No director in recent history has made their particular genre as much their own as Wes Craven. The legendary helmer virtually redefined the horror movies with the likes of The Hills Have Eyes and The Nightmare on Elm Street. His very first film was the horrifically violent box-office smash The Last House on the Left. Unlike Elm Street – which is being reinvented without any input from Craven – Last House is being remade with the director’s blessing, under the stewardship of Dennis Iliadis, and hits UK screens this Friday. RT had some time with Craven, and with the scaremongering legend on the other end of our phone, we just couldn’t resist asking him for his five favourite films.
“Firstly I’m going to go for The Virgin Spring. It’s a film that may surprise people but it really had an impact on me and I was just amazed by it. I saw it in a relatively short period of my life when I was teaching at college. When I was younger I hadn’t been allowed to watch any because I went to a Baptist College, but by this time I had put the religion behind me and that was one of the first art films I saw and I was very impressed by it. I mean, I could list you a dozen movies from that era by European by European film directors by Godard, Truffaut – Breathless, 400 Blows, all those wonderful European movies.”
“Thinking about my upbringing, this was actually one of the first movies I saw. I was about 15. I was always told that films were evil and such, but I started to realise what a load of crap it was that something this good should be forbidden. I had been allowed to read as much as I wanted when I was younger, so I recognised great art when I saw it, I just didn’t realise it would be at the cinema as well. And so I walked away from that. To Kill a Mockingbird was so important because it was such adult film-making – to see something that dealt with such an important issue and had such an enlightened outlook on the world.”
“For some reason. I think the combination of the gruff, tyrannical old man pursuing the unruly, rebellious son really appeals to me. The scenario is, in some odd way, almost as scary as Freddy Krueger, you know! The evil father is an idea that’s really fascinating to me. Hawks is great, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Big Sleep… He could do the Salt-of-the-Earth very well. He was a very smooth director; a very good film architect in terms of his storytelling. That’s how he constructed this film, and got so deep into the characters.”
“I saw this movie when it first came out and at that point I’d never see a horror film, believe it or not! I had a girlfriend at the time, she was an anthropology student, and she said, ‘I heard there’s this new film called Night of the Living Dead, c’mon lets go.’ Eventually we left and when we got there the theatre was buzzing before the film even started. And then it starts, and we’re in the cemetery with the brothers and sisters bickering and then the zombie lurches towards them! Some people are screaming, some were saying the lines of the characters and suddenly I was swept into it and jumping and laughing and afraid, and I realised that this guy Romero was incredible.
“It also made me realise that with a genre film, as long as it scared you, you could say anything; about politics, about psychology. It made me realise as well that fear is one of the primary thresholds you experience things through. Fear of anything – even sex – is scary! The first time you do it you’re like, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing? Am I going to fail?’ And you get through it and you realise it’s a wonderful thing. That’s what’s great about the horror genre is that you’re getting a load of people together in the cinema at the same place and the same time, having them all experience extreme fear, and come out alive at the end. It’s an uplifting experience and there’s a sense of elation.”
“This really scared me coming out of it. You knew it was made for 10 cents – that was obvious – but it actually had some fabulous performances. Some of the moments – like when Leatherface kicks open the door and comes after them – I mean your blood just runs cold. It was just amazingly visceral visual storytelling. A few years earlier, I was at college and I wrote a synopsis for a novel and my teacher feedback was “this would make a great movie!” And I was crestfallen, but it made me realise I had a great visual imagination as well, and for years I fought it but eventually realised that was the thing I could do.”