Starring: Neve Campbell, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Courteney Cox
“Never say ‘who’s there’. Don’t you watch scary movies? It’s a death wish. You might as well come out to investigate a strange noise or something. ” (Ghostface, Scream)
Scream is to modern horror films what the Beatles were to rock music. Look at it now and it’s easy to forget the impact it’s had on so many of the films we’ve seen since. Nowadays almost every slasher movie has some sort of “clever” post-modern fourth wall-breaking scene where the black guy says he knows he’s going to die first, a hysterical teen screams that their situation’s “like something out of a Jason film” or someone says “we shouldn’t split up, that’s how people die in the movies”. Scream did it first, and while it’s been imitated countless times since it’s somewhat telling that Scream still does it better than most, 15 years since its release.
The film centres around Sydney Prescott (Campbell), a teenager still trying to come to terms with the murder of her mother a year ago. Her boyfriend is trying to pressure her into having sex, which doesn’t help matters, and if that wasn’t bad enough some or her fellow classmates have started turning up dead. Sydney soon realises she’s the killer’s next target, and that her mother’s murder may in some way have something to do with it. She has to find out who’s committing the murders and stop them before she ends up giving the local gravedigger overtime work.
The real genius of Scream lies in the character of Randy (played by the otherwise irritating Jamie Kennedy). A die-hard slasher film fan, Randy knows all the “rules” to surviving a horror film – if you have sex you die, if you say “I’ll be right back” you won’t be – and spends a good part of the film discussing with other characters who the killer may be if they were going by horror convention. While primarily paying tribute to the countless slashers that paved the way for Scream, these horror “rules” are also in a way mocking the genre for its lack of originality.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that Scream sets about breaking a lot of these rules. The girl who has sex doesn’t always die, the villain doesn’t necessarily come back to life for one final showdown and the identity of who’s doing the killings can’t really be worked out due to the numerous red herrings and double-bluffs the film chucks at the viewer throughout. While making fun of the predictability of the slasher genre, in the same breath Scream provides something truly unpredictable.
There’s no way of guessing who’s killing everyone or what their motive is, and with the death of top star Drew Barrymore right at the start of the film (a nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho, which also killed off its star early on to throw audiences) it’s difficult to know for a fact who’s going to survive either.
Drew’s death isn’t the only knowing wink to the horror classics. John Carpenter’s Halloween constantly plays on a TV in one house during the film’s final half-hour, with many of the goings-on in the house mirroring the action on the telly.
More subtle moments include a brief cameo from director Wes Craven as Fred, the school janitor with a striped sweater that’s oddly familiar. Another short scene sees Sydney getting hassle from a news reporter played by none other than Linda Blair (Regan from The Exorcist), complete with huge crucifix earrings. They’re cheeky little moments that, while unnoticed by mainstream audiences, reassure horror fans that Scream is really a love letter to their favourite genre.
While it may not necessarily be the case nowadays thanks to its many imitators, at the time of its release Scream was a breath of fresh air in a genre suffocating itself with a plastic bag of predictability. It may have lost some of that impact 15 years later but it’s still a great slasher film that should entertain from start to finish.
WHERE CAN I BUY IT?
If you live in the UK you can get Scream on DVD here or on Blu-ray here, or if you want to go the whole hog you can get the Scream trilogy on DVD here or on Blu-ray here. Americans, you can get the DVD here, the Blu-ray here, the DVD boxset here and the Blu-ray boxset here. Phew.