Scream (1996)

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Why I love Scream (1996)

“What’s your favourite scary movie?” After mentioning my love of Scream a couple times this week, I just had to go on a little more about it than the few notes I made in my film diary. Perfect for this time of year and always a classic to me.

I have rewatched Scream almost every year around Halloween since it came out and not only do I never tire of it, I find more to love about it each time. It’s one of the best horror pictures ever made, and one of my all time favourite movies of any genre. Paraphrasing Greg Mank in the Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen documentary I just watched, “not everything has to be lobster, sometimes you want a hamburger,” and Scream is one of the tastiest hamburgers ever served, flawlessly constructed, deceptively simple. It works on so many levels: great horror movie, clever satire of slasher movies, makes fun of all the cliches and improves on them. It works as a smart whodunit, with a killer reveal so original (at that time) that it’s hard to describe the characters without spoiling. Scream is a perfect balance of funny and terrifying, it still seems fresh even after it spawned several sequels, tons of copycats and horrible ripoffs, the acting is great and the whole thing is pure entertainment.

Quick plot summary, for those who haven’t seen it (what are you waiting for?!) one year after the brutal murder of Maureen Prescott, a slasher returns to murder his/her way through the pretty little town of Westboro, targeting Maureen’s daughter Sidney (Neve Campbell) in particular.

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I love horror movies and I’m not easily scared by anything. I’ve seen Scream probably 15 times now and even knowing every line and beat, that opening sequence with Drew Barrymore is still one of the most terrifying things ever put on screen (to me it beats the Psycho shower scene). Barrymore is home alone, getting ready to watch videos, and starts chatting with some wrong number caller who turns out to be a psycho. Your blood runs cold the moment he tells her he’s there, watching her. The glimpses of the killer’s costume flapping behind him as he runs through the house looking for her, the burning jiffy pop, the first full look at that iconic mask, the slow motion filming of the chase and the way she’s attacked, are disturbing and memorable. She can’t cry out to her parents, only a few steps away when they return home, and she pulls the killer’s mask off, but the viewer can’t see his face.

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Every Scream character is believable and real; some, like Barrymore’s, are drawn in a short time but you get attached to them instantly and when they’re hurt or killed you care. And yet they plug into all the cliche types and roles too, because they’re meant to twist and reinvent those types.

The song by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand. This tune is a horror movie in itself, haunting mumblings about nightmares against a mix of church bells and 30’s horror organs, all drama and bombast. It’s heard a few times, but its most chilling use is backing the scenes of the idyllic little town frantically scooping up their kids, locking up stores and driving off before sundown and curfew. “You’re a microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan, designed and directed by his red right hand.”

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The way women “rewrite” the plot, and consequently the genre itself, and tell us, in the movie, in character, as they’re doing it. There’s that funny scene where Campbell’s asked what her favourite horror movie is, and she says she doesn’t watch those stupid things because they’re all about dumb big-breasted women who can’t act and always run the wrong way or cower in corners. “It’s insulting.” So she’s the perfect new heroine because she doesn’t know how she’s supposed to act, and won’t act like the stereotype, whereas all the other characters are aware that they’re in a movie and try figuring out and following the “horror movie rules” to stay alive.

Campbell says “this is life. This isn’t a movie,” but finally understands that she’s the target in a horror plot (“you’ve watched too many movies” she says to the killers) so she starts wresting control and steering the movie her way. There’s that part where Courteney Cox (so great as the witchy tabloid tv reporter) gets a hold of the gun and gives that little speech on how she wants the movie to go: “the reporter finds the gun, foils your plan and saves the day,” etc. to which Campbell says “I like that ending.” But it’s not the right ending, because Campbell’s the heroine and (re)writer and has to finish it her way: “Not in my movie.”

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Related great moment: Campbell decking Cox for making her mother’s murder the focus of her fame and ambition. And then icing her hand afterwards. Then they save each other in the end.

The unexplained picture of Grant Goodeve in Rose McGowan’s bedroom.

Skeet Ulrich describing his frustrating relationship with Campbell in terms of movie ratings. Pay attention because his insistence to get to the rated-R stage with Campbell is more than just teenage romance, and even when they get there, there’s always some awkward, creepy tension in their relationship. Ulrich is so obviously a suspect that seasoned whodunit fans will probably count him out right away. How about that acoustic version of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in an early romantic scene for Pete’s sake.

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Matthew Lillard as the immature brat and follower who thinks all the death is so much fun until it hits him personally, and who cries when he thinks he’s in trouble with his parents, plus that little extra spin he gives his character’s worship of Ulrich.

Henry Winkler (uncredited) as the school principal provides a lot of bizarre moments, like inappropriately putting his hands on Campbell and threatening the jerky students with those giant scissors. How about the fun bit where he’s trying on the mask and spooking himself.

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Campbell picking her nose on the porch to test whether the mystery caller actually can see her like he claims.

Director Wes Craven’s cameo dressed as Freddy Krueger, playing the school janitor.

