Kel’s review published on Letterboxd:
Back in 1996, at a time when it seemed like the slasher genre was beginning to fade out, this gem of a film was released to an unexpected audience who had lost interest in filmmakers churning out sequel after sequel. People were growing tired of serial killers taking trips to Manhattan or dressing up as the Wicked Witch of the West. So when a little scary movie (also originally titled that) called Scream hit the cinemas it was soon clear that this was a success and one that surely had an effect on younger audiences – they began to show interest in the genre once again. Because of its smart concept and witty satire, this had revived and reinvented the horror genre by turning it on its head and paved way for a string of more teen slashers that were released for years after.
The film centers around Sidney Prescott, a reserved teenage girl who is trying to survive high school, whilst simultaneously balancing all of her problems – including her pressuring boyfriend and the traumatic memory of the savage murder of her mother that happened a year earlier. After a student and her boyfriend are found brutally murdered late one night, the entire town of usually sleepy and quiet Woodsboro goes into a frenzy about a killer donning a Halloween mask and a wicked knife, with a frantic police department quickly trying to solve the murders and news reporters questioning absolutely everybody. Sidney soon finds herself caught up in the middle of all the mayhem and as people begin to fall victim around her, it seems everybody she knows is a suspect.
Being a 90’s kid myself, this was actually the film that kick started and heavily influenced my love of horror. One night when I was 6 years old I went sneaking downstairs at some ludicrous time of the night and I watched Scream for the first time. The first of many, many times. I must have absolutely destroyed that VHS tape. I have to say there’s nothing quite like feeling that amount of sheer terror and shock when you’re 6 years old and witnessing THAT final sequence of the opening scene. The nostalgia I feel when I watch this film is so overwhelming, it’s always held a massive place in my heart. I remember every Halloween in the late 90’s/early 00’s, you couldn’t go out Trick ‘r Treating without seeing at least 5 people dressed up as Ghostface, especially as there were so many different variations of it (who remembers the one with the blood pump inside the mask?) Obviously this being the first horror film I ever watched I never understood any of the many references to other films, it was just a much more grown up version of a Scooby Doo mystery. Over the years and after watching the film a lot more, you really clock onto all of the references, especially as you watch more horrors as the years go on. Imagine playing a drinking game every single time a film is referenced in Scream. A surefire way to get absolutely pissed out of your face in no time at all, I am telling you.
The opening scene of Scream, which lasts 13 minutes (how unlucky), could logically and comfortably exist as a short film all by itself. It has more character development and tension than a lot of other horror films that get splattered onto our screens. We open the film with young, blonde Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) who is getting ready to watch a horror movie in her big house, all by herself. The cinematography is gritty, but also slick, taking suburban and rural scenes, however also making them extremely threatening. For example – big old houses in the middle of nowhere, you know, where if anyone was to be in trouble, the police would never make it on time. After receiving some seemingly harmless and somewhat flirtatious conversations from an unknown caller, things swiftly take a nasty and more sinister turn, as Casey is forced into playing a trivia game with her tormentor – a horror movie trivia game, would you believe? Soon this turns into a violent cat and mouse chase, and much to everyone’s shock, she’s killed off immediately in this opening, which springs Psycho (1960) to mind. Alfred Hitchcock had the balls to kill off Janet Leigh, his biggest name star in his movie, before the 1 hour mark. Drew Barrymore was the main star of this film – plastered all over the promotional material, the posters, the trailer, and she’s offed within 15 minutes, just like that. All the rules are changing. This unforgettable start to the film alone still has the effectiveness to send shivers down one’s spine.
