: It must be hard, trying to really come up with something original now that so much stuff is being done, and you want to try to remain an original voice. Is that a challenge?

Craven: Well, it’s a challenge, but it’s not one that I seem to shirk. [LAUGHTER] Shrink from. And so far, I’ve had some pretty good ideas in the course of four decades. So, I like to think I have a couple more good ones in me. You’ll see.

Question: What would you like to do next that you haven’t done yet? Any idea?

Craven: Well, you know, I always would welcome an opportunity to do something that was pure comedy or pure romance. I mean, I got a chance on Paris, je t’aime. I don’t know if you saw that.

Question: And you did Music of the Heart.

Craven: But Paris, je t’aime was nice, because I wrote it, too. And it’s like – you know, it turned out pretty well, as a little romantic comedy. So, you know, I know I can do other sorts of things. I think any director likes to have a variety of things that he or she does and with Red Eye, it was fun just to do a thriller. But, I don’t know. I’m realistic, also and my name means horror, kind of. So I just think to explore different aspects of it that occur to me, that I would be interested in watching. A lot of horror, I just don’t like going to watch it. It’s just kind of – sometimes it’s a very mean sensibility, and I feel like those people don’t like people. [LAUGHTER] I like people. So, I like to have people I can relate to, and they’re bright, vulnerable, and interesting.

Question: What are the release plans for 25/8?

Craven: Some time this fall. There’s no release date yet for it.