Oct 24, 2014

[Movies] Scream (1996)

Horror movies hardly need to be stupid. If anything, some of the best horror movies don't rely on mere jump scares and ridiculously gory deaths. Instead they're clever and try to get into your head and play upon your expectations. And while this particular movie gets mocked a few times and has triggered some pretty crazy parodies, I still appreciate what they tried to accomplish here.

The first Scream movie was pretty novel in how it celebrated horror movie tropes but at the same time attempted to surpass them. It's easy to forget about this movie given all the bad sequels and copycat movies that would follow it. But really, I think it deserves revisiting. You can forget all the other Scream movies and just go back and enjoy this one for all that it's worth. And that's not exactly chump change.

I think this movie most shook me up because of how it so precisely followed many classic horror movie tropes, thus priming me to expect the shocking or scary moments, but then deliver it a beat early or several beats late. Just when you think you're ready for it, you find out that you're not. And that's part of the quirky cleverness of this movie.

Synopsis: Scream is a slasher horror movie written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven. The movie actually won a number of Saturn awards along with the MTV Movie Award for Best Movie, since that was sort of a thing that mattered in the 90's.

In a now iconic opening sequence, we first meet high school student Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) who received an anonymous phone call that asks what her favorite scary movie is. But as the exchange continues, the conversation shifts from being just an annoying prank call to something far worse. And Casey's eventual murder signals the beginning of darker times for this little town.

We then meet our protagonist, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who is dealing with the upcoming death anniversary of her mother, who had been killed by a killer known as Cotton Weary. She too receives an odd threatening phone call, but then that ends just as her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) enters through her bedroom window. It begs the question of whether or not he had made the call. And as the movie progresses, we meet the people around Sidney as they in turn all end up facing the mysterious Ghostface killer as they're picked off one by one.

One of the true gems of the movie are the supposed rules about how to survive a horror movie. The characters declare these within the movie, which in a way becomes a statement to the audience as well. You're not supposed to have sex. You're not supposed to get drunk or high. And you should avoid lines like "I'll be right back" or "Who's there?"

But of course we see the movie's different characters break these rules and many other undeclared ones. We see victims running upstairs instead of outside, although even running outside of the house isn't always safe. There are the usual amount of jump scares and such, but also some genuinely shocking reveals as characters arrive to save the day only to die instead. And the effort of trying to predict a movie that is littered with so many tropes is what really keeps you on your toes.

Admittedly, the acting isn't necessarily the best in the business despite featuring quite a number of actors and actresses who were pretty popular in the 90's. But at the same time, it's part of the movie's charm and keeps it in the same grand tradition of many horror movies before it. The acting never gets to the point of being painfully bad or shifting all the way to camp despite the heavy usage of tropes and such. And the fact that they were able to maintain this balance throughout the movie is pretty impressive.

I'd like to think that Scream as a movie experience hasn't aged too badly since the time of its initial release. Sure, this is a movie that comes before prevalent use of mobile phones, so that's a bit of a quirk, but on the whole it's a pretty simple and thus brilliant little slasher flick. And so I have to give the movie 4 creepy Ghostface phone calls out of a possible 5.


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