In 1996, director Wes Craven brought us Scream, which was a clever satire of slasher movies. It was funny, clever, and has moments of genuine scares. Now, Keenen Ivory Wayans brings us Scary Movie, which is a spoof of the satire of slasher films. Or, it starts out that way, and then just becomes a spoof of ’90s slasher, horror and mystery films in general, using I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream as the main sources of “inspiration.”
Essentially, the main plot structure borrows heavily from I Know What You Did Last Summer, except that the villain is a clumsier Ghostface, from the Scream movies. The film focuses on a bunch of teenagers — played by actors in their late twenties or early thirties, which is something the film comments on — who are being haunted by someone in a costume. They think this person is someone they hit with their car and dumped into the ocean who has come back to haunt them. You’ve hopefully scene I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, because they’re both better movies than this one, and it’s also easier to say “go watch those if you want to know the plot” than trying to describe it.
This is especially true in a spoof movie like this one where plot essentially means “the thing which allows us to move from one skit to the next.” It’s the bare minimum, and often cuts scenes out entirely from the films it’s spoofing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve seen those films, and you likely won’t get some of the jokes unless you have. In order to appreciate Scary Movie, the two other films I’ve mentioned are prerequisites.
Even having seen those other films, most of the jokes in Scary Movie miss. Some of them are so unfunny that you’ll cringe. Many of them go on for too long. Despite all of this, the movie is still funny. It fires jokes of all types and flavors at such speed that even with maybe 2/3 of them not working, there are still enough laughs to justify a viewing. If there are two jokes a minute, that would mean 180 jokes in the film. If one-third of those jokes make you laugh, you’re laughing every minute and a half. That’s not too bad of a laughing rate.
Horror movies aren’t the only ones that get a line or a scene of spoof. The Matrix plays a role in a fight scene, American Pie gets a brief moment, and so does The Usual Suspects. Even if you haven’t seen the films in question, you can tell when the film diverges from its slasher spoofing, and it’ll make you turn to the person next to you (or the internet, afterward) to find out what film was the inspiration for that moment.
Much of the humor comes from the lead characters keeping a complete deadpan demeanor regardless of the craziness going on around them. Things that make us laugh because of how their weirdness and insanity are taken by the characters as normality. I don’t want to spoil any moments, but if you’ve seen films like Airplane! or The Naked Gun, it’s that type of humor. There’s some grosser parts and some humor that might offend people, but the majority of laughs come from what the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker group perfected a couple of decades earlier.
This is the hardest type of movie to review. Not only is it a comedy, which comes down to “is it funny?” as the most important criterion, but it also is a spoof, meaning it doesn’t have many ideas of its own and most of its problems are going to be attributed to either “that’s how it was in the original and we’re making fun of/copying that” or “we’re pointing out how bad it is by being bad; it’s satire, jeez!”
Examples: The dialogue is horrible, but then slasher movies aren’t known for good dialogue. The acting leaves a lot to be desired, but they’re playing dumber, sillier versions of characters that generally weren’t that well-acted in the first place. The plot is there to connect sketches, but slasher plots are often the bare minimum anyway. You can defend all of its choices and have it all come down to “is it funny?” Scary Movie made me laugh for a good portion of its running time. That’s what matters. Will you like it? I would guess so, but your taste in comedy might be very different from mine.
Scary Movie might have more misfires than hits, but because it throws the kitchen, the kitchen sink, the food in the pantry, the utensils, the placemats, and the rest of the house at you in terms of jokes, there are bound to be some jokes you find funny. It’s not as smart as Scream or as scary as pretty much any slasher out there, but it’s dumb and funny and if it sounds like it appeals to you, it probably will. That’s all there is to say.