Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Wes Craven

'Eye' of the Beholder

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

August 8, 2005—Thirty-three years ago, Wes Craven made his directorial debut with The Last House on the Left. Based loosely on Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring, it offended as many critics as it gained fans. It was a foot in the door.

Now fifteen films and several television jobs later Craven, 66, finds it difficult to break free of the genre that spawned him. "I always felt imprisoned by being the sultan of slash, the guru of gore," he says during a recent visit to San Francisco. "I wanted to do something as far out of the genre as I could get."

In 1999, Craven made Music of the Heart, a Meryl Streep drama that earned the actress an Oscar nomination but failed to strike any major chords at the box office. With his new film Red Eye, which opens this Friday, Craven has tried a new tack. "Even if a studio executive knows you can do something else, they think they won't be able to sell it because of your name. So what I'm trying to do is kind of inch out of it -- put some comedy into my thriller."

The beautifully crafted Red Eye stars Rachel McAdams as Lisa Reisert, a hotelier traveling on a late night Dallas-to-Miami flight. It's raining and the airport is in chaos. Suddenly she meets Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), who coincidentally is also sitting next to her on the plane. They enjoy a pleasant talk before Rippner suddenly reveals that he is really a blackmailer/kidnapper with an evil plan involving Lisa's father (Brian Cox).

"I knew so much of this picture was going to hang on faces and what was going on in the eyes of these two people," Craven says. "It's all close-ups, sometimes for ten minutes at a time. The studio kept saying 'move the camera more. Maybe you should swoop down.' But it never gets boring!"

Years of directing horror pictures have sharpened Craven's suspense skills. He understands how fast the pace must be and when to put in a little break where the audience can take a breath. "It's all about timing," he says. "It's like telling a joke."

Speaking of jokes, Craven hopes that the success of Red Eye will give him the clout to do something new. "I have three scripts: a romantic comedy, a road picture and a costume drama. I would love to do any of those. I purposely didn't commit myself to anything else right now. I wanted to enjoy this film coming out. It feels really good."

Partial Filmography:
The Last House on the Left (1972)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Summer of Fear (1978, TV)
Deadly Blessing (1981)
Swamp Thing (1982)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985)
Deadly Friend (1986)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) [screenplay/producer]
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Shocker (1989)
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
Scream (1996)
Scream 2 (1997)
Music of the Heart (1999)
Scream 3 (2000)
Cursed (2005)
Red Eye (2005)
Paris, je t'aime (2006) [segment]
Pulse (2006) [screenplay only]
My Soul to Take (2010)
Scream 4 (2011)

Movies Unlimtied