The iconic horror director talks about writing and directing his brand new horror film
I wonder how many people, in one of those word association games, if you said the word "horror" would say the name Wes Craven first. The man has been a horror icon since he first burst onto the scene with the 1977 classic The Hills Have Eyes and the genre hasn't been the same ever since. Craven was at the San Diego Comic-Con to talk about his brand new film, 25/8 a film which he also wrote. I was invited to a roundtable interview session with the Master of Horror and here's what he had to say about his brand new horror film.
This is an unorthodox idea for a horror movie. Can you tell us how you came up with this idea?
Wes Craven: I wish I could. I mean, it just came to me. It's what I call my "shower thoughts," when I just occasionally have an idea and you just have to jump out of the shower and write it down. So, it just came to me and, I don't know why. It's this normal guy. He has schizophrenia but he's completely under treatment. They've identified all the personalities within him. They're all relatively benign. They have an agreement. His psychiatrist speaks to them through hypnosis. He leads a very normal life. He hasn't even told his wife about his condition. There are a series of serial murders taken place in the town and it's never occurred to him that he might be a part of it. He's in his workshop and he finds a bloody knife that matches the one that people describe as being the killer's. He hears the voice speak for the first time as the killer that's been using him as his conveyance and says, 'If you tell anybody I'll kill your family.' So, that's how it starts and the main story is about the son of this man who dies in the first act, and the souls of each of the personalities, plus the soul of the child go into the seven children born that night. The son was one of them. He was rescued from his dead mother's belly. The man threatens to come back and kill them all, because each of the personalities helped turn him in. None of these kids know any of this. It's all been kept from them by their parents so they can lead normal lives. It's the night of all of their 16th birthday when it all happens and he makes his move. The title comes from, again, it was just an idea, but the idea was if you want to fight the devil, the devil fights 24/7 so if you want to win you have to fight 25/8 to do it. It was kind of a working title. Originally it was called Bug, about the title character and then Friedken came out with a movie of that title so I had to change it. We just took the phrase from a line in the film.
You've had a great relationship with other screenwriters for a while. What's it like to get back to writing yourself again?
Wes Craven: It felt like the smart move to make and, also, I just love the idea. I had some time and I just took three months and wrote it. I look back in the films in my career, the Scream series and Red Eye and things like that were written by others and they were a pleasure to direct. But the films that really are vintage Wes Craven stuff is stuff I've written myself. I just felt it's time to get back to the roots here and be a complete filmmaker, directing things you wrote yourself. It just makes things more personal, just a little bit deeper.
This seems to share themes with "Nightmare on Elm Street"
Wes Craven: Yeah, in that it's much more about the search for the father and, specifically, who was this kid's father because he was born the night his father died, basically, and how much his father's madness might or might not have gotten into him. Through the course of the film, you don't know if the father survived that night and he's out killing people or if the kid's the killer.
This doesn't seem like a very gory film. Is there much violence in it and is this going to be rated R or PG-13?
Wes Craven: No, it's definitely R. It's not a bloodbath but, you know, six or seven people die... and not pleasantly.
How much of the effects were CGI as opposed to practical effects?
Wes Craven: The majority of it was practical. Although, in some cases now, it's so easy to do CGI blood for bullet hits and things like that. It saves a lot of time to just do it in post, so there is some of that, just because it saves a lot of time. Blood, I don't know if you've been around a horror shoot, but with blood, everything grinds to a halt. Take 2 is a complete wardrobe change and, mostly, that's what we did on this one too, but there are some, mostly bullet hits. If somebody get shot in the head, things like that.
Story-wise, you have these children who have all these multiple personalities out there. Are all these kids all aware of each other? Are they all friends?
Wes Craven: Yeah, they're all friends because it's a small town and, because of this fluke event, most of them were premature. These seven souls going up there kind of precipitated so some of the mothers were two or three months early. As far as the kids are concerned, that's basically all they know. Their parents have kept it quiet. The community doesn't want it to be known as a community with these horrible events and they've kind of sat on it all too. The kid who is the son of this man doesn't know that he is. His parents got together and he was adopted by the sister, so he thinks his mother is actually his aunt. It's really the dawning of the awareness, especially by this kid played by Max (Theriot), of what he is and what his heritage is.
