3.28.2011

Scream (1996)

DIRECTED BY
Wes Craven

STARRING
Neve Campbell - Sidney Prescott
Courteney Cox - Gail Weathers

David Arquette - Deputy Dewey Riley

Jamie Kennedy - Randy Meeks

Skeet Ulrich - Billy Loomis

Matthew Lillard - Stu Macher

Rose McGowan - Tatum
Riley
Henry Winkler - Principal Hembry

Drew Barrymore - Casey Becker


Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 111 Minutes


During the first half of the 1990s, the horror genre's popularity had waned. Even though films such as MISERY, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SE7EN, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, CANDYMAN, and a couple of others were popular and did well in the box office, the genre was suffering from the burnout of the slasher boom of the 1980s. The teenagers of that decade had grown up and were looking elsewhere, tired of seeing countless unnecessary [and most times, poor] sequels to major horror franchises, as well as countless imitators to these franchises that did nothing new for the genre. Also, horror was becoming more self-reflexive and cerebral - two things modern teenagers [whom seem to be the target demographic for these films] aren't really looking for in terms of horror entertainment.

It wasn't until 1996 that the horror genre started to breathe new life in terms of popularity. In the first half of the year, THE CRAFT was released. While it didn't set the box office on fire, teens flocked to it and showed that the genre's marketability for the key demographic was still there. But it wasn't until Wes Craven's SCREAM later that year that studios, critics, and audiences took notice that horror still had something fun and intelligent to offer. Instead of being self-reflexive or another sequel to a franchise that was on its last legs, SCREAM took an interesting approach: acknowledge horror films of the past, but in a tongue-in-cheek and ironic matter. The characters actually watched the horror films that audiences had already watched, making fun of them and actually acknowledging the rules on how to survive these kind of films as if they were real. It created a new scenario: horror characters that were exactly like the horror fans who loved these movies, sharing the same feelings about these films and having parties watching these films as a form of entertainment.

While SCREAM started out slow at the box office, massive word-of-mouth created a blockbuster horror success that revitalized the horror genre. Unfortunately like the slasher boom of the 1980s, SCREAM led to the creation of imitators and sequels that really didn't match the level of the film that inspired them. This fact is probably why fans have turned against SCREAM in modern times, calling it "overrated" and "not as good as people make it seem". While I respect their opinions, you gotta give some respect for SCREAM did for horror at the time. And even after 15 years, SCREAM is still a great horror film that entertains from beginning to end.

PLOT
Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is home alone, preparing popcorn for a night of watching horror films. She's interrupted by a telephone call that starts out flirtatious, but ends up getting creepier once the caller asks Casey about her favorite horror movies. As Casey tries to politely hang up on the caller, he makes it known that he can see her and will kill her if she doesn't answer a piece of horror trivia correctly. When she gets the question wrong [always remember that Jason's mother was the killer in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, kiddies!], the killer strikes and murders Casey as her parents arrive home.

News of the murder spreads through Woodsboro High School. Reminded about her mother's vicious murder a year earlier, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is unnerved by the whole thing. It doesn't help that cunning and bitchy reporter Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) keeps reminding Sidney about the murder when she sees both murders connected. While Sidney deals with the media attention, her creepy boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), best friend Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), her deputy brother Dewey (David Arquette), weirdo Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard), and horror film geek Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) try to figure out who the killer could possibly be - even looking at each other as suspects. This distraction allows Sidney to be the killer's [who wears a black robe and a white Ghostface mask] ultimate target. Are the two murders related? Why is the killer so focused on killing Sidney and her friends? Is Ghostface really the Wayan Brothers?

REVIEW
The most successful film directed by Wes Craven, SCREAM brought back the teen audiences for the horror genre that had left during the tired releases for weak sequels starring Jason, Michael, and even Freddy. The film was hip, funny, entertaining, and was made for the typical horror fan who could share the same logic that the film's characters shared about horror films that we've all seen and loved. SCREAM acted as homage to earlier slasher films, while setting its sights to create a fresher horror experience.

