Day 17: Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich

Runtime: 111 minutes

If we’re going to get all “meta” about horror, what better movie to talk about than Scream? I have mixed feelings about this movie, but I think it’s interesting enough to talk about in its place in the horror genre, and repeated viewings have actually increased my liking of it. This is my only Wes Craven entry*—he’s obviously one of the most significant directors of the genre, and certainly A Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic, but….I don’t know, his films just don’t seem to have the kind of atmospheric quality that brings me back to a movie again and again. Maybe because he always blended horror with comedy and/or self-conscious camp. Not sure if I can define it.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Anyway, although Scream does mix comedy and horror, the humor is intelligent, and doesn’t overtake the suspense, as in so many other attempts to mash-up the genres. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson brings an obvious love of horror to the movie, so that even the mocking of the genre—with characters who refer to the “rules” of the classics (premarital sex, alcohol and drug use will get you killed; saying “I’ll be right back” means that the killer will get you), and some who are mentally unbalanced by their obsession with these kinds of flicks. And this wasn’t just a cheap means of self-parody; the battles rage on today about the relationship between art, entertainment, and violence, a debate that has been going on for centuries—just look at the obscenity trial over Madam Bovary, for example, a novel that is itself a critique of sentimental romance fiction. Scream came under similar controversy, as several attacks and murders by teenage boys in the late 90s were blamed on the film.

Centering on teenager Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother had been raped and murdered a year earlier, the story follows her struggle to deal with her grief and insecurities, even as she is continually threatened by a killer knocking off her friends. It’s not really a scary film per se, but it is fun for a horror geek like me to see all the references. Probably my favorite is, of course, the scene where the film geek Randy explains to partygoers the “rules” of modern horror set by classics like Halloween, with that film actually playing behind him.

They did a good job with casting—Drew Barrymore (though in a minor role), Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and Rose McGowan putting in terrific performances, all drawing upon notoriety, supposedly a turning point for a genre that largely used lesser known or unknown actors (perhaps this was true from the late 70s on, with the rise of the low-budget, independent types).

*I decided to do A Nightmare on Elm Street on Day 27 after all.

Drew Barrymore

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” Ghostface asks Drew Barrymore at the beginning of the film, setting the whole “meta” thing in motion.

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