Release Date: December 20th, 1996 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Wes Craven Actors: Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy, Liev Schreiber
cream” begins with a prank phone call received by Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore), a young blonde who is at first annoyed, then interested, then frightened. She’s alone in a large house out in the middle of nowhere, which, although brightly lit, is none too friendly. When she repeatedly hangs up on the creepy caller, he becomes antagonistic, insisting on playing a game – a question-and-answer type involving movie trivia. After Casey fails to respond correctly, the maniac reveals that not only is he calling from right outside the house, but he has also captured Casey’s boyfriend and has him tied up on the patio.
This opening scene, resulting in the revealing of the now iconic “Ghost Face” killer – a black-cloaked stalker with a ghoulish Halloween mask (technically called “Father Death”) and butcher knife (and a knack for hiding in closets and using phones for intimidation) – is one of the most memorable and popular introductions of any slasher film in the last decade. The sequels that followed, staying true to a proven formula, all similarly implemented shockingly murderous starts. Director Wes Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) also takes a hint from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” by unexpectedly offing a top-billed character within the first few minutes of screentime.
The story continues the following day, with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) arriving at Woodsboro High School to see police officers and news reporters crawling all over, inquiring and reporting on the brutal murders of Casey and her boyfriend Steve, both of whom were gruesomely gutted. “Top Story” newswoman Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) is front and center, attempting to snag some juicy details. Sidney’s mother was raped, tortured, and murdered a year ago, and ever since, Weathers has been fighting the conviction of accused (and possibly framed) Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), now sentenced to death. And sure enough, Sidney is Ghost Face’s next target. Is the real killer her boyfriend? Deputy Dewey (David Arquette)? The principal? Or one of the many kids from her school? It could even be a woman, for all the cops know.
What is clear is that Wes Craven enjoys horror movies, the art of manipulating audiences, and comedy infused with thrills. He also wishes to point out the flaws of now stereotypical slashers – a subgenre he helped invent, which has become inundated with low quality fare. According to the message of the film, horror movies are all the same, constructed from familiar clichés and stale rules that must be broken in order to present a project with originality, wit, and intelligence. It creates a set of guidelines for actions undertaken by the antagonist and protagonist to remain mysterious and engrossing. Everyone’s a suspect. Red herrings abound. Simplicity is key. Otherwise, the target audience will lose interest. “Scream” goes a step further by creating directions for surviving actually existing in a horror movie – including never saying “I’ll be right back,” remaining virginal, and abstaining from alcohol and drugs.
Unfortunately, as the film highlights the pitfalls, it also succumbs to some of those very trivialities. Though it fails to point out the contrivances of a heroine who is entirely too brave, and a murderer who engages in chases that are constantly eluded by mere inches, it includes them nonetheless. Death scenes are all too apparent, the effort taken to distance the movie from mere fiction is jarringly blatant, a bit of the dialogue is unintentionally silly, and the role of Stuart (Matthew Lillard) is entirely annoying.
Sticking with confusion for mystery is the utilization of dozens of supporting characters (including many recognizable faces) introduced to throw viewers off track. Despite the villain vanishing into thin air; characters refusing to die; and Ghost Face’s rather hokey, gruff voice and comedic clumsiness (or proneness to exaggerated slapstick tumbles), the ending is strangely complex. It’s also lengthy, with a tedious explanation that gives the victims even more time to devise an escape – and for overwhelming coincidences to occur. Although “Scream” pawns itself off as a send-up to horror films, too much of it is unintentionally funny, allowing the bloody violence to trump the self-aware, self-reflexive humor.
– Mike Massie