Rhiannon Elizabeth Irons Battle Of The Directors: John Carpenter vs Wes Craven

Where would a movie be without its director? More importantly, where would horror be without the men and women that bring terror to life? It is a directors job to capture the scares and deliver them with such force that we continue to talk about their movies thirty plus years after they have scared cinema goers.


Today, I’m taking two very well known directors and pitting them against each other, movie for movie, scandal for scandal, franchise against franchise in an epic battle of wits, scares and talent.


First up, the showdown between Halloween creator, John Carpenter, and the man that gave us nightmares, Wes Craven. These two men are synonymous with horror and I love them both. Their direction is different yet they manage to do the exact same thing: Scare the living crap out of audiences the world over. So with that, let’s begin with a look at the eldest of the two: Wes Craven.


Born on August 2nd, 1939, Wesley Earl Craven is an American actor, film director, writer, producer, perhaps best known for writing and directing Nightmare On Elm Street, which introduced the world to a terrorising dream demon named…Well, we’re not suppose to say his name out loud, so I’ll whisper it: Freddy Krueger.


But before the seed of Nightmare was planted, Wes was preparing to scare audiences cheaply with a low budget film in 1972 called Last House On The Left. Teaming up with Sean S. Cunningham (who would later go on to create Friday The 13th and Freddy’s arch nemesis) Wes gave us a story about two young women who go to a rock concert then get themselves kidnapped, and raped repeatedly before being killed by an escaped group of convicts. Their killers then take refuge with one of the victims families. After finding their daughter’s body, the parents go berserk and begin to slaughter their ‘guests.’ Last House On The Left was remade in 2009 but for me, didn’t have the same raw effect and emotion that the original did. Fun Fact: When distribution companies Hallmark and Atlas International released the movie in Germany, they attempted to pass it off as an actual “snuff” film (i.e., a real murder staged for the camera).


After finally getting the approval for Last House On The Left (The MPAA original slapped an X rating on the film to which Wes wanted an R rating. He then proceeded to remove 10 minutes of footage but still got the X rating. He removed another 20 minutes of footage but it still wasn’t enough. Finally, Craven put all of the original footage back in, got an authentic “RATED R” seal of approval from the film board from a friend of his, put it on the film and released it) Wes didn’t return to the big screen for five years. Then he scared audience again in 1977 with The Hills Have Eyes. A year later he returned with a television movie called Stranger In Our House (also known as Summer Of Fear) starring Linda Blair, which was about a teenage girl who begins to suspect her cousin may be a practitioner of black magic and witchcraft after she comes to live with her family.


The ’80′s were a busy time for Wes. In 1981 he delivered Deadly Blessing. In 1982, he gave us Swamp Thing but it is 1984 that he finally cracked the big time. Invitation To Hell was released first, then came New Line Cinema’s first ever production: Nightmare On Elm Street. (Fun fact: In the original movie, Elm Street is never mentioned.) Not only did Wes direct this cinematic masterpiece, but he wrote it as well, basing the villain (Krueger) on a homeless man that had scared him and his brother as youths.


In 1985, Wes backed up the success of The Hills Have Eyes by providing movie enthusiasts with a sequel. The Hills Have Eyes II came out while Wes was directing The NEW Twilight Zone TV Show. Two years later, Wes would return to Elm Street as a writer for Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3 as well as executive producer.


With a string of one off horror movies between 1987 and 1994, Wes decided to give his ultimate villain a make-over. Audiences by this time were growing tired of Freddy Krueger and his cheesy one liners, but they were surprised and shocked as Krueger, long time resident of Dream Land, was suddenly able to break barriers and enter the real world in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Now, that might not sound like anything new, but Freddy’s main target was Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played his nemesis Nancy Thompson in Nightmare On Elm Street Parts 1 and 3. Audiences went wild, and New Nightmare was a success.


With Freddy’s popularity at it’s highest, Wes turned to a new project and in 1996, gave us the beginning of his second successful series, Scream.


Scream focused on character development and ground breaking ‘rules’ of horror. It was a success, not only at box office, but at combining horror and humour. Wes even had a small cameo in the film as Fred, the school janitor (Ironic that he wore the infamous red and green stripped sweater and fedora that Freddy Krueger donned in the Nightmare series).


In 1997, Wes returned to the director’s chair and gave us Scream 2. In the same year, Wes teamed up with Freddy Krueger (I mean, Robert Englund) for Wishmaster which contrary to the belief, Wes did not direct or write. He was an executive producer.


When Scream 2 reached audiences, there were mixed reactions. Overall, the film was loved, but Wes began getting hate mail from fans because of the death of Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). Randy’s character according to fans, was the most likeable and associable character Scream had. The mail became too much and when Wes returned to the Scream series in 2000, Jamie Kennedy reprised his role as Randy for a brief five minute video that left behind the new ‘rules’ for Sidney and her friends in Scream 3.


Last year (2011), Wes returned to Woodsboro, home of Sidney Prescott, and delivered audiences Scream 4. The reviews are mixed on Scream 4. Some love it, some loath it, but you will always get that kind of reaction with movies regardless of what they are. I was just happy to see Wes back in the director’s chair, giving audiences what they want and what they crave. However, I was disappointed in the lack of horror that Scream 4 had. Just like Freddy before, Ghostface is now more comical then scary.


Wes has had a long, illustrious career that has spanned forty years. In that time he has bought us two massive series, multiple classic horror films all starring original villains. Most of his movies are renown for breaking the ties between reality and dream scapes. It’s no wonder that Wes is often referred to as The Dream Master.


