US Release Date: 12-20-1996
Directed by: Wes Craven
- Neve Campbell, as
- Courteney Cox, as
- Gale Weathers
- David Arquette, as
- Deputy Dewey
- Skeet Ulrich, as
- Matthew Lillard, as
- Jamie Kennedy, as
- Rose McGowan, as
- Liev Schreiber, as
- Cotton Weary
- Roger Jackson, as
- The Voice
- Drew Barrymore as
Courteney Cox, Jamie Kennedy and Neve Campbell in Scream.
Scream is a seminal movie of the 1990s. It single-handedly revived the slasher genre and inspired spoofs and imitators galore. Despite being very much of its time, it still stands up pretty well after all these years.
The movie opens with a teenage girl home alone (Drew Barrymore) about to watch a movie. A mysterious man phones her several times, eventually threatening to kill her and her boyfriend if she doesn't play a game with him. Barrymore had featured heavily in the movie's marketing and so the daring and clever move to kill her off in this opening scene was shocking and well done. It's a great hook with which to begin the movie.
While it's easy to say that the rest of the plot is a cliché; a bunch of teenagers are stalked by a serial killer, what makes it work is that the characters in the movie are familiar with the horror genre. They've seen all the Halloween movie, the Friday the Thirteenths and the Nightmare on Elm Streets. Randy (Jamie Kennedy), the video store clerk, even reels off a list of horror movie rules (never have sex, never say you'll be right back, etc.). It's this self-awareness that gives the movie its bite and humor.
Combining horror and comedy is a delicate balancing act. Its been done before, but generally the comedy outweighs the horror and the scares are diluted. Under the direction of horror veteran Wes Craven and with the whip smart script by Kevin Williamson, Scream walks the knife's edge perfectly. You can laugh at one scene and then jump out of your seat at the next.
The cast is also terrific. A young Neve Cambell plays a postmodern horror heroine who writes her own ending. Courtney Cox is a scene-stealer as pushy reporter Gail Weathers and she shares a comic chemistry with future real-life husband David Arquette. Jamie Kennedy is another scene-stealer as the horror movie obsessed video store clerk.
Craven directs the movie masterfully as you'd expect from the director of Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills have Eyes and other horror classics. At one point or another in the film you suspect almost everyone to be the killer. Cliched scenes are kept from being cliches by having the movie point out that they are cliches. It's a clever plot device and one that imitators of the movie would take to the extreme with self-referential snarkiness.
Apart from the fashions one other plot element rather comically marks this as a 1990s film. When Billy is found to have a cell phone he is immediately a suspect. "What are you doing with that cellular phone, son?" the police chief asks him. Nowadays of course, the police would only be suspicious if he didn't have one. The size of the cell phones and the way everyone refers to them as cellular is also unintentionally funny.
Next year marks the 15th anniversary of Scream and New Line is celebrating it with the release of Scream 4. I doubt it will have the impact of the original, but you never know, it's about time for someone to shake up the horror genre again. Why not Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson?
Gale Weathers and Deputy Dewey.
The inside movie jokes are hysterically spot on. After the killer asks Sidney if she likes scary movies, she says, “What's the point they're all the same, some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door, it's insulting.” The killer then attacks her and she runs upstairs.
Even in the serious moments, everyone makes references about movies. When Tatum is confronted by what she thinks is a guy pretending to be the killer, she feigns fear, “No, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel!” When Sydney and Billy are having a tender moment, Billy says to her, “Life is like a movie. Only you can't pick your genre.”
All of the sequels and parodies have added to the movies in-joke fun. At one point Sydney says that if they turned her story into a movie, Tori Spelling would probably end up playing her, and in a sequel, she does. Watching it now is like listening to Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit", but singing the Weird Al lyrics to "Smells Like Nirvana". My son and I kept pointing out scenes reproduced in Scary Movie.
As Scott wrote, Scream balances the humor and the tension very well. It helps though, if you know all, or most, of the movie references. Neither of my sons had seen this before, and I had fun watching them try to figure out who the killer was.
Drew Barrymore acts out the title in Scream.
I agree Scott. Scream - while being a time-capsule of the mid-to-late 1990s - holds up remarkably well in both scares and laughs, courtesy of the taut direction and clever script. The years leading up to the end of the 20th Century contained a strange sense of rushing headlong into the future. At one point, when they are discussing the killer’s possible motives, Jamie Kennedy’s character acknowledges this fact by saying, “It's the millennium. Motives are incidental.”
One thing that struck me while watching this movie for the first time in more than a decade, is just how young everyone in the cast looks, especially the men. Compare Matthew Lillard here to how he looks in The Descendants or David Arquette to his haggard appearance on last season’s Dancing with the Stars. The women have fared better. Neve Campbell and Drew Barrymore have both aged well thus far, although neither of them remains as fresh-faced as they were in 1996. Courteney Cox’s face today seems to have been frozen in time.
Again parroting my brothers, Scream offers a PHD in the art of balancing gore with jokes, often in the same scene, and so effortlessly done. You may begin to feel bi-polar from yelling in terror and then chuckling over an inside movie joke a split second later.
The identity of Ghostface is well hidden. They definitely keep you guessing right up until the final reveal. As the body count mounts the carnage keeps ratcheting up notch after notch, reaching a very satisfying blood-soaked climax. And all the while, Scream never loses its self-aware sense of humor. Check out this exchange between Sidney and one of the killers during this scene. Sidney: “You sick fucks. You've seen one too many movies!” Killer: “Now Sid, don't you blame the movies. Movies don't create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!”
Eric, after Billy’s line you mentioned about not being able to choose your own life's movie genre, Sidney has this funny reply, “Why can't I be a Meg Ryan movie? Or even a good porno.”
Normally I think it takes at least 20 years for a movie to achieve true classic status. I have no problem applying that label to Scream, even if it is 5 years too soon.
Photos © Copyright Dimension Films (1996)