In fact, it wasn't until the following year that I bothered to see the film, the night before Scream 2 was released. Still being part of the movie theatre crowd, we were able to watch that flick the night before its release, so my roommate and I figured, hell, might as well check out Scream, no?
I liked it a hell of a lot more than I thought I would, though at first pass, it felt a lot like the same old thing. Since that Thursday trip to Ballblocker Video, however, I've probably watched Scream about fifty times and somehow I like the damned thing a little bit more each time I watch it.
What makes Scream work? Putting it in simple complexity, although Scream is a collection of inspirations from earlier films (the list is longer than your third leg), this is not a parody or a farce. Instead this is a strange, capable combination of self-aware, occasionally comical sequences, metafictionally wrapped around the same standard high school kids you see in every third splatter flick and a truly very scary and violent horror film.
Make no mistake... although a lot of horror fans still deride Scream as a pop version of a slasher flick that ruined slasher films for years to come, Scream is the real deal. If anything, the imitators of Scream that rode on the coat-tails of this flick's considerably green profit margin may have ruined slasher films for years to come, but Scream itself is the genuine article. Yes, it's funny, yes, it's self-referential, yes every character has seen every flick we have and yes, they know all of those crazy-ass rules. That said, the fact that all of these characters who take Horror for Entertainment find themselves in the same movie situations that once felt so "fun" it somehow feels less metafictional and more potentially terrifying. Further, for all its intentionally familiar moments (all twisted around onto their ears and then STABBED into the ground), Scream still manages to be packed with exciting surprises both of the comical kind and of the frightening.
The original homages begin in the first scene and keep on rolling until the final fade to black!
Spoiler warning (if you can call it that... this scene takes place before the opening credits)! Our obvious star, the highly-billed Drew Barrymore, whose frightened visage actually takes over the poster) dies horribly in the opening sequence. Is this chilling offing of "Casey Becker" a shock that sets the tone for the extremes that Scream's echo may go to or is it little more than an homage to Janet "Original Scream Queen" Leigh's shocking mid-film murder in 1960's Psycho?
The beautiful truth is that it's an artery-full of both! The context that Craven and writer Kevin Williamson set this scene in is a perfect mood setter. The voice of The Ghost Face Killer (Roger Jackson) invades poor Casey's home, much as in When a Stranger Calls and quizzes her on a film-geek's personal list of Horror Movie facts, playing with his prey before he preys upon his plaything.
And this, my friends, is only the beginning!
Yes, it seems that the once quiet little town of Woodsboro, Ca has a vicious killer on the loose, one that taunts his victims with scary phone calls, pops out in a long, black cloak with that now-iconic white fright mask and wants nothing more than to "see what your insides look like!"
This is much to the disturbance of sweet, sweet Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) who has spent the last year trying to get over the all-too-similar murder of her mother, almost one year before. This has affected her relationships with everybody from her best friend to her dad to her doe-eyed, amorous boyfriend.
Needless to say, the poor lovely young lady has a few trust issues of her own, even though the man convicted of raping and murdering her mother, Cotton Weary (the barely seen Liev Schreiber) is safely behind bars and awaiting execution.
Know what that means? It means that as the body count begins to rise and we go from a whisper to a scream, EVERYONE IS A SUSPECT! And the filmmakers don't hesitate to remind us of this over and over. Who might be on the list? Who is suspect and who is unsuspecting?
Quite a roster? Well, even the cameo cast is packed with recognizables like A Nightmare on Elm Street's Joseph Whipp as Sheriff Burke, W. Earl Brown as Kenny the Cameraman, dispossessed Linda Blair as an Obnoxious Reporter, Wes Craven himself as a Freddy Krueger-attired Janitor named "Fred" and even the king of COOL, Henry Winkler as Principal Himbry! That's right, people, if the school wasn't awesome enough doubling for Sunnydale High on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it also has "THE FONZ" as its principal! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!
Of course, even any of those characters could pop up and be Stabby McStabsalot and with the costume itself being sold at "every five-and-dime in the state", there's not only no way to track the killer, but anybody wearing the mask at any time could be the real-deal-Holyfield, or it could be just some jackass wearing a mask.
While the concept of "everybody's a suspect" grows tiresome in lesser films, in Scream this works wonders, especially as the final act actually makes lots of sense. This is also possibly because this is only one of many great elements that make up the plot. Williamson's encyclopedic knowledge of horror flicks leads not only to some great twists on the slasher genre, but some brilliant self-conscious allusions to the horror illusion as the story walks the line between scary movie and teen comedy. His repackaging of the slasher movie "Rules" (don't have sex, don't drink or use drugs, never say "I'll be right back!") adds an extra layer of humor... and another element of dread as each rule stands to be broken.
This continues right on through the traditional teen party (again turned on its ear) where the kids, drink, screw and watch John Carpenter's Halloween (check out the laughs of Jamie Kennedy shouting advice to Jamie Lee Curtis)!
The varying elements are diverse, to say the least, and a lesser cast and crew could have turned this into a hodgepodge of spoof-like jokes at best and obvious rip-offs at worst. Here, however, the line between hard-horror and kick-ass comedy, though blurred, is also perfectly balanced and it never becomes the mess it threatens to be.
And what about that psycho Ghostface killer himself? The "guy in the white mask" is scripted to be similar to Halloween's Michael Myers, while referencing all kinds of other horror flicks (from the best known to many of the more obscure) in that amazing voice of Roger L. Jackson. That crazy fright mask itself helps immensely, too, and has become an icon in and of itself. As created by Brigitte Sleiertin for Fun World and based, in turn, on Edvard Munch's appropriately titled painting "The Scream", the mask was a hopeful Halloween hit before discovered for the film by producer Marianne Maddalena. The mask may not have been original to Scream, but contributed greatly to its success as its slaying sales spike and merchandising have proven, year by year.
Why was Scream so successful? It's not the luck of the draw or mere pop-culture timing, it's the incredible combination of familiar and original elements at once divergent and perfectly fitting in a way that both sends-up and pays tribute to the genre that spawned it. Of course elements of this film have been done before and, sure the film's many followers have somewhat dilluted the impact of Scream, but with excellent self-referencing (even a cute mention of a "Wes Carpenter"), comic relief, killer tributes and serious horror, Scream is most certainly a classic in its own right, worth at least Four Stars out of Five! That's even with the occasional illogical moments and near-supernatural moving and survival of the killer. Now, if you'll excuse the ever-lovin' hell out of me, I've got a few horror flicks to watch. Don't worry, I'm not getting any creepy ideas... except maybe for Halloween! I'll see your grim-visaged fright face in the NEXT REEL, Father Death! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!
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We already played that game, didn't we?
More than once, characters even watch repeating parts of Scream on television monitors... and I'll be damned if it doesn't work!
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