This story was originally published in 2010 on ARTISTdirect.com and in October 2012 in Revolver's "Rock, Shock & Horror" special issue.
From The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, Craven has repeatedly examined darkness at its deepest and most dangerous. He made the world afraid to go to sleep–and not just because of Freddy Krueger. Then in 1996, he became self-reflective on Scream, examining the horror genre itself and his own body of work with sharp wit and wisdom that yielded another one of the greatest fright films of all time. The common thread throughout his esteemed career is Craven has never been afraid to dance with devil.
Neither is Taylor. Fronting Slipknot, he unleashes demons on every chart-topping record and at every sold-out show. The Grammy-winning, multi-platinum band—which released the greatest-hits collection, Antennas to Hell, in July and launched its own Knotfest in August–is a conduit for fans worldwide to exorcize their darkest emotions. In Stone Sour, Taylor's introspection is similar to Craven's with the Scream franchise. On Stone Sour's records–like the group's new one, House of Gold & Bones Part I, the first half of a double album–Taylor reflects deep inside himself and creates some of the most poignant, poetic and powerful music of his career, a mellower mirror image at times to Slipknot's all-out nihilism.
With all this and much more in common, Taylor sat down with Craven to discuss everything from how they each discovered horror to how they achieve artistic catharsis, from the Seven Deadly Sins (the subject and title of Taylor's best-selling 2011 book, released in paperback this summer) to how important music is to scary movies. One thing was clear at the end of this conversation: These two rogues won't be turning away from the darkness anytime soon.
WHEN DID YOU BOTH DISCOVER HORROR?
WES CRAVEN I discovered it very late. My upbringing was in a subculture that did not allow moviegoing, believe it or not. I have no history of having watched movies as a kid, pretty much at all. It was when I was in New York after quitting teaching that I was taken to see Night of the Living Dead by a friend. Before that, I had no concept that there were such kinds of films. I was amazed by how it could be funny and scary. The audience was just going nuts, and I had never seen that kind of energy in a theater before. [Laughs] That was my introduction to it.
COREY TAYLOR My mom had taken me to see the Buck Rogers movie with Gil Gerard when I was about 5 years old. The trailer for the original Halloween came on and, for a 5-year-old, you'd think I would've ran screaming, but I was mesmerized by it. I didn't even want to see the Buck Rogers movie after that. [Laughs] I was like, "I want to see Halloween!" That's when I really got turned on to the horror genre. Growing up, I got to see so many of those movies that I became an addict from there, especially your movies, Wes. Being raised on them, I loved the fact that you weave your stories into so many different types of horror, from The Last House on the Left to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. It's been one my favorite genres since I was very young.
COREY, WHAT WAS THE FIRST WES CRAVEN MOVIE THAT YOU SAW?
TAYLOR The first Wes Craven film that I actually saw was The Hills Have Eyes, but the first one I saw in theaters was obviously A Nightmare on Elm Street. The Hills Have Eyes was so cool, not only because of how bizarre the characters are, but because of how crazy it was. I was hooked! [Laughs] I was really intrigued by how far out it was.
I got into Nightmare. Being a kid from the suburbs, you had to be into A Nightmare on Elm Street. Then, I saw The Last House on the Left, which, to me, is still one of the most disturbing flicks I've ever seen. [Laughs]
CRAVEN Even to me, it is. [Laughs]
TAYLOR That's what makes it work! It's so intense.
CRAVEN It's extremely intense. I think that's the most real and intense I've been in a horror film.
HOW IMPORTANT DO BOTH OF YOU FEEL THAT MUSIC IS TO CREATING THE INTENSITY IN HORROR MOVIES?
TAYLOR Music is so important to creating the tension in the horror genre. It's almost like the uncredited second star. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, that music would come in, and you'd know something was going to happen. That's what got me into horror. Wes, how important do you think music is to creating those beats in the movie?
CRAVEN I think it's enormously powerful. There's a famous story about John Carpenter [director of Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing]. This woman said, "I can't watch your films!" He walked over to the VCR and turned off the sound. He asked, "Now how do you feel?" She responded, "I'm not afraid now." He said, "Exactly!" [Laughs]
You create a whole new world with sound in a film. In the Scream series, finding Marco Beltrami was great. He was a sampler. He hadn't composed anything yet. He had a sample CD of three pieces, and my assistant found it on an online chat-room mention of him saying, "You should listen to this guy!" I heard that, and we hired him almost immediately as the composer for the film. He captured the world that we created in sight and sound effects with music that made the film take a huge leap up. You can't underestimate the power and importance of score and of "tracked music," as we call it. Getting the rock sound into a film appropriately is powerful.
