Monday, September 07, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: Quentin Tarantino vs. Wes Craven?

So....a number of horror fans have approached me about this particular tempest in a teapot, asking me my thoughts on it, and I decided I would use my Ask JKM a Question slot this week to address my feelings regarding it.

In case anyone missed it, just about a week before Wes Craven passed away following a protacted battle with brain cancer, Quentin Tarantino (quoted at Bloody Disgusting, and other places) made the following comment about Scream (1996):

"I actually didn't care for Wes Craven's direction of it. I thought he was the iron chain attached to its ankle that kept it earthbound and stopped it from going to the moon."

That comment might be read now as terribly ungracious, given Mr. Craven's death only a few days later.  

But Mr. Tarantino, first of all, didn't know Craven would pass way in mere days. So no one should hold the timing of the interview against him.

And secondly, Tarantino is absolutely entitled to his opinion of other films and other directors. That's something that all filmmakers and writers accept. He is also entitled to voice those opinions, in whatever fashion and tone he chooses.

When your work goes out into the public square, others comment on it. And not always nicely, either. 

But that's freedom of speech.

Certainly, other filmmakers and critics write and comment on Mr. Tarantino's films all the time, positively or negatively, and now -- look -- here I am responding to a statement he made that many horror fans took issue with.  

That's just how it works.

So I don't think anyone should be attacking Tarantino over this in really venomous terms, like he was trying to pillory a dead man, or attemping to destroy a beloved genre icon. 

I don't believe that was the intention, although, yes, his timing has proven unfortunate. 

I am an admirer of Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker (read this review of Death Proof, if I need to prove it).

Yet by the same token sometimes he does come off as a bit, well, narcissistic in interviews, and so I chalk this incident off as just another (largely harmless) example of that quality. 

He is always posturing as the biggest BMF in the house. That's just QT being QT.

Now, on the substance of the issue, and the reality of what Tarantino said, I do feel a reality check is warranted. 

So I'll exercise my freedom of speech, as Mr. Tarantino exercised his.

The Scream comment is basically narcissistic (and obnoxious) because it proposes something that can't really be tested. Namely, that Tarantino could have made a better Scream movie than the one Wes Craven gave us. And furthermore, he could have done it in 1996.

We will never know that, will we?  We can't know that, can we?

At least not until Tarantino signs on to direct Scream 5 or a Scream reboot At that juncture, we'll have a one-to-one basis by which to judge. Then we can see with our eyes which approach is better, right?

So I urge Mr. Tarantino to do just that.  It's a win-win situation.  He puts his money where his mouth is, proves he wasn't being bitter, and we all get another Scream entry from a top-flight director. 

Certainly, if Mr. Tarantino believes his remarks are accurate, I think this is the perfect challenge and I thereby issue it.

Show us your better vision, Mr. Tarantino! We welcome a Scream movie from you!

But until that happens, Tarantino has just basically thrown out this verbal fire bomb, this un-provable criticism without anything to back it up; just the morsel that Wes Craven somehow kept the film from reaching its full potential. 

He held it down, ya know. 

Maybe in his next interview, Tarantino will tell us how he would have done better, instead of keeping it such a closely guarded secret.

Or perhaps, in fairness to Tarantino, he did report his ideas for the film, and they just didn't make it into the interview. Wouldn't be the first time.  Reporters rarely use all the material they get in an interview, and really, Scream wasn't the main topic of the (well-written, informative) piece.

Or perhaps Tarantino is actually planning Scream 5, or a Scream reboot, and so can't talk about details now for his vision of the franchise.

If so, that's understandable.  If not, however, I think he should walk us through -- in another interview -- how his Scream would have been better than Wes Craven's version. We want details, not accusations.

Now, I have no reason not to take Tarantino at his word that he believes he could have made a better movie than Craven did.  But also, if I'm not mistaken, there was a kerfuffle between them at some point in their shared history.

A long time ago, you see, Craven walked out of a screening of one of Tarantino's films. I believe it was Reservoir Dogs

I'm sure that stung, Mr. Tarantino. 

I'm sure it hurt the filmmaker a lot. Reservoir Dogs is a great film, Tarantino was just starting out in the business, and I'm sure he needed all the friends and support he could get for his film.

So I'm sure that on some level it felt really good to even the score for that old hurt in this 2015 interview, especially at a time when Wes Craven was out of the limelight, and Tarantino was enjoying his continuing status as celebrity director, with a new film coming out in a few months.

I resist psychoanalzying people or making matters like this personal. But the personal history the two directors shared is absolutely a valid point of inquiry in understanding what Quentin Tarantino said, and perhaps why, even, that he said it.

But let's focus on Scream.  Is QT right? Was it chained down to Earth, and kept from going to the moon?

On the contrary, it is apparent that Scream (1996) was a giant box-office hit, earning 173 million dollars against a 14 million dollar budget at a time when horror films were, literally, dead in the water. 

Scream spawned a franchise that included three sequels, and now a TV series It initiated a new slasher craze (I Know What You Did Last Summer [1997], and Urban Legend [1998]) too.  

It's hard to see how that kind of success is anything but overwhelming.

So to claim that Craven's participation somehow kept the film "earthbound" and was an "iron chain attached to its ankle" clearly doesn't reflect any kind of factual reality about how Scream was received.  

Realistically, how could it have been any bigger? 

By comparison, Tarantino's own film from about that time period, Jackie Brown (1997) -- which I consider pure genius, by the way -- grossed about 40 million against a 12 million dollar budget. 

I would never describe Tarantino, however, as the shackle that kept the film from succeeding. His direction was great. 

So in the final analysis, Tarantino is absolutely entitled to his opinion, and he shouldn't be blamed for the fact that his comment and Craven's death occurred just days apart. 

Let's be real about that. He's not the devil. He was the victim of unlucky timing.

But, simultaneously, it's narcissistic and obnoxious for Tarantino to brag that he could have done Scream better while offering no details and ignoring the readily-available facts about the film's undeniable success.

He coulda done a bigger-er international phenomenon! 

So I hope Quentin Tarantino takes me up on my challenge and directs a new Scream movie. 

Perhaps he could even dedicate the film -- Quentin Tarantino's Scream -- to the memory of Wes Craven.

Don't forget to ask me your questions at


  1. John interesting thoughts, I agree.


  2. Yeah that was just QT being QT, as you said. And a QT directed "Scream" would probably be a much more grind house style type of film, a very different type of film. Both men are very different storytellers. In a way I can see how QT didn't find much to click with him in Craven's vision. Nothing wrong with that, just a matter of taste. And at the same time Tarantino's vision didn't work for Craven, if the "Reservoir Dogs" story is true. Nothing wrong with that either. Just some bad timing all the way around.

    Not sure if I'd want to see a "Scream" reboot or sequel. For me the series is pretty played out. But that first film is still a classic in my book.