Wes Craven, producer, and Dennis Iliadis, director – Interview

Wes Craven, producer, and Dennis Iliadis, director – Interview
The filmmakers' most recent insights on The Last House on the Left
Updated: 03-05-2009

Staci Layne Wilson reporting

Q: The question I think everybody wants to ask is… the first movie was fantastic. Why do another one 37 years after the first one?
Wes Craven: It's been 37 years. Dennis and I both think it's a wonderful story. The core story is just remarkable. It just has a wonderful irony about it in the way that someone you think is totally straight can turn into savages if they have to. Sean Cunningham and myself did the originally film. Basically, we gave up the rights to it for 30 years. That was part of the deal. Neither one of us thought we would live that long, but here we are, so it was like, wouldn't it be extraordinary to take this great story and give it to someone extraordinary and see what happens. That was the philosophy of finding someone really great, and we saw Dennis' film Hardcore and just said that's an extraordinary filmmaker. And then the business was that I was in a position where I could mount a film of a certain budget and get final cut out and pass that along basically to Dennis. I don't think he made any cuts that he didn't want to make except what the MPA said, and then I got out of his way. I was off filming 25/8. I wrote and directed it. He was on his own.
Q: So for 30 years, did anyone remake this movie in any form?
Craven: I think it was remade a lot by unauthorized people.
Q: Right, but no one directly remade it?
Craven: No.
Q: Why do you think it's taken so long that you were lucky enough to get the rights back and now it's yours again?
Craven: You know, there were several versions of it made. They were all terrible. The easiest thing is to go for the gratuitous violence and so forth, but to make a film like this, you have to be a mature artist and be serious about what you're doing and have the ability of good actors to go to those places that are real and complex. That is only done by someone who comes along in a very long while, so I think everyone else was just trying to grab a few bucks.
Q: Question for both of you. The comparison is very interesting. I'm trying to realize why you put aside some very controversial scenes from the first movie, the original. That goes to both sides, I mean, the most depressing, the most shocking scenes from the first movie and the sort-of comedy which was very, very strongly present in the first film: this slap-stick situation with the cops and with this truck with chickens and so on. So why did you put [it all] aside?
Craven: Two different guys and two different places in our careers. I mean, I was going for something that was kind of subversive and to start something with almost a comic book story about how they escape from prison and then the girl kicks a German Shepard to death and it's all like a wacky story. At the same time, it goes more and more into a very grim reality. Some of the comedy was that attempt. If I had to go back, I would take a lot of that comedy out, the chicken-truck and all that. It was pretty bad. The present one was much more of a “let's do a real” film.
Dennis Iliadis: To me, this film has a great core story, and it's a fascinating piece on human nature, and I really wanted to go deep with that. I think in trying to do so, the comedy was a bit redundant. When the things happened in the woods, I really didn't want to cut away to anything else. I really wanted to try and get this almost real-time sense where you are with these characters during the course of a day, and things escalate and keep getting worse. To me, it's very important to have the feeling that it's real, and it's almost like real life where things could go in a different way at any given moment. In trying to have that continue and that real-time sense, I stripped away some of the extra elements like the cops and the comedy and really tried to focus on these two families which are different sides of the same coin. I think it's very interesting that this film is also about two fathers who are trying to be good fathers.
Q: The extreme scenes, like this now famous pee-in-your pants and with the parents and oral mutilation…
Craven: They've been done so much, anyway [chuckles].
Iliadis: I think we tried to be extreme in different ways and because the script now has a much tighter logic in the sense of the pressure these characters are under. The parents are also trying to save their daughter and all that. I think that it was very important that the revenge was much more organic in the plot. I don't think the mom would have the chance to get out and indulge in such a scene. The pressure in the film is such that everything had to happen within the framework of the movie, so I don't think we could diverge into such extremities because they wouldn't serve our plot, but I think we're being extreme in different ways.
Q: A lot of people are fascinated between the first movie and the second movie. At the time of the first, the reviews were incredible. They spoke of you being a bad man.
Craven: There was only one good review. Everybody thought I was a horrible person.
Q: Especially in Europe.
Craven: Europeans, they understand.
Q: Now, Americans are more and more violent and more and more strong. Do you think that the success of the graphic novel… we just saw Watchmen
Craven: How was it?
Q: Long.
Craven: Long [laughing].
Q: Long.
Craven: Okay, say no more.
Q: Some sequences were beautiful to watch, but it was long. You wait and see. In any case, do you think that the success of the graphic novel gives to more and more violence and then movies have to be more and more violent?
Iliadis: Well, let me tell you my experience with this. That scene in the woods in our film, we had a lot of problems with the MPAA, and the problem is that they kept saying it's too real. I think you can get away with violence if you go graphic novel style, if you throw in a heavy-metal sound track and do flash cards, but if you decide to stay with your characters, then you're in trouble. So yes, stylized violence is fine, but we had a lot of issues because we really tried to keep it real.
Q: Isn't this history repeating itself? Wes, didn't you have issues with the MPAA on the original? Is the story appropriable that you just went ahead and put “R” on it even though they hadn't rated it?
Craven: No, it's not appropriable. I didn't believe the MPAA really even existed. I didn't know anything about it until the film was going towards mix, and Sean said, “We have to send it to this place, the MPAA,” and I was like, “What's that? I've never even heard of it.” I wasn't into film before that. I was like a college teacher. We made their cuts endlessly until it was to the point where it was ridiculous. We were doing our blow up at the time, and Sean went and got a negative off of some of these films that were “R” rated and just put it on ahead of ours. Our buyers, our backers, were theater runs, so it just went right into their theaters and hit everybody full strength. It was one of those rare moments when we were just so smug that I guess they didn't decided to come after us.
Q: But which kind of public do you think will come out to see this movie? The teenagers?
Craven: This version?
Q: Yeah.
Craven: Early indication is that the audience is extraordinarily broad from young fans to people up into their 40s and early 50s.
Iliadis: Because I think we approach it in that way, we tried to make a dramatic horror film. I think the drama is helping the horror. We've had great response from non-genre audiences and older audiences from people who wouldn't see this kind of film because they can relate to the drama. They can relate to the premise.
Q: If you look at it in the end, John and Emma have turned into something as evil as Krug and his family, and in the post-9/11 sense, vengeance is a good thing because we're getting back at the bad guys. It doesn't matter that we have dropped our core values?
Iliadis: I think there's something very interesting in how we try to set morals and codes and those keep being violated in many ways in the states and in Europe. I think to me it's very relevant in the sense of really re-visioning ourselves and what we think is civilized and what we think is proper and realizing that sometimes we need to reassess ourselves. There's a lot of darkness in the world. What extent do you go? I think this situation, what happened to everyone, but I think in the present climate, we need to reassess the darkness inside us and how we will deal with all the ways we are being violated.
Q: Wes, do you have anything to add to that?
Craven: Obviously since 9/11, we've had something horribly personal [happen]. We essentially had the home invasion of all home invasions, but I still feel strongly that…all the things our country slipped into was a terrible, horrible mistake. If you just look at it selfishly, it just opens the door to illegal and moral chaos within your own country that is intolerable. I think in the case of parents, the father going on step-father, I don't think he's gonna think that he was a better man for doing that the next day, but it shows how far someone can go if something horrible has been done to someone they love, and most of the rest of it was survival. If somebody is threatening my survival or the survival of my family, everybody that I talked to would do whatever they had to do. It's not like you come out of it feeling like "Cool, man," but you do what you have to do in those cases, but that doesn't mean that has to be your life from now on. Anybody who serves honorably in the military in combat, they go out to kill people. It's not something that sets wells with them, but if they feel the war is justified, like World War II is a primary example, they can come back and lead regular lives. They can never forget what they endured, but it doesn't turn them into monsters. I think sometimes you have to act monstrously, but only if it's put upon you and that's the only choice you have or succumb.
Iliadis: I want to add that this film is definitely not about torture. These parents don't just turn into super heroes who just slam down the bad guys and torture them. It's very much about survival. It was very important to keep things dramatic to show that the first time they tried to kill, it's clumsy. It's messy. It's almost heart breaking. It's like a family trying to save family while doing horrible things. This film is not about torture at all.
Q: I think that dramatic horror is one of the most difficult things in the world.
Craven: It's nice, though, isn't it?
Q: It's really difficult. Do you have some dramatic horror that you really love or prefer?
Iliadis: In terms of movies, you mean?