The screenplay by future Dawson's Creek creator, Kevin Williamson [who would also script I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, HALLOWEEN: H20, SCREAM 2, and CURSED], is extremely well-written and definitely contemporary for its time. The use of pop culture and having the characters be well aware of classic horror films is really smart because it allows us, as an audience, to connect with the story right away. As horror fans, we are these characters. Who would play us in a horror film? What exactly are the rules to survive a scary movie? What exactly is a PG-13 relationship compared to an R rated one? At one point in our lives, we have asked ourselves these really pointless questions, either to debate with friends or to connect with others who love the same type of films. Even the use of real horror film footage, like from HALLOWEEN (1978) makes the setting of SCREAM a bit more real than previous slasher films. From Randy's warning to others about "watching PROM NIGHT (1980)" to trust no one, to the group of teens arguing that a woman could be the killer due to Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT, to Casey's remarks about loving the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) and hating the rest of them, and to Wes Craven himself playing "Fred" in a cameo while dressed in a red-and-green sweater with a matching fedora hat makes SCREAM easily accessible to those who have seen these films and understand exactly what they're talking about. It points out the rules for a horror film, makes fun of these rules, breaks these rules, and still manages to work as a neo-slasher film. It's strange that films that had done the same thing [movie-within-a-movie deal], like Wes Craven's previous work NEW NIGHTMARE and even LAST ACTION HERO, bombed at the box office. Maybe audiences weren't ready for that type of self-referential script back in 1994 and 1993 respectively. But they were more than ready for Rose McGowan worrying if she'd make the sequel by playing the stereotypical big-breasted horror victim for Ghostface in 1996.

I think one of the best things about SCREAM is really messing with the audience right from the beginning. Using what Alfred Hitchcock had done with PSYCHO, Williamson [and Wes Craven as well] had a major starlet get murdered in the first ten minutes of the film. Having Drew Barrymore die so viciously really sets the mood for the film, creating an atmosphere where anyone could die when you least expect it. Sure, Sidney is clearly set up to be the Final Girl of the film. But during that first scene where she's attacked by Ghostface, you're on the edge of your seat because it's very possible that she could die. The sequels attempted to recreate this level of tension and suspense, but none of them are as strong as this moment in the franchise. This was a different kind of opening for a slasher - one where the typical rules wouldn't apply.

I also love that Williamson managed to work two main sub-plots into one. Obviously, the main one involves the "whodunit" mystery of the Ghostface killer and why he is after Sidney. And the other involves Sidney's back story with her mother, where she realizes that her murder may have not been what she once thought it was. Also, maybe the rumors that her mother was a bit promiscuous were actually true, which eventually led to her death. Not only does this sub-plot bring about character for Sidney as she's constantly debating what's fact and what's fiction, but it also ties in with the killer's motives. Usually when a plot device such as backstory is used, it's just for character development. But in SCREAM, it's used not just for that, but to complete an arc and give reason to why Sidney is the prime target of the Ghostface killer. Hell, this plot was so effective that it became the centerpiece of the entire franchise, with all the characters playing Ghostface having some sort of connection to Sidney's mom's life and death. Whether this is was a good or bad thing is up to people who've seen these films. But at least it connects all the films together in an easy and interesting way.

The characters, while stereotypical slasher victims, are each given a bit more depth than what you would expect from a film like this. Sidney is the Final Girl, but has a toughness and edginess about her that makes her likable and believable. She's not the quiet type. She lets on how she feels and will punch you out if she doesn't like you. Gail Weathers is the cutthroat reporter who is pretty much a bitch, but seems to fall for the simple and goofy Dewey while trying to get information through him about the murders. Tatum is the ditzy and bitchy best friend, while Stu is the goofy friend you want to punch in the face for being annoying but love having him around anyway. Randy is the film geek who has a major crush on Sidney and lives by the rules of slasher films. And Billy is the mysterious, brooding boyfriend that may or may not be up to trouble. Each character has a place in the story and never overstay their welcome. None of them feel like cannon fodder, even though some of them are, which is refreshing in a slasher film. It also helps that the dialogue is snappy, witty, and hip - so we actually give a damn what they say to each other. Just a great screenplay by Kevin Williamson [let's hope SCREAM 4 is just as good].

The gore factor in SCREAM isn't over-the-top, but there is a lot of red stuff going on here. I think the most brutal murder was actually Drew Barrymore's, as she got stabbed, gutted, and then hung on a tree. Rose McGowan's crushing demise is also a highlight [sometimes having big boobs isn't all that's cracked up to be]. It's bloody enough to please fans who like their crimson and plasma in their horror.

