Interview: Wes Craven
In 1972 Wes Craven directed The Last House on the Left, a brutal no budget movie that was impossible to ignore. It sent shockwaves though the world of underground cinema with its gritty and violent tale of revenge. It also started the career of one of the great horror directors of our time with Craven going on to direct such classics as Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and Scream. Below Craven himself explains his roll in this year’s remake as Last House on the Left (2009) hits DVD
The Last House on the Left was your first movie, shot in Super 6 and with a very low budget in 1972. How have you changed since then?
I would like to think that I have acquired some wisdom along the way …
How did the idea of making a remake come about?
The original contract stated that I would recover the rights to the movie after 30 years; and when that happened I began to entertain the idea of shooting a remake. I think I had done enough films that had made their mark to take this old movie of mine and do it again.
The story is still very relevant today.
It’s an old story and yet a perennial one too, as it is about a good family defending their house and their lives.
And it is also about revenge.
Which is a very dangerous cookie to start eating …
In The Last House on the Left and other movies you analyze how peaceful and good people can become violent when pushed to the extreme; which is a concept that also appears in films like Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Is that a subject that interests you?
I believe that anybody with resources could go there. Most of us can come up with a lot more than we think; but it’s something none of us know until we are thrown into the situation.
So, do we all have a dark side then?
Yes we do, because after all we come from primates and they are violent. Some people may not want to face it, but the fact is that we have a violent side. Much of Nature is governed by violence and is about who survives and who doesn’t.
Why didn’t you direct this film yourself?
Because I had already done it and, once we had determined that Dennis [Iliadis] was the right man for the job, I had the confidence as producer to have him direct it. So, we gave him the space he needed to make his own film within the parameters of the budget.
What made Dennis Iliadis the right man for the job?
I chose him because of Hardcore, the previous and first film he had directed, because I thought it was a remarkable movie.
You are always looking for new talent and supporting young filmmakers.
I am constantly looking anywhere for new talented directors I can afford.
The horror genre has been very successful throughout the history of cinema. Why do you believe we like to be scared in a theatre?
We are all in a way kind of living a horror film and moving towards death. The audience brings their real fear with them, and there is something about sharing it with other people in the safety of a theatre.
The Last House on the Left is perfectly cast. How involved were you in that process?
All those names came across my desk and I agreed to them because they were right for their roles.
Garret Dillahunt is very convincing as Krug, the villain of the story.
And when you meet him it’s hard to believe, because he is so nice; but he brought the nuance we wanted for the role.
How would you describe that key character?
In The Last House on the Left I was not only interested in exploring the darker side of good people, but also the lighter side of bad people. And Krug is a broken man that will eventually loose the respect of everyone that’s on his side, including himself. He is kind of a dying soul by the time he goes into that house, while desperately trying to act like he’s normal; but he knows he isn’t.
Then you have Sara Paxton playing Mari, the opposite pole to Krug and probably the most pure and innocent character in the film. And the truth is that she also delivers an extraordinary and mature performance -especially for someone that young.
There is a moment where this massive change that had to take place for her was just on her face in the most miraculous way without a word being spoken. It is the most stunning shot I have seen in a movie for a long time.
Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter are great as Mari’s parents.
They work very well as a couple, and the look on their faces when he tells her that they have to do anything to save their daughter is really extraordinary!
But The Last House on the Left also has some beautiful and delicate moments.
Yes, and you may think they have nothing to do with the film, though the truth is that they do; which is something I give the director credit for.
Would you have directed this movie differently?
I think Dennis has done a great job; and even though there are things I probably would have done differently, I look at the film and recognize he has something special. He has elevated the movie to a remarkable level.
In other films you have successfully blended terror with humor, but here you have chosen not to go down that road.
I think you have a moral fortitude in a film like The Last House on the Left to keep it serious, because it is so intense. And you need to be able to go inside yourself to find those dark places and be willing to put them out there.
What was the energy like on set?
On set we didn’t take ourselves that seriously.
Being such a sensitive and soft-spoken man, how do you come up with these horrific stories?
I have been badly frightened in my life. My father was very scary and I grew up during World War II, in a very violent world. And I went to tough schools, where people carried guns and knives, even though I was a sensitive kid. I think that precisely horror directors are not the ones that are monsters, but just little kids that are scared and get to exorcise their demons in this way. A cinema is the perfect place to let them out, as it is safe and nobody gets hurt; which is something that in a way has been going on in the arts since the Greek theatre. But you need to let them out, because if you don’t they could come out the wrong way. It’s always the boy scout who climbs a tower and starts shooting people with a rifle.
What should we expect from the DVD release of the The Last House on the Left?
A lot! There are things that Dennis had to cut out in the theatrical movie that will be included. It should be very interesting.
How do DVDs help us view films we hadn’t been able to see yet, or rediscover and learn more about the ones we like?
DVDs help us enormously. And in a way they take anybody who has the time and willingness to see them to film school on your movie. The commentaries are very helpful, because people can learn what you went through and were thinking of when you made the film. And you also get a sense of how hard it really is to shoot a movie; even for the filmmakers you believed had mastered the art. Some DVDs can be really enlightening!
The Last House on the Left (Universal Pictures International Entertainment) is released on DVD and Blu-ray 19 Oct
And see our interview with Krug himself, Greg Dillahunt.