Wes Craven has made some of the best horror films of all time
(A Nightmare on Elm Street) and some of the worst (Deadly
Friend). From his first film (the infamous Last House on
the Left) to his latest (the pop phenomenon Scream),
Craven has, above all, maintained a steadfast dedication to the
genre that helped spawn him. Scream reopened last weekend
in theaters thanks to Miramax Films. The sly horror parody has
raked in more than $86 million, making it one of the highest grossing
horror films ever.
Throughout your career, you've worked exclusively within the
genre of horror. What is it about horror that attracts human beings?
I think fear is one of the primal hurdles in life. It's one that
we don't like to think about too much. But I think, quite often,
there's this very very ancient need to face up to fears--sometimes
it's a roller coaster, sometimes it's rock climbing, sometimes
it's going to a movie and seeing things about very deep psychological
For at least the past several years, the prevailing wisdom
in Hollywood has been--and the box office has supported the theory--that
horror is a dead genre. True or false?
Well, it's kind of been betrayed by the success of Scream.
It outgrossed a lot of the big Hollywood pictures this year. So
if that's dead, I'll do more of it. I think what happens in horror
is that there's not many people practicing it that do it well.
But there are a tremendous amount of imitators--usually thrown
together by the studios who want to make a quick buck. Usually
after a really good film, Hollywood will go out and copy it to
death. It takes a while to come up with a totally fresh idea.
And I do think there was a sort of a lull in the (horror) market.
But, you know, people told me the same thing before I made Last
House on the Left, the same thing when I made Nightmare
on Elm Street: There's no more interest in horror. But when
you do a good original film, lo and behold, the audience comes
out in droves. I just think that for any good film--where there's
really strong word-of-mouth, and people go back and talk about
it over the water cooler at lunch--the film will do very well.
And horror is no exception to that.
What was it about Scream that broke that box office
stigma against horror films?
It's kind of a horror film, but when you really look at it more
closely it's a thriller, it's a murder mystery. It's in some ways
a send-up of the most cliched and hackneyed aspects of the horror
genre, it's a look at the audience that talks about specific films,
so you're sort of in a film within a film. There's a great deal
about it that's really intriguing--to say nothing about the fact
that it's exciting, scary and funny. All those things in combination
is really quite rare.
Between your two most recent films, Wes Craven's New Nightmare
and Scream, you've obviously been developing a new direction
toward the existential horror film--the post-modern horror film,
if you will. Is that something you're striving for?
Well, there's been a lot of thought recently--and this is coming
from an ex-Humanities professor--in modern literary criticism,
in psychology, on the examination of the narrative of people's
lives as a way of defining who they are and what the culture (around
them) is. I'm just becoming more and more aware that horror films
and movies in general are part of the profound expression of a
society--in a way that the society identifies itself and also
perceives of its sense of reality. The two sort of cross-fertilize
each other a great deal. So it felt incomplete to do a film without
taking into account that any characters in the film would be seeing
films and talking about films a great deal, especially if they're
teenagers. It was just a natural progression to follow. The same
thing with New Nightmare. When they asked me to bring Freddy
back, the only way I could think of doing it was to do a film
that jumped outside the fence of a movie that somehow existed
in a complete vacuum of real life and do it about people that
really had worked on the film. So it's just part of a general
intellectual climate that's going on with a lot of artists and
One of the more interesting trends these days is the obsession
with the end of the millennium and how that is weighing on people's
psyches. Is that something that interests you?
Yeah it does. I'm fascinated by it. I've been reading a lot about
end of century and end of millennial cultures. Some very interesting
things have happened in history. In the 1690s, the Salem Witch
Trials were taking place and there were witch trials in many other
places. At the end of the 19th century, there was a huge surge
of what they call neurasthenia, which was sort of nervous breakdown.
(That was) the first time that concept came around. People felt
overwhelmed by the civilization of the machine. Actually, I ran
across some interesting stories of people being fascinated about
being in train wrecks. It reminded me of (David) Cronenberg's
Crash. It's (all about) confusion and feeling like civilization
is outstripping you. And certainly with the recent events with
the Heaven's Gate cult, we see extraordinary events like that
taking place in our century, too. I think we will find that as
we get closer and closer to the end of the century, there will
be kind of extreme psychological situations and hysteria of one
sort or another.
Is that something you might address in film one day?
Well, yeah. Even in Scream the character says, "We
don't need motives, it's the millennium." I think there is
that sense with kids that they're coming to the end times. I think
once we get into the next century, everybody will relax and say,
"Oh, we're not all dead." Yeah, I'm very interested
in that and I think I will be dealing with it in subsequent films.
Somebody actually approached me to do a film called Wes Craven's
Millennium. I was too tied up with this deal with Miramax
to pursue it. It was another studio.
You've worked with both of them. I guess you're the expert.
How do you tell the difference between Johnny Depp and Skeet Ulrich?
(Laughs) It's funny, I've been asked a lot about that question.
I didn't really see Skeet as being that much like Johnny. He has
I guess a little bit of that sort of langour and sulkiness and
sensuality to him. But I think he's very much his own man. I think
that will fall away from him, that comparison. He's got a lot
of really fine qualities to him. The role in Scream was
very difficult because he had to go in and out of being a suspect
about four times, and, each time, when you were convinced he did
it, you had to sort of be convinced again that he was quite reliable.
That was a very tricky acting role that he did, and he really
threw himself into it with great intelligence. He had a lot of
wonderful suggestions. I was very impressed by him.
You've had quite a background in working with Hollywood's up
and coming young actors.
They're fun. They've got a lot of energy. They're open to direction.
And you get to see people very early in their careers. I mean,
I directed Sharon Stone in her first speaking role. Johnny Depp.
Bruce Willis--when he first came to town, I did a "Twilight
Zone" with him. He was totally unknown. So it's fun to see
them become huge stars later.
Are you committed to working on a Scream 2 now?
Yes, I do have that contract to do Scream 2 starting shooting
around June 15 for Christmas release. And then a second film,
which is going to be completely out of the genre and something
I've wanted to do for years. Kind of an art house film about a
New York school teacher that teaches classical violin to East
Harlem kids. It's based on an actual woman's life. There was a
documentary on her called Small Wonders that was out last
year which was nominated for an Academy Award. It's going to be
a fictionalized version of her life. It's something I wanted to
do for years. With the success of Scream, I was able to
negotiate that as part of my contract with Miramax. We have a
multiple picture deal with them now. And frankly, they were very
interested in seeing what I would do with that.