New corporate stepchild Fox Atomic pulled out all the stops at ComicCon yesterday for their latest offering, The Hills Have Eyes II. (If I have to explain that this is a sequel to a remake, you probably shouldn't be reading this post.) The day's activities started with an invitation-only breakfast, attended by producer and co-screenwriter Wes Craven and the film's two female leads, Jessica Stroup and Daniella Alonso. Most of the attendees of the breakfast arrived early and planted themselves at one of several round breakfast tables, in anticipation of some kind of formal welcome from Craven himself, but nothing of the kind was on the menu. Instead, Craven and party arrived without fanfare and sat themselves down at one of the tables, ready to eat. Just as the first coffee cups were starting to get cold, the busy PR people dimmed the lights and treated us to a never-before-seen clip of the upcoming film. The scene in question involves a 'mutant birth' sequence -- not a mutant giving birth, but a seemingly normal woman giving birth to a horrible mutant. After basically ripping his way out of mom's vagina, the mutant baby promptly stands up and punches mom in the face. No, I'm not kidding.

After this, we were allowed to view another clip, which seemed like a trailer but went on for several minutes and seemed to contain scattered bits of new footage. Not about to leave Craven and the ladies to eat in peace, several journos eventually began to saunter over to the director's breakfast table to pepper him with questions; for the next thirty minutes or so, Craven stood by his table, talking in the direction of several outstretched hands and digital tape recorders. Stroup and Alonso also received the treatment, although they seemed to be more in demand for photo opportunities than for serious, get-to-know-you, how-did-you-approach-this-character type of interviews. The breakfast dispersed about an hour after it began, and everyone went their separate ways. About four hours later, the Hills crew would reassemble in ComicCon's main auditorium for a panel discussion open to the general convention audience. The event may have been more sparsely attended than expected, because shortly into it, the organizers suddenly decided to let in the massive crowd waiting outside for Kevin Smith, an hour early.

p>Throughout the day, Craven had numerous opportunities to answer questions about his upcoming projects, his thoughts on current horror trends and his feelings on the Hills series in general. He also mentioned at one point that he had just met fellow horror icon Stephen King (another ComicCon attendee) earlier that day, for the first time in his life. The most unexpected question/statement hurled at Craven during the day must surely have been one that came during the panel discussion, when one strange man approached the microphone and began to talk candidly about how he had his first 'sexual awakening' experience while watching Heather Langenkamp's semi-nude scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street -- specifically the scene where she turns her back to the camera and takes off her shirt. As for the other interesting questions and answers, I've included a sampling below, both from the breakfast and the afternoon panel. I didn't ask any of the questions -- I'm just the messenger.

Wes Craven

Where did the idea for this sequel come from? "It came out of an idea we had, where maybe one of the remaining family members was so traumatized that she joined the National Guard and thought it would just be a local thing she did on weekends, and as soon as she gets out of basic training she's meeting with [inaudible] and they say 'you've gotten a lot stronger' and she says 'yeah, I feel great' and then she gets a call from the company commander to show up at 07:00 tomorrow morning. The assignment is to go back to where she was traumatized, with a bunch of guys, because they found more Hills people. That was kind of that idea. Obviously, that's not what the story is now, but the idea of somebody who is kind of naive in the military, in a part of the military that wasn't expecting to be thrown into a full, bloody battle -- being thrown into such a thing was germane and relevant. We didn't back away from that, but we never had characters talking about it in a way like 'why did the government send us here?' or anything like that.

They're just delivering a piece of an equipment to some scientists. They're on their way between one training ground and a rifle range, and they have to drop this box off in an area that's a secret area, and they are supposed to be in and out in thirty minutes. It's more like 'you go in expecting one thing and you find something completely different that you have to deal with.' It doesn't seem human, and then you start realizing 'wait, it is human. it's as smart as a human cause they are human, and God, what do we do? They act like animals.' In that sense, I think it's not unlike what American kids are facing every day now. In that way, it's good to have horror films that are relevant. It's certainly stuff I'm thinking about. It's a little bit of a risk because it's not a family -- the Hills tradition is a family in trouble. But in a sense, a squad is kind of a seemed like a fun idea, and relevant. We didn't sit down and say 'what's in the news' or anything, but it seems to me none of us can get away from this, not right now. It's so much in the American consciousness; you just can't get away from it. It's so frustrating, so painful, so why shouldn't films be dealing with subjects like that?"

Do you think horror films serve as a good vehicle for getting across messages about the culture at large? "I think they do, on a very primal level, a subconscious level. They are always about what is deeply disturbing in the culture, in the moment or the current decade or whatever it is. Frankenstein was all about fear of emergent science and fooling around with the human body. Even moving into space, suddenly everyone was thinking about aliens. There are things that the culture, at its nightmare level, subconscious level, is struggling with. That's why I think these kinds of films are, you know, important."

