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Wes Craven on the disturbed dreams of a society
I don't like horror movies but I love horror movie directors -- those chroniclers of terror who take a nation's subconscious fears, distill them and reflect them back (mostly to teenage boys) on a large glowing screen. They are a thoughtful bunch in general, enthusiastic and serious about their craft, devoted students of their genre.
So when I was offered an interview with Wes Craven, a former English professor who is responsible for horror classics like "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Last House on the Left," and "Scream," I jumped at the chance.
Craven has been in the business so long that he is now watching movies he made in the '70s get remade by young directors. Last year a remake of his 1977 film "The Hills Have Eyes" did well at the box office, and a sequel to that film, which he penned with his son, opens in theaters this week.
His new film is the story of a group of young National Guardsmen who are dispatched to the desert where a couple of murders have recently taken place. They find themselves poorly trained, terrified, and facing an enemy much more savvy than what they had expected. Is it any wonder that the interview quickly took on political overtones?
Latimes.com: You have an amazing legacy of figuring out exactly what people are scared of at a given moment in time. What do you think is scary today?
WC: The current administration. That's the standard answer now. Unfortunately I'm not even joking. But the basic themes of what is scary have always been the same. A murderous rage that builds up in a family, a neighborhood or a nation, those are things I think are scary.
Latimes.com: It seems to me that the best horror films tap into a nation's unconscious fear. Do you think most horror films in the next few years will touch on issues of war?
WC: It doesn't have to be about this war, but it did end up to be in our case. We liked the idea of people just starting to be National Guardsmen and not intending to get into that situation. They think it is just a rescue mission and then they are in so far over their head they can't believe it. Politics aside it seemed like a really good idea for a horror film.
Latimes.com: That sounds so blatantly political. Did you set out to make a political statement with this movie?
WC: Neither one of us thought lets do a political movie, but the war was in the news and in our thoughts. Four of my nieces and nephews kids are involved in this war, so it is very close to home for me. And as we started to bantering ideas around we both liked this idea.
Latimes.com: Do you feel a lot of recent horror films have been political, do you think more will be?
WC: I don't know if all of the films of the decade will be about this war
I'm sure they won't be. But it is interesting what kinds of films they have been so far. A lot of films have been about torture which is a huge thing not only in the news but the dawning realization of what really goes on to maintain power and safety in the world.
Latimes.com: Movies like "Hostel" and "Saw" seem to be so obviously reflecting real life horrors like the pictures from Abu Ghraib. Do you think audiences think about when they watch these films?
WC: My hunch is that most of the audience doesn't go to that next step, but the movie rings true or has some relevance that is important to them. I get a lot of feedback from people that get the big picture, but when I go to the theater to see the audience they come out of the movie laughing, like people coming off a roller coaster. Some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.