“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.”- Sidney Prescott
Halloween Favorites is back and this horror classic is certainly a worthy return for this holiday centric column!
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of the great classics of the slasher era and so who better to re-invent the sub-genre, when it burned itself out in the late 80s with endless sequels and knock-offs. Armed with a very clever script by Kevin Williamson, Craven reignited the sagging horror genre with a film that works both as homage to the traditions of slasher flicks…while playfully poking fun at them…and as an effective slasher on it’s own.
Scream takes place in the fictional town of Woodsboro where we open with pretty blonde Casey (Drew Barrymore) about to settle in for the night with popcorn and a horror movie. But Casey begins to get phone calls from a strange person who, at first seems to be playful, but then gets more and more aggressive and threatening as it continues. Soon it is revealed that she and her bound on the back porch boyfriend’s lives are in mortal danger and all she has to do is answer some horror movie trivia questions to save their lives…but there is a horrible price if she is wrong. Needless to say , she and her beau are ruthlessly slaughtered by a killer wearing a ghost face mask and the high school is all a-buzz about it the next day. Enter Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother was murdered a year earlier and the suspected killer (Liev Schreiber) is now in jail… or is he? But Sydney has become a target of this masked serial killer and everyone around her may be a suspect…or a fatality. Who is this mysterious butcher and why has he targeted Sydney and her friends as his/her next victims?
Scream, first off starts with that great sequence with Drew Barrymore that really sets the tone for the film. It is scary and violent and establishes that this is a horror film that openly acknowledges it’s predecessors. It then openly references a lot of the classic horrors of the previous decades as it’s pop culture savvy teens are well aware of these films and use them as a guide to deal with their current situation…just as our killer is using them as a template for their own heinous deeds. All this self-awareness makes this flick a lot of fun and Craven is one of the best horror directors out there in using pop culture reference to fuel his tales. The script by Kevin Williamson not only references these horrors, but is the first flick to outright state the slasher horror ‘rules’ as per film geek Randy (Jaime Kennedy) that determine who lives and who dies…Don’t have sex, never say “I’ll be right back!”. The best part is that this flick also works as a slasher in itself. Craven and Williamson set up a situation that is a classic slasher with a victim with a painful past being stalked by a killer with a possible grudge and everyone is a suspect. There are some very suspenseful and scary scenes along with some very brutal kills as Ghost Face works his/her way through Sydney’s friends and various other characters. The film’s hip movie savvy humor never gets in the way of the scares or carnage, either. Craven and Williamson even get to make a statement about the desensitizing of violence in the current generation and the media’s insensitive and sensationalistic coverage of horrific events in the person of Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), a selfish, pit bull of a reporter who is determined to prove Sydney sent the wrong man to prison with her testimony and that the real killer is the one stalking Woodsboro. Is she right?… has one of these kids seen one too many horror flicks? Craven and Williamson have a blast letting us in on the answer and so does the audience as the big reveal is both surprising and a perfect example of how cleverly this film openly acknowledges that it is a horror film inspired by other horror films, just like it’s characters. If the film has any faults it’s that there are a few slow spots and one make-up effect involving a garage door and a character’s head is far too rubbery to work and ruins one of the more inventive kills. Other than that, this is a horror classic and one of Craven’s best films in a classic studded career.
As for the cast. It’s ensemble gives us a generous amount of suspects and victims. Campbell’s Sydney is one of modern horror’s most memorable final girls. She’s sweet but strong and has her own inner pain to fuel her survival instincts. Courtney Cox is perfect as the mega-bitch reporter who is using the killings in Woodsboro to further her career, but she also surprises us in the last act. As Sydney’s friend’s…Skeet Ulrich as boyfriend Billy has a nice air of danger about him and as a suspect, it works perfectly. Matthew Lillard as his bud Stu, is fun as a bit of an oblivious goofball …or is he? Rose McGowan as her best friend Tatum, turns the buxom blonde cliché on it’s ear with a young woman who is smart and sarcastic to go along with her Playboy model looks. Jaime Kennedy as Randy is the film’s movie geek and does well in creating that film obsessed nerd who provides the characters and audience with the exposition needed by way of horror film references. David Arquette as Tatum’s deputy brother Dewey, gives us a sweet natured do-gooder who is a little too anxious to please and not as smart as he thinks. Add in a fun cameo by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler as an eccentric school principal and you have a great cast who all do a good job selling Williamson’s clever characters from his script. They are an endearing bunch and all give their characters the proper tone for the material and sound like the media savvy teens that they are…though none look young enough to be teens, but that is also a horror movie tradition.
So, except for a few slow spots and one botched make-up effect, Scream is a horror classic that not only works as a horror, but as a homage to all the slashers that came before it. It’s teens grew up on the 80s horror flicks and openly reference them and compare them to the real-life situation that they are in. While it’s not the first horror film to include a horror movie fan character, it is the first to present it’s characters as a generation weened on the horror films that populated the previous decades and are part of their culture…and the film has a blast doing it while genuinely scaring and thrilling us. A true horror classic from a legendary horror filmmaker.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) ghost faces!