Interview: Wes Craven

We speak to the horror legend.

“Stand By Me with a knife.” That’s how writer/director Wes Craven describes the first film he’s written and directed since New Nightmare, titled My Soul To Take, and he’s pretty excited about what this 3D production represents to him on a personal level.

“It’s a very personal film in kind of a fun way of a journey from innocence into knowledge of the world,” he explains. “Having grown up as a Fundamentalist, it has elements of that. I was a kid who lost his father at a very early age, and that’s a big theme of the central character, Bug, played by Max Thieriot. Searching for who is father was is one of the key elements of solving the mystery of who the killer is. So it has a lot of personal resonance to it.

“It is,” Craven continues, “I think, an attempt on my part to write a new version of horror. The audience kind of needs to know that. It’s not Saw and it’s not any of the old franchise things, including Freddy Krueger or The Hills Have Eyes.”
As far as the film’s story is concerned, legend has it that a serial killer known as the Ripper will return to the town of Riverton to murder the seven children that were born the night he allegedly died. Now, 16 years after his death, members of the community begin to disappear. All the teens know the Ripper to be dead, but they hold the belief that his soul may have reincarnated into one of their bodies, forcing them to discover who among them may be the killer. Only one of the teens may have the answer: Adam ‘Bug’ Heller was supposed to die on the night his father went insane. Unaware of his father’s terrifying crimes, Bug has been plagued by nightmares since he was a baby, but to save his friends he’ll have to face an evil that won’t rest.

“It is about a bunch of pretty young kids, sophomores in high school,” Craven elaborates. “Some of the kids starting the film were 16 coming through the beginning of high school. The central character is Bug, starting very innocent to the point where his friends think he’s slow and belongs in Special Ed, but then he gains in wisdom and smarts and strength as his friends die. He gains their attributes and strengths and what they know, so it’s this kind of journey of him taking in the souls of those around him who die in a very interesting way. So we start with this kid who doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground and by the end he’s kind of a very tough, smart warrior. I haven’t seen a film like that. I always like to try and make a film that I haven’t seen before and I’d love to go see. Those are just a few of the reasons I’m excited about it. I feel that at least in my body of work it can be the kind of once or twice in a decade thing that I do that redefines my area of the genre.”

Craven is of the belief that even in something like the horror genre, anything that’s personal can make more of an impact not only on the filmmaker himself, but the audience as well. “Anything that’s personal, you know very well,” he muses. “Even innocence. I’m not saying anything about anyone’s particular religion, but being from a background of Fundamental Christianity and coming out of Cleveland and into the world at large, obviously I’m now sort of a world citizen. There’s a getting of wisdom that comes from that, and it’s not entirely an easy passage because you have to kind of leave behind a lot of belief systems about how things work as you learn how things really work. That becomes a fascinating thing to write about. I think in a sense all of us go through that. Even Nancy in Nightmare On Elm Street has to figure out what really happened in the past, who this Freddy Krueger is and what her parents and the parents of her friends have to do with it. It’s a universal journey we all take of learning who our parents were and who we really are within the context of the world that’s actually out there. So for me it’s a more personal vision of it, but I’ve always been fascinated by this journey from innocence to knowledge. At every age we kind of think we know what it’s all about and then it’s, like, ‘Oh, shit, I didn’t know that.’ It’s one of the great things about life and I always try and do things on film for our universal recognition. This film is about souls and uncovering who your father really was, and coming from a state where you feel you know nothing, you have no strength and everybody is going to kill you to the point where you can navigate, you now have the powers to cope with the world as it really is. That’s what Bug does.”

Craven is of the opinion that My Soul To Take stands apart from a lot of the more brutal modern horror films, just in the way he’s attempted to avoid the slice and dice genre as much as possible. “I think that’s been one of the keys to my doing well,” he says. “I kind of honour the genre as having more potential than some other people maybe think that it does. If you just treat it as having some guy with a hatchet chasing somebody around the barn, you can get the audience jumping and screaming, but I think in a way they don’t feel like they’ve really gotten something out of it as they would if they really understood who the guy with the hatchet is and who the person running is, and make both of them a lot smarter than they are in less thought-out films.

“The key is not to underestimate or under serve your audience. I think the genre audience is extremely smart and they also have a great sense of humour, and not to address that and to honour it in the sense of only bringing your smartest thoughts to them is a disservice to everybody, including yourself.”