Can you tell us a little about your cast?
Wes Craven: Yeah. My memory is so bad I'm going to have to read the last names. Max, I'm still struggling with how to correctly pronounce his name. He's our lead and it's kind of an interesting story. He was cast at the last second, because we had Henry Hopper. I discovered this kid at a party, actually, for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He was with his dad (Dennis Hopper) and he's what I thought the central character would look like. So he was going to be our lead and at the last minute he got mono and was out of it so we had to go out and cast Max over a weekend, the weekend before we started shooting. He just turned out to be incredible. Just wonderful, I can't say enough about him.
Are you looking to be involved in the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake?
Wes Craven: I had heard that they were doing it and that's as much as I know. I don't even know who's doing it because Bob Shaye is not at New Line anymore. I don't know who's doing it or who owns the rights.
Andrew Form and Brad Fuller from Platinum Dunes.
Wes Craven: I've never been approached.
Would you be involved if they asked?
Wes Craven: It would have to be a pretty good deal, with controls and script and everything else. I mean, after having written something again, it's like why? Why go back to something that somebody else owns?
Jamie Kennedy is pretty adamant that you're involved in Scream 4.
Wes Craven: Jamie Kennedy? Would he ever lie about anything? (Laughs) No, I have heard that Bob Weinstein is thinking about it. I think he has asked around the agency whether I'd be interested but I don't think, right now, anything's official, but I have heard that he's seriously thinking about it.
What do you think of these remakes of your films?
Wes Craven: Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think, 'Should I be doing this? Am I destroying my own heritage?' Then I just go, 'Grow up.' Those films are out there. I think they are an opportunity to give young filmmakers a chance and, financially, frankly, there's only a very few films that I have ownership in. The Hills Have Eyes was basically done with friends so it was like a 50/50 deal, handshake. A Nightmare On Elm Street was supposed to be that deal but it turns out I was naive in that case. So those films, after 30 years, we have ownership of them again. When we made that deal back then, we never thought we'd live to be 30 years beyond where we were then. Suddenly it was like, 'Man, we own it. Lets remake it.'
How are things with People Under the Stairs and Shocker?
Wes Craven:People Under the Stairs is, I would say, likely. Shocker, maybe, maybe not. It wasn't a film that got as much recognition with audiences than Stairs did. People Under the Stairs could be the next remake.
Is there a release date set for 25/8 yet?
Wes Craven: No. We'll be done sometime in early January, so it'll be sometime after that. It just depends on Rouge's schedule, I guess.
Is this a stand-alone film, or could this maybe be the beginning of another franchise?
Wes Craven: It was certainly written as a stand-alone. I've always said that I don't think you need a hook at the end of the film, so that's the sequel hook. A Nightmare On Elm Street wasn't written as a thing to generate sequels, but Bob Shaye saw that immediately and had me do that whole scene at the end. Not everybody's dead at the end (in 25/8), so I suppose you could say yeah.
How do you approach post-production and editing?
Wes Craven: That's kind of where I started. My first jobs were in the editing room and I learned basic filmmaking from Sean Cunningham the film before Last House on the Left. I cut my first films too, so I think it's enormously important and I'm there every day. It's not like I check in once a week or something like that. A huge amount of the film's rhythm and focus comes from basically checking every shot and going through all the dailies and going from there. Probably, 40-50 percent of what makes my films my films is rhythms and pace and the choices you make in the editing room, so it's hugely important.
You've said that this is some of the best work you've ever done. What is it about this film that's so special to you?
Wes Craven: I had this sort of rule of thumb, when I think about writing a film or chosing a film to direct. One is have I seen this before, if it's just derivative or if somebody else has already done it, in which case I rule it out. Second, is if I would go see it in the theater, if it was out right now. So, it was those two things and I get excited. When I had this idea, I couldn't think of another film that was like this. It just was very personal to me, in some ways. My father died when I was 4, so just enough to have some vague memories of him, but not enough to have a sense of who he was or what he thought of me so, a film about a son trying to figure out who his father was and what influence his father had, is very personal to me. My father wasn't a serial killer, but that kind of thing felt like I know this kid.
Look for 25/8 in theaters sometime next year. We'll be sure to keep you updated on the release status of this new horror film from one of the genre's all-time greats.