When we started our podcast, it became clear to me that we would never be able to tackle all of the movies that I would like to. There are just too many films, and not enough time. However, I think this could be a wonderful outlet for me to express my opinions on things beyond what we cover on the podcast. Rob isn’t much of a horror fan, so I thought what better movie to tackle in my first written review than Wes Craven’s SCREAM!
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy, Rose McGowan, and Drew Barrymore
Released: Dec 20, 1996
Runtime: 111 Minutes
First off, let me fully acknowledge that I am an unabashed Scream fan. This will be a completely biased account of my love for this film. Scream is a movie that kick started the modern slasher genre, and saved the horror landscape from the hell from which it crept in the early 90s. The decade of the 1990s is a terribly divisive time period for the genre. We had moved out of the heyday of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, and on to Troll 2. This movie spawned an revival of the slasher film which led to many attempting to duplicate with varying degrees of success. There will be SPOILERS from this point forward. You’ve been warned!
From the opening frames Wes Craven sends you on a gripping journey of emotions that are perfectly projected by one Drew Barrymore. In the mid 90s, Barrymore was on the cusp of what would become a career resurgence for herself. The pairing with Wes Craven to headline his new horror film in a starring capacity was a big step. Except, she isn’t the star of this film. In fact, she doesn’t even make it to the 15 minute mark. Originally, Barrymore was brought in to play the leading role of Sidney Prescott, but that went to Neve Campbell after Barrymore preferred playing the Casey role. It wasn’t exactly what Craven had signed up for, but they believed it would give the film the punch it needed. By casting Drew in the opening victim role, they would subvert the audiences expectations, and leave them uneasy for the rest of the ride. The decision turned out to be golden, and gave us one of the best opening scenes of any horror movie to date. In addition to the wonderful work of Barrymore (who spends a majority of the time on screen by herself), we get our first listen to what has become an iconic voice in film history…Ghostface. The iconic villain, who you’ve seen all over your neighborhood at Halloween time, is voiced by Roger Jackson. The grisly tones of Jackson’s voice fit the character perfectly. It’s not so over the top that it takes you out of the moment, but it’s not so subdued that it doesn’t work. When he hits the high register of his tone it’s startling, and when he drops down deep it can get downright terrifying. This was made even more effective by the fact that they actually filmed these scenes with Jackson actually on the phone with the actress as the scene played out. On top of that, the actors never got to meet him. This helped in a major way as they never had a face to go along with the menacing voice they were supposed to fear. Barrymore knocks this 12 minute scene out of the park, and sends us on the way for our ride. All the while, poor Casey Becker dangles from a tree in our rear view mirror.
One year after the murder of her mother, Sidney Prescott is left wondering what really happened. The suspected killer has been placed behind bars, but after the murder of two classmates occurs, Sidney is no longer sure that they have the right man. A serial killer with a penchant for chatting is on the loose. He has a calling card, no…literally a CALLING card. This killer terrorizes his victims over the phone before digging his knife into them, and it appears as though Sidney is his top target. Sidney takes comfort in the company of her friend Tatum(Rose McGowan), Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Tatum’s boyfriend Stu (Matthew Lillard), but not in her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). Poor Billy boyfriend seems to be suspect numero uno for the Woodsboro police! After a close call, and a curfew levied, Sidney decides the best thing to do is to hunker down at a party with her friends (naturally). Not only are the kids attending the party, but skeezy reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is just outside looking for her next big story. Also, Tatum’s brother, Deputy Dewey is there to keep an eye on things. This sets the scene for a tension filled final act that leaves few left standing in the wake of the killer’s last stand. As it turns out, your gut instinct is always right, and it most certainly is the boyfriend, Billy, who is to blame. However, what you might not have seen coming is his accomplice, Stu. The clever mystery is unraveled and it is revealed that Sid’s mom was sleeping with Billy’s father, causing his parent’s divorce. The bomb is also dropped that Billy killed her mother, and he intends on killing Sidney one year to the day later. Stu’s motive? Peer pressure, he’s far too sensitive. It ends just the way you expect with Sidney having the last laugh, and setting herself up to be terrorized in sequels still to come.
Scream is first and foremost a slasher, a whodunit. However, you cannot properly review this film without talking about it’s humor. This movie worked it’s way down from an NC-17 to an R rating after Harvey Weinstein convinced the MPAA that it was a satire piece. Kevin Williamson used his personal writing flair to throw in as many pop culture refrences as he could. While this made the movie POP off the screen in the moment, it does hinder the film in modern viewings. It’s very grounded in that 1996 time frame. Scream, and it’s subsequent sequels became known for this practice. The term “meta” gets thrown around more with the Scream franchise than probably any other films ever made. As suspenseful as it can get, the humor is never quite far away, and sometimes they can run concurrently with each other. Whether it be the bumbling and fumbling of Ghostface, or Tatum’s sarcastic pleas to the hooded killer in her garage, laughs are scattered throughout liberally.
I’ve talked about who was believed to be the star, but let’s take a second to address the real leading lady, Neve Campbell. Neve was deep in Party of Five at this time, and she was also coming off her first major film role in The Craft earlier in the year. She delivers a more than solid performance in the role of Sidney Prescott. She flew in under the cover of the giant Barrymore umbrella, and she carved herself out a spot in horror cinema history. Also coming from a “Must see TV” role, we have Courteney Cox from Friends fame. The role of the TV news reporting bitch, Gale Weathers, is a big departure from the role she was playing as Monica Gellar. This showed range that few new Cox had, and set her up for a career outside of Central Perk in the future. On set, she met her future
husband David Arquette. The two of them seemed like an unlikely pair, but they made it work for quite some time before divorcing in 2013. Arquette took on the role of Deputy Dewey Riley, a young officer in the Woodsboro sherriff’s department. Arquette delivers a likable performance that never comes across as commanding, which is perfect for the character’s purpose in the story. He has just the right amount of authority, which is bordering on zero. The cast is rounded out by great performances all around by the likes of Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Henry Winkler (The Fonz!!!), and fan favorite Randy played by Jamie Kennedy. This movie really is a perfect storm of a cast that fits together so well.
The first time I saw Scream was in the theater. As a child, I was NOT a fan of horror movies. In late 1996, I was eleven years old. My brother and I would go to movies together all of the time. He is 14 years older than I, so getting in to see a rated R movie was never an issue. This time in particular, we were supposedly going to see something else (I can’t remember what), but I was bamboozled. I didn’t realize what had happened until the title card came up. I was one pissed off eleven year old! Here I am stuck in this theater, watching a movie that I have no desire to see. However, it took no time for me to become hooked. I’ve explained in great detail the reasons above. This movie not only spawned the late 90s slasher craze, but it propelled me into my love for scary movies. It scared me in all the right ways, and I left the theater feeling exhilarated! I can remember going home, and telling my mom what I had just seen. I was so excited, and I just wanted to share that with everyone I could. Needless to say, she wasn’t exactly thrilled with my brother’s choice of nightly viewing. I have this movie to thank for broadening my cinematic preferences to an entire genre. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I have seen this particular film, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that it is well into the hundreds. To this day, I still probably watch it once a month, and I even have a couple of toys to show for my fandom…
notice the Roger Jackson signature on the action figure
Obviously, Scream holds a very special place in my cinematic heart. I fully recognize that it isn’t a masterpiece in film making, and it certainly isn’t deserving of an Oscar. However, I have it placed comfortably in my all time top 10 list, and I will not apologize for it. This movie stuff is all subjective anyway, right. I love this movie! It’s a 9/10 for me.