What is your favorite horror movie?
Nah, that’s too trite.
What horror movie would you show someone who has never seen one?
You may have the same answer to both questions, but the latter requires a little more thought. John Carpenters Halloween is my favorite film, but I recognize that it would most likely not stand up to the scrutiny of a viewer used to flashy modern cinema.
Instead I would show them Wes Cravens Scream.
I know what you’re thinking: wouldn’t Screamare the meta-references of lost to a viewer unfamiliar with the insignia of the genre? But one of the many brilliant aspects of Kevin Williamsons Screenplay is how it boldly draws attention to the tropes before turning them on their head. The meta approach also gives the film a timeless quality, although it’s otherwise very current circa 1996. Sure, there are references that get over the head for a newbie, but Williamson, for the most part, makes sure everyone is joking.
I speak from experience, there Scream is one of the first horror movies I’ve ever seen. It was the TV premiere; I want to say it was on Fox, probably close by scream 3‘s release in 2000, but I couldn’t find any confirmation of the airing. I was in middle school, about 11 years old or so. I vividly remember staying up past my bedtime to see the ending and then fearing Ghostface would catch me walking to the bus stop the next morning.
It’s rare for a derivative work to outperform the original, however Scream built on the tension of When a stranger calls to create the greatest horror film opening of all time, without exception. Everything starts with a phone call. Even I knew who Drew Barrymore was, thanks The Wedding Singer, and was shocked to see her killed so mercilessly. Craven eloquently directs a symphony of suspense that is still shocking today, when landlines are practically antiques.
Although I first saw it cropped to 4:3 full screen, I later came to appreciate it, as did Craven and Cameraman Markus Irvin (who, by the way, made one of my favorite movies as a kid, Dumb and Dumber) made masterful use of the widescreen 2.39:1 anamorphic format throughout the film, accentuating through Marco Beltramis creepy score.
Like a ’90s update of John Hughes’ Brat Pack of the previous decade, the ensemble cast consists of relatable, modern characters played by a hot, young cast that churns out hip dialogue. Aside from being good actors individually, there is a believable camaraderie between them. Never Campbell earns the distinction of being perhaps the greatest horror finale girl of all time with a nuanced portrayal of the vulnerable but resourceful Sidney Prescott.
Skeet Ulrich reminiscent of a young Johnny Depp – which Craven helped get on the map with A nightmare on Elm Street – in the role of Sidney’s crazy friend Billy. Friends star Courtney Cox plays against the aggressive reporter Gale Weathers. David Arquette uses Nicolas Cage-like eccentricities effectively as boyish, awkward Deputy Dewey. not to be surpassed Matthew Lillard gets fully operatic with his salivating performance as Billy’s co-conspirator Stu. Jamie Kennedy serves as an analog for the viewer as Randy, the resident movie geek, who calls out the characters’ stupid choices. Rose McGowan rounds out the cast as Tatum, Sidney’s feisty best friend.
There was so much talent both behind and in front of the camera, lots of it ScreamThe success of is due to coincidence: Craven initially resigned from the gig and almost got fired during production. The mask was found during location scouting. Drew Barrymore was originally cast as Sidney before deciding she wanted to play Casey. Arquette was asked to read for Billy before expressing an interest in Dewey (although he was younger than Ulrich, Lillard and Kennedy).
Between Williamson’s perfect screenplay and Craven’s sharp direction, Scream delivers thrills, chills, and laughter in nearly equal measure. Though far from being the first slasher to tie himself into a murder mystery, Scream‘s two killer revelation is arguably the most effective use of the format this side of Agatha Christie. It would be a stretch to call the film a horror comedy, but much of the satirization holds. Roger Jackson’s The killer’s unsettling voice strikes a balance between brilliance and menace, similar to Hannibal. That the Ghostface costume was available at any Halloween store lends veracity as much as the killer’s clumsiness.
Helped extend the longevity of the slasher genre before A nightmare on Elm Street 1984, Scream blamed Craven for revolutionizing the entire genre. A sleeper hit that grossed over $100 million domestically on a budget of $14 million. Scream launched a new boom in youthful, self-assured horror films hoping to capitalize on its success. But even the best of them don’t come close to doing the same Scream‘s ingenuity made audiences weary of the trend.
The legion of shameless imitators became something of an albatross Scream‘s neck. Similar to Seen is often vilified for starting the aughts’ so-called “torture porn” trend, Scream guilty by association. With the likes of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger establishing themselves as horror icons, Ghostface was the new kid on the block trying to prove its worth.
love it or hate it ScreamIts status as a horror classic is undisputed after almost three decades. As I revisited the franchise in anticipation of last year’s “rerun,” I came to realize that it’s not just that Scream One of my favorite films but it would also be a perfect choice to indoctrinate a newcomer to the genre.
So what horror movie would you show someone who has never seen one?