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Face-Off: Wes Craven vs. John Carpenter

Oct. 5, 2012by: Paul Huffman
In last weeks Face Off, we honored time travel films by pitting two classics that tackled the subject matter in a match up between Terminator and its sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. My two cents leaned towards the latter and the folks in our strikeback section seemed to concur, so congratulations to the film I deemed the Godfather II of Sci-Fi/Action films.

This week, we're honoring the season by showing love to two directors that are legends among horror films in a match between the greats Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Both men have made classics that stand the test of time, both men have made duds in recent years. But in my humble opinion both still have greatness in them. There styles differ, but both are effective. Which director has made the horror films that have stayed with you? Lets discuss.
70's
Wes Craven made his way onto the scene in a very controversial way tackling subject matter that made us cringe with The Last House on the Left and Hills Have Eyes. The former had what became a legendary marketing campaign with a poster with a tagline that read "to keep from fainting, keep repeating it's only a movie", for those who have not seen the original film let me just tell you this is easier said than done. The subject matter was a turn off, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't effective. Craven also directed a television film in 1978 entitled Stranger in Our House starring Linda Blair.
The shining stars of John Carpenter's 70's films would definitely have to be the original Assault on Precinct 13 and the granddaddy of the slasher film Halloween. The latter spawned the majority of the horror films that followed trying to recapture the films brilliant formula, even Craven's masterpiece Nightmare on Elm Street. Carpenter also had some made for tv films under his belt in Someone's Watching Me and a biography of Elvis Presley with future frequent collaborator Kurt Russel in the title role. The phenomenon that Halloween spawned in the horror world alone gives Carpenter the edge in the 70's for me.
80's
Swamp Thing, and the emergence of the legend that became Freddy Krueger was a good time for Wes Craven. The film that made us all afraid to dream, which spawned sequel after sequel...some hits...some misses. The 80's for Craven also gave us a film he personally disowned in the sequel to Hills Have Eyes but he redeemed himself with a personal Craven favorite of mine in Shocker. How about the soundtrack to that film, huh?
The Fog. Escape from New York. The Thing. Christine. Big Trouble In Little China. Prince of Darkness. They Live. I'm sorry Wes, I'm afraid films like The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China alone give Carpenter the edge here. So many horror directors find themselves typecast as a horror director their whole career (sorry Romero) but Carpenter managed to spoil his horror following and spread his wings with films like Little China (and didn't fuck up in the process). Translation? SCORE!
90's
The People Under The Stairs. Craven's first journey into the self aware approach with Wes Craven's New Nightmare. And especially...the film that resurrected the dead world of horror with Scream (and its worthy sequel). Ghostface became a horror icon for a new generation and acted as the film that every subsequent horror film in the 90's tried to emulate, Craven took that mantle from Carpenter I suppose you could say. Craven also had at least one WTF was he thinking moment that I've seen at least with Vampire in Brooklyn.
In The Mouth of Madness. Village of the Damned. Escape from LA. Vampires. There are the films that told us Carpenter wasn't out for the count in the 90s. I remember as a youngster Village of the Damned especially caught my eye as I saw my mother watching it one night, and felt compelled to join. NOTE: I'm curious about Memoirs of an Invisible Man. For those who have seen it. What think you?
00's/2010's
Scream 3. A guilty pleasure for me in Cursed. A film I'm not ashamed of being a fan of at all in Red Eye. My Soul to Take (his dud of this category). And the worthy resurgence of the Scream franchise. When I first saw Scream 3, I wasn't a fan...but I must say with every viewing it grows on me. Red Eye was just brilliant, Cillian Murphy was as chilling in his own way as any character that has inhabited a Craven film. Not the best years of Wes' career, but this decade didn't make me give up on the man either. Give us a Scream 5 man. Sure to be better than the rumored tv series I've heard about.
From a directing standpoint, Carpenter only has two films to his resume for the last decade in Ghosts of Mars and The Ward. Now Ghosts of Mars was pure fun to me, a movie not made to be taken serious. The Ward was weird for me, it wasn't a bad film...but it wasn't anything that would become too memorable in Carpenter's body of work either. I will say this for Carpenter in closing, two remakes of some of his most brilliant work in Assault on Precinct 13 and the Fog were released in 2005, both of which were nothing but painful reminders that his original work should have been left the fuck alone.
Overall
Wes Craven has made a hell of a career for himself in the world of horror. He made his way onto the scene in a big bad way with films that did exactly what they were supposed to do...disturb the hell out of us. Like every other director he has made some films that not even he is proud of, but he's always come back and proven to us why he belongs. I expect at least a couple more knocks out of the park from the man, and can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve. Craven, you sir, are legend.
John Carpenter has made his mark as a legend among the die hard horror film fans and has been able to pull off what not all directors can say they have, avoiding being thrown into a category they can't claw themselves out of. Carpenter has made horror classics and employed range and given us classics that have nothing to do with the horror genre whatsoever, and that is something to be appreciated. He also has made his mark in the world of composing, creating the iconic score for his gem Halloween. Renaissance man? I think so.
John Carpenter
So there you have it folks! Both men have legendary resumes to be sure...but John Carpenter did indeed always speak to my sensibilities in his approach a bit more than my man Craven did. Carpenter's turn in the decade of the 1980's cannot be denied and he churned out a few of what have become my favorites of the genre and beyond. But this is one mans opinion! Where do you lot stand? If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which director is your favourite?
POST YOUR CHOICE BELOW!
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+4
1:57PM on 10/07/2012
Carpenter is easily the better of the two. Nothing against Craven, but when I saw the title, I had my answer.
Carpenter is easily the better of the two. Nothing against Craven, but when I saw the title, I had my answer.
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12:18PM on 10/07/2012
Memoires of an invisable man is argueably one of chevie chase and Daryl hanna's best roles. Hell even sam neil pulls off some great work as the sleazy badguy. The comedy is pretty decent since they actually play off the invisability with a more realistic idea compared to other movies. Even the ending is a nice touch. Definately a movie to see if you want to see Chase and Hanna before their careers started to go south.

As for this faceoff, gotta agree that carpenter really set a serious
Memoires of an invisable man is argueably one of chevie chase and Daryl hanna's best roles. Hell even sam neil pulls off some great work as the sleazy badguy. The comedy is pretty decent since they actually play off the invisability with a more realistic idea compared to other movies. Even the ending is a nice touch. Definately a movie to see if you want to see Chase and Hanna before their careers started to go south.

As for this faceoff, gotta agree that carpenter really set a serious standard in a lot of his movies in the 70s and 80s but as it got near the 90s he struggled and these days he rarely does much. In terms of legacy of horror and directing he definately beats out wes craven.
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8:39PM on 10/06/2012

Finally!

I've been hoping for this one for a while now. Great aticle!
I've been hoping for this one for a while now. Great aticle!
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+3
10:49AM on 10/06/2012
Carpenter, and I was lucky enough to meet him!
Carpenter, and I was lucky enough to meet him!
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9:40AM on 10/06/2012

Carpenter

Nothing tops the Thing, Escape from NY, Big Trouble.
A better match for Craven might have been Romero.
Tidbit: its pretty good. Funny with some decent dramatic action.
Nothing tops the Thing, Escape from NY, Big Trouble.
A better match for Craven might have been Romero.
Tidbit: its pretty good. Funny with some decent dramatic action.
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6:12AM on 10/06/2012

Carpenter had this in the bag

The man had a near flawless run of films starting at "Dark Star" in 74 and ending when he stumbled with "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" in 92, Craven's hit and miss output completely pales in comparison.
The man had a near flawless run of films starting at "Dark Star" in 74 and ending when he stumbled with "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" in 92, Craven's hit and miss output completely pales in comparison.
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4:11AM on 10/06/2012

This was a joke, right?

Craven shouldn't even be allowed in the same room as Carpenter.
Craven shouldn't even be allowed in the same room as Carpenter.
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8:17PM on 10/05/2012

Carpenter

JC has the strongest track record of ANY horror director: Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Christine, In the Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness, and Vampires are all great genre flicks imo. His [link] flicks are just as good: They Live, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Starman....hell even his most blasted flicks I dig. Escape From LA and Ghost of Mars are fun, campy good times to me! The man can do no wrong in my eyes....well except for Village of the Damned and The Ward....
JC has the strongest track record of ANY horror director: Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Christine, In the Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness, and Vampires are all great genre flicks imo. His [link] flicks are just as good: They Live, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Starman....hell even his most blasted flicks I dig. Escape From LA and Ghost of Mars are fun, campy good times to me! The man can do no wrong in my eyes....well except for Village of the Damned and The Ward....
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+2
6:02PM on 10/05/2012
I think I'd probably put Craven over any other horror director out there... just not Carpenter. You know you're up against a true master when you make A Nightmare on Elm Street and still not win your category. Yep, Carpenter all the way... also, I agree with every the results in all categories.

