Scream (1996) Movie Review
A serial killer makes his rounds through the small Californian town of Woodsboro, playing a deadly game of scary movie trivia!
Genre: Horror / Mystery
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Liev Schreiber & Drew Barrymore.
Run Time: 111 min.
US Release: 20 December 1996
UK Release: 02 May 1997
German Release: 30 October 1997
With the newest Scream having dropped early this year, as well as it being the spooky season, it couldn’t be a better time to review the original from ‘96. A slasher that not only broke with the rules of the genre but refreshed old tropes, adding a good portion of satire to the whole story. Directed by Wes Craven, the master of horror himself and inspired by the Gainesville Ripper account, it not only stands the test of time, it defined horror for the 90s era. It is one of my favourites to revisit during the Halloween season!
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
A year after the murder of her mother, Sidney Prescott and her friends are terrorised by a new killer, who targets the high schoolers with disturbing prank phone calls, using horror films as part of a deadly game. Dressed in a long black robe with a white-faced mask, the murderer soon goes on a rampage through the town of Woodsboro, looking for revenge. Who is behind the ghostly face? It could be anyone!
The screenplay was developed by then-screenwriter novice Kevin Williamson, who was inspired by a news report on the Gainesville Ripper, who preyed on college students. Concerned about intruders, after finding an open window in the house he was staying in, Williamson developed those fears into a short story. Coming short on jobs, he finally secluded himself to turn his idea into a full-fledged script, which he titled “Scary Movie”. His appreciation for horror flicks would hugely influence the plot, referencing titles such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
One of the bigger inspirations for Scream is the 1979 psychological horror When a Stranger Calls, in which a babysitter gets taunted by a stranger through phone calls, being itself a homage to the folk legend “the babysitter and the man upstairs”. What separates this 90s slasher from its genre brethren, is the tongue-in-cheek script, as well as how self-aware the characters are about the bizarre situation they find themselves in. The jokes, plus sarcastic comments on the genre’s rules for survival, help to alleviate the suspense, though the level of violence is still shocking.
The inclusion of a whodunit mystery in a slasher plot, not only helped to rejuvenate this subgenre but also added a completely new type of suspense, not knowing who the killer is. Finally, the involvement of two murderers working together; one with a motive, the other without, was a genius move by the writer-director duo. It gave “the villain” a wider range in which to act, throwing off suspicions from dubious characters.
The dialogues are possibly the worst part of this feature. While I understand the silliness to create a meta environment, the cheesy lines were a little too much at times!
Neve Campbell was cast as Sidney Prescott, right after Drew Barrymore needed to switch to a more minor role, due to commitments with other projects. Having seen her prior in the TV series Party of Five, the director believed her to have the right balance of innocence and kickassery, with Campbell’s performance proving him right! Sidney, as a character, has gone through vast levels of trauma since the death of her mother. Though she is smart, compassionate, as well as not too naive. She was written as a fighter!
David Arquette as Deputy Dewey brought in a lot of physical comedy, softening the heavy suspenseful tone. Dewey is a quirky, goofy character, still wet behind the ears, trying to prove himself worthy. He has wonderful chemistry with Courtney Cox, seeling their attraction for each other, though that should not have been too hard at the time.
Courtney Cox approached the studio for the role of Gale Weathers, as she wanted something to contrast her “nicer” Friends image. She pulled it off, playing the character as a self-centred, narcissistic, bitch. Gale doesn’t care who she needs to seduce, or walk over, to obtain what she wants. Cold, manipulative but badass!
Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard plaid the killer duo, donning the mask of “Ghostface”. Ulrich, who portrayed Sidney’s boyfriend Billy Loomis - a nod to the Halloween persona Dr. Samuel Loomis, played by Donald Pleasence - obtained his part, due to his resemblance to Johnny Depp, back when filming A Nightmare Elm Street. Lillard got the role of Stu, Billy’s best friend and boyfriend to Sidney’s best friend. What makes them scary, is the fact that they are real people capable of creating such heinous crimes! Even worse, they are considered friends to the people they kill.
Filming was difficult, as Weinstein did not see eye-to-eye with Craven on many occasions, even wanting to replace him as director numerous times. A move I never understood as Craven himself knows horror best! Among other disputes, a major one was the location for production. The Weinstein brothers wanted to film in Canada, to save money, however, Craven wanted to capture the American spirit, only able to do so in the US. In the end, it was agreed to keep production in the US, more precisely California.
The director succeeded in capturing the American suburb life, thanks to the fantastic usage of wide shots, which framed the typical American houses. The scenes in enclosed tight spaces, inside homes or cars, created claustrophobia and wound up tension. It never was too dark, but shadows have been used to full effect. All in all, the cinematography for Scream is great!
Williamson was asked by the studio to rewrite many scenes, cutting down on the intense visual violence. It was thanks to Craven, who convinced him to leave the script as it is! To be able to produce many of the grizzly effects described in the screenplay, the studio recruited KNB Effects, who created several practical effects, including a realistic-looking model of Drew Barrymore, plus prosthetic legs for actor Steve Orth. 50 gallons of fake blood, composed of corn syrup, were used for the creation of severe wounds, while retractable blade knives had been used for the stabbings on screen.
The music was also a game changer for the genre, composer Marco Beltrami disregarded previous horror scores, tackling the project in a similar style as how Ennio Morricone approached westerns. The theme for Sidney, became one of the flick's most prominent soundtracks, due to the haunting female choral arrangement.
Verdict: Wes Craven’s meta slasher is based on the script of Kevin Williamson, who in turn was inspired by a report of the Gainesville Ripper, intertwining it with his love for classic horror cinema. What sets the narrative apart from the usual clichés, is the fact that it is very self-aware, poking fun at the typical tropes in those types of motion pictures. It borders on being full-fledged meta, with characters acknowledging that the situation they see themselves in, could be the stuff from horror flicks, trying to deduce what could happen next. Several classics are named by name throughout the runtime, including Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. While the dialogues can sometimes get too cheesy, the actors did a good job. The cinematography and practical effects are magnificent, with the score breaking also with tradition. Scream is a representation of the 90s era, fully deserving an 8.5 out of 10.
Is Scream on your Halloween watch list? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment to let me know & if you like the content… subscribe!