Archive for August, 2015

The time I pissed off Wes Craven

August 31st, 2015

I was terribly saddened to read this morning that movie director Wes Craven passed. He was, and remains, one of my most memorable interviews.

When I mention having been an entertainment journalist, the usual cocktail-party response is, “Who have you met?” Meaning famous. Meaning gossip.

I tend not to remember many of the bigger names until much later: Oh yeah, I spent a good long time talking the environment with Midnight Oil and palled around backstage with Bjork and the Sugarcubes and was overwhelmed by the beautiful man Douglas Adams.

I have never forgotten and will never forget Wes Craven.

I interviewed Mr. Craven for Scream, the movie that would change the genre, catapult its cast to stardom, spawn sequels and now a TV series, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Then, though, it was a very clever horror movie that the paper’s lead movie reviewer Michael H. Price and I loved (both of us being horror fans) but worried would resonate.

So much did Price and I think Scream might slip past audiences that during my one-on-one interview with Mr. Craven, I asked the director why he’d cast has-beens.

Remember, Drew Barrymore had not yet discovered the second act of her career. Scream would do that. Neve Campbell was one of the more forgettable parts of the TV series Party of Five. Scream would make her a star.

Matthew Lillard? Skeet Ulrich? Jamie Kennedy? Unknowns — at least, mostly unknowns — before Scream.

Mr. Craven spluttered over the word: “Has-beens? HAS-BEENS? Is Drew Barrymore a has-been?”

Well, yes.

“Is Neve Campbell a has-been?”

She was an untested quantity on film whose television career was for the moment over.

Craven may have felt personally attacked. His monster success, A Nightmare on Elm Street, was 12 years past. His resume since had been notable really only to fans of the genre.

I don’t remember what I said. Placating things. Soothing noises. I’m sure I backed off. It wasn’t worth a fight. Mr. Craven calmed down. We resumed a pleasant discussion — I was a horror fan, after all, and so we changed topics and discussed the rapid-fire references to other horror films.

But that’s my cocktail story: Once upon a time, I pissed off Wes Craven.

Now he’s gone, and I want to say this: Wes Craven was never a has-been. Even in the lean years mentioned above, he directed New Nightmare (God, one of my all-time favorites, and a precursor to Scream’s self-aware feel), The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs. He was vital and active and twisting horror, pushing it to new heights.

Never a has-been.

Dear Evan: The Dog Who Ate Zombies

August 7th, 2015

Dear Evan:

Right now, you want to hear scary stories at bedtime. (As a daddy who writes and loves scary stories, this makes me very happy.) For a while, I would read selections from Amphigorey, but lately you want made-up stories.

The thing is, you scare easily. If a bad guy appears on Wild Kratts, you cover your ears and leave the room. I’ve turned off movies and left theaters early. And that’s fine. You’re four years old. I don’t want you hardened to the scary parts of life like I am.

So I had to tell a story and make it, in your words, “scary but not too scary, just a little bit scary.”

Well, there’s the answer.

Of your dogs, by far your favorite is Lil’ Bit, a 14-pound rat terrier with a Napoleon complex. Bit’s breath is legendarily foul. It may be because he eats poop, or it may be because he’s just so damn grumpy all the time. His breath is so bad that it sort of circles around and becomes a thing of wonder. I’ll stick my face right down there and sniff his nose and mouth and ears.

What I won’t do is let him yawn in my face. That’s a registered biological weapon right there.

So here’s how my scary stories go: A monster that you choose threatens a little boy, and a certain rat terrier saves the day by yawning. An example from last night (your choice was “30 zombies”):

Once upon a time there was a spoooooky graveyard, covered in fog, with crooked gravestones everywhere. (I tell this in my best growling Vincent Price voice.) And do you know who lived under those graves?

(Your hands fly to your ears. Your eyes widen. You whisper, “zombies.”)

That’s right. Zombies. Thirty of ‘em. And these were mean zombies. They ate birds and rabbits and… hey, do you know what their favorite food was? (You shake your head.) Little boys.

So one night a little boy walked past the graveyard, and those thirty mean zombies clawed their way out of the ground and said to him, “Little boy we are going to eat. You. Up.”

(Here I’ve almost lost you. You’re about to panic, so I know it’s time to rein it in.)

But do you know who was walking with the little boy that night?

(Here I’ve found you again. Hands come off ears. A huge smile brightens your face.) “Little Bit.”

That’s right! Lil’ Bit was walking with his boy, and he took one look at those mean ol’ zombies and

(Here you and I both yawn.)

he yawned. And those zombies cried, “Oh God! It’s so stinky it’s even stinkier than we are!” And they turned into dust.

(Everything turns into dust after a Bit yawn, even werewolves.)

And that’s it. You laughed and ran back up the stairs to bed. Tonight you’ll ask again, and I’ll have to come up with a story again, and Bit will save the day.


I love you,