In the mid-90s, slasher flicks started to lose impact in a market oversaturated with 7th or 8th installation of franchises soaked in 80s vibe. Yes, they kept giving mass audiences some mindless entertainment, but they completely and utterly gave up on originality and unconventional plots and characters.
Thus, Wes Craven, who contributed to the slasher era with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), decided to spoof the entire sub-genre and its tropes by making Scream, a film so clever that it works both as a parody of slashers and an intense ride nonetheless.
When the quiet town of Woodsboro is shocked by a mysterious killer of teenagers known as Ghostface, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) – who’s dealing with post-traumatic syndrome due to the rape and murder of her mother one year prior – and her friends try to figure out who the killer is with the help of a nosey journalist and an incompetent police deputy.
Craven’s umpteenth success shows the constant usage of horror tropes and clichés to criticise their formulaic presence in horror cinema, particularly in the slasher sub-genre. References to Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises are all over the place in this smart meta-slasher.
However, it’s John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) that plays a primary role, with Craven and Kevin Williamson (Scream screenwriter) paying homage to the movie that started it all. Scream even utilises part of the Halloween iconic soundtrack to raise tension in certain sequences and winks to the audience in others.
As he’s done successfully with Nightmare (1984), Wes Craven is able to create a context in which the suspension of disbelief is unnecessary: as opposed to the Jason Voorhees’ movies – which you really can’t overthink about in order to enjoy – or even the first Halloween – great film, but engulfed with unbelievable physics – in Scream universe everything is believable and makes sense within the story. Upon fourth viewing, I still couldn’t find any plot hole! Which is something that never occurs in slasher movies, to be honest.
Besides, Scream benefits from a perfectly balanced combination between “whodunit” mystery and black comedy – obviously, the reveal of Ghostface’s identity toward the end looks silly (as it is in most of the slasher flicks), but the movie gives the audience hints throughout so that the final surprise doesn’t come entirely unexpected. And, above all, makes sense. Craven never lies to its audience in Scream, so that if you paid attention to the story development you’d know why the ending unfolded in that specific way.
As per comedy, the director shows once again his black humour in this film: Craven, to my knowledge, was the first horror director to include comic relief in one of his earliest flicks (The Last House on the Left, 1972) and, although in that case it didn’t quite work, in Scream these aspects blend perfectly with the crime/mystery one.
Besides, Scream benefits from a perfectly spot-on casting: there isn’t a standout actor among them, but they all fit perfectly the roles they’ve been assigned with. Mostly, though, the characters they portray are incredibly amusing and entertaining. Sidney, deputy Dewey (David Arquette), unscrupulous news reporter Gale Weather (Courtney Cox), Billy and Stu (Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard) are compelling, entertaining and quotable. Plus, some fun cameos (such as Drew Barrymore, Live Schreiber, Henry Winkler and, of course, Craven himself) make for an extra layer of enjoyment in the movie.
Yet, Wes Craven’s film deserves to be among the horror classics for two main reason: firstly, it made impossible to overlook tiresome clichés in horror flicks ever since Scream came out. In other words, this film deconstructed formulas that made our beloved genre boring and conventional, to the point of being considered almost dead following an influx of direct-to-video titles and numerous sequels to established horror franchises of the 1970s and 1980s.
Which is my second point: thanks to Craven’s masterpiece the horror genre has reborn from its ashes and found new ways to tell scary stories. Surely, the late 90s and early 00s have been quite stingy in terms of good horror films (at least around Hollywood), but the blast of the 2010s is, more or less, indirectly tied to Scream.
All in all, I love the movie and I can only appreciate how much Craven has done for the horror genre. Although Scream is probably less immune to the aging process than other genre classics, it has a special place in my heart and every horror fan should recognise praise that.