14 July 2015

When I Was Thirty: Wes Craven's Scream

The story of me and horror movies is not a good one. It's a genre I rarely watch, though I've had experiences with it that have made me the movie fan I am today. There are some great ones out there. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) comes to mind, especially as far as the modern, mainstream slasher sub-genre goes, something that would ride through the 80s, creating some of the most memorable horror ever made. Michael Myers begets Jason Voorhies begets Freddy Krueger and on and on and on. As a child of the mid-1980s, I consider myself lucky. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like it might be the best decade for horror movies. Of course, my horror experience, pre-1978, is limited to Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973). It's not good that I've seen so little. That's what I meant when I started this paragraph.

Now, I'm pretty sure I've seen every single film in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, even the reboot of the original a few years ago, though I believe I spaced a bit on that one. Just sort of had it on. The 1984 original, of course, being the one that sealed the deal for its director, Wes Craven, as one of the Kings of Horror. 

By the time he made the original Freddy Krueger Nightmare flick, he had already made a name for himself in the genre with The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). I have yet to see either. They have both been remade in the last decade. The point is that these are famous titles, especially among horror fans of a certain generation. 

For my generation though, there was a second wave of horror movies in the late 90s/early 00s that seemed to breathe a bit of new life into the genre. They were aware, knowing, funny, scary, satirical, self-referential. They were directed by Wes Craven. 

When the original Scream came out in December of 1996, I was 12-years-old. I was in 7th grade. My best friend was a guy named Tommy. The night it opened in Knoxville was the beginning of Winter Break, and Tommy got his parents to take us. We felt so cool getting to go see an R-rated movie without parents. They bought our tickets and went to another movie. Already a budding film buff, even at the young age of 12, I was literally over-ridden with cool at the end of the screening. People cheered and clapped at the end. I screamed out "Wes Craven Rules!!" I was a total dork and thought I was the shit. 

Oh, what movies can do for us!!!

What follows is a sort of visual review of each film in the original Scream trilogy. It ends well as a complete trilogy, but, of course, over a decade later, in 2011, Wes Craven would make a fourth installment, a reboot sort-of. It is great in its own right, but I won't discuss it here. It is sadly NOT part of this Blu-Ray set. 


Scream (1996)
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson

Make no mistake. Scream, the original, is a great movie. It is seriously one of the most iconic movies ever made, in three and a half genres:  teen movie, dark comedy, satire, and slasher. It does most of this with the sharp ear of its screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, who, at the time, was beginning a run as the go-to writer of teen drama on TV (The WB's Dawson's Creek) and new teen horror (Scream and Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Faculty). All of this was great stuff. 

With Scream though, he rewrote the whole idea of teen slasher flicks AND teen comedies, the greatest aspect of this being that these horror movie characters know horror movies and horror movie characters. The world of movies is part of this movie. It is fun, making it a satirical and funny teen movie/horror-slasher hybrid. It is a movie for movie fans and everyday people who like mainstream horror movies. 

Craven directed the hell out of this thing. Its images are now iconic, no matter how you feel personally about the series. Here's what I'm talking about: 

Cast Drew Barrymore, put her on the poster and in all the promotions, then harass, gut, and hang her in the first 15 minutes. She nails it. Craven starts this bad boy as an actually scary horror film. 

Lead characters, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), are introduced in perfect teen movie fashion but with an edge of darkness. Boys my age loved her, girls my age loved him. I mean obsessively. Stars were born here. We know how that turned out.

Craven creates a tone and sticks with it. The comedy here is true comedy but it is shrouded in darkness. The day after the first murder, a conversation about pop culture, movies, dating, gutting people, gives us hints we can't possibly fathom. It's a cleverly plotted film, driven by entertaining dialogue. 

