SOMEONE’S TAKEN THEIR LOVE OF SCARY MOVIES ONE STEP TOO FAR!
In 1994, Wes Craven directed his New Nightmare, the only Freddy Krueger flick he made after the original. It was a surprisingly intelligent outing, a meta-slasher that incorporated Craven himself into the movie and made Krueger a killer who existed both in the films and in reality. When the director subsequently read a script by a little-known writer called Kevin Williamson he saw the potential for another meta-slasher. The results would be a huge hit and the inspiration for many bad horror movies where the characters recognized genre clichés – but still fell victim to the killer.
Two teenagers are murdered
In a small town in California, everybody is talking about the recent, grisly murders of two teenagers. The police are following leads at the kids’ high school. Meanwhile, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is still trying to cope with the rape and murder of her mother that took place a year earlier. Her boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), tries to make her feel better while waiting for her to put out. One night, Sidney’s attacked by someone wearing a Halloween costume with a mask modeled after Munch’s “The Scream”; she avoids being stabbed to death, but has good reason to believe that Billy is the culprit. He’s arrested, but soon turns out to be innocent of both the attack on Sidney as well as the two murders. The real killer is still loose and he keeps calling Sidney who is horrified to learn that he has a connection to the murder of her mother.
The mystery deepens when the masked killer shows up again and again to knife other students at the school. As if the kids don’t have enough on their plate, they’re also targeted by an investigative reporter (Courteney Cox) looking for a break.
Terrific balance between scary and funny
Craven is having a ball here. The movie is jam-packed with references to horror films (including his own) and Scream delivers its spills, thrills and laughs with great gusto. Williamson’s style of writing felt fresh at the time (less so after his subsequent work), with the over-analyzing teens and self-conscious action. The two men work very well together and achieve a terrific balance between what’s scary and what’s funny. The killer is frightening and his attacks expertly staged, but he’s also quite clumsy and takes hits like he’s in a Keystone Kops movie. The young cast is excellent; I love it how Ulrich looks like Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)… and Drew Barrymore’s glorified cameo in the shocking opening sequence has become one of her most memorable performances. Henry Winkler generates laughs as the principal.
The last half hour is a disappointment though, as the revelation of the killer turns out to be an anti-climax. The final showdown also goes on too long. It is indeed a very clever, entertaining, postmodern thriller, but some of the initial, fawning reviews of the film seem rather bizarre now. This is hardly a genre masterpiece; after all, it is totally dependent on many great predecessors.
Characters in Wes Craven movies have never given the impression of being real people. This one takes things even further and messes with the very premise of his films. We may no longer really care about who lives or dies… but Craven still knows how to get a scream out of us.
Scream 1996-U.S. 110 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Cathy Konrad, Cary Woods. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay: Kevin Williamson. Music: Marco Beltrami. Cast: Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis), Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker), Rose McGowan, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy… Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber, Linda Blair. Cameo: Henry Winkler.
Trivia: Molly Ringwald and Reese Witherspoon were allegedly considered for the part of Sidney. The director appears in a cameo as a janitor who shares similarities with Freddy Krueger. Followed by four sequels, starting with Scream 2 (1997). Later a TV series, Scream (2015-2019).
Last word: “I think the very essence of the ‘Scream’ films is that we break the rules. We establish or state what the rules are, and then we immediately break them. That started in ‘Scream 1’, when they said, ‘If you say, ‘I’ll be right back,’ you’ll die,’ and the person that says that is one of the killers. They said, ‘If you have sex you’ll die,’ and Neve’s character has the first sexual encounter of her life, and she’s one of the survivors. We like to establish what the rules are, but they’re really the clichés. As soon as they’re stated in the ‘Scream’ films, we almost always break them. It makes the audience not know what to expect next. If they think they know what the rules are, we immediately say, ‘No, you don’t.’” (Craven, Collider)