January 16th 1948 was when John Howard Carpenter entered this world. He is known as an American film director, producer, screenwriter, editor, composer and sometimes actor. Though he has been involved in numerous projects, Carpenter is often associated with horror and science fiction.

In 1970 John Carpenter won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. He was the co-writer, music composer and editor of a USC Cinema project called The Resurrection Of Broncho Billy.


In 1974, Carpenter made his directorial debut with the movie Dark Star which he co-wrote. Dark Star was a black comedy science fiction movie and cost about $60,000 to make. Carpenter and his partner multi-tasked the jobs, completing the movie themselves. Carpenter also provided the musical score as well as the writing, producing and directing. Carpenter’s efforts did not go unnoticed as much of Hollywood marvelled at his film-making abilities within the confines of a shoestring budget.


Carpenter’s next movie was Assault On Precinct 13 in 1976. A low-budget thriller influenced by the films of Howard Hawks, particularly Rio Bravo. As with Dark Star, Carpenter was responsible for many aspects of the film’s creation. He not only wrote, directed and scored it, but also edited the film under the pseudonym “John T. Chance” (Fun Fact: John T. Chance was John Wayne’s character name in Rio Bravo). Carpenter has said that he considers Assault on Precinct 13 to have been his first real film because it was the first movie that he shot on a schedule. The film was also significant because it marked the first time Carpenter worked with Debra Hill, who played a major part in the making of some of Carpenter’s most important films.


Fast forward to 1978, when Carpenter turned all Alfred-Hitchcock-like and delivered Halloween. Halloween was successful from the get go and is often credited with giving birth to the slasher film genre. Originally the bigwigs wanted a film about a babysitter because every kid in America knew what a babysitter was. What they didn’t anticipate was Carpenter putting his own spin on the film by delivering one of horror’s most iconic villains, Michael Myers. Co-written with Debra Hill (Fun fact: Debra Hill is the ‘young’ Michael at the start of the film. It is her holding the steady cam and reaching into the kitchen drawer to produce the knife), Carpenter relied upon taut suspense rather than the excessive gore that would define later slasher films.


Halloween was made with a small budget of roughly $300,000 and grossed $65 million making it one of the most successful independent movies of all time.


Carpenter often describes Halloween as being a film he wanted to watch as a kid, “full of cheap tricks like a haunted house at the fair where you walk down corridor and things jumps out at you.” The film has often been cited as an allegory on the virtue of sexual purity and the danger of casual sex, although Carpenter has explained that this was not his intent: “It has been suggested that I was making some kind of moral statement. Believe me, I’m not. In Halloween, I viewed the characters as simply normal teenagers.” Of the later slasher styled films that have largely mimicked Carpenter’s work on Halloween, few have been successful.


In addition to the film’s critical and commercial success, Carpenter’s self-composed “Halloween Theme” remains a recognisable film music theme to this day.


In 1980, still riding high on the success of Halloween, Carpenter made The Fog starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode from Halloween) and her mother, Janet Leigh (Marion Crane from Psycho). Carpenter immediately followed The Fog with the science-fiction adventure Escape From New York which quickly picked up large cult and mainstream audiences as well as critical acclaim.


In 1982 John Carpenter took a crack at The Thing. Although the film was ostensibly a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks film The Thing From Another World (Fun Fact: The Thing From Another World is playing in Halloween, just before Annie tells Lindsay that she’s going over to watch TV with Tommy Doyle) Carpenter’s version is more faithful to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella Who Goes There? which both films were based on.


Universal offered Carpenter a chance to direct a Stephen King adaptation called Firestarter. But when The Thing failed at box office, Carpenter was replaced. He had the last laugh because his next film was also based on a Stephen King novel. Christine, the demonic car, revved into cinemas and did respectably. Critics loved it, but Carpenter is often quoted as saying that he did it because that was all that was offered to him.


In 1986, after the commercial bombing of his action-comedy, Big Trouble In Little China, Carpenter returned to making low budget films starting with The Prince Of Darkness in 1987 which starred shock rocker Alice Cooper and teamed Carpenter up again with Donald Pleasence of whom he worked with in Halloween.


The ’90′s weren’t that successful for Carpenter and the early ’00′s saw many of his films being remade. The Fog and Assault On Precinct 13 were both redone and gained new fans which has given his original films a cult following. Carpenter was an executive producer for The Fog, though at first, he denied his involvement.


In 2005, Carpenter crawled back into the director’s chair to film an episode of Showtime’s Masters Of Horror series. His episode, Cigarette Burns, aired to generally positive reviews, and positive reactions from Carpenter fans, many of whom regard it as being on par with his earlier horror classics. He has since contributed another original episode for the show’s second season entitled Pro-Life.


In 2010, Carpenter returned with The Ward which fans say is one of his best. The Ward is a thriller centred on an institutionalised young woman who becomes terrorised by a ghost. With the movies’ focus on the two genres that he loves (horror and science-fiction) Carpenter has found success with The Ward, and some fans are quick to say that he’s back to his Halloween best.


Commercially, Wes Craven has received more acclaim. Two successful series under his belt and a string of cult followings, one would assume that he would easily win this showdown. However, if it wasn’t for John Carpenter’s Halloween giving birth to the modern day slasher film, would there have been a Nightmare? Would we have heard the Scream? It’s an answer that we’ll never know, but if I were to make an assumption I would have to say that without Michael Myers and his reign of terror on Halloween, Freddy Krueger and Ghostface would cease to exist.


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