Someone has taken their love of scary movies one step too far.
Scream is a 1996 black comedy slasher film directed by Wes Craven, written by Kevin Williamson, produced by Woods Entertainment, and distributed by Dimension Films. The film stars Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich. It was not nominated for any Academy Awards. This is the first film in the Scream franchise. It was followed by Scream 2.
"Do you like scary movies?" -Ghostface
When two high school students are brutally murdered, the sleepy town of Woodsboro is suddenly terrorized by a sadistic killer that tortures his victims with movie trivia. This new killing spree targets Sidney Prescott, who is still recovering from the murder of her mother a year ago. As the police continue to try and track the Ghostface killer down, Sidney begins to create her own suspicions about this new murderer.
I am very thankful for Scream. I do like horror movies, specifically slashers and psychological horror films. I love movies like Halloween (2018) and Doctor Sleep and Get Out, and I do not think any of those movies (with the exception of Jaws) would be here without Scream. After films like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the slasher genre died down. Between 1985 and 1995, it became a blurred mess of bad sequels and an occasional film that would be popular for a bit but not make any lasting impact.
Then along came Scream. And the slasher genre was reborn.
What Scream does so well is it transcends the horror genre. It's filled to the brim with characters that know they are in a horror movie. It's almost like the Deadpool of horror movies. While it is legitimately scary, the film makes fun of the tropes inside of horror movies. They will poke fun at a cliche inside of a normal slasher film then use that cliche in the following scene, making for a really meta experience.
The movie also uses comedy very well. Once again, Scream is terrifying. There are some very chilling scenes. But it can also be really funny. It will set up something that would happen in a normal slasher: a character hears a creak and walks towards the noise only to get killed by the killer. But in Scream, the character won't get killed right away. There will be something funny first and then the character will die a horrifying death.
On the complete opposite side of things, Scream has some very intense and frightening scenes. The opening scene with Drew Barrymore is one of the scariest scenes ever put to film. It slowly builds tension with this torturous and memorable sequence that ends with one of the most horrifying death scenes ever. But there are a few other scenes that scare the crap out of you. The final scene with the reveal of who Ghostface actually is is also very disturbing. This is where Scream also works as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, not just a horror-comedy.
I enjoyed the homages to other horror movies as well. There are clear tributes to A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, as well as horror icons such as Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Wes Craven, of course, directed the film, but he does pay tribute to other classic horror films. I loved it when I would catch a reference to another slasher or a shot from a different horror movie. Craven understood that Scream was a love letter to horror movies in general, but he doesn't force in the references, either. He drops them subtly throughout the movie, and it was fun to go Easter egg hunting during the runtime.
I also think that the character of Ghostface is written very well. Ghostface himself isn't actually a character. He is an alias used by a person to torture and kill people. But that's what makes him such a well-written character. He is this identity that allows the person who inhabits him to be invisible. It adds a layer of mystery to Scream that I really enjoyed. They also found a way to make Ghostface stand out. Every horror villain needs to have some kind of gimmick: Leatherface is this brutal, nasty, chainsaw wielding maniac. Michael Myers is the embodiment of evil. Freddy Krueger is a quipster that also has a finger-knife glove that he uses to kill people while they're asleep. And Jason Voorhees is huge and intimidating, with the iconic hockey mask and giant machete.
Ghostface is none of those things. He uses horror movie trivia as a way to taunt and eventually kill his victims. This is such an interesting idea for a killer inside of a horror movie. I love the way that he plays with his food before eating it. It makes for such a unique and memorable villain.
The big problem with Scream is this: Whenever it isn't being something unique with its meta humor and wimpy killer, it just becomes a pretty generic slasher. There is a good amount of meta jokes and freshness inside of the movie, but when there isn't, it's just another version of Halloween, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc. That can make for a frustrating experience when there isn't anything unique going on inside of Scream. Even though I did just say Ghostface stands out amongst usual slashers, the part of Scream that is trying to be a normal slasher film does not stand out.
I also think that the specific storyline based around Sidney's mom feels somewhat forced. It isn't completely explored, more hinted at through subtle lines of dialogue. We understand what happened and it seems like an intriguing mystery through the first half of the movie, but by the time you get to the party at Stu's house, it feels more like an obstacle for Sidney to get over instead of a good subplot.
Finally, I think that the reveal of who Ghostface is is relatively obvious. There is another little twist thrown in there that makes it a little bit less predictable, but the main villain reveal of the film is telegraphed from the very beginning. When the person that ends up being the main villain shows up for the first time on screen, you immediately know that it's him or her. It's very predictable.
Analogy and Final Score
I love using cookies for analogies, so I'm gonna do it again. Imagine that Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Psycho are all baked with this famous recipe. They all add their own toppings, but they use the same basic recipe. Scream uses that basic recipe as well, but adds a couple things to make it unique, while still honoring the toppings and ingredients added to those other movies that used this recipe.
Scream is a very fun and very unique film that suffers from a few problems, but is definitely worth a watch.
I'm gonna go Savory here. Age range is 13+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good)
Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 8.5/10
Directed by Wes Craven
Rated R for strong bloody violence, scary images, sexual content, language, thematic elements
Released on December 20, 1996
1 hour and 51 minutes
Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott
Skeet Ulrich as Billy Loomis
Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers
Rose McGowan as Tatum Riley
David Arquette as Dewey Riley
Matthew Lillard as Stu Macher
Jamie Kennedy as Randy Meeks
Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker