March 12, 2009 / 1:51 PM / 10 years ago

Just A Minute With: Wes Craven on "Last House"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - In 1972, Wes Craven made a career change from college lecturer to slasher film maestro with his bloody “The Last House on the Left,” and he is back for more knife play with a remake in theaters on Friday.

Director Wes Craven smiles during a panel discussion for the documentary 'Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film' at the 'Television Critics Association' summer 2006 media tour in Pasadena, California in this file photo from July 10, 2006. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Craven, 69, produced the film reboot, which is directed by Greek-born Dennis Iliadis and gives a contemporary take to a movie originally made with less than $100,000 specifically for local Boston theaters wanting something scary to show teens.

When “Last House” became successful, it was picked up for wider distribution, and its marketing slogan “To Avoid Fainting Keep Repeating, It’s Only A Movie...” became a pop culture catchphrase. Now the film is widely credited as being a forerunner to today’s popular slasher flicks.

The original film followed a couple of teenagers who were terrorized by criminals, before two parents take vengeance on the outlaws, and the new movie has basically the same plot.

The only film Craven single-handedly directed outside the horror and thriller genre is his 1999 “Music of the Heart.”

Craven, who enjoys bird-watching, spoke to Reuters about the remake and his mother’s view of his films.

Q: Often teens go to horror movies to see if they have the strength to stand it. Do you think that every year the films become more crazy and extreme?

A: “I think that to some extent they’re tuned to the times. It was no coincidence in my mind that torture porn came out at the same time that the United States was torturing people. It’s dealing with what’s floating around in the psyches of everybody. My God, waterboarding. What would it feel like to do it? Would I be able to take it? All those questions come up, so it wasn’t surprising that there were films about it suddenly.”

Q: You taught English and humanities at colleges before you became a horror film maker. Did you ever feel when you were making horror films like you were “slumming it?”

A: “No. I felt like I was having a good time ... I also specialized in Greek mythology, so all those fantastic primal stories were banging around inside my head. So I thought, first of all, there’s a very legitimate and very long history of genius people dealing with it, in print, on stage and everything else. So I never felt apologetic about it.”

Q: Growing up in a Baptist family you weren’t allowed to watch many movies. What did your mother think when she saw some of your horror films?

A: “My mother never saw a single film I made until ‘Music of the Heart,’ and that was the only one she ever saw. So in my mother’s eyes, I was wandering off into darkness and she wished I would go back to teaching where she was comfortable with what I was doing. God bless her.”

Q: In “The Last House on Left” and some of your other films the violent perpetrators are social outsiders who exist in their own world with its own rules. Was your goal to instill fear of “the other” with these films?

A: “It all has to do with somebody who is so markedly different than us, and so has such a different set of values, or has no values whatsoever in our book, that is the most frightening to us.”

Q: Is there something that should never be explored on film because it’s too graphic or too disturbing?

A: “It’s never about what you’re talking about, so much as not distorting it for your own benefit, that’s the key. There’s a French philosopher who said it’s all right to lie, because most art is about telling things that didn’t really happen, but the crime is to lie about the essence of the matter. So you make films about shooting people, but don’t show it as being cool. Because it’s not cool, people suffer.”

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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