SCREAM: A lookback at the 1996 classic Slasher flick

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No You listen you little bitch! If you hang up on me again I will gut you like a fish!” Ghostface

1996!

The year of a hot summer, where in the UK, Euro 96 was played out and everyone went “Football Crazy” with the theme of “Its coming home, Its Coming home, Its coming! Football’s coming home,” ringing through their ears.

While the decade was entering into its final twilight years, for most part of the decade, action blockbusters were the name of the game. With The Rock announcing Nicolas Cage as a bona fide action star and Tom Cruise accepting his first impossible mission, it was also a year when a genre many thought had died suddenly rose from the grave.

Yes 1996 may have seen more action films bombarding the box office, but even the likes of The Long Kiss Goodnight, could not cope with the sudden knife in the gut impact that SCREAM was due to have!  A film destined to be labelled a classic, and one equally important as that of Halloween, way back in 1978!  Before we get to it though, its important that we start at the beginning, and how such a film managed to cause such ripples!….

For a start, the 90’s had seen the Slasher genre rejected to straight to video status. The genre with a masked man killing virgins was now deemed old hat, even the main guy Freddy Kruger who was thrust into the limelight in the 80’s had already been given his sad goodbye in the tame Final Nightmare.  The word Final also popped up in the title of his counterpart Jason’s last film, his Final Friday had a Quantum Leap kind of plot line that was hated by most fans but saved by a blink and miss it cameo appearance of Freddy himself.

The guy who started it though, Michael Myers arrived too late for the party.  His sequels came out just as the boom was coming to an end and for a character who started such an impact, he had the embarrassment of being given straight to VHS cash in’s that made the story of Haddonfield and its quality go rapidly down hill.

The simple truth is that horror fans had grown tired with the same routine of the Slash formula.  What was a massive genre that started in the eighties had become tired and old!  The market was filtered with the same looking films and it became well known that even the hardened horror fan had enough of ghouls in masks.

The last great film of this cycle was The Intruder, a film that was ignored on release and has simply vanished from horror lore, which summed up the general feeling.  No matter how good the story or plot was, Slash was dead, the Bogeyman had finally been put to rest, a need for change was apparent, and for a few years the early nineties wandered in a mix of no direction.

Endless sequels of popular films littered the market, for every Children Of The Corn, there was that Leprechaun searching for his gold!  Even a killer Snowman called Jack gave us a taste in how the genre had fallen, a scene of him taking off his carrot nose and raping a pre American Pie Sweetie, make you wince and sigh at what you were seeing and it was safe to say horror had stalled, and there were a few critics who suggested that the genre itself was finally on its last knees!

Then out of nowhere  came a script that landed on the doorstep of horror legend Wes Craven, titled Scary Movie and written by an unknown Kevin Williamson.  Wes was drawn by the witty script and self references, especially as he tried something similar a few years back with the very underrated Freddy film A New Nightmare.

The plot was pure Slash! A young girl whose mother was murdered a year back, starts having phone calls from a masked fiend who has targeted and started to kill kids from her own local school.  The climax saw the heroine facing her Monster, a showdown that harks back to the days of Halloween.

But what set this apart from all the others before it is that the cast knew the rules of the horror flicks. They knew what to do when the killer knocked, and also the many in-jokes and references to past movies made this something that viewers had not seen before.  Also Kevin Williamson moved the killer away from the traditions of Jason and Michael, and decided to make it fun for the audiences if they guessed who the psycho behind the mask was.

Also what was rare those days for Slasher is a cast that was strong.  Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox had hit American Tv shows behind them and they were surrounded by a young and hungry cast that littered with promise.  Also the design of the killer, a black cape and hood with a white long mask was such a fantastic design that even today is still up there in the folklore of horror history.  Craven knew from his horror expertise that he had a hit on his hands and within months everything was up and running and 1996 was going to be the year that the now re-named Scream would hit to an unexpected audiences.

Many years before, when Kevin Williamson was a young lad, he and a friend was on the phone late one night when his mate heard a sound downstairs.  To investigate the noise, his mate still holding the phone went down the stairs, with Kevin trying to put the scares up him by saying “what if it was Michael or Jason waiting for you?”

He also made the “Ki…Ki…..Ka…Ka…Ka.…” noise from the Friday films.  This bore the idea for the now all time classic opening set piece of Scream.  Even though its lost some brutal impact after the likes of Hostel etc, the Drew Barrymore scene is still uncomfortable to watch and most importantly still downright scary for anyone who has not seen the film before.

The opening set-piece riffs on such fare like When A Stranger Calls, and ends in a Suspiria type homage, it also somehow gave the modern horror fan a horror tradition that had rarely been seen since Psycho in that it killed off its well known star.

Barrymore may have been the face on the cover, but this was NOT her film, and at the time the impact stunned the hard core audience watching who knew straight away that this was the beginning of something very special.

The beginning of Scream is often referred to as one of the greatest openings in horror and I for one have to agree.  The tone is different from the rest of the film!  While we start dark and very disturbing, its amazing how the film changes tack straight away.  But its a motion that carried on through out, one minute you’ll be laughing, next you’ll be looking away, Scream was rarity in which horror, comedy and a whodunit all collided to create an experience not seen for an age.