A TV star in Courtney Cox gets the juiciest role of all as cutthroat entertainment news reporter Gale Weathers (Oh, that name!!). She, for me, is the character that drives the conflict in the best way. The struggle between she and the Sidney Prescott characters arcs in beautiful fashion starting here and running through the sequels. Her relationship with Deputy Dewey (David Arquette, the man Cox would eventually marry in real life) runs through these films the same way. It couldn't have worked out better. 

The casting of Henry Winkler is a nice touch, highlighting the generational range of pop culture. "The Fonz" as the high school principal. That's good stuff. With his death scene, both heart-pounding and hilarious, we see a new kind of horror movie. Violence is funny in horror movies, sometimes...

....And sometimes it's not...Sometimes it's shocking and revelatory, realistic and terrifying. Underneath the original Scream is the story of a couple movie-obsessed psychopaths. All the movie references and "Rules" of horror movies given by the Jamie Kennedy character, Randy, now mean something totally different. The violence in the media debate...Craven and Williamson know it well and play with it...

Scream 2 (1997)
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson

...To the point where the movies literally kill...

The opening scene of Scream 2 plays with the idea of movie-within-a-movie, life inspiring art/entertainment inspiring a killer inspiring a movie and on and on. 

Randy (Jamie Kennedy) knows he's now living in a sequel. His life in high school was the original. Now a college film school student, his class debates the ideas behind the great sequels and which one are best. The self-awareness is less subtle, still clever, not quite as good. 

The death of Randy in the middle of the film seals up the known elements of the horror sequel, more action, more gruesome death scenes, shock value over true scares. 

The ending of this one is stupid, plain and simple. The end of the first movie was new and seemed possible. This one is just so far-fetched, making what came before so impossible, so full of holes. 

But it does something nice for a character named Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man originally charged with the murder that started this whole thing, the murder of Sidney Prescott's mother. 

Scream 3 (2000)
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Ehren Kruger

Somehow, the first two Scream films transcended campiness. They were campy at times to be sure, but there was always an assuredness in tone and a grit to the violence that rose above camp, making the films darkly funny. 

Scream 3 starts out pretty badass. It kills off the character we only just came to know and sort of like. It uses Creed on the soundtrack (Shakes head). I felt cool again, for some reason. I was 16 when this one dropped. 

But it's really just a stupid, stupid movie. The tone doesn't match. The writing isn't as good. It uses the movie studio lots as its setting, where Stab 3, final installment in the movies about these movies within these movies, is being made. It's cast no longer A-listers like Tori Spelling, now unknowns, like Sarah Darling (Jenny McCarthy), who know they're in a bad movie but not that they're in a movie that is bad. This one has the least self-aware cleverness of the three. 

But Parker Posey as the actress who plays Gale Weathers is perfect. She provides the best this movie has to offer, especially when she and Gale and Dewey team up. What a team!!

The killer reveal is much more interesting here, especially in comparison to the second one. It provides a nice third part flip of the script (as Randy warned) and is a fun idea, nearly as creepy and shocking as the original reveal in part one. 

But Patrick Dempsey is in this one, inexplicably, as the most inept "homicide detective" in the history of detection. Screenwriter Kruger gives him nothing real at all, and he sucks in this movie. Just bad acting. 

So bad, Scream 4 had to happen. I want to re-watch it soon. 

How do you feel about these movies? I really want to know. What is your Scream story? 

**All screen caps are from the incredible website Shadow of Reflection


  1. Oh God I still remember when Scream came out. EVERYONE saw it. Except me. I was the same age as you, and I just did NOT do scary movies. (Truth: I still have not watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street, because the premise just assures that I will not sleep for at least a week after I see it.)

    We finally rented it on video one day, with my parents for some reason. Good lord but that was a mistake. We made it through the first scene (which is just incredible - iconic for good reason) with frayed nerves but mostly fine (the gore was a bit much for all of us). But then we get to the school, and well, my parents objected to the language. Which is kind of shocking when I think back, since my parents are actually both really cool people. But I guess they had an issue with young teenagers using the "F word" so many times. So we turned it off, went back to the video store, and got... EVITA instead. Even then I knew it was a downgrade.