What scares you these days? "The present administration. To me, that's the scariest thing, you know. Virtually deconstructing the constitution, abolishing habeus corpeus -- to me, that's very, very scary. But that's as much as I'll say about that. Because I'm not here to make any sort of political statement."

What made you want to put Martin Weisz in the director's chair on this film? "Well, that's kind of the name of the game. You find a filmmaker you trust and then give it to him and her and see what happens. We saw his film Butterfly and thought it was such an unusual film -- we felt like there was an artist there but also someone who would not back away from a very touchy subject or shocking subject. A huge amount of experience in both music videos and commercials."

Is Scream 4 going to happen? "I received a call about that for the first time in the past.....after a long, long time. I think it's not completely off the table, as far as the studio making it. I don't think it's anything that's, like, around the corner, but I imagine they're now thinking about it."

What is your take on the current remake/sequel craze in Hollywood? "One of the interesting things is that it's not that new, and I'll give you a striking example. The Maltese Falcon, a film historian once told me, was the third remake of an original maltese falcon film. So, if you look at it that way, it's possible for something to be remade for the third time and turn out to be the film that everyone talks about for the next fifty years. So our feeling is, never look at it like you're knocking off a remake, but if you can find a filmmaker with vision...and it's got to be something really unusual, not just a shot-for-shot remake of the original....why not? In the case of Alex Aja, it was somebody who was a huge fan of the movie and I think got into the film business cause of The Hills Have Eyes, the original, and in the case of Martin, a guy that has done one very bold film, Butterfly, and has experience in music videos and commercials and has boundless energy and was anxious and happy to take this on. You know something unusual is going to be done."

Did you have a favorite horror film growing up? "No. You have to know my background. I was actually raised in a family and church that didn't allow film-going. I really didn't see movies -- literally -- until I was out of college."

A theme of your work seems to be finding horror in safe places, like bedrooms, homes, the dream world -- is that a conscious effort on your part? "I guess it's a way of looking at a concept that you're really not safe any place. Because none of us are. You could be in the most protected home and have a sibling snap or have some terrible disease spring up within your own body, or get run over by a Mercedes and have a high-class death. It just has to do with we all have that working realization that whatever sense of safety we have can be shattered in an instant. I've always been interested in looking locally for those things."

Talk about the sexual brutality against women in some of your films, like Last House on the Left. "I don't think any of us set off to do anything that disgusts people, but the fact is that women are quite often victimized, and it's quite often in a sexual way. It's been that way since humans were around. If you look at what's going on in the Sudan now, or what went on in Sarajevo, where rape just became part of the assault on the whole culture -- there was even a big rape case that sprung out of Iraq this week. So it's not like it doesn't happen. What we try to do, if we deal with that subject, even all the way back to Last House on the Left, when the innocent daughter was raped, the rapist, when he's done, you see in his face that he knows he is completely impotent. He has no power over this person. Sometimes you have to go on that awful journey, but the women don't end up devastated -- they turn on that anger and use it. It's always tricky, when you make this kind of film, not to be exploitive, whatever that is, but there are certain situations that are kind of classic situations and sexual assault is one of them. When people get really nasty with each other, that's one of the things that always seems to happen."

Have you had any talks with anyone about a sequel to Red Eye? "No, never have."

Where did the idea for The Hills Have Eyes first come from, originally? "Well, it's pretty much on the record. There was a family, the Sawney Bean family, in 16th century Scotland, that was called a 'feral' family. They had gone back, kind of, to the wild, and were attacking travelers in a very isolated area and actually eating them. When they were finally discovered and captured by the Royal Court, they were taken back to London and tortured horribly for a week before they were all executed. I just found the irony, first of all, of this wild family being cannibalistic and then civilized society catching them and doing even more horrible things to them. I liked that irony. That's basically where the story idea came from. I ran across that in a book called Murder and Mayhem, about killings in the British Empire."

There's a scene a lot of people refer to in A Nightmare on Elm Street where Nancy, Heather Langenkamp's character, goes to the closet and takes off her shirt, and you see her bare back for a moment, and I always refer to this scene as 'the awakening of my sexual being.' It's the first time I remember being aroused. I don't really have a question, I actually just wanted to tell you that. "That's very sweet of you. It was an interesting moment. One of the things you realize when you're a director is you can tell people to take their shirts off and sometimes they'll do it, and you can really abuse it. In that one, Heather was very young and the scene called for her to do that, and she turned away from the camera, and I thought 'that's sexy, she's not even facing the camera.' There was nothing exploitive about it at all. I'm glad I was able to help. I've got to tell Heather."