TAYLOR I couldn't agree more! Music is almost instrumental in creating that. It's important in making that tense moment happen. That shows you the mastery of music, especially from people who are really good at it. I love the music in all of the Scream films. Using Nick Cave in Scream was great, too. He's one of my all-time favorite artists. Hearing him in there, I was like, "That makes so much sense!" It was really cool.
CRAVEN I think Nick Cave's music is so akin to your sensibility of music and the sensibility of Scream under the darker side of the American experience. It fit in there so beautifully. In the original Scream, when Sidney is in the bedroom with her boyfriend, he plays that cover of "Don't Fear the Reaper" [by the band Gus] on the radio, and it has an incredible effect on the scene. That effect wasn't there before we tried the song. I'm a huge fan, and I listen to music all the time. Slipknot should be doing the score of a film! It's incredible rock music. I bust all of my computers with the amount of music I cram into them. I'm always looking. You're always looking for that sound that's new and has something unique about it that fits your film.
SLIPKNOT'S MUSIC IS WELL SUITED FOR HORROR MOVIES IN THE WAY IT'S ALL ABOUT CONFRONTING AND EXORCIZING DEMONS. HOW IMPORTANT IS CREATING A CATHARSIS IN BOTH OF YOUR RESPECTIVE ART FORMS?
CRAVEN I have a Master's Degree in Philosophy, and it's interesting that this stuff goes back so far. You can actually trace it back to the earliest stories of this sort. Because the culture can be so over-civilized, the image of America becomes sort of Ozzie and Harriet, and the concept of "Mainstream America" is so out of touch with reality. These kinds of films go into those areas of uncontrolled, uncivilized behavior and potential that has to be recognized somehow. I think horror and rock and roll are very similar in that sense. They've gone into the areas that were not considered polite and were initially banned. I've been doing this for 40 years, and I think it's taken almost that long for them to become legitimate at all, in a sense. Still, the goal is not to be outrageous for the sake of being outrageous but just to get the energy released from the civilization part. That's how I feel at least.
TAYLOR I definitely agree. There's almost a renaissance of that. You see people pining for the Eisenhower days where everything was hunky-dory. Well, it really wasn't. Like you said, the great thing about horror is it lances all of that. Horror pulls it back and shows the underbelly. It puts people in that uncomfortable position. Whether the good guy wins or not, you have to show that juxtaposition because nothing is as peachy-keen as it seems.
CRAVEN That's right!
TAYLOR Also from an emotional standpoint, making the music that I've made with Slipknot over the years, the release is so huge. You don't even realize the things that you're holding, bottling up or trying to keep control of, until you either let them out, or it's too late and they explode in a very negative way. There are so many positive aspects to the horror genre and music in general that allow you to let go of the things that you've been sitting on for a long time. It allows you to be a little more alive. One of the lessons that the horror genre teaches is you never know what's going to happen, so live for today. Live in that moment and really embrace life.
CRAVEN It's true. It teaches self-reliance as well. No matter what you're up against, you have tools very deep inside you, and you can confront the worst things imaginable.
CRAVEN It's very interesting in a strange way.
TAYLOR People are stronger than they know. If they can overcome the fear, then they come basically do anything that they want. That's one of the things that I've tried to say in my music. It's honestly one of the things that I've tried to teach a lot of the younger listeners who have grown up with my music. A lot of our fans grow up in these brutal situations, whether it's a terrible childhood or dealing with bullying in school and whatnot. It's very much like those uncomfortable circumstances you were talking about. I try to teach them if they can hold on and get through it, they've got their whole lives to live.
CRAVEN That's right. I think one of the best things about this kind of music and film is the audience is at that transactional stage between innocence and whatever the hell adulthood is going to be. [Laughs]
TAYLOR Yeah, that's definitely true!
CRAVEN It's hard to know you're going to integrate yourself into that world. There's a way you can get through it and a way that you're intact at the back end. Then life will settle down a lot. The teen years are pretty wild and ungoverned in many ways. I think kids are probably going through a rougher world physically than they'll ever have to enter, unless they go into combat. You can get through it, but you do have to know that you can face the worst and get through it.