    I've since seen all of the original trilogy and despite the third's reputation I still like it, mostly for the ending. It's interesting that you point out how awful the ending for the second is - Williamson was forced to rewrite it after the script leaked onto the internet. Yes, even back in 1997, internet leaks were a problem. That combined with the rushed production schedule meant that the new ending suffered. But I love that they had the temerity to kill off Buffy, and Jada Pinkett is a perfect choice as the first victim.

    Great read, man!

    1. I liked horror movies a lot more back then than I do now. My Mom would never let me watch that kind of stuff though. I always watched old horror movies at my aunt's house, and the only movie I ever watched growing up that truly made me lose sleep was Pet Sematary. Oh, and The Exorcist. I don't know if I'll ever be able to watch that again.

      I probably lied to my Mom about seeing Scream that young. Actually, I was probably at my Dad's that weekend, and he didn't care really. He was cool about movies and such.

      The ending of 3 is its strong suit. The first hour is borderline unwatchable for me. I forgot about Williamson and Co. having to do rewrites. I think they even make a joke about that in 3 at some point.

      Thanks, man!

  2. I love the Scream movies, even Scream 4, though it's the worst, was still decent enough. Scream 2 is the one I've seen the least, I really need to watch that one again.

    1. I thought Scream 4 was way better than 2 or 3. I really want to watch it again and write something about it. It totally came out of nowhere and was really solid. Too bad it didn't get more notice.

  3. Why does Patrick Dempsey need to be a good detective when he is that cute?!

    1. I guess he doesn't, but he doesn't even fully work as Sidney's love interest, which I think is what they were trying for.

    2. @Amanda You've got a point. He's just too cute so it worth's watching. 😣

    3. @Amanda You've got a point. He's just too cute so it worth's watching. 😣

  4. I didn't make it to the theater for the first Scream. I heard all the buzz and rented it when it hit VHS. Having grown up on slasher flicks and really appreciative of a well done and self-aware spoof, I fell in love with it the moment our then-unknown killer corrected Drew Barrymore about the killer's identity in Friday the 13th and then had the nerve to knock off the only person in the cast I'd even heard of. And it never let me go.

    I did see Scream 2 in a theater and I love that one almost as much as the first. I honestly don't think people give it enough credit for how brilliant that opening scene was. This is a series that knows the horror genre inside and out. It is very purposely playing with all of its tropes and cliches. One of them is that black characters are killed off first. In other words, I don't think Craven cast JPS and Omar Epps either by accident or for malicious reasons, but as another wink and nod to the audience to remind us he's in on the joke. He knows exactly what he's doing. He even doubles back on the matter, by giving us the black character who stereotypically flees the scene (the cameraman), as well as the token black best friend. The rest of the film going about the business of being a sequel while telling us exactly what it's doing even before it does it seals the deal for me. I agree, the end felt forced and kept it from being the equal of its predecessor.

    Scream 3 just didn't work on almost any level for much of the movie. There were some nice moments, just not enough to keep it from drowning.

    For the record, I really liked Scream 4. I thought it was very nice rebound for the franchise and it very underrated.

    1. That opening scene of the original is still one of the best things I've ever seen. It is perfect. I too love how self-aware these movies are without ever getting totally campy, at least as far as the original, 2, and 4 are concerned.

      Scream 2 is really amazing as well. You're so right about the race thing. And I'd be willing to bet that Craven and Williamson took some heat for the lack of any people of color whatsoever from the first film. It really is a great feat of subtle dark humor in that the Randy character just straight up knows he's in a horror sequel and actually talks about it. I love that! I was sad to see him go.

      And we agree on 3 as well. I literally can't stand the first hour or so of that movie, then it just ends really perfectly.

      Scream 4 was great. We didn't even mean to see it, and loved every minute of it. I think it's second best to the original.