Scream is one of those movies where even though I haven’t seen it in at least 10 years, it’s perfectly engrained in my memory because I watched it so many god damn times when it first came out. I rented this thing constantly, because remember this was in the days of VHS where aside from a few titles, you weren’t able to buy movies when they first came out. You had to wait for a video store to sell used copies and you better believe I checked every weekend. I’m not ashamed to say I flipped the fuck out when the local store finally sold some copies. I believe there was hopping involved. So yes, there was a period of time in 1996/1997 where I probably would have called this my favourite movie.
That is certainly not the case anymore, but it’s still a damn good one.
Scream had a lot working against it. It was a slasher movie coming out a few days before Christmas at a time when horror movies were not taken seriously and if I recall, were also not making a lot of money at the box office. It didn’t have a terrific opening weekend but then fantastic word of mouth and repeat viewings made it a huge hit. Not only that, it revitalized the horror movie, particularly the slasher sub-genre, and we had several years where Hollywood coasted off that and refused to stop, giving us stuff like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend. Oh man I gotta do those movies for this feature. Scream was a damn trail blazer and even now it’s not hard to see why.
I don’t think I need to get into plot details for this one right? There are teens, there is a killer. Killer kills teens. We better find out who the killer is before he kills more teens. It’s standard stuff but where Scream stood out is that it was full of characters that were aware of horror movies and all of their various clichés. It’s a concept that has since been run completely into the ground. At this point I think it’s less common to have characters who don’t ever acknowledge other horror movies. But with Scream, it was a new idea and it was executed very well, pulling off the meta aspects without becoming too obnoxious.
I do have to say though, that although it was a unique idea at the time, when you watch it now, Scream does suffer a little bit as a result of all the movies that came after it and tried to ape on these ideas. What was cool and novel at the time has become fairly common place so when you’re watching it you can’t help but think “Oh god, stop comparing everything to movies! Stop it! Shhhhh!” It’s not Scream’s fault by any means, just something I observed on this viewing.
The other thing Scream is remembered for is its opening sequence starring Drew Barrymore and it’s still insanely well put together. The reveal that the killer is watching her is still creepy and the whole sequence is a master class of suspense and build up. Scares are given room to breathe and the scene takes its time, giving you a character you root for despite only having spent a single scene with her. Everybody expected Barrymore to be the star so when she not only bites it within the first 10 minutes, but probably also gets it worse than anyone else in the movie, it’s a huge surprise and sets a terrific tone that anything can happen here. It’s such a good scene that it’s a wee bit unfortunate that nothing else in the movie can compete with it.
Also, I couldn’t help but think I would fucking ace the quizzes the killer asks. Maybe it would be different if I were under duress but there is no way that son of a bitch would have stumped me on that Friday the 13th question. I can’t help but feel the killer is a more casual horror fan and I’d like to think I’m a step beyond that so he would be feeding me surface level shit like that all night and I would just keep knocking it out of the fucking park. I guess eventually he would just get bored and come kill me anyway, but I would still feel slightly victorious on that one. I really wish there had been a scene in this or one of the sequels where the killer has to spend 45 minutes on the phone with their intended victim as they simply keep getting questions right.
The cast of Scream is now a whos who of “where the hell did that person end up”. Seriously, I IMDB’s everyone in the cast just about. I think the only person I didn’t look up was Courtney Cox as she has somehow stayed relatively on my radar. Everyone else though, no clue what they had been up to. Well I knew Jamie Kennedy was busy never being funny I guess. They’re all very good here. Matthew Lillard is as over the top and spitty as you would hope and David Arquette is great at being a good-natured doofus. Skeet Ulrich is a little bland for the most part but when he has to go over the top once the big reveal has happened he does pretty well. I liked when he was freaking out looking for Sydney and starts slashing open couch cushions with a knife while screaming “where the fuck are you?!” I can guarantee you she ain’t in those fucking couch cushions sir. Also Neve Campbell as Sydney is a great female lead here. She spends far more time talking shit and kicking ass then she does cowering and hiding and even manages to lose her virginity and still win the day.
The idea of having two killers felt new at the time as well. I certainly can’t think of a previous slasher movie that had done it. Part of the killers’ plan does confuse me though. They pull the whole Bond villain thing near the end and spend several minutes explaining to Sydney (I think it’s actually spelled with an ‘I’ but I prefer this way so I’m sticking with it) what their whole plan is. It seems like this was part of the plan from day 1 as they are relishing that they get to tell her everything that is happening and Ulrich is rubbing it in her face that he slept with her first and all this stuff about framing her dad, etc. Essentially much of their plan seems predicated on Sydney being alive at this point. Soooo why did they try and kill her so many times earlier? You could argue that it was meant to spook her but there are knife swipes and stab attempts. What if she hadn’t ducked in time and that was that? Maybe I’m wrong and it wouldn’t have changed things but that’s the impression I walked away with.
I can’t help but shake the feeling that if Scream had been made now, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective because I believe they would overly explain everything that is happening. For example, there is a great moment where minutes after Sydney disparages horror movies for always having the lead run up the stairs instead of right out of the front door, she does the exact same thing when the killer turns up in her house. It’s not pointed out directly to you, you just have to notice it happened. Don’t you think that if this were made now, they would have added some ADR line where she acknowledges she did that? Or maybe the killer would call her up and point out the irony? There’s several moments like that that work because somebody may not pick up on it and I think now, executives would be worried about exactly that and would add notes about “Are people going to get that’s what’s happening here? Maybe someone should point it out.” Basically this is a very long winded way for me to say that movies today are too condescending.
I think that about covers everything I wanted to say. Scream was a huge deal at the time and now that all that time has passed, it can simply be recognized as a well done horror movie. Yes it will forever be tied to introducing the idea of meta horror, but there’s still a solid scary movie in there outside of those elements and the opening sequence is one of the best in horror movie history. It still holds up and definitely comes recommended.