As for Memoirs? I really liked it. I was dissapointed by it when I was a kid, because I expected a laugh out loud comedy with Chevy Chase, but after some years have passed it began to grow on me.
I think I'd probably put Craven over any other horror director out there... just not Carpenter. You know you're up against a true master when you make A Nightmare on Elm Street and still not win your category. Yep, Carpenter all the way... also, I agree with every the results in all categories.

As for Memoirs? I really liked it. I was dissapointed by it when I was a kid, because I expected a laugh out loud comedy with Chevy Chase, but after some years have passed it began to grow on me. Decent addition to his body of work, but still nowhere near his classics.
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+2
5:12PM on 10/05/2012
I agree. While the last decade hasn't been kind to either of them, I did really enjoy Carpenter's Cigarette Burns from Masters of Horror.
I agree. While the last decade hasn't been kind to either of them, I did really enjoy Carpenter's Cigarette Burns from Masters of Horror.
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+6
4:35PM on 10/05/2012
I like them both, but Carpenter wins this by a mile. It's also a shame that Carpenter hasn't been given any A-list movies to direct in over a decade.
I like them both, but Carpenter wins this by a mile. It's also a shame that Carpenter hasn't been given any A-list movies to direct in over a decade.
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3:57PM on 10/05/2012
Craven is great but I've gotta give my vote to Carpenter as well. Horror films don't get much more iconic than HALLOWEEN. As far as sci-fi horror goes, besides ALIEN, the first film you think of is THE THING.
Craven is great but I've gotta give my vote to Carpenter as well. Horror films don't get much more iconic than HALLOWEEN. As far as sci-fi horror goes, besides ALIEN, the first film you think of is THE THING.
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+10
3:48PM on 10/05/2012
Couldn't agree more. Craven is fantastic but Carpenter made The Thing... nuff said!
Couldn't agree more. Craven is fantastic but Carpenter made The Thing... nuff said!
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3:48PM on 10/05/2012
I'm a big fan of early Carpenter. Wes Craven has actually been fairly innovative at points during his career and he's not afraid to shake things up a bit, but Last House On The Left kinda put me off him. Not a film I can enjoy. Whereas Carpenter's glory days might be a bit behind him, his best work is fantastic. Assault on Precinct 13 is one of my favourites.
I'm a big fan of early Carpenter. Wes Craven has actually been fairly innovative at points during his career and he's not afraid to shake things up a bit, but Last House On The Left kinda put me off him. Not a film I can enjoy. Whereas Carpenter's glory days might be a bit behind him, his best work is fantastic. Assault on Precinct 13 is one of my favourites.
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3:41PM on 10/05/2012
Totally agreed. Carpenter redefined how to make movies on a shoestring budget. All with a unique flair for camerawork and music that instantly puts you in the mood for what you are about to receive. He's the John Williams of synthesizers.

And there's a 10-year period in his career where he made 8 of the best pieces of genre fare any director would be envious of.

'Memoirs of an Invisible Man' is one I saw as a kid expecting a big comedy (result: bored) but now I feel compelled to watch
Totally agreed. Carpenter redefined how to make movies on a shoestring budget. All with a unique flair for camerawork and music that instantly puts you in the mood for what you are about to receive. He's the John Williams of synthesizers.

And there's a 10-year period in his career where he made 8 of the best pieces of genre fare any director would be envious of.

'Memoirs of an Invisible Man' is one I saw as a kid expecting a big comedy (result: bored) but now I feel compelled to watch again now that I'm a diehard Carpenter fan.

I love Craven...but he's yet to have the unquestionable masterpiece like 'The Thing.'
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+11
3:34PM on 10/05/2012
Is this even a contest? Carpenter is a fuckin' legend! I love Wes but lets face it, he's a little overhyped. Carpenter has a couple bad movies but he has a pretty damn impressive filmography.

PS: Vampires is a great movie! I'm tired of people putting it down.
Is this even a contest? Carpenter is a fuckin' legend! I love Wes but lets face it, he's a little overhyped. Carpenter has a couple bad movies but he has a pretty damn impressive filmography.

PS: Vampires is a great movie! I'm tired of people putting it down.
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3:17PM on 10/05/2012
Carpenter without question.
Carpenter without question.
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