If you’re a fan of horror films then you know that there are so many similarities between each one, especially those of the 80’s and 90’s, with many of the horror tropes becoming cliché over the years, whether it’s something as simple as a jump scare or something that helps keep the story going such as parents not believing their teenagers because they’re just “crazy kids pulling a prank”. These can be seen throughout most of the classic horror films over the previous decades, but more so in the ‘slasher’ sub-genre.
By the late 90’s the slasher genre had become so stale that the majority of new slasher films released went straight to video instead of having a cinematic release. That is until Scream came about in 1996 and revitalised the genre.
Directed by Wes Craven, known for his previous successes within the horror genre, with his early work on The Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and of course, undoubtedly his most famous film, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1987), Scream was a project that was written by Kevin Willliamson, and was inspired the events of 1990 Gainesville murders, carried out by serial killer Danny Rolling, who murdered five students, confessed to having killed eight people in total, and attempted to kill his own father. Williamson was inspired to write the script for Scream, which was first titled as ‘Scary Movie’, when he saw an episode of the ABC News show, Turning Point. The film was also born of Williamson’s love for the classic horror films he watched in his life such as Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1987) and others.
The casting for many horrors was usually filled with lesser known names, because the horror genre was simply a much lower budget than most other genres in Hollywood, and not to mention that most horrors gained mostly negative critical acclaims despite their best efforts, which meant that most of the names you would recognize at the time, wouldn’t go near a horror film. However, with a name like Wes Craven in the directors seat, it seemed like this was a risk some actors and actresses were willing to take.
The cast included the likes of Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Matthew Lillard, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy and David Arquette. Drew Barrymore approached the production team herself after having read the script, and the studio, surprised at her interest, were quick to take her on board and sign her up in the lead role as Sidney Prescott, however, due to later facing unexpected commitments, Barrymore had to drop out of the lead role, but still wanted to be apart of the film, so she was recast as the first victim of the film, which was a much smaller role, and at the time, a very calculated risk to take, killing off one of the biggest stars in the first sequence of the film, but Craven decided to take that risk, as it would add a shock factor that let the audience realise that anyone could die in this film, no matter who the actor or actress was playing them.
The film takes place in a small town of Woodsboro, California, where a masked murderer stalks a group of teenagers, focusing heavily on those closest to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). A year before the events of the film, Sidney had already gone through a traumatic experience after discovering her mother was murdered, though news reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is determined to find the truth and prove that the man who Sidney accused for the crime, Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), is actually innocent.
Highschool student Casey Beckett (Drew Barrymore) receives a mysterious phone call from an unknown caller one night whilst she is home alone. The caller asks Casey about her favourite scary movies and seems to be flirting with her which keeps Casey interested, despite having hung up on the caller multiple times. However, things take a dark turn when the caller threatens to kill Casey if she hangs up once more, and begins to play a sick and twisted game with her, which results in the death of her boyfriend, before eventually leading to her own death.
The day after Casey’s death and a similar call is received by Sidney Prescott, but things seem a little more personal with Sidney’s phone call. Scared for her safety, she seeks the help of her friends as more and more victims are found dead in a series of horrifying murders. With all of the deceased being victims of a masked murderer known only as “Ghostface”, who wears a costume that is sold publicly in thousands of party stores, making the culprit much harder to find.
The film is a ‘whodunit’ that is filled with references to the classic horrors mentioned earlier on in this article, but the films true success comes from it’s satirical handling of horror film cliché’s that mix well with the dark-comedy of the script, to bring you a film that purposefully makes you watch characters make the wrong decisions such as running up the stairs and cornering yourself in one room with the killer right outside, or a character showing up right after the murderer disappears, making you think that they must be the murderer.
