Long before films like Cabin in the Woods and Shaun of the Dead were praised for subverting and reinventing the tired horror genre and the zombie subgenre, respectively, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson gave us Scream. The horror genre, more so than most others, has faced some hard times over the years, although our Editor-in-Chief is marking 2014 as a win for scary movies. And even though the topic of the quality of modern horror is constantly sparking fiery debates all over the internet, I think we an all agree that, for the most part, the late 80’s and early 90’s royally sucked for the fans of the scary. Production companies were cranking out a plethora of cash grab sequels of established, guaranteed moneymaking slasher franchises such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. In the midst of this lull, Craven and Williamson swoop in with their young, recognizable cast and revitalize the genre, spawning a new generation of horror.
Scream managed to breathe new life into horror by being one of the first to combine both humor and self awareness with gore and scares. Comedy is very rarely inserted into horror, because, well, why would they want you to laugh when you’re suppose to be scared? The goal of a horror film is to evoke fear, not laughter or enjoyment, so if an audience is chuckling, chances are high something has gone quite wrong. Therefore, it’s a high risk to try and create a balanced movie that can effectively bounce back and forth between humor and fear, without crossing into cheesy. In Scream, Kevin Williamson pens a script that approaches comedy and satire in a way that pays homage to the slasher film era rather than mocking it. This movie isn’t a parody to films like Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s a love letter, written in blood. Scream pokes fun at scary movies while simultaneously expressing its adoration for them, like that guy in your chem class who makes fun of you all the time. The film commits many of the same crimes and cliches it mocks, but it’s with such knowing glee and enthusiasm that we cheer instead of roll our eyes.
With in the first fifteen minutes of run time, Scream shouts from the rooftops that it’s completely aware of the rules off horror and wants the audience to know immediately that they don’t apply here. The film’s headlining star in promotional materials and advertisements was Drew Barrymore, with her hip, choppy blonde bob and flirty voice, front and center in every trailer and poster released before it hit theaters. The innocent babysitter, channeling memories of the queen of scream herself, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, of course we expect her to come out on top as a surviving heroine. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the initial shock when (spoiler) she’s brutally gutted and hung from a tree. The only flaw I’ve ever been able to find in Scream is that its best and most jarring sequence comes at the beginning. Not that it doesn’t have a strong or satisfactory conclusion (the reveal of the killer(s) and at least one of their motives succeeds in bringing the story full circle). But that opening scene slices through you and imprints itself in your memory. I watch this movie every year, and each time I see her struggling to reach her parents, hear her croaking voice through the phone, and see her bloodied body hung up on display for them to find, I can’t shake it for days. It’s shocking, and positively glorious. I remember watching for the first time. My mouth dropped and I said out loud “Well now what?”
Thankfully, although the opener sets the bar unattainably high for the duration of the movie, Scream maintains its momentum and compensates with its quick witted humor. Nev Campbell’s Sidney Prescott continues to lay the groundwork for the breakdown and self-recognition of stereotypical slasher films tropes when she responds to Ghostface’s famous question with “What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big breasted girl who can’t act is running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door.” Wes Craven gives viewers an extra wink when immediately following this conversation, Sidney proceeds to run up the stairs instead of out the front door.
Although it’s cemented its status as a cult favorite, Scream has never fully received the recognition it deserves for being such a layered film. Not only is it a slasher flick, it’s a satire, a comedy, and a modern take on the classic whodunnit. It’s a more complex mystery with a lens examining the identity of the killer and his motive closer than most other horror films. Part of the pull of the film is that it matters who and why and whether those answers are satisfying. The fun lies in trying to figure out who’s next, when they’re following the rules, and which character lies behind that mask. And above all else, Scream meant to be fun.