Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Wes Craven's killer touch

It has been more than 10 years since director Wes Craven unleashed killer Ghostface on the world. In the much-anticipated Scream 4 he reunites his old cast with hot new talent - and gives his perspective on the past decade of horror trends, reports Dominic Corry.

It comes as a surprise but modern master of horror, Wes Craven, the man behind such iconic scare films as A Nightmare On Elm St, The Hills Have Eyes and the Scream series, is an avid bird-watcher, or "birder", as they refer to themselves these days.

Speaking to him on the phone from Los Angeles, Craven professes a desire to experience the unique birdlife of New Zealand, which would be his first visit here. He is also quick to offer a message of goodwill to the people of Christchurch.

It's a unique kind of reassurance to discover that the creator of so many nightmares is in fact a thoughtful, genial chap who projects the wizened, patient mind of an engaging intellectual.

In the 10 or so years since Scream 3 was released, Craven's name has been mostly associated with remakes of his early films. So to more cynical minds it is perhaps not shocking that he and the original (surviving) cast of Courteney Cox, Neve Campbell, and David Arquette - whose career prospects aren't what they once were - have got together to make Scream 4, in cinemas tomorrow.

It's too soon to see the film as a nostalgia trip, as in the fourth Indiana Jones movie, but it's also far enough removed from the original trilogy to count as a reunion.

But as far as Craven is concerned, the timing couldn't be better.

"[Dimension Films head] Bob Weinstein and I have spoken many times over the years about the idea of a fourth Scream. It was good to stand back and let the first three Scream films be a true trilogy and not just bash out sequels.

"After 10 years it felt like we could start fresh, even start a new trilogy if that works out. We could comment with the perspective of an entire decade on the horror films that had come out since then, much in the same way Scream commented on the horror films until that time. It felt like it was time to make another one - we could say new things and make a fresh start."

Indeed, the Scream films' main point of difference has always been their knowing commentary on the conventions of the horror genre. I ask Craven if he sees that as the franchise's primary function.

"It's not like we have a mission, but it is in the DNA of the films to always be standing back and looking through the fourth wall. A way of looking at the world through a certain kind of film. When your actors are aware of that construct it can get really interesting as long as it doesn't make it seem like we're winking at ourselves."

Ah yes, the winking. The success of the original Scream movies saw its meta quality seep out and infuse other films, almost to the point of oversaturation. Does Craven think it was necessary for the horror genre to have "moved on" for another Scream film to be relevant?

"I think so. Especially given the Scary Movie series. They brought a broader stroke and made fun of the series, so now we can get serious again. There was a feeling that the past decade was winding down to a close in the style and nature of the horror films made.

"There were a a lot of remakes of Japanese films, as well as severe violence and cruelty films. It felt like it was time to make a film that had intelligent, well-rounded characters and that also had some fun to it - and that was scary as well."

As Craven mentions, the "ironic" horror films of 10 years ago have long since given way to two dominant trends in the horror genre - remakes of Japanese films (The Ring, The Grudge) and the subgenre delightfully known as "torture porn", typified by such films as Hostel and Saw.

Craven has pretty mellow feelings about "J-Horror" - "for a while I watched a lot of them" - and was even slated to helm one (Pulse), but he has little time for torture porn, and addresses his distate in Scream 4.

"I don't enjoy watching people getting tortured," he explains. "I went to see the original Hostel, I went to see the original Saw. I can see their appeal; they were totally new and fresh. But I just don't have any wish to to keep going back to it.

"I do feel that the experience has to be elevated. In a lot of those films there's nobody to care about. Those films are essentially cruel and anti-human. But that's just me. Scream 4 has a lot to say about people who enjoy violence and people who think violence as entertainment is terrible - it looks at all aspects of those things. I think that's something that makes these films quite valuable, socially."

One thing about horror audiences these days is that they are a lot more aware of horror film conventions. So the pressure to remain ahead of the curve is greater than ever. But Craven is confident that Scream 4 delivers.

"There are simply new aspects, not just to films, but to entertainment in general. And to films intermeshing with the internet and blogging and social networking. All of which are prominent in this film. Those things were simply not part of the world when the last Scream was made.

"There's a couple of film geeks who give a big speech in film class where they say that the unexpected is the new cliché and you can't just do the unexpected for the audience to be surprised.

"The script of Scream 4 does a very neat end around that whole thing of trying to be more bizarre or more violent. It comes from a direction you do not realise it's going to come from. To me it was really quite special."

While Craven's enthusiasm for the horror genre is palpable, he has demonstrated a proclivity for working outside the genre as well. In 1999, he directed the Meryl Streep drama Music of the Heart, and more recently wrote and directed a short romantic comedy that played in the anthology film Paris Je T'aime. Is he hankering to work on more non-horror projects?

"I would love to, either a thriller or something completely out of the genre."

Does he feel pigeonholed as a horror director?

"I do and I don't. I'm working all the time - how bad is that? But at the same time, particularly around Oscar season, you realise in some ways it is limiting. Yeah I would like to try some other things, but I'm very happy that I've done what I've done. I think I've contributed a lot to the genre, and the genre's given me a lot, too. So, you know, things could be a lot worse."

Scream 4 is out in cinemas tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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