The direction by Wes Craven is pretty top-notch here and this film showcases some of his finest work in cinema. The pacing is quick, the editing [by future director Patrick Lussier] is sharp, and the cinematography [by Mark Irwin] looks great. He also manages to get a lot of tension and suspense out of the story visually, giving viewers several moments of chills that will please horror fans. I do think the scene where Sidney and Tatum are at the supermarket, with Ghostface hiding behind an aisle listening to their conversation, is a bit out of place though. It really makes no sense for the killer to be in broad daylight, standing inside a store in full costume, without someone taking notice. I mean, the murders is top news and no one found this guy suspicious? This is probably a screenwriting error [apparently the scene was cut down from its original length, foreshadowing Tatum's death later on by the killer over what she says to Sidney], but as a director, Craven should have just cut it out completely. It doesn't ruin the film at all but it just seems odd to be there. Other than that, I can't complain about Craven's direction here.

The acting is excellent here. Neve Campbell, in the role that truly made her a star at the time [which was also helped by Party of Five], is perfect as Sidney. Campbell proves a level of innocence, toughness, and vulnerability that makes Sidney a character we can relate to, believe in, and root for. Courteney Cox is great as Gail Weathers. She plays the part just right - she's conniving enough for us to want to hate her for her actions, but compassionate enough for us to like her and want her to succeed. David Arquette plays the clumsy, dimwitted Dewey in such a charming way that you can't help but like him. And him and Cox have great chemistry with each other. Skeet Ulrich brings mystery and brooding sex appeal [I know a lot of men and woman who crush on this dude] as Billy. You're never sure whether to like this guy or not. Matthew Lillard is pretty annoying, yet hilarious as the really weird Stu. The final act is probably his finest moment in the film. Jamie Kennedy is perfect as Randy, the horror film geek. I think I am Randy, as we speak the same language. Rose McGowan brings sexiness as Tatum, letting her boobs do much of the acting for her. Two nipples up! And we get some nice cameos from Henry Winkler as the principal and Drew Barrymore, in her very memorable role as Casey Becker. Just a really great cast that Wes Craven certainly directed well.

And I also have to give mention to the soundtrack, which is used really well in the film. The score is very dark and eerie at times. And the songs, such as Gus' cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" [which was used in the original HALLOWEEN - nice homage] and SoHo's cover of The Icicle Works' "Whisper to a Scream", really give the film a voice.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE PISSING GHOSTFACE OFF BY ANSWERING EVERY QUESTION OF HIS HORROR TRIVIA CORRECTLY

- Casey's favorite horror film was HALLOWEEN, yet she was killed in the film's opening. I think I'll refrain from making stops at Woodsboro from now on.

- I don't feel sorry for Casey getting killed by Ghostface. Not only was she a FIRESTARTER for leaving popcorn on the stove longer than necessary, but she should have had a CAT'S EYE on the situation and "phone(d) home." Lazy bitch.

- Sidney had an Indigo Girls poster in her room. Looks like her Party of Five involves her and four other ladies. There's nothing wrong with that.

*takes out baby oil*

NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

- Sidney punched out Gail Weathers after she tried to interview her. For someone who was on Friends, Gail sure has trouble making them.

- Henry Winkler was murdered by Ghostface. I guess the killer didn't want the franchise to jump the shark. He obviously didn't live long enough to watch the ending the SCREAM 2 and the entire runtime of SCREAM 3.

- Sidney considers herself "sexually anorexic". I guess that's a nicer way of saying she spits instead of swallows.

- Tatum got her body stuck in the garage door and her head crushed by Ghostface. Not only did the Power of Three not set her free, but she probably would've survived if she was banging the director.

THE FINAL HOWL
SCREAM isn't a perfect horror movie, but how many movies are? That being said, I can see why people would be against SCREAM and call it overrated. But it did a lot for modern horror, for better or worse. Also, it's a great horror film on its own merit that entertains for 111 minutes. I think after fifteen years, SCREAM still holds up just as well as it did in 1996. And this is from a guy who hasn't seen this film since 2000. Sue me, but I like what SCREAM brings to the table. I'm looking forward to SCREAM 4 and see how this Ghostface story continues.


SCORE4 Howls Outta 4


9 comments:

  1. a pious atheists virtuous indignationMarch 28, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    Fred, the intersting thing here is that using the ratings system that you use on this site i`d have given 'Scream" the "BOMB" rating ! ! !, i`m not kiddin` my old mate, I`ve always regarded "Scream" (and all its equally pathetic sequels) to be one of the biggest piles of unmittigated celluloid trash in the entire history of cinema, i know everyones entitled to their opinion but the fact that you`ve given this film 4 howls out of 4 is, to me, totally amazing and quite bizarre.

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  2. Great work as always Fred!

