By the 1990s slasher films were beginning to wane in popularity, endless sequels diluted the horror and the drop in quality had all but destroyed the franchises of the eighties. Audiences were looking for something new, someone other than Freddy, Jason or Michael for their thrills. Wes Craven delivered with his obscenely successful Scream series.
The first film is a clever self referential and cynical take on the slasher genre. It delivers on scares and thrills but also makes fun of itself for laughs and somehow the satire and the horror work very well together. The film enjoyed one of the most successful box office runs of any horror film taking a staggering $173 million worldwide.
Scream has an unforgettable opening scene which is arguably the best sequence of the entire film. Drew Barrymore is a high school girl, she's home alone but expecting her boyfriend, and she's making popcorn, about to settle down to a scary movie. The phone goes and a mysterious voice begins to question her, as the tone changes from flirty to psychotic with a shockingly sudden immediacy the audience are drawn into the situation with her. She is forced to play a nasty trivia game with the killer where wrong answers result in death for her and her boyfriend. As the killer attacks she grabs a knife and makes a great stab at protecting herself, getting as far as the front garden as her parents pull into the driveway in their car but the killer confounds expectations and savagely carves her up leaving her hanging from a tree for her parents to discover.
This is a fantastic opening scene, I remember watching it for the first time and thinking great we´re straight into the action but because the actress was Drew Barrymore, I naturally assumed she would survive the encounter. Right up until she breathes her last I was sure she would escape the killer, surely she's too big an actress to get killed off in the first five minutes? This was a genius idea and something Craven did again to a lesser extent in the two sequels.
The film features a group of teen friends, focussing on Sidney Prescott a disturbed high school girl still struggling to come to terms with the brutal rape and murder of her mother. The killer, known as Ghostface, wears a mask reminiscent of Munch's famous painting The Scream and seems to be intent on scaring Sidney. As the murders pile up she struggles to identify whodunit and there are plenty of red herrings to choose from before the illuminating final reel.
The film is fast-paced and extremely slick featuring an excellent cast, a big budget, skilled direction, a great soundtrack and a fascinating plot which is dripping with satire and social commentary on the disaffected youth of America. The horror movie references come thick and fast and beyond Craven's own previous works there are also big mentions for several others including Halloween and Friday the 13th.
The cast is great and features several cameos. Obviously we have Drew Barrymore kicking off the carnage, Neve Campbell plays Sidney, Courtney Cox gives the best performance of her career as the obnoxious and grasping television reporter Gail Weathers, David Arquette is the ultimate dipshit deputy as Dewey, Rose McGowan plays Sidney's friend Tatum, Skeet Ulrich plays Billy Loomis, Matthew Lillard plays Stu, Jamie Kennedy is great as horror film geek Randy and the loveable Henry Winkler plays the school principal Arthur Himbry. There is also a cameo from Linda Blair as another obnoxious news reporter. While each of the parts are slightly caricatured for comic effect the actors are brilliantly cast and there is no weak link.
If we are honest Wes Craven's direction has been a bit mixed over the years and in fact the year before he made Scream he turned out the awful Vampire in Brooklyn. However he definitely found his top form for this production, the scares come thick and fast, the pacing is fantastic and the tension builds well as we guess along with Sidney about who is responsible. The script by Kevin Williamson also deserves a mention as it is very clever, full of great one-liners and references and it really elevates the film.
Scream is considered a classic and the reputation is well deserved. It was fresh, original and very clever and it reinvigorated a stale genre although I won't thank it for the slew of cheap sub-standard knock offs that followed, films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend or the awful parodies which seemed to miss the point that Scream was itself a parody just one that retained a strong element of horror. It is also deeply critical of the disaffected and desensitised youth of America who display a shocking and callous cruelty.
The sequels were naturally not as good but Scream is damn near a perfect movie and it really stands out in the genre as a high quality production which entertained a massive audience. It's essential viewing for horror fans but the appeal is wide enough that most people will enjoy it and it never risks alienating the audience with anything too nasty.Short Review
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