The early 90’s were fairly horrible when it came to horror movies. With only a handful of minor exceptions, the films were little more than retreads or sequels of better works from the 80’s. They also gave us the start of many a horrific franchise (Leprechaun) and the death of others (Alien 3). I mean sure we were getting Stephen King movies as mini series on TV, we got Flatliners, Tremors, Bram Stokers Dracula, and Prophecy. We also got things like Graveyard Shift, Gremlins 2 (it classifies as horror..not sure why), Nightbreed, and Tales from the Hood. There are a few gems, but the reality is horror was generally horrible during this time. So 1996 comes around and we get a trailer for a new slasher film with a name that we associate to real horror.
The trailer puts a lampshade on all the films we have watched for the past two decades. Rules around sex, what you can say and can’t say, what to do and where to go. All the things that we shouted our TV’s when we watched these films on VHS time and time again. It showed us Drew Barrymore who had nearly vanished into a career of obscurity. It showed us Party of 5’s Julia – Neve Campbell talking to us with a certain self awareness of horror movie tropes. We had no idea what precisely we were getting, but it intrigued us.
That name I mentioned earlier – Wes Craven. The genius behind Nightmare on Elm Street, who had not been having a good decade, that had also given us Shocker, The People Under the Stairs, New Nightmare, and Vampire in Brooklyn. He somewhere along the way was given a script by new comer Kevin Williamson. Between the two of them they put together a movie that is both satire and a love letter of what horror had become since the beginning of the slasher flick. It is beautifully self aware of what it means to be a horror movie and what it means to be a character in a horror movie. It mocks and flaunts the rules and even calls attention to them. We had not had a film that does this ( to my knowledge) before this and to our benefit and our detriment have had dozens since then. This also probably single handedly relaunched the teen slasher film. Williamson, would go on to write I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and The Vampire Diaries. While he sticks to some tropes, he does actually know how to write teens. This is more rare than you would think.
Craven himself being the master of horror knew what buttons to push, how to craft this, and what to draw out of his actors. He, being one of the forerunners of teen slashers and having seen what it had become was the prime person to do this. Giving him a decent cast also helps. Neve Campbell is our heroine and protagonist of the film and unlike so many others prior – starts strong. She may be virginal, but she is also damaged in her own way and because of that damage is stronger than the typical victims in films prior. The movie also launched the careers of Rose McGowan (Charmed), Jamie Kennedy, and Matthew Lillard (Hackers), and Liev Schreiber (Wolverine, Salt). Skeet Ulrich, previously seen in The Craft, plays a similar role where its hard not to see him as scummy. We also have the movie that introduced Courtney Cox and David Arquette, that lead to a marriage in 1999 until 2013. All of these actors combined actually turned a good performance together and made this film work as well as it did.
Even from a technical perspective and execution of the work the movie holds up. We’re almost twenty years out from this one and the plot holds. Even on repeated viewings it holds. That’s not something that you see often. Even the minor bits of gore in the film look good with decent attention to detail. The combat sequences, yes I call them that, are just as inventive and show a growing perception of using the environment to your benefit.
Scream is the rebirth of the teen slasher.
It is a well made, well planned, and well executed film that delivers on all counts and deserves recognition. I happily put this as a modern day classic and worth watching. The sequels…well I will cover them later.