In the prologue to Scream, Drew Barrymore is killed by a killer who talks to her on the film and then cuts her up with a knife. We have a new serial killer on the loose, you see, as we really need another slasher film. Scream is different, though; it is a satire, taking the slasher genre and turning it on its head. The characters in Scream have all seen a bunch of slasher movies, and therefore understand the clichés and pitfalls to avoid.
Somehow, it still manages to be just as thrilling as any of the movies it’s making fun of, while also being self-aware, funny and poignant. It makes a lot of good points while also being genuinely frightening. I can’t remember the last slasher that got my heart racing as much as Scream managed to do, and it did it without the tried-and-true methods of its peers. That’s telling you something about both its director, Wes Craven, who knows a thing or two about horror movies, and its writer, Kevin Williamson, who must have studied them intensely.
I’m not terribly certain about the killer, who gets referred to as “Ghostface” because he puts on a grim reaper costume that has an elongated white face instead of nothingness. He starts off kind of interesting, phoning and making small talk with his victims before stabbing them, but once he gets to the chase scenes, he stumbles around more frequently than he probably should. And when his main weapon is a knife and he doesn’t use anything else, he’s kind of boring in terms of being a serial killer. Presumably, he’d be stoppable if a character happened to own a gun.
The lead role is given to Neve Campbell, playing a young woman named Sidney Prescott. Her mother was raped and murdered a year ago, and she thinks that this killer is somehow related. She and her group of friends (Skeet Ulrich, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, and Matthew Lillard) are all now being picked off one by one by the killer, because that’s how these films work. The press, led by reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and the local Deputy, Dewey (David Arquette), play the role of trying to figure out just who’s behind the murder.
So, yes, we have a slasher crossed with a whodunit crossed with a satire. The result is an immensely satisfying viewing experience, always giving you something to enjoy, think about, and fear. Generally, it is all three of those things at once, which tells you just how much of a quality film this is. When your mind is thinking about more than one thing that’s related to the motion picture playing before you, and you can’t be drawn out of that experience, you know you’re watching something good.
I’m kind of surprised there was no mention of the unrelated opening kill in Scream, considering it used that trope in regards to Barrymore’s character, but I guess you can’t target everything. However, I then think about the running time, which was about 20 minutes too long, and I think that they could have said something about it. One character stands on a soapbox and explains the rules of horror movies, and I was surprised that “don’t be the first person to appear on-screen” was not one of his tips for survival.
There do end up being too many chase scenes that the film eventually gets tiresome. Whenever Ghostface showed up and started running after someone, I was hoping he’d get to them right away so that we didn’t have to watch them run around the house, stumbling as they go, for too much longer. Yeah, it’s thrilling and we actually do grow to like these characters so we hope they don’t die, but when your horror film is 111 minutes long, some trimming would probably help.
There are only three characters to really get fleshed out, and they include our lead, Sidney, the reporter, Gale, and the Deputy, Dewey. The rest are all fodder for our killer or there to make criticisms of the genre of film they’re in. They don’t have much personality, and there’s no depth to any of them, although they’re not obnoxious or unlikable enough for us to hope they get killed. Many will die, although we won’t care too much, even though we’re not terribly happy about it.
The actors sell everything well, and you really believe that they’re terrified or what have you whenever the appropriate situation calls for it. There aren’t any real deep performances — the potential love interests, Cox and Arquette, have no chemistry — but nobody is bad enough to make you notice them as a standout poor performer. They all seemed to care about the project enough to bring energy to their role, and I was happy with all of them. The only thing that didn’t work was the reveal, if only because I had trouble believing the villain once we learned who was behind the mask.
Scream is the total package and a game changer in the slasher genre. It’s smart, funny and makes a lot of good criticisms of the genre, but never forgets that these films need suspense — it’s packed with that. It has strong-enough actors, genuine thrills, and is a love letter to the genre by one of its prominent directors, Wes Craven. There are only a couple of elements that don’t quite work, and apart from those, I was completely immersed and adored this movie.