Directed by Wes Craven
Riding high on his success from teen drama “Dawson’s Creek”, Kevin Williamson wrote a smart, darkly humorous horror script loosely inspired by the Gainsville Ripper murders. Despite the waning interest in horror films, Williamson worked diligently on his script because of his deep love for the genre. He was able to entice the Weinstein Brothers of Dimension films to buy it, and, in a brilliant marketing ploy, the studio decided to cast well-known actors in all the major roles, hoping to attract a large audience made up mostly of young viewers. This A-list cast helped convince legendary horror director Wes Craven to agree to helm the film, along with repeated requests from fans to return to the genre.
After the brutal murder of two local high schoolers, the town of Woodsboro goes into a panic, closing the schools and flooded by reporters. Sidney Prescott (Campbell) and her close group of friends speculate about the identity of the murderer. But while her friends are eager to indulge in gallows humor, Sidney is still grieving the loss of her murdered mother and the most recent killings dredge up unpleasant memories. The body count starts to rise and the local teens take advantage of chaos to have a raucous party, creating the perfect situation for maximum damage. Sidney must find the identity of the killer before her name is added to the growing list of victims.
The horror genre, and slasher flicks in particular, was in a steady decline when Scream was released in 1996. Williamson’s film revived it by featuring a recognizable cast, a refreshing self-aware bent, and the sharp, witty dialogue he had become famous for in “Dawson’s Creek”. As a dedicated horror fan, he wasn’t afraid to include direct and indirect references to past genre films. Where other horror characters seem to exist in a vacuum, Williamson made it clear that the Woodsboro teens were well-versed in scary movies. They know all the tropes and joke about them throughout the film, all while Williamson and Craven are turning those cliches on their heads. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, The Howling, Prom Night, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Evil Dead, Hellraiser, The Fog, Terror Train, I Spit on Your Grave, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Carrie, and Silence of the Lambs are all mentioned by name and several of the films listed are also alluded to non-verbally.
The cast were almost all well-known players in the 90s, particularly Campbell (“Party of Five”), Cox (“Friends”), and Barrymore (E.T.). They do a great job delivering the jaded, hyper-intellectual dialogue, especially Jamie Kennedy and Rose McGowan. Matthew Lillard gives an over-the-top performance, but rather than seeming out of place, he just comes off as that annoying, attention-seeking friend that seems to pop up in nearly every social group. Campbell is an effective naïf (but has her badass moments) and Cox plays the bitchy, over ambitious reporter to a tee.
Scream reinvigorated the slasher movie and kicked off a new wave of slashers (Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and even a slick Halloween sequel), all following a similar format. By taking what he loved about classic horror films and adding a very smart, self aware (and self-referential) element, Williamson was able to get a new generation excited about horror and the genre became a viable box office commodity again.
Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of 5
Scream has a lot of Heathers-like black comedy, but it also has violent scenes and plenty of jump scares. When compared with today’s horror flicks, it probably seems pretty tame (particularly when held up against “torture porn” movies like Hostel and Saw), but it was very innovative for the time. For horror noobs interested in diving into slashers, it makes for good “Horror 101″ – just make sure you also watch the classics!