    I always felt Scream was a more self aware and better executed April Fool's Day. I've always respected Craven and think his ability to find a way to reinvent the genre was quite impressive. A New Nightmare kind of laid the groundwork but he really hit the mark with Scream. Sadly, like all horror franchises they lose quality as the numbers rise.

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  3. Fred,

    I remember watching Scream for the first time and thinking to myself, "Finally, somebody got it right!" - one of the elements that everyone misses in the Scream films is that they also pull from a lot of those teens in peril sci-fi / horror films of the 50's (The Blob, Horror of Party Beach etc). Those movies always made the teen aware of what was going on, much to the chagrin of the adults. However, Scream added the tasty flavor of the modern day slasher and put it all together creating a horror movie cocktail that was so damn good!

    Great review my friend (and let's not forget that suspicious relationship Billy and Stu had together...).

    Oh and good for you for spotting The Indigo Girls Poster, though I heard that Craven was/is a fan of the duo.

    As always a pleasure to read your posts

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  4. @Daniel - I couldn't have said it better myself. I'm not a fan of April Fool's Day [either version] at all, and this seems to be a better written and better executed version of that. I still think NEW NIGHTMARE is the better film, but it's definitely a continuation of that idea.

    @Pious - I respect the fact that you hate this film. It's your opinion and I can't say anything bad about your feelings. It's how you feel. Personally, I love this film. Maybe it's because I saw it opening weekend and didn't get caught up into the hype that came along afterwards. Maybe it's because I've only seen this film 4 times within 15 years. I think the film has a smart script, nice direction, and very good acting. I also like that it's self-aware of itself while becoming exactly what it's making fun of. It works because of that.

    How you feel about SCREAM is almost how I feel about THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I feel that film is extremely overrated and the only reason it made as much money as it did was because of the genius marketing behind it. I didn't find that film scary at all and thought it was a lamer version of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST [which I find more disturbing than most of the films I've reviewed]. Would I give BWP 0 stars? Absolutely not. I respect that film for what it did. But it certainly wouldn't get a 4.

    I don't think giving this film 0 stars is justified. 1 star? 2? Maybe. But you can't find any redeeming thing about this film? Nothing? Like I said, I respect your opinion but I don't think the film is as bad as you think. But then again, you are you and I am me.

    Now the sequels...well, you'll read my thoughts about those before part 4 is released. And believe me, they won't be as positive as this one.

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  5. @Pax - You're right. The characters in peril are definitely similar to the characters of the 1950s horror/sci-fi films. I think every horror film since has had the teens being more aware than the adults about the strangeness surrounding them in their town.

    It's too bad Craven decided to continue the story. I always felt SCREAM was better off as a solo flick. I think it's because of the sequels and the imitators that followed that made horror fans sour on this flick. I don't think it's fair to judge the film because of that.

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  6. To be honest, I prefer the sequel to the first film, the 3rd being the so-so of the series... Scream sure has its moments and I think should be remembered as a milestone in the horror genre at least in the 90s, how well its gonna work on the 00s, dunno?

    Fred, thanks for following me on Twitter, any else who wants to do so, here's my profile @mrxpedraza cheers!

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  7. a pious atheists virtuous indignationMarch 30, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Fred, i haven`t seen cannibal Holocaust so i cant com-girl-t on it but i whole-heartedly agree about "The Blair Witch Project", it was appalling (i dont know how they girl-aged to spend $30000 dollars making that film, i think $3000 would have been enough for what they achieved). By the way, going back to "Scream", i thought its "supposed" self-awareness came across as pathetic, laughable and smart-alecky and was the specific reason why i wasn`t able to find anything redeeming about the film at all, except the gorgeous birds obviously.

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  8. @Xtian - No problem about the follow. You're one of my best supporters and someone I consider a good friend.

    As for SCREAM 2, I'm honestly not the biggest fan of that film. For a while, I actually preferred 3 to 2. Either way, both sequels are really inferior to the first one.

    @Pious - I can see why that would turn you off. Like I said, I respect your opinion. And CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST isn't a film I would recommend, but it does have a notorious history in the horror genre if you can stomach it.

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  9. This is one of the worst 'horror' movies ever made. It stinks. It stunk in 1997 and it stinks equally now. The writer didn't have a single original idea in his page and if this had come out in the 80s it would've sunk like a lead baloon. The whole "self-referrential" horror, the comedy horror, black humor, whatever you want to call it had been done years and years before this movie came out. It's a clever marketing success, which was loved by people who like 'horror' movies that aren't scary.

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