When Wes Craven passed away in 2015, it was probably one of the only times I had cried upon hearing a notorious person’s death. I watched Scream when I started college and I remember whilst watching it something started to feel strange. I suppose you could call it my movie calling because I remember afterward thinking about what direction I was going in on my college courses and I thought “No, I don’t like it, I want something to change” and I kid you not, on the deadline day in which you could change courses, I made the decision to switch my IT course to a Film Studies course. The best decision I have ever made in my life, hands down.
Scream is a slasher/comedy film in which an unknown, masked individual is killing the teens of Woodsboro using an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films as part of his game. Whilst this is going on, teen Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is struggling with the anniversary of her mother’s death as well as her relationship with her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). An investigative reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) are working to uncover the masked killer’s identity. After several murders, Sidney realises that this masked killer may have had something to do with her mother’s death.
Horror has gone through many periods of change and renaissance, even now we are right in the middle of one with films like Get Out and Hereditary. But casting our minds back to the mid 90’s when the best horror films were the ones made in the last decade. The current crop of films at the time was too stale and predictable and losing audiences fast. So in comes along Scream by Wes Craven, a previous pioneer of the last golden age of horror films and essentially tells everyone exactly what they have been thinking, it was the Deadpool of the horror genre, and most essentially, it was scary. The homages to classic horror narrative tactics were executed in a way that was reinvigorating, such as having the biggest actor in the film Drew Barrymore being killed in the opening scene.
If I had my way, Scream would be in every university film curriculum because of its writing. The script of Scream itself has a very motivational story, this film was written by Kevin Williamson who was a struggling screenwriter trying to break into the industry and Scream was the first script he tried to tempt the big studios with. What I love especially is how the dialogue is very generation-specific. You have a cast of young talent who are built up to be this group of cool 90’s teens and the dialogue is contemporary and perfectly matches the attitudes of that demographic. The performances by each actor, especially Neve Campbell, are also out of this world on the level of accuracy for who their character is, you can totally see Neve Campbell as the conflicted teen who could kick ass.
Like many films or TV shows based around teens, the characters work because you can identify yourself in the one that best feels like you. Of course, being known by my family and friends as a walking encyclopedia of film, I was immediately drawn to Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). In a world where horror knowledge is critical to survival, Randy is the most knowledgeable, but he is also the lonely hearts type person with a crush on Sidney and watching Scream you watch it thinking “this guy is us” because like us, he is more aware of horror clichés. The comedy sprinkled in with this slasher comes mainly in the form of the character Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard). He is Billy Loomis’ best friend and almost kind of wants to be as cool as he is, but his goofy, limber movement characteristics stop him from ever getting there. You can tell from this film he was destined to play Shaggy.
Not only is this film brilliantly written, but it’s also marvelously directed. I don’t think these actors would have been quite as good if it had not been for the freedoms and excitement that Wes Craven created. Much like Hayao Miyazaki with animation and Ridley Scott with science fiction, watching Scream is also watching a masterclass lesson at work. Wes’ scares change up slightly because where he had room for creative scares in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream is a much more grounded horror film so he had to rely on the creativity in the build-up and fakeouts rather than the kills themselves. Wes has done the double in reinventing the horror genre here and that’s why I admire him so much, he can still be at the top of his game whilst the industry around him is constantly changing.
Looking back at where I’m at now because of how Scream opened my eyes to the bigger picture of cinema, whether this film or it’s sequels are going to age well, I will always be grateful for being a starter pistols to a new pursuit. Of course, I’m sure the gun would never have fired if it wasn’t for the film cleverness, respect and bravery to break new ground.