(1996, Wes Craven)
“Do you like scary movies?”
Slasher flicks are quite possibly the most clichéd movie genre. Horror comes in all shapes and sizes, but slasher flicks are almost always made to the same formula, and are generally laughably bad. So what’s a director famed for making many of these movies to do after two decades creating Freddy Kreuger and giving hills eyes to do to compensate? Make a post-modern slasher flick, of course!
Yes, Scream was the big slasher flick of the mid-nineties, an attempt on Nightmare On Elm Street director Wes Craven’s part to take the genre he helped popularise in a new direction by making it incredibly self-aware. The serial killer here is, of course, masked and tends to prey on helpless teenagers, but this time, he’s aware of the conventions of the slasher flick and plays these tropes against his victims.
The movie opens with teenager Casey Becket (Drew Barrymore) home alone making popcorn, ready to watch a “scary movie” when she receives a phone call from a mysterious stranger, who wants to play a “game” and reveals that he’s just outside the house. Shortly after, the stranger appears, dressed in a Halloween ghost costume, and murders her. We then cut to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), another teenage girl who is especially shaken up by the murders due to it being the anniversary of her mother’s rape and murder. The rest of the movie sees her trying to avoid being killed and trying even harder to avoid killing her best friend’s really irritating boyfriend. Oh wait, that last one was me.
But yes, that’s basically the plot. It’s not amazing, and won’t win prizes for originality. But, that’s the point you see. The killer is an obsessive horror movie watcher, and has become so aware of the conventions that he’s playing them against his victims. So of course the action unfolds in a clichéd way, since that’s exactly how the killer has arranged it to happen.
Sadly, Scream doesn’t really go far enough in defying, questioning or even parodying the conventions of its genre. The movie is incredibly formulaic, and never breaks from said conventions. Everything happens as you’d expect it to, and it’s a shame, because I’d love to have seen Craven mess with the audience’s expectations a little more. Since we have characters aware of the conventions of the genre, it’s sad to see them do little to nothing to prove their genre savvy.
Also, it’s a shame to see much of the cast are so awful that I actually couldn’t wait for them to be killed off. The worst example was hinted at in my plot description. The character of Stu (Matthew Lillard) was a loud, obnoxious idiot who did nothing but shout and try too hard to be funny. Other male cast members were pretty terrible too, although not on the same level. And Courtney Cox’s reporter character Gale Weathers (really?) was pretty unlikeable for much of the movie, although fortunately she redeems herself in the climax. Sadly, her poor on-screen chemistry with police officer Dewey (David Arquette) never improves, an irony considering the two actors went on to marry each other.
However, the shining star in all of this is Neve Campbell. Ignoring the fact that Sidney is a terrible name, her acting is actually very good, making her otherwise flat character likeable and well-rounded. It’s a shame that she ends up having so many scenes where she angsts over things in a typical Hollywood teenager way.
And yet despite my issues with the generic plot and annoying characters, I surprisingly enjoyed Scream. The self-aware nature of the movie meant that it was easy to get swept up in the fun of it. The climax of the movie was also genuinely tense and one of the few bits of the movie which defied convention. And while it did feel dated at times (VHS tapes!), it was entertaining.
So, Scream is ultimately kind of silly and has little artistic value, but it’s fun, even if it isn’t quite up to the standard set by the older movies it’s so fond of.
Starring David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich & Drew Barrymore
Written by Kevin Williamson
Produced by Cathy Conrad & Cary Woods
Music by Marco Beltrami
Cinematography by Mark Irwin
Edited by Patrick Lussier
Favourite Scene: The climax of the movie, with the reveal of the killer
Scene That Bugged Me: Sidney’s friend, why did you try and escape through a cat flap? You’re not that skinny!
Watch it if: You like scary movies
Avoid it if: You don’t particularly like games