Clint Morris goes one-on-one with the horror master
In this day and age, he has the support of the studio, standing and markedly, the bank, to pretty much make anything he wants, but in 1971, Wes Craven was just another youthful nascent filmmaker without a buck to his name and less repute than the first batch of a new amethyst, hungry to point his Nikon at something filmable. CLINT MORRIS chats to the celebrated director about mountaineering “The Hills Have Eyes”.
Wes Craven’s conduit to success was anything but traditional. Craven, raised as a strict Baptist, attended Wheaton College and earned a B.A. in Psychology and Education before going on to earn an M.A. in Philosophy at Johns Hopkins. He’d earn his first meaty paycheque teaching humanities at college.
Craven, always mad about movies growing up, later landed a job as a sound-editor at a post-production company in New York. Being surrounded by movies ultimately raised a bulb above his noggin.
There, he met Sean S.Cunningham, best known these days as the creator of the “Friday the 13th” series, and together they decided to go out on their own and shoot something. The result, the aptly titled “Together” (1972), an X-rated semi-doco, was enough to douse their appetites for filmmaking.
Shortly after, Craven rounded up some cash (a large part being the yield he made on “Together”), a trolley and a lot of enthuse to make his first solo outing – the horror film “Last House on the Left”. Much to his surprise, the film, a reverberating violent rape-revenge flick, reportedly adapted from Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”, was a success. Horror had a new Pop.
Five years later, Craven emerged with another cinematic idea that would have even the chills on your spine trouncing at the rear of the shell.
Scouring through the local library, Craven discovered a “book on English mass murders. There was a chapter on a 16th Century feral tribe known as the Sean Beane Family. They had gone wild several generations ago, lived in a sea cave and attacked and ate travelers between London and Edenbourough. They were undiscovered for many years, and the area they hunted in was thought to be haunted, since travelers would enter and then never be seen again”.
Sounds like a hard sell though? “It wasn’t a hard sell at all”, reveals Craven. “The budget was small- a little over 300 thousand – and there was no studio involved. The budget was raised by the film’s producer, Peter Locke, from sub-distributors who put in ten or twenty thousand each and in return got the show the film in their theaters at bargain rates”.
The film would center on a typical suburban family who gets stranded in the middle of nowhere and encounters a company of flesh-eating cannibals. Michael Berryman, who would later become the fix of the marketing campaign, played the most memorable character, the ferocious Pluto.
Craven says when the actor, who suffers from Hypohidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia, a rare condition leaving him with no sweat glands, hair, fingernails or teeth, walked through the door, he knew he had his rogue. “Michael came in on a routine casting call. As soon as we saw him we hired him, and he became, literally, the poster of the film”.
Craven, who says he wouldn’t change a thing about the film and that he believes “the film works, still, very, very well”, is elated that the new special edition DVD is coming out. “It gets to be brought back to its original clarity and completeness, and of course is preserved in a form that might well outlast its negative”, he says, “which, thank goodness, Peter had the foresight to have preserved in an abandoned salt mine for all these years”.
Nearly thirty years after the initial release of “The Hills Have Eyes”, Wes Craven has bought us some of the most treasured moments in horror – from Freddy Krueger in a “Nightmare On Elm Street” (1984), to the sardonic mask of Ghostface in “Scream” (1996). This year saw the release of two of his films, the widely panned and relentlessly problematic werewolf movie “Cursed”, and the acclaimed thriller “Red Eye”.
After the former crashed and burned at the box office, the triumph of “Red Eye” would’ve been a good feeling for Craven. “Not good, great! It restored all of our confidence in the fun of making a really good movie and having an appreciative audience”, exclaims Craven.
The success of “Red Eye” has made Craven hotter-than-a-pizza-pocket again.
“Many offers have come in since the release of Red Eye, and many of those are either thriller or action scripts. I’ve not chosen what I want to do next, but the offers are for films that have budgets up to 100 thousand, which is unprecedented for me. One thing I have signed on for is the creation of a project called “Wes Craven’s Magick Macabre” which will be an expansion of a fierce talented magician’s macabre magic show he opened a few years ago in Dublin. The rights to the show were purchased by John McCulgan, the creator of Riverdance, and he has hired me to build it into a huge Las Vegas show with big illusions, scares, mystery and spectacle. Obviously it’s the first time I’ve done anything for the stage, let alone Vegas, so it’s very exciting and fun”.
As for those rumours of a “Scream 4”? It may indeed be happening, and with several returning stars, but he’s yet to receive a call from The Weinstein’s begging him back to direct. “I’ve only heard about it through reporters asking me about it”, says Craven, whose always believed that the “Scream” series was a good trilogy and shouldn’t prolong.
And with that the director pulls his Christmas jumper back over his undersized frame, throws his backpack of bones over his body, and walks to the nearest phone booth to pop-quiz a forlorn teenager on her love of horror movies. Or maybe that’s just what we presume this master-of-fright would do?
THE HILLS HAVE EYES is now out on DVD
WIN : HILLS HAVE EYES on DVD
Thanks to our friends at Umbrella Entertainment, We have 5 copies of the fabbo “Hills Have Eyes” DVD to give away. The awesome 2-disc offering includes commentary, numerous featurettes and more. To Win, Email Me your name, address and the answer to this question : Name one star who is rumoured to be returning for “Scream 4”? NB : You must be located in Australia.