Jake’s review published on Letterboxd:
“It’s all a great big movie... only you can’t pick your genre,”
It’s really easy to forget how damn good that opening scene is. Everything about it works, and it lasts JUST that much longer than you remember it lasting, making it somehow retain its unpredictability. You really do think Drew Barrymore has a chance of making it until the last possible second.
Also wow the first scene with Sydney has her boyfriend explaining how he’s frustrated that they won’t have sex whilst standing in front of an Indigo Girls poster in her room. Rise up, lesbians ✊
There’s a sadism that permeates Scream, not necessarily in the brutality or kills, but in the writing. Wes Craven loves drowning this franchise in a darkly comic sense of ironic detachment. The only character he really gives a shit about is his leading lady, Sydney, everybody else is a chess piece he strategically moves into place exactly where he wants, to kill them in exactly the way he wants. He was a sadistic son of a bitch, but he did his work with a dramatic bravado that I have to admire. However, long time followers of me know that I’m not a huge Craven fan. One of my notoriously awful takes is that I don’t care for the original Nightmare on Elm Street (even though I think 3 fucking owns) and my recent review of Scream 4 expressed my displeasure at Craven’s weaknesses when he indulges in his own meta. However, where movies like New Nightmare and Scream 4 display weaknesses with that meta, the original Scream displays his strengths.
I still have my issues with the movie. It’s a screenplay where every character talks like a college film student, constantly espousing bits of film or genre trivia that doesn’t feel the slightest bit genuine or authentic to the characters saying these lines. The ‘horror’ and kills are the best this franchise has to offer, at least to the best to my memory (might watch 2 and 3 later to refresh myself) anyway, even if I still think all-around they leave something to be desired. It’s basically impossible for me to take Ghostface seriously after Sydney trips him in that first scene he goes after her, he just flails about on the floor like a fish on dry land and it’s very very silly.
The movie substitutes these weaknesses through several notable strengths. First and foremost: the screenplay. I may have issues with the dialogue at points, but Scream’s structure is fucking perfect. Rising tension, escalation, subversion, second act low point, third act twist, it is all here and it is all rock solid. If I taught film, I would use this screenplay as a perfect example of how to write something that perfectly adhered to the general rules of storytelling without feeling like a machine, which was probably Scream 4’s biggest problem. That movie just sort of rotated in place for its whole runtime, whereas this feels way more genuine and way better paced. It absolutely flies by, and I wasn’t ever bored. I think this is also in tune with the performances, which are all very broad and very archetypical (as is the dialogue, I challenge you to find one American teenage cheerleader who speaks like the one in the bathroom scene), but we all know that’s on purpose, and they’re played very well. Sydney Prescott is a great lead in all of these, and Nieve Campbell brings a certain wide-eyed naïveté to the role that I find endearing, making up for how the other characters feel a bit disposable.
The real fun in these movies is trying to guess the identity of the killer when you first watch them, and I maintain that. The Scream series loses a very specific ‘something’ when you revisit them because that tension and guessing game is no longer there. There’s so many great msidirects, hints, and clues that play even on the more horror savvy audience memeber’s knowledge of film. Scream was enthralling when I was in high school and didn’t know too much about the genre or horror in general, but now, it’s a bit more cursory. The meta elements still feel a trifle glaring, and while not NEARLY as full of itself and obnoxious as Scream 4, it still reads as being a movie that’s a little too impressed with itself. All that being said, the structure and solid filmmaking and camerawork hold this up as still being entertaining and fun, even if I think that fun is a hell of a lot dumber than I used to think. I’m just happy I enjoyed this upon revision, cause I was REALLY worried I wouldn’t. I may prefer ‘Cabin in the Woods’ for my choice in meta-horror, but this isn’t a bad time.
Also, this movie is earning an extra half star because I am the biggest Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fan on earth, and the ‘Red Right Hand’ needledrop is sexy as fuck. (Also the subtle cover of ‘Dont Fear the Reaper’ in Billy’s first scene did not go unnoticed)