Q: Movies, yeah.
Iliadis: What is a good piece of dramatic horror that I've seen lately?
Q: Yeah, and also in the past.
Iliadis: Recently is always the most important. Let the Right One In, the Swedish film is good.
Q: What about Funny Games?
IliadisFunny Games… I love Michael Haneke. And I really like The Piano Teacher and many of his films. I hated the remote control scene in Funny Games. That really pissed me off. Everything else was fine. All the breaking the wall techniques of people looking at the camera and all that, but the moment the bad guy takes the remote and reviews the scene, that I found too cerebral and that threw me off.  
Q: Did you see the remake he did?
Iliadis: No, I didn't.
Q: There is a phrase/statement in Scream, I think it's one of the best, in the first Scream, and one of the characters says, "Movies do not create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative." Do you agree with this statement?
Craven: Not really. You know, I think at that time and through that period we were dealing with the violence at school, the Columbine [incident] where literally I know Scream was cited in Congress as an example of films that were dangerous. There was a shift toward making films legally like product, and therefore if you made a product like a car without seat belts you were liable for it, and trying to link those things directly. I've been doing this for 40 years. Every contact that I've had with horror fans has been with genuine people. I've never had anything bad come out of it, and I've never heard of a story that I can validate where we caused somebody to do something. There've been stories about kids seeing Freddy Krueger and then killing their sister. I haven't found any of it to be true. I think by and large, and statistically there's going to be someone who does something stupid about everything, so I don't really agree with that. I think you can trivialize horror to the point where you think it seems cruel, and I don't think either Dennis or I have done that in our careers. That's the most dangerous thing I think we can do. If you look at American television, it's so full of violence, gun violence, it's just extraordinary and yet none of it seems very real. It's just all about the mechanics and the sexiness and they do stuff with guns that doesn't even work. It drives you crazy. There's another line in the first Scream, too, "There are rules, damn it!" and that there are particular things that an audience expectations is just a fun thing. You can say, "This is the way it works, so you can expect this," and then you do totally the opposite. But do you tweak those expectations at your own peril where you know that the audience, if there is a core audience…I haven't done anything yet that has ended my career. Not to say that we're going to label it a genre film, but it is a horror/thriller, people might even use slasher in parts of it, the sense of audiences expect a certain thing, you want to surprise them, but you don't want to disappoint them if they come in expecting a jump-scare or things like that that are part of the pleasure.
Iliadis: I think you can deliver the greatest scares without shooting your whole film to those scares. I think that's what this movie tries to do. It tries to build the characters and the story and then it hits you really hard, but you can feel the people perpetrating those deeds. I think the problem is that very often characters in horror films become accessories to the…what's the word…to the rules, to the conditions. To me there's a big analogy between horror films and fairy tales in the sense they're very condensed, extreme tales which, with the right treatment, can give you great character development. There's no bullshit in our movies. People have to act. People have to unravel. So in that sense, I think they're very interesting, and they can be very unexpected like the films I mentioned.
Q: Interesting thing about the expectations because in the first film, both girls were killed. They were murdered. And it was a sense of something horrible and very realistic cause you're not just playing games. You're making a statement. They are killed. In this movie, you just keep her alive. You are giving glimpse of hope. You are just making a consoling compromise. Why?
Iliadis: I think it's a question of balance here because in Wes' film, I think you knew from the beginning when they drove them to the woods, you knew what was going to happen. Here the criminals were also trying to go against their nature. You weren't sure if they were going to die, so I think the moment Paige dies, it's heartbreaking because it's not just that the bad guys were going for the kill, it was very much related to how the girls were responding. If the girls had behaved in a different way, maybe this wouldn't have happened. In this way, you are upping the reality. I think the murder of Paige is extremely heartbreaking and you can allow yourself this extra hope. I don't think we are giving this movie a happy ending. I think we are showing a family still existing. The members of the family are still there, but they will never be the same.
Q: It's sort of simplistic because you can also interpret this as a punishment for this girl because in this pair, she is a bad girl, and she is killed.
Iliadis: Again, I could counter to that.
Q: It's sort of like justice.
Iliadis: I could counter to that. She is killed, but she is spared in other ways. I mean, Mari [played by Sara Paxton] is dehumanized in the most horrible way, which is rape.
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