Dir. Wes Craven
No, it's not a flashback to the Halloween 31 For 31 series of the last month, but I did see Scream on the 31st October of this year in a cinema screening at my local community art centre. The screening itself? Due to a mishap with the projector or the disc being played, the film's colour palette was saturated with red. With the actors faces as bright as tomatoes, it wasn't off-putting but inexplicably evoked Italian genre films like Suspiria (1977). It was proof why screenings need to be planned so the viewer can get the closest to what the original form of the film was in terms of image and audio, but as a one-off, with blood red morning skies, pink high school walls and especially the crimson added to the opening set piece, of a young woman (Drew Barrymore) being terrorised by a killer at her home, this technical botch actually added an incredible stylistic tone. The real disappointment is that, including myself, there were only eight of us in the cinema. Yes there was an event on nearby, but one would wish for a screening to have more people. I want to experience a hollering and wild crowd once before I die with a horror film. I wanted more than one person as Ghost Face from the Scream franchise, though I'm grateful for the guy in this screening who did. I'm disappointed by the lack of horror enthusiasm in my small town community. In fact the film finished around ten at night and the town was entirely dead already, on a Friday night, causing one to wonder what's going on with the community when you could drop a pin on a street corner.
Scream as a film? The film that brought back an entire subgenre from the wilderness of obscurity, the slasher film, back into the mainstream when other pop culture fads of the eighties like glam metal is now nostalgia or a niche audience. It's entirely responsible for the type of young adult horror movies I grew up with in the late nineties and early 2000s, so revisiting Scream means stepping back into my adolescence slowly starting with the origin of it all. This is also significant because, as last month showed, I am curious where Scream's director Wes Craven stands for me as a horror director, and also because slasher films were once one of my least favourite genre of cinema, just above biopics, only for this to slowly change within the last year to the potential for a few gems to appear. Revisiting Scream is tackling the type of slasher films I grew up with, and honestly, were why my teenager self first hated slasher films, which I wonder is going to be the same revisiting these movies. A series of murders befalls a small town. Sydney (Neve Campbell) is in the centre of this, targeted by the killer, especially as there may be a connection to the murder of her mother a year earlier, an event she still is having difficulty coping with. Her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), their relationship fraught already, may be suspicious, and the killer is making fine work massacring numerous people. From there it's your typical slasher film - masked killer murders victims one after another in gory death scenes unless someone finds out who the culprit is. The big difference with Scream from what was before, at least in the mainstream, was that with its script by Kevin Williamson it was a self reflective slasher film, which commentated on its own sub-genre, in the grain of Quentin Tarantino in the early part of the same decade. Characters - especially Randy (Jamie Kennedy), a slasher film nerd who claims the police should've watched Prom Night (1980) to learn how to find the culprit - who know what a slasher film and talk about the clichés and tropes within them.
The script was what I found a huge weakness in viewings before, viewing it as being too snarky in tone. I took issue to the perceived thought that it mocked clichés of the sub genre but still repeated them, the scene that I always thought of being an example when a female character criticises how female characters in the films are usually running up stairs to escape killers rather than out the door, only for this cliché to take place. This is a non-existent issue on this viewing, no know-it-all mentality visible in Williamson's script. In fact he's intelligent in his writing, and such as the example mentioned above, the cliché happens for logical reasons, subtle details or is part of the joke without looking down on the viewer. In fact now, able to appreciate the slasher films more, the clichés are fun because his script and Wes Craven's direction have macabre fun with them. The characters are clichés but interesting, fleshed out individuals. Campbell as the sympathetic Final Girl, with more depth to her then those she's inspired by. Ulrich as the potentially dangerous Billy. Rose McGowan, utterly charismatic, as the peppy friend. Matthew Lillard showing how to chew scenery properly as the wise cracking joker character, and Kennedy saying why being a virgin protects you from serial killers in slasher film logic. Add to this as well the characters of Detective Dewey, played by former WCW World Champion David Arquette, and Courteney Cox as reporter Gale Weathers, the later an interesting complicated character as the film goes on, the two of them together having a sweet romantic comedic side to the movie furthered by the obvious chemistry that lead the actors to marry in real life. The story has the right beats and great moments throughout, fun and funny whilst able to be unbelievably dark in tone.
