NEW YORK -- There is nowhere to run, and this is no Wes Craven movie. Craven is aware that his fans upstairs at the New York Comic Con would chase him like a slasher after a busty virgin if they saw him.
"It's exciting that there's an audience out there," says Craven, at the comics and fantasy convention to promote The Hills Have Eyes 2, opening Friday. "There are not that many genres out there where the audience follows filmmakers. It means that the genre's very vital and speaking specifically to the audience."
But Craven, the zeitgeist-grabbing creator of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises, limits his exalted status. He did not plan to mingle in the Javits Center, and he does not assume the burden of resurrecting the genre when it dies one of its deaths.
"I feel a responsibility for the films I'm associated with to keep them vibrant," he says. "It's not a messianic thing at all."
Craven, 67, contemplates breakfast and the buffet of competition out there. Only so many things can go bump in the night.
"There's always a saturation point in any modality of horror, because its success is going to be copied," he says. "But then the audience gets hungry for something different. Right now, horror is in this incredible surge. There's an enormous amount out there, and it all does pretty well at the box office."
Which brings us to The Hills Have Eyes 2, a sequel to the 2006 remake of his 1977 original about people-munching mutants. He produced and co-wrote Hills 2 with his son, Jonathan, leaving the directing to Martin Weisz. Fox Atomic provided up to $15 million in budget, compared to the $1 million Craven worked with in directing a forgotten Hills sequel in 1985.
Holed up in Hollywood's Chateau Marmont for a month, the Cravens cranked out a tale of a National Guard unit found to be finger-licking good by a more resourceful band of mutants. Alpha mutant Papa Hades wants the womenfolk impregnated with mutant sperm to propagate the species.
Craven says the soldiers' predicament parallels the war in Iraq, in which American troops are confronting an unfamiliar culture and combat situation.
"We're all bodies," Cravens says. "We're all animals. We all have our physical vulnerabilities. We are so keenly aware of our vulnerability when we're attacked. I like to remind people of that."
The difference, of course, is that The Hills Have Eyes 2 is a diversion meant to, at most, make viewers lose their popcorn. Few do the trick as well as Craven, a Cleveland native who mined his childhood for his ghoulish outlook. A drunk who stared into his window reportedly became the inspiration for Freddy Krueger, the blood-letting monster of Nightmare.
"He is a genius in his own right for what he does," said Hills actress Jessica Stroup.
Jonathan Craven called the close-quartered month with his father a master class in "translating abstract fear into cinema."
"You can't really appreciate how hard it is until you sit there and try to do it," he says. "The longer I'm in film, the more respect I have for him. I call him the professor because he really breaks it down and does it in a quiet, civilized manner."
Craven gets tired of splatter on occasion. He took time off to direct Meryl Streep to an Oscar nomination in 1999's Music of the Heart and in 2005 he crafted a more reality-based thriller, Red Eye, that was well-received on its B-movie terms.
But horror has been the one apparent steady love for the thrice-married Craven, and he would never leave her.
He is about to write a fright flick for Universal/Rogue that he will probably direct. Like the trends he jolts into motion, Craven has come full circle. He began with straight-ahead gore, then parodied his life's work in three Scream movies. Now he has returned somewhat to unvarnished terror. He's guided by where the culture is, he declares.
The filmmaker also is being swept along by Hollywood's growing marketing trend for its more lurid product: No screenings for critics before the release. While insisting his movie "is not in trouble and we think it's a really good one," Craven says he has to defer to others' expertise. Because the Internet has generated billions of critics, some less qualified than others, he says, "You have a lot to lose if somebody decides they don't like it, and not that much to gain."
A gruesome Hills 2 birth scene blares from the trailer reel behind him, but Craven does not pick up his voice. Unlike its master, horror sometimes has to yell to get noticed. But it doesn't need to scare up awards to validate it. Keeping it that way could be the best gift Craven could offer to his disciples at the convention upstairs.
"I think if horror was ever at the Oscars, then it will have died," he says. "We'd have to reinvent it. It is an animal that should not be put in a cage."
Ron Dicker is a special correspondent for the Hartford (Conn.)Courant.