[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 13 – Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson
111 mins. Rated R for strong graphic horror violence and gore, and for language.

As a horror fan, I vividly remember the year that Scream came out. I was pretty young, but the Ghostface killer was everywhere in late 1996 and early 1997 (the film was released during the holiday season as counter-programming to the heartwarming family fare that December usually brings). It permeated the world of pop culture, something that horror hadn’t done as successfully since probably Freddy Krueger a decade prior. There was just something new and fresh with this take on the slasher and it compelled audiences to be a part of it. It’s been over twenty years since the Scream franchise began, and now, with a fifth film entering production, there’s no better time to revisit this first installment and try to pull apart what made it so damn popular.

There’s a killer in Woodsboro. Students at the high school have been getting calls from a mysterious voice, quizzing them on scary movies and offering death for wrong answers. The killer seems focused on Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, The Craft, Skyscraper), a young woman whose mother was killed just one year earlier, but who can she trust when the killer knows so much about her? Could it be best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan, Grindhouse, Jawbreakers), bumbling Deputy Dewey (David Arquette, Bone Tomahawk, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl), or perhaps even her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich, As Good as it Gets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)? Everybody’s a suspect!

Scream is a horror movie for horror movie fans. Its screenplay, from the meta mind of Kevin Williamson (I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty), is packed with references and popular horror tropes as well as subversions of those tropes that kept me guessing. Director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes) slipped in some solid and notable cameos, and he was willing to poke fun at himself and the genre that made his career, appearing himself a janitor dressed in red and green as well as keeping a line from Tatum about them being in a Wes Carpenter film. What I particularly love about Craven’s direction here is the way he understands Williamson’s script and the way they work so well together in making a film that is equal parts a horror film and a satire on horror films. I’m often critical of Craven’s writing (I find that, with a few exceptions, his best work as a director is working with someone else’s material), and this film alone proves it. His directing style was completely liberated by the strong screenplay and it looks like Craven had fun crafting his narrative. For a whodunnit, there are so many clues and misdirections all across the film that it would be nearly impossible to figure out the killer until the big reveal, and there is a big reveal.

There’s something special about the cast of Scream. It seems like big names and character actors alike are all on board here. This was relatively new for the horror genre, but everyone bought into it. That’s what you get with an interesting concept with a director capable of executing it. I loved Drew Barrymore (Donnie Darko, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) and Neve Campbell as our leading ladies. They play to the tropes and also have moments of subversion that feel believable. It’s David Arquette and Courteney Cox (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Bedtime Stories) who are the most surprising turns in the film, and I’ll tell you why. Arquette has to believably be a bit of a dolt with a level of charm. He also needs to believably be a deputy for a relatively small town, and it, in some way, actually works. Cox as well plays Gale Weathers completely against type, especially for someone on one of the hottest sitcoms at the time with Friends. She had to fight like hell to get the role, and she plays smarmy and slimy better than I would have given her credit for. In fact, she makes Gale Weathers so different than Monica Geller that, even without extensive makeup, they don’t feel like they could be played by the same person.

Scream is a bloody, entertaining, and (most importantly) fun movie that is just so slick, thanks to the stellar casting work, the hot screenplay, and the skills of a veteran horror director who accomplishes a tough tone early on and keeps it running the whole way through. When you realize that the horror/comedy tone of Craven’s previous film Vampire in Brooklyn was much more muddled and rough, you have to commend him in mastering it here. I loved this movie, and it still holds up quite well, even knowing the ending. If you haven’t caught it, now is the time.

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.
For my review of Wes Craven’s Shocker, click here.
For my review of Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn, click here.

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