WES CRAVEN. PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID SLADE
Wes Craven is undoubtedly the master of horror. For three decades, the director and writer behind such classics as The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and A Nightmare on Elm Street has made moviegoers cringe, laugh and, of course, scream.
In 1996, Craven teamed up with writer Kevin Williamson and directed Scream, a self-aware horror-comedy hybrid so successful it redefined the horror-movie genre. Three installments later and after the franchise’s ten-year hiatus, Craven is back with Scream 4, bearing the fresh and fitting tagline: “New decade. New rules.” Audiences across the world have come to expect something unique and original from Craven, and he’s fully prepared to raise the bar once again. “You have to come back with something worthy of coming back,” said Craven. “You’re addressing a generation of young fans, but also the generation that has gone with you for three, as well as a decade worth of other films. You have to be as good as or better than all those films.” Craven spoke to Interview about Scream, Tweeting from the film set, and how he would like to be killed in a scary movie.
STEVEN PRIGGE: What made you revisit the Scream franchise after a decade-long hiatus?
WES CRAVEN: After Scream 3, we didn’t want to do another one for a good amount of time because we didn’t want it to seem like we were just cranking out sequels. But after ten years, and the sort of distinctiveness of the first decade of the 21st century, with the explosion of personal devices that allow blogging and video uploading so easily, this was a whole new world.
PRIGGE: You were Tweeting during the process of making Scream. Not many directors at your level are doing that. What was that experience like for you?
CRAVEN: It’s a lot of fun. I was stunned by the amount of interest out there and how quickly responses would come back—sometimes within seconds from Europe and Eastern Europe. The scope of the audience that was ready to communicate on that level was remarkable. It was a great way to let the audience know that we were out there working and very excited about what we were doing.PRIGGE: Do you think Ghostface should have a Twitter account?
CRAVEN: [laughs] I don’t know. I think maybe Ghostface should be kept serious business, in a way.
PRIGGE: When the first Scream came out, it revived the horror genre. What type of effect do you hope this installment will have?
CRAVEN: I think it will be sort of a challenge for the genre to reboot itself a bit, and not just continue with sequels and remakes. Start this new decade with something that’s fresh and different, devoted to the here and now, as opposed to what worked in the last decade.
PRIGGE: If people walked out of one of your horror movies because it was too scary, would that make you feel good or bad?
CRAVEN: That would make me feel great! One of the things you are promising the audience is that it’s so scary that you can hardly watch. I don’t particularly want to do something that the audience will leave in disgust or anything like that. I remember going to see my friend Sean Cunningham’s movie Friday the 13th, and people were jumping and running up the aisle screaming and laughing at the same time. You turned around, and they were peeking through the door of the theater from the lobby. That’s great excitement! I think Scream delivers that along with a lot of other fun things—things that make you think and make you laugh.
PRIGGE: At the screening of Scream 4, there were as many screams from the audience as there were laughs. Is the comedy already in the script, or is that something you bring as a director with your style?
CRAVEN: I think it’s both, but I certainly bring a lot of it myself, if I may say so. When people get scared, they quite often will start cracking jokes or crack a joke about it right afterwards. So in that sense, I think it’s natural. You also have to constantly watch yourself that you don’t slip into something that’s self-parody.
PRIGGE: I heard that the horror genre was not your first choice as a director when you were starting out. Have you grown to enjoy it over the years?
CRAVEN: Yes, very much. Scream is a great example of something that is very innovative and has drawn top talent, inspired by great scripts written by Kevin. It has allowed me to do some of my best work and most popular work. Kevin is a great writer, and I love doing his material. I also like doing films that I write myself.
PRIGGE: You cast various actors and during the course of the film work closely with them. Do you feel bad when you have to kill them off?
CRAVEN: Yes, I do! The day we killed Jamie Kennedy it was like, “Oh, God!” You realize that every time you do that, in a sense you’re destroying a huge resource. Drew Barrymore could have gone through the whole series. But there’s also something delightfully ruthless about knocking off a character that is being played by an actor who is extraordinary.
PRIGGE: Scream has such a strong pre-existing fan base, which is eagerly anticipating this latest installment. Do you find it more difficult to do a sequel like this as opposed to doing something completely new?
CRAVEN: Well, not in an odious way. You certainly have an enormous amount of attention directed towards you. Every glimpse of footage that might sneak out in a trailer is analyzed, reanalyzed, and reanalyzed again, so that you’re careful that you don’t give away the plot. We had the extraordinary situation on this film where we didn’t feel safe using pages from the script for our casting sessions. Believe it or not, all of our casting sessions were done with pages from Scream 1. In some cases, it was quite bizarre. But you see hundreds of actors and somebody could go home and put it on the Internet, especially when they realize they didn’t get the role. At this point, there have been many opportunities where people in test audiences could have given away secrets of the film. We very pointedly asked them not to because it was very much our wish that the secrets be kept until the audience sees it in the theater. And, by and large, I think people honored that. For me, it was really heartening.
PRIGGE: If you were cast in a scary movie, how would you like to die?
CRAVEN: [laughs] I think to be killed by a room full of Chihuahuas. Fifty of them come in and just completely devour me. That sounds interesting.
SCREAM 4 COMES OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON APRIL 15.