Hack-Off: Craven Vs Carpenter

The Bloody Good Horror Crew goes at it on a new topic every Friday afternoon, we call it the "Hack-Off". Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments.

Craven Vs. Carpenter?
This one is extremely tough, because Craven and Carpenter are both similar in one respect: They are both directors with incredible cult classics under their belt, who in recent years have had less than stellar careers. Early career wise, it would be easy for me to say that Carpenter is the better director. I would take "Halloween", "The Fog" and "The Thing" any day over "Last House on the Left", "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Nightmare on Elm St". However, if you follow their careers through to today, I have to give this one to Craven if for the simple fact that he seems to have had a slightly longer shelf life. Granted, his last great film was probably "Scream" in 1996, but Carpenter's last great film (and that may be a strong word) was "In the Mouth of Madness" in 1995. So, barring any productions in progress, I give it to Craven by a year.
Craven Vs. Carpenter. In many ways, this is like asking 'Do you like blonds or brunettes?' The fact of the matter is, they're both great in their own right. It all boils down to...who has the better rack! Or in this case, the better catalog. Both have had classics, both have had misses, but looking back over their credits, one starts to outweigh the other. As I look over Craven's lists, a few titles pop out; "Nightmare on Elm Street", "The Hills Have Eyes", "the People Under the Stairs", despite things I've said in the past, "Scream" had it it's merits, and hell I even liked "Red Eye".

So, let's turn to Carpenter. Carpenter has even more titles that pop out for me; "Assault on Precinct 13", "The Fog", "Escape From New York", "The Thing", "Halloween", "They Live", and that's only a fraction of them! Based on that fact alone, I give my vote to Carpenter. Both have given us disturbing stories and characters indeed, but Carpenter's brings a quality unique to his own. Craven comes with a heavy influence from Exploitation. I don't knock that, I enjoy that myself. Carpenter feels to have embraced the genre to a fuller extent. Where Craven will try and make you uncomfortable with a characters actions such as rape, murder or pedophilia. Carpenter on the other hand brings genuine fear, something evil, a force of nature. I also give Carpenter the nod since he's branched out a bit more as well. Who doesn't love Snake Plisken and the campy action of "Escape" (both New York and L.A.) or Roddy Piper in "They Live"?

As stated, I don't think there should be much debate on this question, Carpenter is by far the superior director, if both are judged solely on their technical merits. Casey makes a fine point in stating that Carpenter is stronger at creating genuine fear. If we look at each director's strongest works, Carpenter stacks up far better, with "Halloween" being generally regarded as one of the finest horror films ever made. But even lesser Carpenter films have a strong sense of anxiety and tension; a feeling that they are Carpenter films.

That is not to take anything away from Wes Craven's ability to create tension. Casey also brought in "Red Eye," which I thought was one of the best films of Craven's career. At the end of the day though, if we look at the real dregs, Craven's worst efforts are insipid and uninspired, feeling as though he really could care less (I'm looking at you "Vampire in Brooklyn"). Carpenter, on the other hand, seemed to bring his A-effort even when a lesser director wouldn't have deemed the script worthy, and that makes even his worst films worth watching.

I agree with Jon. Craven at his best is about 3/4 of the director that Carpenter is, at least from a pure cinematic standpoint. A director is only as good as his worst film, and Carpenter hasn't even smelled the realm of bad that "Cursed" lives in. It also stands to reason that in comparing the two you have to put their sub genre films head to head. Although Freddy is considerably more ubiquitous of a character than Michael Myers, I'd hate to meet the person that could draw a fair comparison between "Halloween" and "Nightmare" in terms of film making.

You could also try to compare Halloween to Scream, but it's arguable that Scream wouldn't exist without Halloween. The fact that Craven mimicked the suspense of the Halloween films in Scream and not the Nightmare films should speak for itself. Craven deserves credit as far as pure schlock entertainment value goes, with the occasional gem (Scream, Nightmare, duh) to keep a somewhat favorable light on his career, but in terms of consistency and skill, Carpenter all the way.