COREY, YOUR BOOK CONFRONTS THE IDEA OF THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, AND WES, YOU'VE EXPLORED THE CONCEPT OF SIN AS WELL…
TAYLOR Well, the book is basically my take on the seven deadly sins from a modern standpoint—or maybe just a smartass point of view. [Laughs] In the book, I'm making the case that the seven deadly sins aren't sins at all. They're human characteristics and traits that we all experience and share. It has more to do with the stigma of sin sticking to us all, instead of regarding these things as mistakes. We're supposed to learn from mistakes, and we're encouraged to, but sins stick around forever. It's me debunking that, and balancing it with some crazy stories from when I grew up and being on the road. I'm saying that I've worked my way through these seven deadly sins my whole life and hopefully I've come out on the other side a better person for it. It's funny and dark, but it tries to make sense of the control that so many different types of organized religions have tried to impose on us by making us feel bad about what honestly is just instinct at the end of the day. I'm essentially calling B.S. and saying, "Hey, wait a minute. Without these, we don't learn to be better people." In moderation, none of these are actually really bad. [Laughs]
CRAVEN It's interesting. "Thou shall not kill" is certainly one of the central edicts we got in our upbringing, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I was raised in the Baptist church. The whole subject of sin was everywhere. In [Craven's 2010 film] My Soul to Take, the main character's name is Adam. That gives you a clue about going to back to the basics. He's totally innocent. He has to learn to become a man by going through all of the sins himself and learning how to kill in order to survive. He learns what the lies were and how to recognize a lot of these "sins" or whatever you want to call them. It's a way to power, but it's also a way to loss of innocence. You can't have one without the other. Quite often, these things that we're told not to do are very powerful, and that's why they're made into something you're never supposed to do. The powers-that-be don't want you to be too powerful and unpredictable. I think it's a fascinating subject. In order to get to the bottom of things, all creative people know you have to go through the whole sin list yourself personally.
STONE SOUR ARE VERY INTROSPECTIVE AND REFLECTIVE. IT'S INTERESTING, COREY, THAT YOU'VE GONE FROM THIS VISCERAL EXPLOSION WITH SLIPKNOT INTO STONE SOUR. IT PARALLELS WES EVOLVING FROM LAST HOUSE INTO SCREAM, WHICH IS ALSO VERY REFLECTIVE. HOW IMPORTANT IS LOOKING INSIDE FOR THE BOTH OF YOU?
TAYLOR For me, you have to know where you've been to know where you're going to go. The more candid you can be about that and the more ways you can talk about it and let it out, the better off you'll be. With Stone Sour, it was the one area that I really didn't get to do in Slipknot. Whereas Slipknot was the scream therapy, Stone Sour is the meditation or reflection afterwards. With Stone Sour, I've been able to be on the more somber end of things and put things in a better perspective—rather than just the rabid violent side of things. If I didn't have Stone Sour to do that, I might not be as levelheaded as I am. [Laughs]
CRAVEN I've certainly been very grateful for the times that I've been able to step out of the genre, whether it's Music of the Heart or Paris, je t'aime. I've found that you can show more than just the crazy, vicious side. There are real human characters in My Soul to Take, and there are moments of solitude and humor. You can include all of those things in your art form, even if you have to change your name or your band name. [Laughs]
THAT REAL HUMANNESS ALWAYS HAS TO BE THERE IN GREAT ART. COREY, THE MAN, COMES THROUGH ON EVERY SONG HE'S WRITTEN. AND, WES, YOUR CHARACTERS—FOR INSTANCE, SIDNEY IN SCREAM—FEEL LIKE REAL PEOPLE.
TAYLOR To be quite honest, Sidney is one of my favorite written characters in any genre. I love her. The strength that she has to get over what a lot of people might take as a curse. What she struggles with in Scream 3 is remarkable. To have something like that hanging over you but be able to have that clarity, strength and finally let go of it is incredible. The Scream movies are some of my favorite films ever, in horror or otherwise. I can sit back and watch those over and over again because the stories and characters are so strong. The storytelling method is so great.
CRAVEN Sidney is one of a series of characters. Similar to Adam in My Soul to Take, she's the person who's innocent at the beginning. Adam finds out a lot about himself in My Soul to Take. By learning what you have inside, you can become stronger. You really can't grow as a person until you know your roots. I think that's a very important process, even for a musician in rock and roll. You have to know what the roots of that are and go back into blues and everything else. For a character that's in a town haunted by a legend, you have to know not only what the legend is but what the realities are behind it. They're central characters, and they're heroes really. They're not superheroes. They're heroes that bleed, but in the end, they achieve something quite extraordinary.