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Billy Loomis, Ulrich’s character, named after Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence and then Malcolm McDowell in the Halloween movies)

The woman behind Jamie Kennedy at the video store listening in to his theories on motives in slasher films. She’s totally out of focus but you can still see her disgusted reactions.

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Jamie’s Jerry Lewis impression. Fitting for a movie buff who is our guide through the rules and structure of movie plots.

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“Don’t kill me, I want to be in the sequel!”

“What movie is this from? I Spit on Your Garage?”

“Who do you think will play you in the movie?/ With my luck they’ll cast Tori Spelling”

“It’s the millennium; motives are incidental.”

Since when did teens talk like this? Not until this movie, and they weren’t half as clever in all the copycat films. Such a great screenplay by Kevin Williamson.

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David Arquette, a goofy bumbling deputy with an oversized idea of his importance. The spaghetti western staging of the talk between Arquette and the Sheriff (Joseph Whipp), where Arquette takes a lick of his ice cream cone every time Whipp takes a drag on his cig. Hilarious and I almost expected him to follow through and put out the cone under his shoe too.

The chemistry between Arquette and Cox. Taking that walk in the dark in the wilderness and almost getting run over by the hooligans racing to see Winkler’s body.

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Cox’s constant berating of her cheeto-chomping cameraman, nicely played by W. Earl Brown.

Cox’s lines, like “we can hope” for a serial killer, and saying how if she saves a man from death row it’ll do wonders for her book sales, all of which make a nice comment on the media.

Cox hides a camera in the party house just in case the murderer strikes again. The 30-second delay between real time and what’s seen in the news van is a brilliant device, well-used when Campbell and Brown are in the van trying to figure out where the killer is. Guess where, by the time they see the house’s front door wide open and remember the delay?

The Ghost Face (Father Death) mask. Edvard Munch’s the Scream.

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“Why do you have a cellular telephone, son?”

The bathroom scene in the school where Campbell overhears the obnoxious cheerleader and her preppy friend discussing why Campbell is probably the killer, along with some hard truths about her late mother. Classic movie fans, note that the cheerleader is played by Leonora Scelfo (in a great little performance), the granddaughter of actress Penny Edwards (Roy Rogers movies, musicals), and daughter of Deborah Winters (Kotch). She runs through a quintessential 90’s pop psychology motive gleaned from talk shows.

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Followed by the murderer being in one of the stalls.

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Linda Blair cameo!

Liev Schreiber in just one little scene, seen on TV news only, no lines, but central to the plot.

Poor Rose McGowan’s death.

References to Jamie Lee Curtis as the original “scream queen,” and the way Halloween plays out on TV mirroring much of what happens in the party house. As Jamie Kennedy yells at the screen to Jamie Lee Curtis, to look behind her in the movie, he’s not looking to see what’s behind him.

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Neve Campbell, one of the movies’ greatest final girls, is basically a local girl made good, hailing from a city just a few minutes from me.

The awesome moment when Campbell turns the tables on the killer. The phone rings and it’s her imitating his scary voice: “are you alone in the house?” Erin, the indestructible force played by Sharni Vinson in You’re Next (2011) takes this turning of the tables to a whole other gory level, but nothing tops seeing nice, traumatized Campbell do it and take over the plot.

Roger Ebert’s review, which called Scream “self-deconstructing… like one of those cans that heats its own soup.”

If Ghostface ever asked, this would my favourite scary movie, and you still have time to watch it (again) by Halloween.

all gifs from http://scream.tumblr.com/

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6 thoughts on “Scream (1996)”

  1. I’m not normally a fan of slasher films (I didn’t even like Halloween despite being a die-hard John Carpenter fan) but this does sound like one that would be interesting to check out at some point. I kinda like the sound of a film that deconstructs horror movie stereotypes. Then again I did (somehow) fail to resonate with Cabin in the Woods so I don’t know.

    If it’s any interest, I got a horror-themed blogathon you might enjoy. It was kinda a last minute decision so there isn’t much time left (specifically there’s four days to participate or else the world ends) but so far only one other person besides myself has participated so if you’d like to join that would be great:

    http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2014/10/cosmic-horror-cast-thon.html

    1. Same here about the slasher movies, or I wasn’t much if a fan when I first saw this so it was always a big part of Scream’s appeal for me, that it made fun of all those cliches while using them. Ultimately the combo of very funny and scary is what makes this one such a fav. A movie that never seems to take itself seriously ends up remaking the genre for a long time. Will check out the blogathon, thanks!

  2. Well done. Pretty obvious you have a passion for this one. I like the fact that the film had women in it who by this time were well known faces and not just a no name actress never to be heard from again.

    1. Yes and that sure helped with all the sequels too. A fun fact you’d appreciate, David Arquette said he played his role like he thought Elvis would do, which just makes me laugh even more when I look at him. The craziness and the humour is the key to why I enjoy it.

    1. Your mileage may vary but I can’t see anyone who appreciates black comedy not finding something to like in this. No other movie makes me laugh and scares me in equal measure like this one. 🙂

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