Talking of big names – Neve Campbell, who hits all the right notes in this role as our ‘Scream Queen’ young Sidney Prescott who is a vulnerable individual, but also strong willed. She’s the protagonist whose life is on the line, but who also ultimately has what it takes to overcome the dark trouble that’s coming her way. Courtney Cox is fantastic in the role of tabloid twit reporter Gale Weathers, who is willing to do almost anything for a story – but who also can show signs that she has a heart deep down. David Arquette plays humble and caring (also kind of goofy) Deputy Dwight ‘Dewey’ Riley, who’s chemistry with Cox would later lead to him marrying his onscreen love interest. Memorable supporting performances include Rose McGowan who plays Sidney’s best friend and Dewey’s younger sister Tatum Riley, Skeet Ulrich as Sidney’s brooding and suspicious boyfriend Billy Loomis – who kind of has the young Johnny Depp looking going on. Liev Schreiber plays Cotton Weary – the man falsely imprisoned for Sidney’s mothers murder. We also have Stu Macher, played by Matthew Lillard as another friend of the group, and video store worker/horror film buff (this is where the majority of all those references come from) Randy Meeks, played by Jamie Kennedy. Oh, and lastly the Fonz. Yes, we have the Fonz or Henry Winkler as Principal Himbry, and two very brief cameos from Linda Blair (The Exorcist) – see if you can spot her – and also from Wes Craven himself – playing a janitor, wearing a red and green sweater, donning the name Fred. Hmm, where have we seen that before?
I’m going to move straight onto the third act of the film which actually lasts around 45 minutes and I’m not going to reveal who committed all the murders, because really this film needs to be seen without it being spoiled. Also, if you haven’t already seen this masterpiece – what the hell is wrong with you? Nah, I’m just kidding. Let’s talk about red herrings. Scream is an absolute solid example of using the audiences expectations against them. From the moment it’s clear that this is a mystery and a “whodunit”, the viewers are naturally going to try to outsmart the film during the build up to the final reveal. However, Kevin Williamson is intelligent enough to not just throw in false alarms, but use those as red herrings for further red herrings. Sneaky, sneaky. Also, we’re not dealing with some sort of super villain that’s totally indestructible anymore like we’ve seen so many times before – it’s just a (not so) normal human. Very clumsy, tripping over their own costume, getting multiple hits to the face and body by the victims fighting back, that sort of thing. Personally, I think a person these characters know, someone close to home, is much scarier than an invincible killer that just keeps coming back. As the entire reveal unfolds, along with the motives, the final twist to a seemingly straight forward story complicates the plot entirely – a subject the sequels take to more extreme lengths. The climax to this killer blow is among of the best any slasher has to offer and what you’re left with is a unique film that really just works.
Scream offers a very meta and self-referential approach, with the late, great director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson inventing a world in which horror films do exist and the characters are all too aware that their lives are becoming one. Another shining example of a meta film that Craven released was New Nightmare (1994). Frankly a criminally underrated follow up to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), a film way ahead of its time that sees Freddy Krueger entering the real world – our world – and killing the cast and even the crew of his own films. Also starring the original Final Girl of the first Elm Street film, Heather Langenkamp, who plays herself. Scream adds to this modern meta creation by being a total game changer in the slasher genre with its sharp references to pop culture and all things scary movie related are absolutely packed into the dialogue, with film nerd Randy Meeks incredibly adamant if the authorities paid attention to the slasher films of the past, the crimes would be solved a lot quicker. It’s smart, funny, highly quotable and makes a whole ton of criticisms of the genre – never forget those all important RULES you must abide by to successfully survive a horror movie. Those of us who have been around the horror block will know a thing or two about these rules: no drinking, no drugs, no sex, etc. As the film progresses, these rules are poked at, prodded at, and tested, leaving us to question the entire formula. Scream has spawned 3 sequels and even a TV series and has influenced many, many films of its kind since its release. I’m not sure exactly how well this film would go down now in 2016 to a person watching it for the first time – for example it was actually considered suspicious if you had a mobile phone on you back then as it was more of a luxury item, whereas if you don’t own one now, you’re suspiciously weird – but I am so glad to have been part of the 90’s decade when it was all new and completely exciting. A film that raised the bar and one of the slasher genre’s few, true masterpieces.
IT’S A SCREAM, BABY!