I hate all of you. Although, you do all make valid points. One thing I have to point out though, is the fact that even though Craven has had his fair share of bombs, he's at least always plugged away at it. Carpenter has a project in the works now (with the awful title "LA Gothic"), but up until now his MO over the last 15 years has just been sitting back and collecting checks. Craven, no matter how awful some of his films are ("People Under the Stairs" will always be an abortion, no matter what you guys say) he has at least always tried.

It's hard for me to give Carpenter the title of overall the "better director" here because he's basically given up. Plus, although "Scream" was an homage to Carpenter in many ways, I will go out on a limb and say that that one film is better that anything in Carpenter's catalog. "Halloween" was a film for hire that he just tried to make not suck, and inadvertently stumbled onto something huge. With "Scream" Craven was intentionally trying to innovate and create something new, and love it or hate it, succeeded at it big time. I love Carpenter just as much as the next guy, but for the sake of being devil's advocate here, I still have to give this one to Craven.

Eric, aren't you the guy that ranked "Halloween" as one of your all time favorite slashers? Sure, you say that "Halloween" was a job for hire that Carpenter just wanted to make 'not suck'. If the product was that bad before he got there, isn't that testament to his skill that he made it the classic it was? Still, I myself don't hold "Scream" in the same high regard as you. Like I said, it had it's merits, but I also feel it did a lot to damage the genre. Since "Scream", we get a lot of films following the same formula, lots of glitz, lots of gloss. In the past fifteen years, Carpenter brought us "In the Mouth of Madness", "Vampires" (shut up, I liked it), and two of the best episodes of "Masters of Horror" (and to a lesser extent, the return of Snake Plisken!). Wes brought us "Scream" and "Red Eye" and then banking on rehashes of both "Scream" and "Nightmare". And "Vampire in Brooklyn". Can you use the past 15 years as an example with that on your record? I think not.

Let us not forget....Carpenter writes his own soundtracks. Not only does he scare, he rocks out as well.

So Eric does make a fair point in that Carpenter has sort of allowed himself to fall out of practice. But my read on that situation is a lot different than his. If nothing else, Carpenter's participation in the "Masters of Horror" series shows that he's ready, willing and able to work, and the fact that he hasn't done so must have more to do with his lack of acceptable scripts. The last several years have not exactly been kind to the 70's crew, when you think about it. Most of their classics are coming in for remakes, and many of the themes and situations that drove the horror scene in their day are different now.

There's also been a whole new slew of directors, from Eli Roth and Alexander Aja to Rob Zombie and James Wan, who have showed up on the scene to announce some real changes in horror. Craven hasn't exactly set the world on fire, especially from a creative aspect over the last decade. As I said before, "Red Eye" was terrific, but it was terrific specifically because it was a small, tight little film. Carpenter has stayed out of the way since 2001, with the exception of his work on "Masters," so we can only hope that he's been saving himself up for LA Gothic, which I'm personally excited about. I won't take anything away from the Scream films, but at the end of the day, I refuse to reward working for the sake of working. It's not like Craven needs to put food on the table. If anything, he should have known better than to show up for "Cursed," a film he definitely was under no financial pressure to make.

To me it ultimately comes down to their specific value. Carpenter, I would say, is a "thinking man's director." Like Jon said, he takes care and it shows, and seems to do all he can to make sure that when his name is brought up (much like this), it elicits more praise than giggles. Both Carpenter and Craven to an extent don't have as definable roles in today's hyper-glossy horror scene. Craven has shown a willingness to try to adapt, but in doing so, has lost a lot of what made him a big name in the first place. Carpenter's worst is much more powerful than Craven's, as is his best. Once he delivers another ass-kicking film, I think it'll become apparent that we'd much rather have 10 solid Carpenter films than 30 mediocre Craven films. If being a prolific director automatically meant that you were a quality director, we'd currently be singing the praises of Uwe Boll, and lord knows that's the last thing that we want.
Did you fuckers really think I would let this go without the last word? Haha! Seriously though. You all make good points, and at the end of the day, I'm almost inclined to say that they're on pretty equal ground. They've both had their hits, both had their misses, and at the end of the day have both had a major impact on every young director today.

If you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments, and check back every Friday for a new edition!

Eric N

Co-Founder / Editor-in-Chief / Podcast Host

Eric is the mad scientist behind the BGH podcast. He enjoys retro games, tiny dogs, eating fiber and anything whimsical.

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