Thou shalt not worship Craven images.

Wes Craven has achieved icon status in the genre of the horror film, having directed classics such as Shocker and A Nightmare on Elm St. But according to Craven, the real horrors and atrocities happen off screen. Geoff Bartlett reports.

Craven, in Sydney to promote his latest film ‘Scream’ believes the horror film does have a genuine role to play for society. “It exists so the audience can get into those areas that are deemed to be uncivilised or glossed over and hidden by civilisation. Horror films have something of the thrill seeker element to them. You have your worst failures played out in a story through a character that is representative of you who somehow survives. It’s a boot camp of the psyche. If you can come through at the other end, you can laugh at anything.”

Asked to name his own favourite horror film, Craven opts for Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “First time I saw it, I was convinced that whoever made it was totally insane. But that’s one of the prerequisites of the job. You have to give the impression that you’re dangerous to society.” Craven adds that the horror films of today are gaining a much wider appeal. “One of the nice differences of ‘Scream’ is that it’s brought in an older and more of a cross over audience by using strong heroines like Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell.

Craven also sees his role as a creator evolving, saying that today’s audiences are harder to scare. “What Scream is trading in, is being aware that the audience is getting bored and has relegated certain patterns and actions in horror films to cliches. You have to be aware of that in order to subvert those and scare them. But I feel that if I was given my leeway, and I wouldn’t have to be gory, I could make some really scary films. But it’s more and more difficult to get them past the censors. And it’s just intensity. I could do a film that would scare the pants off people without virtually any blood but it certainly would be very intense and very disturbing and the censors just don’t like that.

Where Craven encounters nightmares not of his own creation is through the MPA (Motion Picture Association) and he feels that the situation with film censorship is actually getting worse. “What they’re doing now is targeting not only gore and violence but also what they call ‘intensity’. They’ll say ‘this whole section is too intense.’ unaware that I’m in the business of making intense moments. It drives you nuts and you know somewhere down the line someone will see the film and say “Well it never really quite reached the intensity it could’ve.’ Well, no Kidding! I think that censorship, more than anything else accounts for the lassitude of the genre. The exception is if a film is cartoonish, then it’s OK. But if it’s real then it’s imitatable. They think this film is going to suggest to teenagers something they’ve never thought of before.”

But overall, Craven believes the satisfaction outweighs the inherent frustration involved in creating films of this nature, saying “I can’t help myself. When it works, it’s great. I love, not the act of scaring people but getting them down to their core feelings. You see it on the faces of the audience as they come out. They’re flushed and happy and it’s like something exciting has happened. I’m trying to convince (the censors) that this is something that can be healthy and fun but it’s just impossible. You can’t even get consistency of judgement from them. In a film like Romeo and Juliet, which I liked a lot, every kid in it has a gun decorated with icons. Man, it made me want to go out and get a gun. And yet, it gets rated PG 13!”

But the experience, Craven says, has given him fresh inspiration for future negotiations with the censor. “In my next script, I’m getting the writer to change his name to Shakespeare.”

This piece first appeared in The Courier Mail in 1997.

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