Why horror film is easier to admire than love
“Scream”, which turns 25 this year, is a clever horror film. It’s a self-aware horror film. It’s a conspiratorial horror film. It’s – and it’s a crucial ingredient – a scary horror movie.
But is it a great horror movie?
I do not think so.
I’m going to stop here while you shout, throw something, or otherwise express your disappointment, disagreement, and annoyance. (Note: Angry emails are also okay, but let’s be courteous.)
That’s not to say that “Scream” isn’t a good movie – it is. It’s just too meta for its own good, to the point where it’s not so much about nothing as itself.
‘Scream’ is easier to admire than to enjoy, especially at 25 years old
But there is no denying that this is an important and influential film. If the movie itself isn’t great, its impact surely is.
And the rest. Seeing him again at 25 reinforced that. It’s easier to admire than to love.
And it’s pretty easy to like.
Note: Regardless of the statute of limitations for spoilers, a quarter of a century is surely long enough.
“Scream” begins with a bang, a spirit similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Drew Barrymore, the movie’s biggest star, plays Casey. She is alone in her house when threatened by what at first appears to be a phone call.
The calls get more and more disturbing – Barrymore is awesome, casually having fun with Jiffy Pop popcorn as she first engages with the caller, who starts talking about horror movies, then she gets more and more afraid.
Especially when he points out that his boyfriend is being held outside. The caller asks Casey about horror movies. When she gets a wrong answer, the boyfriend is killed while she is watching. Soon the killer bursts into the house. A chase ensues and Casey finds himself brutally murdered, all before the opening credits.
What? At least Hitchcock waited until halfway through “Psycho” to kill Janet Leigh. Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson surpass Hitchcock Hitchcock.
It’s a brilliant setup. And this is not an evasion. Barrymore does not show up later, miraculously resurrected. Casey is dead, dead, dead. It is a courageous gesture, and so good.
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The characters constantly refer to horror movies like “Halloween”
The next day, Casey’s school is in turmoil. The whole city is. We meet Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a college student whose mother was killed almost a year ago. The film will follow Sidney as the killer attempts to assassinate her – she is the “last girl” in the film, though “Scream” also subverts some of this device’s pitfalls.
We get to know some of her friends, including Billy (Skeet Ulrich), Sidney’s boyfriend, and Stu (Matthew Lillard), Billy’s best friend.
A little detour to shout out the exaggerated representation of Stu by Lillard. Eyes bulging, body twisting, he doesn’t look like he’s in another movie. Looks like he’s on another planet. And it’s pretty stormy, setting the tone for the general chaos on display here.
There’s a lot more to do, both with these characters and the film’s portrayal of the media, which he largely nails down.
Billy and Stu, along with some of the other characters, aren’t just horror movie fans. They know them by heart. They refer to it constantly. “Halloween” in particular is an influence (and why not go with the best?).
The movie means shaking up the clichés in horror movies – anyone having sex should be shot, let’s say – even if they dive into it.
Sidney gets the movie’s most crucial line and what she does when she comes up with a slasher movie teardown:
” They are all the same. A stupid killer stalking a busty girl who can’t play and always walks up the stairs when she should run out the front door? It is insulting.
Meanwhile, TV reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) stubbornly pursues the story. She’s either ruthless or ambitious, depending on who you ask (Gale would likely do both). The film is a commentary on the stories if it bleeds it leads on which TV news, especially local TV news, thrives. Gale would do anything for a story, even flirt with stupid sheriff’s deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette, who was married to Cox for a while).
Courteney Cox’s performance could be the best in the movie
Cox’s performance is perhaps the best of the bunch. She took on the famous role to get away from the sweet character of Monica in “Friends,” and Gale certainly gives her that escape. Cox lets a little humanity shine through the cracks of Gale’s icy character, especially as she begins to develop genuine feelings for the well-meaning Dewey.
Best of all, mankind don’t take anything away from the media criticism that Craven and Williamson have here.
The film was immensely popular, spawning three sequels; a fourth, also titled “Scream”, is slated for February 2022. It looks like it ticks all the boxes of a great horror movie.
But with the constant self-referencing elements and often humor they provide, “Scream” never lets you forget you’re watching a movie. You are watching a movie about the movies. In some of the movies this movie refers to (“Halloween” in particular; “Friday the 13th” is an inferior scam), you’re so enthralled with what’s happening on screen that you forget you’re watching a movie.
“Scream”, with its constant reminders, will never let you forget. Which is cool, as far as that goes. It never lets you go far enough.
It’s worth revisiting at 25. (The movie actually released on December 18, which seems like a bad party, but it grossed $ 173 million.) It’s holding up pretty well. It’s always good. It just was never great at first.
“Scream” 25th Anniversary Screenings
3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on October 10 and 7 p.m. on October 11 at participating theaters. $ 13.54 and $ 13.58. Visit fathomevents.com/events/Scream-25th-Anniversary for more information.
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