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Horror maestro likes to work significant themes into his stories

Jeff Strickler
Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

Wes Craven

Audiences who think they see parallels between "The Hills Have Eyes 2" and the war in Iraq aren't imagining things. Writer-producer Wes Craven believes that horror movies should reflect the times in which they are made.

"Of course, for starters, you want a story that is succinct and punchy," he said. "You want the kind of story that you can tell in less than a minute to friends and when you're done, they say, `Wow, I'd want to see that movie.'"

But you also want a story viewers can relate to on a different level, he said. In this movie, which opens Friday, it's a squad of National Guard soldiers on a routine training mission who encounter murderous monsters and end up fighting for their lives against an enemy that is nothing like what they expected.

"What is going on right now historically is so important - the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism; you know, clashing cultures," he said. "With all these monumental things happening, I felt it would be interesting to do something involving American kids in uniform who are encountering an enemy that is totally inexplicable. ...

"Sure, we can build a `smart bomb' that goes through a window and wipes out a particular bunker," he said. "But they (terrorists) can build a smart bomb by strapping explosives to their chest and walking down a hallway into a room. I wanted to evoke a sense of people fighting an enemy that is cunning and ruthless in ways that we can't imagine."

Craven, who has a master's degree in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University, has found tremendous success weaving deeper messages into what, at least on the surface, appear to be shallow thrill-producers. His filmography includes many of the horror genre's modern-day classics, including "The Last House on the Left," "The Nightmare on Elm Street" series and the "Scream" films.

In 1977, he wrote and directed "The Hills Have Eyes," which French director Alexandre Aja remade last year. Although the original also had a sequel, "The Hills Have Eyes 2" has nothing to do with that film. It sprung entirely from Aja's movie.

"The remake was very tough, very innovative, and audiences responded to it," Craven said. "As soon as we saw that strong response, we started thinking about a sequel."

He invited his son, music video director Jonathan Craven, to collaborate on the project.

"It was sort of unusual in that it wasn't really like a father and son," the elder Craven reported. "He had just become a father, which meant that I had just become a grandfather. We had a new common ground: We were both fathers."

He also assumed the role of a cinematic grandfather on the set, acting interested but not trying to interfere, with director Martin Weisz. That distancing sprung from his decision not to direct last year's remake.

"It didn't make sense for me to redo what I'd already done," he said. "Part of the reason I was interested in the remake was to give the material to another director and have him put it through his mind. So I did the same thing on this movie. I never looked over Martin's shoulder. I sat in my chair and watched the monitor and acted like a granddaddy."


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