Released in December of 1996, the Kevin Williamson penned and Wes Craven directed Scream is truly a unique piece of horror. It attempts and succeeds in satirizing and subverting slasher films and their cliches. However, in this process, it creates a film that is smarter than you might think and a whole lot funnier then you would have expected. The film might be known as a horror comedy but it does have plenty of genuine scares and surprises, all the while playing it straight and joking around.
The story goes like this: a killer is on the loose in a small town. That’s pretty much it. There is some exposition, but I’ll be the last to spoil it for you. The film’s cast of characters is surprisingly lovable (as opposed to likable): Neve Campbell plays Sidney, the main protagonist; Skeet Ulrich plays Sidney’s boyfriend Billy; Rose McGowan plays Sidney’s (extremely) attractive best friend Tatum, who is dating Stuart (played phenomenally by Matthew Lillard); Jamie Kennedy plays Randy, a movie geek who lets everyone know the rules of horror flicks; David Arquette plays Tatum’s older brother Dewey, a deputy in town; Drew Barrymore plays Casey, one of first victims who only shows up in one scene, although, it’s probably the most famous scene in the whole movie; rounding out the main cast is Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers, a nosy reporter who is also a local celebrity. The acting done by this cast is varied and enjoyable, with the highlight going straight to Lillard (for all the right reasons).
The presentation is spot on, with Craven’s trademark anamoprhic widescreen in check. The editing is really great too, and the film has a handful of scenes that are tipped to an angle, making it proto-modern if you ask me. The scenes featuring violence are also handled very well, and the deaths themselves are great (for the most part).
Things of note: The film’s most famous quality is its villain, Ghostface. Ghostface acts more like an entity then an actual person with a knife and the film plays with this idea cleverly and expertly. Whenever Ghost appeared on screen, I was on the edge of my seat and scared like everyone in the movie. However, the film also manages to be something else: hilarious. There are so many funny scenes in Scream but there’s no way I’ll reveal what they are. Another thing Scream managed to do was have a scene that completely elevated it from being a good movie to a great movie, and that scene is the climax. The biggest twist is revealed during the climax and I cannot tell you how hard I was laughing during this scene; although, the scene it self wasn’t exactly funny, but it is arguable the scene is funny in a dark sense. The film’s score (by Marco Beltrami) is also worthy of mentioning, maintaining the haunting and self aware attitude the film goes by. There’s also some obligatory ’90s songs thrown in, but that’s okay.
Two things I loved in this film were the sense of realism and fantasy throughout. This is probably one of the most realistic films I’ve ever seen, in terms of characterization. I completely believed all of the character’s emotions, behavior, and actions as genuine and real; that feat alone is something to admire. The idea of using an easily available costume to terrorize people is also one of the film’s strong points in establishing a realistic setting. Ironically, though, the film also lives in a world of fantasy – like the ones in the movies. Plot points and the subverted cliches help establish this film in a movie world that is self aware of all the cliches and plot points. The blend of realism and fantasy make this film all the more enjoyable to watch (and re-watch).
Scream was a breath of fresh air at the time of its release and still is today in the twenty-first century. It’s a funny and scary movie that satirizes the slasher genre by subverting the cliches and surprising you at every available opportunity, all the while making you wonder: Who’s really the killer? It succeeds in turning the slasher genre on its head and making a mockery of it, while giving the audience some great twists that make it more then just an average horror flick. But in the end, that’s exactly what Scream is: an easily mock-able slasher film.