When people look back at the horror genre in the 90s one film immediately comes to mind, Scream. Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher was something of a revelation for the genre. Before its arrival, horror films where in a sorry state. They had become a joke, with formulaic “original” stories and worsening franchise sequels being the only food for the hungry horror fan. Granted there were a few exceptions, but for the most part the genre was a mess in the early 90s. But when Scream hit cinemas it offered something fresh with its innovative approach to horror. By both celebrating the conventions of the genre and relishing in its own self-aware attitude Scream distinguished itself from everything 90s horror had to offer. It reignited the mass appeal of the slasher and became a worldwide success that managed to satisfy both horror fans and the general public.
Although Wes Craven directed Scream it is perhaps Kevin Williamson who is the secret to the film’s success. Influenced by the Gainesville Ripper, Williamson’s script is a clever animal. It deconstructs the conventions of the genre whilst relying on them throughout. Williamson expresses this approach perfectly by having film-geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy) tell everyone (audience included) the rules that almost all horror films follow and then has his script gleefully embrace those rules. The irony of it all is palatable throughout. Another great surprise from the script is how the film comments on the idea of violence in films and how it affects society. Williamson makes fun of this idea, but also adds the point that the news stations themselves are perhaps to blame as they try to profit from the murders by actively glamourizing it. Williamson engages with the audience, bringing them in on the joke whilst playing with their expectations.
Another solid addition to the film is Marco Beltrami’s unconventional score. His insistence to not use a familiar horror soundtrack gives the film a unique tone. Beltrami’s score has more in common with Western soundtracks, especially Ennio Morricone. Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) is given a guitar theme, which is particularly reminiscent of Morricone. But the highlight has to be the haunting “Sidney’s Lament,” which is used to great effect throughout the film.
Although the music enhances the performances of the cast it is fair to say that they all do a great job, with one exception, Neve Campbell. Campbell was already popular due to Party Of Five and Scream shot her even further into stardom. However she is the film’s weak link due to her lacklustre performance. Sydney is in essence the perfect final girl as she is a simpering character who exudes innocence, but is also resourceful enough to not be a complete victim. But Campbell fails to land the delivery, especially in the more emotional scenes. Campbell doesn’t damage the film as an impressive cast surrounds her. Arquette and Kennedy generate a lot of laughs throughout. Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard are excellent in the climax as they relish the film’s “twist.” But it is Courteney Cox who comes across the best (surprisingly). There is something inherently likable about her portrayal of Gale Weathers. She’s sassy and strong, but doesn’t actually die which is surprising.
But for all the talent on display Scream is perhaps best remembered for bringing a postmodern spin on horror with its meta-narrative. Rather than distance itself from the slashers that came before it, Scream actively embraces them. It may satirize aspects and deconstruct the conventions, but at the end of the day the film is a mishmash of styles and techniques that pays homage to the greats. The killing of the film’s biggest star (Drew Barrymore) in the opening sequence is a great nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho. These homages and references work as an entertaining gift to horror fans.
Scream is a celebration of the slasher film, but it is also an excellent film in its own right. A fresh take on a tired genre, which ironically lead to a boom in slasher films that stagnated the waters even further, Scream stands as a classic due to Williamson’s intelligent script and Craven masterful direction. The film created a new horror icon, delivered an entertaining ride and critiqued the horror genre. And did all this with a knowing wink to the audience.
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