What surprised me on a re-watch is how Scream which is classified as a Slasher is lacking in the kill factor!  We have two in the beginning then a massive lull, before a murder in the school, then a lull before the frantic climax.  All together there are only 5 on screen killings, a pale shadow to what the genre had become!

It felt like a welcome change. You only have to look at the many Friday 13th sequels and you see can see how they lacked basic plot and the characters just served as meat for Jason. I am not criticising the franchise, I mean I love Jason in all his Ski Mask glory, but the genre needed to offer something new to a more wider audience.  Slasher fans can not get enough of these kind of films, I myself will never tire of the formula, maybe it brings back childhood memories of excitement, and a secret longing for a new Freddy and Michael to emerge.  But while the forever endless titles made a core horror crowd happy, Scream set upon itself to be different.

Its decision to offer the viewer a mystery to go with the mayhem worked a treat!  Scream kept the guessing game all the way from the start to its bonkers end, and I can not remember watching an horror that enthralled me like this!  Every character was a suspect.  Each giving a glimpse that they could be the person behind the mask.

One scene that sums this up perfectly is when we see the glimpse of the GhostFace wearing these certain type of shoes, only for a few scenes later and we see the Town’s Sheriff stamp on a cigarette to reveal he was wearing the same pair.

Is the Sheriff the killer?  Well lets just say by the time you have got to that scene, you will probably have ten suspects down on your list, because the plot throws you off guard when you at least expect it.

 

Scream works because it treats the slasher genre with the respect it deserves.  It pays off if you have knowledge of the genre because there are so many in gags that at first watch it can be quite overwhelming!.  Scream plays like its own self parody, when Sydney laughs at the phone call from Ghostface and says “the reason why she does not watch horror films is because its always a big breasted girl running up the stairs when she should leave by the front door!” and them moments later we see Sydney do the very same thing, makes the viewer laugh at the terror unfolding!

Halloween hangs over the entire show.  Kevin Williamson admits that the Myers flick is his favourite horror of all time, and he uses that to his advantage.  At the films climax we get to see the John Carpenter flick played in the background on the telly, which makes Scream a unique horror because it has two films played at once.  Randy (Jamie Kennedy) is sitting on the couch, watching the said film and starts screaming at the telly for Laurie Strode to watch herself because Myers is behind her.  “He is behind you!” he screams, unaware the irony that Ghostface is also standing behind him!  Later Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) arrives at the house with the full Halloween theme music playing, adding a touch that bridges old and new fans together in a surreal way!

The film has lost none of its charm and re-watching it again, I found myself hooked and thrilled and the climax is still wonderfully done.  Even the Twist (No Spoilers here) with the reveal of who it is, while the fun has gone as you know who it is, you still can not help and marvel at the cleverness and reminded in just how fooled you were back then.

Many horror fans brought up on the likes of Halloween and The Burning still complain that Scream is not a typical slasher, aimed at teens and not at all scary, miss the point, that this was written by a slasher fan whose love for the genre shines through.  Why focus just on scares when it can be just as fun to watch?

The impact of Scream was immense.  Kevin followed by with a more straighter Slash called I know What You Did Last Summer, while Urban Legend which was nothing more that a rip-off followed suit.  These two films quickly had sequels and the Slasher genre was back in full force like all those years ago when a young Michael picked up a knife.  Scream was written with a sequel in mind and I we will look back on that shortly.

Scream like a New Nightmare two years before, blurs the line between reality and movies!  It takes the viewer on a ride never witnessed before, a fun bloodbath rollercoaster where there is no chance of getting off!   Its an intelligent film that makes a mockery of being tagged just another slasher, in terms of horror history it should be placed up there with the likes of Halloween.

Much like Carpenter’s flick which bought a surge of slasher flicks to the fore, Scream is responsible for making sure that a genre that seemed dead and buried, carried on and breathed again, becoming a horror film just as influential than the actual horror film it inspired to be!

Some of Scream’s Movie References

* The School Janitor is called Fred and he is dressed like a certain Elm St bad guy- this was also played by Director
    Wes Craven!
* “Drive down to the Mackenzie’s!” is an exact line from Halloween
* The opening scene riffs on When A Stranger Calls and Suspiria
* Loomis is a name used in both Psycho and Halloween
* Sydney Lives in 34 Elm St…..not a lot people know that!
* Linda Blair makes a cameo playing a news reporter
* The “I Spit On Your Garage” line is a riff on the infamous “I Spit On Your Grave” film title
*Henry Winkler plays the School Headmaster, his Fonz jacket can be seen hanging in his School locker!
* “This is like a Wes Carpenter flick”- a reference to Wes Craven and John Carpenter
*Tatum wears a shirt with the Number 10 on it, Like Johnny Depp’s character in the original Elm Street
*The film mentions loads of horror titles, too many to mention here!
* Both of Wes Craven classic films, Elm St and Scream. The final girls are called Nancy and Sydney – a reference to the famous duo from punk band The Sex Pistols

Ross Hughes
About Ross Hughes 1847 Articles
Since my mother sat me down at the age of five years of age and watched a little called Halloween, I have been hooked on horror. There is no other genre that gets me excited and takes me to the edge of entertainment. I watch everything from old, new, to cheap and blockbusters, but I promise all my readers that I will always give an honest opinion, and I hope whoever reads this review section, will find a film that they too can love as much as I do! Have fun reading, and please DO HAVE NIGHTMARES!!!!!!

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