Wes Craven – Master of Horror

The godfather of horror films is back again, but this time, he’s teamed up with his son. After creating horror classics such as the A Nightmare on Elm Street collection and the Scream trilogy, Wes Craven brings us the sequel to last year’s remake of his 1977 original The Hills Have Eyes. The Concordian’s Annie Briard was invited to join the Cravens’ phone conference and get you the inside details. Here are some of the questions that were asked:

What family was the inspiration for the original The Hills Have Eyes?

Wes Craven: Well, it was based on a family I believe from the 1600s called the Sawney Bean family – the book that I found it in way back when was called Murder and Mayhem in England, I believe, and it had a chapter on this feral family of people who had gone wild and lived in an area between Scotland and London that was thought to be haunted. Travelers were advised not to go through this shortcut, but one couple did and one of them was pulled off her horse and taken away and the other escaped and went back to London. He was able to bring a search party back and they found this [cannibalistic] family that was living in a sea cave and there were barrels of brine which were used to preserve [body parts]. So they took them back to London and the royal court devised a long series of tortures and dismemberments and that finally ended in all of their deaths. The irony of that – how first you have this wild family that are obviously seen as being evil – and then they go back and are treated just as savagely by the civilized people. So it just seemed like it had a great irony and shape to it.

What would you think are the differences between Hills Have Eyes and Hills Have Eyes 2?

Jonathan Craven: Last year’s story was about a family who was way out of their element, and there was a baby that was taken and members of the family that were killed. This year’s movie is more about the family of a small military unit and in that first movie a lot of the horror came from the idea that these terrible things might befall a family. In this one you have this group of people that you care about but the horror is ratcheted up considerably and it’s just sort of relentless.

WC: Well, last year’s had a lot of major elements that were from the original film, and this one is completely unique story.

How was it shooting in Morocco?

JC: We had a seven-week schedule and we did about half in Moroccan hills, which are very old, jagged rocky crazy ominous hills with cobras and scorpions everywhere. We had a guy who was on set all day and would get there an hour before us to pluck the cobras and scorpions out of the cracks in the rocks, and he kept them in a cardboard box about 50 feet from the set so you could walk over and see what he’s caught that day. And then he’d sell them to snake charmers. [laughs] No! it’s really true!

The original Hills 2 involved motor cross racers, whereas the remake deals with national guardsmen, is this in any way correlated to the situation the States are facing both overseas and at home?

WC: You know, I think there is an obvious parallel, it’s not one we sat down to totally exploit, although there was an original spitball session with the studio and with the original kind of principles on the remake where we were talking about ideas and one of them was a national guard troupe ending up going in there. [We weren’t going about it to say anything] political and saying that we should or shouldn’t be involved in the things we’re in, but just the interesting and heartbreaking aspect of American kids in situations they could never have predicted to be facing and having them to improvise their own defence, as to you know, using things from their training necessarily.

JC: A lot of that came organically from the fact that the first Hills takes place in some military base, and we just thought that it was a sort of obvious thing that could follow, that people who were training on the base encountered the hills people and once we started beating that out, beating that story out, we realized we were working with a strong metaphor story-wise and, that said, I don’t think we necessarily set out to do something political, but you know you just couldn’t avoid the obvious parallels of horror on the pages we were writing and horror on the pages of the newspaper.

How was it working together on this new film?

JC: We didn’t have a lot of time and, we just attacked it relentlessly and . I’ve worked with writing partners before but, weirdly, I’ve never had a smoother writing experiencing. We found an idea we were both very excited about and basically sat in a room for a month and pounded out a first draft and you know the walls were covered with blood and gristle – (W: mostly his blood!) – and guts, from what we were writing, but we got along great and had a great time. I think when you write stuff that’s scary that you like, you tend to laugh, kind of like a gallows humour, and there was a lot of that kind of “oh my god, that’s a great idea, that’s so upsetting and horrible.” [laughter.]

WC: And Jonathan also became a father about two years ago, so we both would have conversations about being a father in between writing, it was a new thing for us. So it was two writers, and two dads writing, a father-son thing most of the time so I think that helped a lot and made it unique. It was the most time we’ve spent together I’m sure, for decades, so that was great also.

Do you have any golden rules that you follow when you create your horror movies?

WC: Don’t kill the camera man. No, I guess the two basic rules that I try to follow is “would I like to see this movie myself if someone described it to me,” and “have I seen another movie like it?” and if the answer is no, I’ve never seen anything like this, and I would really go out of my way to see this film, that’s what I shoot for. And that just keeps it fresh and keeps it original.

What are your favourite horror movies?

WC: One would be the high end kind of Billy Friedkin’s Exorcist, or the original Alien. I think they might not be sold as horror to most people, but to me is was like a brilliant look at the horrific possibilities of the future that were really interesting. I think Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a great sample of a film that’s made with a very low budget but just has a tremendous energy. I would say the same about Hostel also, although Texas Chainsaw was back when almost nobody had made anything at all like that.

JC: Hills Have Eyes, baby! There’s one!

What are your opinions on post-2000 horror movies?

WC: I think, thankfully they’ve gone past the PG-13 remake of Japanese ghost stories that was kind of the little wave of studio productions at the turn of the century, where everyone wanted to play it safe. I think we’re back to very hard hitting bare knuckles sort of horror films and that very much is the result of the situation where the society and the adventurism of the States have gotten us into some real trouble. That sense of realizing more of U.S. know-how is not working, and you have a situation that’s chaotic and out of control and very painful and very expensive personally to a lot of the American public. That’s the context that has created Night of the Living Dead last decade, and today brings in things like Hostel and Saw, which are very in-your-face horror, because the situation is so horrific in this war. You know, you can go on the Internet, as Jonathan once said, and see someone get their head sawed off for real – and those are the guys we’re fighting.

What is one project that you’re dying to do?

WC: The Donald Trump story [laughs] we’d give him some kind of weapon but mostly he just kills people with his hair.

Catch the horror with Fox Atomic’s
The Hills Have Eyes 2
in theatres everywhere March 23.


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