The Ghostface mask might seem like it’s popular now because of Scream but the truth is, Craven saw the mask on a set and wanted to use it for the killer in Scream, but the design was the property of Fun World, a costume company, and despite many attempts to recreate a similar design, Craven wasn’t satisfied with any other mask besides the original one that was found, so he eventually managed to convince the studio to approach Fun World for a deal and they were granted access to use the mask for the film. The mask was not intentionally created for the film but was in fact made more popular because of it, though that nearly wasn’t the case, as during filming, some of the studio members including Bob Weinstein, thought that the mask would not be scary enough for a horror film, but after seeing it in action, Weinstein soon changed his mind and let Craven continue in his work.
The film has aged with excellence because of it’s use of practical effects. Knives used for murder scenes were collapsable, and so was the tip of the umbrella used to stab Billy in the final sequence, although this did cause some injury to Ulrich. He wore a protective vest underneath his shirt to help add extra padding but the umbrella missed his vest and impacted his scar which was received after he had open heart surgery at the age of ten. His pain in this scene was real and was used in the final cut of the film.
More so, the blood effects are also practical, as the team used around 50 gallons of fake blood which, as Billy even reveals to Sidney, is made up of corn syrup and red dye. The film is gory, so a lot of fake blood was needed and by using classic practical effects, the film has remained pretty much untouched by the effects of time, which a lot of more modern films suffer due to their outdated use of CGI special effects. That is why these classic horror films are so 9loved by audiences even to this day.
Why I love the film
First of all as mentioned above, the film uses practical effects, which is the best way to make a film in my opinion. Practical effects if done right are the best form of special effects that make a film feel so much more grounded in reality, giving it that true impact in each scene.
The film is packed with references which are always fun to see, as a sign of respect to the classics, whilst also adding a bit of humour in certain scenes and giving us a sense of this being within the ‘real world’ rather than just some movie. By referencing how much these teenagers love films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, the audience gain a sense of being able to relate to the characters, especially Jamie Kennedy’s character of Randy, who is the supposed expert on horror films, going so far as to give us ‘the rules of surviving a horror’ which includes remaining pure by not having sex, not getting drunk and not doing drugs, all of which are happening at the house party they are all attending whilst listening to Randy.
Some of these references are more subtle than others. Whilst the obvious one’s are easy to spot such as Randy calling Billy Leatherface, there are also some references that are missable by the average viewer of horrors. One example is the opening scene when Casey Beckett’s parents return home and realise something is wrong when they can’t find their daughter. Mr. Beckett turns to his wife and says “go to the McKenzies'”, which is the same thing Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) tells the young kids, Lindsey (Kyle Richards) and Tommy (Brian Andrews) to do in Halloween (1978). It’s the subtle references that make analysing a film more fun.
The film is so grounded in reality for the most part that it’s genuinely scary. Have you ever been left home alone and you just get that feeling that you should make sure all your doors are locked, even though you know you locked them? That’s the type of feeling you get from watching this film, it’s an anxiety inducing rollercoaster filled with both horror and laughter, which I hope the next installment can portray just as well.
Scream is a must-see movie for any horror fan, or for any student of film, because it is a project that uses the horror genre cliché’s on purpose, but does so in a way that creates and almost perfect slasher film. The sequels aren’t bad either, making this one of the more successful franchises in horror, with film sequels being made to this day as we wait for 2022’s fifth installment to the franchise, set 25 years after the original. The franchise was so popular that it even spawned a TV series of the same name in 2015 which gave the franchise a more modern setting, with themes of cyber bullying, sexuality, and dark secrets. The series has run for 3 season’s so far, the first two of which included the same cast and characters, whilst the third was a reboot of the series, which faced not so good critical acclaim, which is possibly the reason for the show being cancelled, meaning there will be no fourth season in the series.
If you’re a fan of horror, new or old, especially with the revitalised popularity of the classics such as Halloween, which has seen sequels in 2018 and 2021, with more on the way, then check out Scream, because this is a franchise that can go so many ways and yet maintain it’s true purpose which is to satirically portray the cliché’s of the horror genre whilst standing it’s ground as one of the best horror film’s ever made.
If you plan on watching the newest film that releases in 2022, then I would also suggest watching the original, as well as maybe watching it’s sequel films as the new film will no doubt make callbacks and references to it’s predecessors.
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