When Wes Craven wanted to break into Hollywood, he and producer Sean Cunningham whipped up $90,000 to film a brutal revenge thriller called The Last House on the Left. Almost 40 years later—and after Freddy Kreuger, ghost-masked killers, hills with eyes and people under the stairs—Craven is producing a remake of his first movie and is shepherding an upstart new filmmaker, Dennis Iliadis, into Hollywood. (Spoilers ahead!)
The upcoming remake of Last House tells a story that's similar to the original: A group of escaped convicts takes refuge in a home that happens to belong to the parents of a girl they brutalized earlier. When the parents find out, they take bloody revenge.
"I think, ultimately, revenge is a dead-end road or a spiral downward," Craven said in an interview last week in Beverly Hills, Calif. "It's very dangerous, because it does start a cycle of revenge. It doesn't end with one act of revenge. So that goes all the way back to the Greek theater. Aeschylus wrote about it in his trilogy, so I don't think it's something to glamorize. On the other hand, an audience does want to feel like in some way the bad guy gets it, so I guess we gave them that little piece of pleasure there."
The following Q&A features edited excerpts of our exclusive interview with Craven. It includes some spoilers about changes between his original and Iliadis' new version. The Last House on the Left opens Friday.
What do you think of the new motel sequence, car crash and Mari's [Sara Paxton] being a swimmer?
Craven: Well, the car crash is just a little bit more dramatic version of running out of gas, I guess, whatever it was [in the original]. The motel sequence, it's the equivalent ... of ... going to buy some pot, but it's really just about innocence trying to be a little bit worldly and getting into a world of trouble because of that. I thought that very much in the texture of the original.
The swimming thing, I think, is a wonderful addition. In the original, the girl, after being raped, walks into the water and tries to drown herself, and then is shot. In this, the girl has taught herself to be a swimmer, and that's her one place of release, so it's her best chance of getting away. In fact, it is the way that she gets away. So there's a little bit of element of some hope in it.
Are you impressed by the brutal kills Dennis came up with?
Craven: I thought the garbage disposal was just inspired, just visually. I mean, my God, that sequence is like a classic. It's going to be in every film school for 20 years. The microwave I was mixed about. I thought it was possibly gimmicky, but [at] the first screenings the audience loved it so much, and it's so off the wall, and Dennis liked it, I just went with it. So if he wants it, let's try it. It actually works much better than I thought it would.
As long as we're talking about new elements, what do you think Mari making it home adds to the story?
Craven: Well, I think there are a bunch of things that happen that are different. To me, the fact that she makes it back just makes it not only into a revenge [movie], but a protection-of-the-child film, which I think is very powerful. I don't think it spoils. I don't think it's like a soft ending or anything like that. There's certainly no feeling that any of those people are going to be the same again, but, to me, it adds a complexity to it, because it's not only a revenge but it's protection of her. I'm sure everybody will know at a certain point everything about the film, so I don't think it's giving away some big secret.
The common interpretation of the original is the parents become the monsters. Does that make this Last House more about survival and protection?
Craven: I think it is. The first one was very much ... the original title was Night of Vengeance. That's how The Virgin Spring was [Ingmar Bergman's telling of the same story]. In this one, it's more about the child somehow survives, and they have to do something to protect the child. The element of revenge comes at the very end, where the father does something he doesn't have to, just to get revenge.
What is the genre of this Last House: straight horror, psychological thriller, drama?
Craven: Well, I think it's a compliment to the film that there's that confusion, because it is definitely in the genre. It's based on one of the most genre films, a horror film, and yet Dennis has raised it to such a level, and the performances are so high and real, that it is definitely drama as much as it is horror. Dennis describes it as drama with horrible things in it, and I think that's kind of what it is. It's a horrific drama.
Do you have any hope that this family will be OK after all this?
Craven: To the extent that they can. I think they're certainly more unified than ever. The beginning the film is very much about the girl kind of wants to get away from the mother's attention. The father and wife have a certain tension between them that you can see. He's kind of a workaholic, and she is too, and at the end they're just totally, totally united. They just completely know that in the worst eventuality, they can operate together and deal with things. I think that will bond them forever.