THE STORY – Wes Craven re-invented and revitalised the slasher-horror genre with this modern horror classic, which manages to be funny, clever and scary, as a fright-masked knife maniac stalks high-school students in middle-class suburbia. Craven is happy to provide both tension and self-parody as the body count mounts – but the victims aren’t always the ones you’d expect.
THE CAST – David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich & Drew Barrymore
THE TEAM – Wes Craven (Director) & Kevin Williamson (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 111 Minutes
By Cody Dericks
Wes Craven’s “Scream” is a masterpiece. Yes, I’m starting this review that strongly and yes, it is as simple as that. From the iconic opening scene to the twist ending that still works, it is a perfectly calibrated machine that serves up horror, comedy, and suspense in equally successful amounts. Up until its release, the 1990s were a sad time for horror movies. In particular, the slasher sub-genre seemed all-but-dead after audiences had grown tired of Jason, Michael, and Freddy. Then along came “Scream”, giving the genre some much-needed excitement and relevance. The teen slasher was back, and this time it had a Generation X perspective that still holds up over 20 years later.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is having a tough time. Not only is the first anniversary of her mother’s brutal murder approaching, but she and her fellow high school students are being stalked by a new killer with a penchant for phone-based horror movie trivia. Can she and her friends figure out who the killer is before they themselves become victims?
If this plot sounds generic, that’s because it is, and I believe this is intentional. The tropes of teen-based horror movies are delightfully skewered by both the dialogue and the actions of the main characters. These characters, like the audience, have seen the movies that laid the groundwork for “Scream”. They make frequent references to the movies and fictional killers by name. Thus, they are able to use this knowledge to their advantage (Sidney has a habit of running away from danger rather than lingering and investigating, like so many Camp Crystal Lake teens are prone to do). And also, this makes the moments where the characters don’t listen to their own advice even more frustrating because we know that they know better (Sidney herself runs upstairs in her first interaction with the killer after mocking horror movie victims for doing the exact same thing mere minutes before). The movie is both a post-modern investigation into what scares moviegoers and what doesn’t and a fun, scary movie in its own right. It came out at exactly the right time to catch the zeitgeist: when cynicism and self-awareness were en vogue. Yet even though the characters exist in a world where both horror movies and horror movie criticism exist, the film itself is not mean-spirited in its take-downs. It delights and plays in the tropes of its genre while recognizing them. It’s a balancing act that would have been so easy to botch, but thanks to the frenetic and playful direction of Wes Craven and the smart yet easy-to-follow screenplay of Kevin Williamson it works.
Of course, without a good cast, all of this behind the scenes mastery would be wasted. Thankfully, the actors play their parts with individuality and intelligence while still allowing themselves to dip a toe into the river of horror movie character tropes. Neve Campbell is everything you could possibly want in a “final girl”. She is appropriately emotional when she needs to be and also lets Sidney’s cleverness shine through. She is, after all, playing a character still dealing with the trauma of her mother’s murder, and this affects her performance perfectly. The other stand-out of the cast is Courtney Cox as the ruthlessly opportunistic reporter Gale Weathers. Always looking for a grisly scoop, Cox allows Gale to be nasty and unlikeable and yet still manages to get the audience on her side by the film’s end. Her headstrongness, which is at first seen as an annoyance, later helps her to succeed in the face of certain death. Filling out the rest of the teen ensemble, Skeet Ulrich, Rose McGowan, and Matthew Lillard also step into the shoes of horror character archetypes with ease (suspicious boyfriend, fast-talking best friend, and the group’s goof, respectively) while still delivering performances perfectly pitched to make you care about them and root for their success in the face of a knife-wielding maniac.
As I mentioned before, the movie grabs you from scene one and never loses your interest. The opening scene, where Drew Barrymore is terrorized by the killer in real time, is one of the most iconic and famous prologues of all time, and not just in the horror genre. It perfectly sets up the gleeful and gruesome tone of the film, and having arguably the biggest star in the cast (she was even granted prominent space on the poster) disposed of in the first 15 minutes lets the audience know that no one is safe. And from there, the pace never sags. From the fun and cynical first act where the characters reckon with the death of their fellow student to the stunningly lengthy-yet-engaging final house party sequence, the movie flies. It’s truly one of those movies that makes you sad to see the end credits start rolling.
“Scream” was the perfect horror movie for the mid-90s, and it still holds up today. It has a game cast combined with direction and screenwriting that was exactly what horror audiences were craving at the time. And now it works both as a time capsule for that era and as a joyful, spooky film in its own right.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – An incredibly smart screenplay with classic 90s sensibilities that supports a movie that is both funny and scary.
THE BAD – Nothing
THE OSCARS – None
THE FINAL SCORE – 10/10