Scream (1996)

You know how you see an old movie—and I think we can call Scream an old movie, as this was the 25th anniversary showing—and you say, “They all look so young!”? As I was watching this, I was thinking, “I don’t think I’ve seen any of them since this movie came out!” Well, sure, Scream 2 and Scream 3. Rose McGowan on Twitter, I guess that counts. At first I was inclined to draw some sort of conclusion from this, but “ever thus” in Hollywood: Young 20-somethings are not likely to be icons 25 years later. Where was the Brat Pack in 2010? Frankie and Annette in 1990? You get your occasional Judy Garlands and Tom Cruises, but fame is fleeting.

The Janet Leigh move.

Drew Barrymore has some sort of talk/news show. It was cool that she opted for this role when she could’ve had the lead.

Of all of the cast, W. Earl Brown as Courtney Cox’s toady cameraman is about the only one I recalled seeing much after this came out, as he is one of those character actors who turns up all the time and I was a fan of “Deadwood”. I realize at this belated date, Brown is dressed exactly like Silent Bob in Clerks and has very little dialogue. This is not an accident. This whole movie is so chock full of knowing cultural references that it’s surprising how well it holds up, only occasionally annoying the viewer. (Well, your mileage may vary.)

From Wes Craven’s cameo as a rugby-sweater wearing janitor named “Freddie”, Linda Blair as an obnoxious reporter yelling “The public has a right to know,” Henry Winkler as the principal who keeps the Fonz’s leather jacket in his office closet, to all the (slightly) subtler nods, like “Billy Loomis” (Dr. Loomis is Donald Pleasance’s character in Halloween) recreating Johnny Depp’s climb-in-throw-the-window scene from Nightmare on Elm Street, Jamie Kennedy’s character, Randy, yelling “Turn around Jamie!” at Jamie Lee Curtis while the killer is coming up behind him, or for that matter, Randy explaining the entire plot in the video store down to the red herrings.

See, it's commentary, not exploitation.

McGowan’s nipples being the most prominent part of this scene is no accident. We get it, Wes! We get it!

We wouldn’t get a movie this meta again until Cabin in the Woods. One of my pet peeves, however, is this notion of The Final Girl, and specifically Jamie Lee Curtis, being virginal. JLC did four non-Halloween horror films (before going on to get topless for the first time in Trading Places, as noted by Randy here) and in none of those is she a virgin—something she’s noted ironically over the years. (In The Fog she jumps into bed with Tom Atkins within minutes of him picking her up as a hitchhiker.) Friday the 13th played up the sexuality of the teens (because it’s a narratively cheap way to get nudity into your film) but the first (contemporary) victim in F13 is a girl whose sole crime is liking animals and children the Final Girl was having an affair with the middle-aged head counselor. (I don’t think there is a virgin in the F13 series until maybe #7.) Yes, Nancy is a virgin in Nightmare on Elm Street, but by the time you get to Nightmare 5, the Final Girl is pregnant.

What I’m saying is that “virginal final girl” trope was ginned up ex-post-facto by Carol Clover in her 1992 book , and it was far more a staple of teen comedies than it ever was of horror. (And not just a staple but the staple and sole plot point of all ’80s teen comedies.) So it’s kind of irritating that it turns up in the mouth of a supposed horror expert. The first “Final Girl” (at least according to Joe Bob), Sally, in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably not a virgin. Olivia Hussey in Black Christmas is actually in the process of arranging an abortion—her virginal pal is the first victim. Graduation Day, Happy Birthday To Me, Final Exam, The Initiation, My Bloody Valentine, Funhouse—and if you want to stretch the definition, we could include Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley as non-virginal final girls.

But I digress.

Truly inexplicable.

The chemistry was real. Inexplicable, but real.

Horror-comedy is a challenging genre, and we can probably find the best examples of in the late ’80s and the early ’90s, when bad spoofs like Saturday the 14th and Student Bodies gave way to more interesting mixes, like April Fools Day, The Lost Boys, and Fright Night. As the horror movie petered out after the orgy of slashers spawned in the wake of Halloween (and gave way to the erotic thriller), and Wes Craven looking to get out of the horror biz, it was more than a little gutsy to make a slasher movie by 1996 even with a comedy element.

This is an entertaining film, and clever (perhaps too clever) and does a good job with the suspense, comedy and mystery aspects. Despite the oft-repeated, would’ve-been title Scary Movie (later cribbed by the Wayans brothers for a comedy spoof that would end up having more sequels than Scream), it’s not very scary. Well, scratch that, it is scary, but in a suspense-movie way, not really a horror-movie way. The movie takes great pains to keep itself out of supernatural realms and “ghostface” is decidedly mortal and rather easily injured.

The initial kills are nicely gory and the movie went through some 50 gallons of blood, still the violence seems so tame to me, I’m sort of shocked that they struggled to get an R and left a lot of stuff out (but I’m willing to admit to being jaded on that front). Beyond that, though, it feels more like a whodunnit, with a mystery story’s calculation—a feeling that is compounded by the movie’s meta-commentary, such as when Sydney loses her virginity. It’s not the worst movie deflowering by a long-shot, yet its unlikelihood—that her change of heart would come at that exact moment in time with a boisterous party (after all the girls have left, no less), and its self-conscious tweaking of the trope (explaining the significance of the topless shot downstairs while using Skeet Ulrich to block the same shot as it’s going on upstairs) begins to feel, as I said, a little too clever, like the characters are just pieces in a puzzle.

Very creepy.

You probably don’t want to look to this movie for male role models, unless you’re aspiring to be a creep.

The characterization, in retrospect is thin—though “thicker” than most horror movies, if we’re being honest—while the acting is top-notch. Neve Campbell is likable and more believable than your average 23-year-old high-schooler. (Drew Barrymore, who was actually two years longer looks way too old to me, but perhaps that’s just because she’s been in the public eye so much longer.) Matthew Lillard clocks in at 25, but acts like such a doofus it works. (Molly Ringwald turned down the role, not wanting at 27 to still be playing high schoolers. It was probably a wise choice.) I didn’t care for Rose McGowan’s performance at the time, as it felt too on-the-nose blond bimbo, but in retrospect I’d say she actually manages to pull it off. David Arquette and Courtney Cox have a genuine chemistry that would lead to a 15-year marriage.

It’s fun and frothy and very safe feeling. Not in terms of who lives and who dies; the movie does a fine job with that aspect of the horror movie ethos. But you’re not going to see anything offensive here beyond the basic Camp Crystal Lake blood bath, which is doubtless why it was so successful and probably led to the subsequent spate of well-produced, well-crafted, well-acted PG-13 horror movies of the next ten years starring a crop of fine young actors who cut their teeth in television.

The house, which was pretty packed, applauded at the end—I didn’t look closely but I assume these were people who had bought into the franchise’s original three movies (Wes Craven also tried a New Nightmare kind of gag in 2010 with Scream 4, which in turn led to an on-again/off-again TV series) and were maybe even bringing their kids to this one.

And we’re getting a remake/reboot next year. So, whee.

Which ain't easy.

On the plus side, Neve Campbell may actually be even better looking now.

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