This October, we’re celebrating some of the best horror films ever made. Look out for a new classic review daily across the month on The Film Blog, as well as more special treats along the way!
Get ready to Scream on day twenty-four…
It is a given that horror films have always been made for horror fans – that odd lot who enjoy a good scare – but Wes Craven had a riot in 1996 with a horror film about horror fans. You see, it’s not so fun when you’re actually in one.
By all accounts, Scream shouldn’t work. It’s a pastiche piece, a blackly comic slasher about horror savvy teens who find themselves trapped within a nihilistic story of the sort that they are all too familiar with from the movies. They know exactly what scream queens have been doing wrong all these years – ’You should never say ‘who’s there?’ Don’t you watch scary movies? It’s a death wish!’ – but wind up doing them regardless. This sort of meta, self-referential schtick can grow tired quickly and only doesn’t here thanks to the sincerity of Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s honest passion for genre thrills. It’s infectiously entertaining and a readymade staple of Halloween movie nights.
After a genuinely terrifying opening sequence offs Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker – a knowing successor to Psycho’s Janet Leigh – and her boyfriend because she doesn’t know the killer in Friday the 13th, the mantle of lead falls to doe eyed high-schooler Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). Sidney is the third would be victim of Ghostface, Scream’s Munch inspired, mask-wearing answer to the Shape, but narrowly escapes a slashing, just days before the anniversary of her mother’s murder a year earlier. Could there be a connection? Acid-penned, on-the-job ‘Antichrist of television journalism’ Gale Weathers (Friends star Courtney Cox playing against type) certainly thinks so.
There are so many references to the history of horror cinema packed within Williamson’s script that only a genre buff could possibly hope to come close to identifying them all. And yet, there’s something perversely satisfying in the moments you do spot an in-joke – Skeet Ulrich plays Billy, wait for it, Loomis – or sly dig against the sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Watch too for the cameoing janitor – Fred – in his red and green jersey. Such wry humour goes beyond mere nods, extending to characters who discuss their relationship in film classification terminology and adroit casting of Henry Winkler as an ironically unhip school principal.
Far from being exceedingly reverential, the film succeeds in subverting cliches, whilst assuring their continuation. In one brilliantly conceived sequence, Jamie Kennedy’s Randy implores Jamie Lee Curtis – on the television – to look behind her, whilst Ghostface looms behind him; in parallel, the scene is being watched via a live video feed by Sidney and Kenny (W. Earl Brown) outside, who also cry ‘look behind you!’ This is in the wake of a egregiously dim-witted party that the teens of Woodsboro host in the midsts of their town’s murder crisis. What do they do at the party? Watch horror films, of course. It’s ingenious because that’s exactly how Scream’s post-cinema-release viewers will experience the film for generations to come. What if we too should be watching our backs? Craven toyed with the same concept in the opening of his first sequel and with much the same devious success.
Unlike the later Scary Movie spoofs – Scary Movie was the film’s working title as it happens – Scream boasts intelligence and verve, not to mention a fabulous nose for irony. ‘Movies don’t make psychos,’ as the killer puts it, ‘they make psychos more creative’. One dreads to think.