That's not to say the script isn't flawed. That which is the most celebrated in the film by critics, the meta references, are the least interesting aspect of the entirety of Scream. For one, it makes sense and is funny when its Randy or someone whose painted with a nugget of knowledge on slasher films that references them, or the context and characterisation is right, but a character you don't expect to or someone relating their romance abruptly to American film censorship ratings comes off as forced. I hate film references and references to film making and culture in films for the most part because it comes off as egocentric or suddenly entering a tiny club's mindset whose language wouldn't be said by most people on the street. Quentin Tarantino may come to mind but he's actually far from the worse person to do this, especially when he's at his best, using pop culture references, like the "Like The Virgin" speech in Reservoir Dogs (1992) to show the characters' personalities, and has as much interest in having characters just after that particular scene debate about the virtues of tipping waitresses or not. Bad examples just make the references without there being any real context to do so. In Scream, for the references, like the Prom Night one, that do work, there's many that don't, and the meta content is just cute, not deep or profound at all. Any sense of cleverness to it is to be found in what a self awareness gives the basic slasher template in terms of tone. That characters in a film have at least seen one Friday The 13th film, which is realistic and, if there has to be a meta referential side, its better when it's how the killer asks victims about scary movies and torments them with it, character building, rather than out of nowhere from an individual's mouth. That it adds to the film's dark, nasty streak in that the characters reflect on whether killers actually need motivations, the real serial killers in reality which couldn't be ignored eventually. When a motivation is behind the killings in Scream, it adds to the dark nature of the story because in lovingly referencing the older slashers, it still has a seriousness to it that is bleaker despite the humour.
The Kevin Williamson script conveys a significantly vicious story than I thought it had without losing the humour and becoming grim. Adult themes were even depicted in the likes of Friday The 13th (1980), but there a slashers that have thin bare plots that are merely window dressing, while Williamson here wrote proper story to orchestrate through his interest in the sub-genre. Most of the darker content of the film, the mature emotional content, is through dialogue and back story, but it has a significant effect on the material onscreen because it is the reason for all that happens. Scream is also, as a slasher, incredibly violent despite being partly comedic. Wes Craven as a director depicts violence in his films with much more nastiness, such as a opening scene with Drew Barrymore that, while a perfect opening jolt to get you on the edge of your seat, is unbelievably nasty in how it ends. This was a film that had to be censored for American release, and Craven managed to take his depiction on violence from his rougher seventies films to more mainstream movies like Scream. He's also a very good director. Admittedly, the viewing experience for Scream this time wasn't necessarily the best for judging the cinematic qualities of the film, but the style is effecting and is someone on top of his game.
Whether the film succeeds from there as much about your liking of slasher films. Strangely, my potential issue with the sub-genre now is that the clichés I once hated in the films are now enticing, but the films don't actually live up to them. They might not be gory or cheesy enough despite what fans say, and unless they are unique or incredibly well made, the slasher films may be still of disinterest because this viewpoint. With Scream, its structurally perfect, the content entertaining and has the right ending, but something feels missing for it to be a great horror film. It ends without a big enough impact. Maybe this is one of those cases where the cliché where the killer appears at the end to show a sequel will happen was needed.
Cinema of the Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Not a sausage. Though the slasher genre may reveal an appropriate film or two for the list. The Slayer (1982) for one immediately comes to mind, but like said example, the potential candidates are likely not the well known films like Scream.
Honestly, I much prefer I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), another Kevin Williamson scripted film I once hated but liked immensely revisiting this year, a serious and entertaining slasher. Going through these films from my youth is bound to have some complete reversals of opinion from what I originally thought, though it'll be an odd experience to revisit them, especially as their era was a peculiar pop culture in hindsight. Scream isn't bad though, and has a lot to love. As for Wes Craven, time will tell still, as it's as much about the entire picture of his work that says how good he is or not.