I’m sure after reading a few of my entries, a lot of people will be wondering what is my favourite scary movie? Well obviously it’s not Scream if it isn’t that high on my list. Let me give you yet another history lesson (I got a B in my exams if you’re curious): in 1996 Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson teamed up to make a film that would finally kill off the dying slasher genre forever. As is normally the case with these kinds of things, it didn’t quite work out like that. I think the three sequels, the parody films and the subsequent stream of post-modern horror films that followed speak for themselves, but I’ll go into detail on that much later on. Now let’s roll...
Our setting is the small peaceful town of Woodsboro in Southern California. One night a teenager alone at home, Casey Becker (played by Drew Barrymore) receives a flirtatious phone call from a stranger. This call soon turns sour when the man on the other end reveals he is sadistic and threatens her life. After Casey and her boyfriend Steve are quickly dispatched, the focus turns to another teenage girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) whose mother was murdered exactly one year ago. Her father has just gone out of town on business for the weekend and the town is under police investigation due to the two murders. After having an altercation with the masked killer at her house, Sidney suspects her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) but he is released by the police. Eventually school is cancelled temporarily and the students decide to “celebrate” (yes, two murders and they celebrate) by having a big party at Stu Macher’s house. Of course a big wild teen party is the perfect stage for the killer to strike again. Also covering the case is a local journalist Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) who is hoping to write a book on the murders and make it big.
Now by the time this film came around, the slasher genre was pretty much a dead horse. Numerous direct-to-video sequels and endless copies of big time franchises like Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street had been met with little profit and bad responses from critics. After nearly twenty years, the genre was stale and clichéd. This film however was created as an homage to all those classic slasher films and was written to have elements of satire and comedy to deconstruct the genre and point out exactly why those films were unrealistic. The film has a ton of references and nods to all those films such as Casey saying the Elm Street sequels sucked, Randy explaining all the rules of the genre and of course that infamous trivia game. The film has a brilliant ironic spin in that the killer invokes all the clichés and the characters try to figure out what film he’s going to use next to try and survive. A lot of the time they end up getting killed though. There’s a cool bit of irony in one scene where Sidney complains that the girl in horror movies is always running upstairs when she should be going out the front door, but of course when the killer attacks her she’s put the chain on the door so she has no choice but to run upstairs. At the time it was a fresh revamp of the genre to have self-aware characters as well as realistic killers. I will spoil you by saying that the killer is a person – not a supernatural entity. That sort of goes hand in hand with Wolf Creek in that this film does feel a bit more realistic than other slashers since it is partly a whodunit. Another way that it feels realistic is that there isn’t only one survivor; while many characters die, a good few survive to make it that more realistic.
Another thing the film did was to have a more famous cast than the previous cheap sequels which cast unknowns in everything. Drew Barrymore was actually the first one to sign on and it was that which convinced Wes Craven to direct since he was getting tired of doing horror films but having an established actress on board was a different story. Drew was originally meant to play Sidney but had to back out to scheduling conflicts so they gave her the role of Casey instead. Her first ten minutes of the film are indeed gripping and at the time people were thinking “of course she has to survive, it’s Drew Barrymore, she’s famous”. Apparently Craven got her to act so scared by telling her stories about animals being abused since she’s a great animal lover. In other name actors appearing here we had Neve as the star of Party Of Five and Sidney is a lot more likeable than Julia. She does quite well as our Final Girl and a very underrated scene that has nothing to do with the horror has her hiding in the school bathroom listening to two girls talk about her mother being a slut. Her expression is perfect in that scene. Courteney Cox is fantastic as the bitchy news reporter who wants to save a man’s life to boost her book sales.
Gail is such a brilliant bitch and you just love her for it. We also have a pre-Charmed Rose McGowan looking particularly fetching as the blonde Tatum, Sidney’s BFF and delivers a great line (“please don’t kill me, Mr Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel”). Now for the guys Skeet Ulrich and Mathew Lillard are a little hard to take in this film as they do kind of ham it up every now and then and Matt seems to be playing nearly the same character he played in She’s All That, but somehow they both make it work. Jamie Kennedy is hilarious as Randy and he was my favourite character, considering I was like that at age fourteen (I grew up faster than Randy does however). I wasn’t the biggest fan of David Arquette in the role of Dewey but these days I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing him. The voice of the killer, Roger Jackson is brilliantly creepy and perfect for the role. The actresses didn’t actually meet him until after they’d shot all the scenes with his voice to add to the creepiness.
I said earlier about Drew Barrymore’s part in the film, and it is one of the more famous scenes these days despite being in the beginning. It draws from When A Stranger Calls and a nice little touch is the popcorn that Casey puts on the stove. It acts like a clock for the scene as when she’s talking to the killer normally she’s only just put it on. It starts popping a bit heavily when things get creepy and starts smoking when he threatens her. When the action starts it catches on fire. One of the best touches is the part where Casey’s parents are right in front of her but she can’t call out because the killer has choked her out. The end of the scene has a nice nod to Suspiria too. Another excellent ironic part comes where Gail has put a video camera in the living room but it has a 30-second delay so Sidney and the camera man see the killer approaching Randy from behind, they yell at him to get out of the way but of course they can’t change what’s going to happen to him much like he can’t change what’s happening in Halloween which he’s watching. Bonus points for him saying “turn around, Jamie, he’s right behind you” when the actor’s name is Jamie. I also can’t get enough of big body revealing scenes and the best one has to be when Gail is driving her news van and turns on the windscreen wipers to find out there’s blood all over it. Then there’s the big disturbing scene where (SPOILER ALERT) the two killers try to make fake evidence by stabbing themselves while Sidney looks on. That is easily one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever watched, going right back to the whole coffee table thing in Scream 4. As far as comedic scenes go, the bit where Randy explains the rules of a horror film is enjoyable as well, especially now that those rules have pretty much been done away with.
Now then I have seen all the sequels and I think they are all decent enough, maybe not the third one so much. I heard people saying the fourth one was awful but I enjoyed it. I guess we horror fans can thank Scream for kickstarting a new trend in post-modern slasher flicks like I Know What You Did Last Summer and reviving the genre when it was meant to kill it off completely. I seriously hope they stop making more films because they really are going to keep digging themselves deeper by becoming redundant and cliché themselves even when their main thing is desconstructing all the clichés. And as a fun fact, Caller ID increased significantly in households after this film came out. If this is indeed you favourite scary movie then props but keep on reading anyway because your favourite just might be on my list. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.