Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Horror Violence and Gore, and for Language
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Drew Barrymore, Joseph Whipp, W. Earl Brown, Liev Schreiber & Henry Winkler
Wes Craven became one of the most well-known horror filmmakers with his imaginatively terrifying NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but Freddy Krueger wasn’t the only iconic killer that Craven brought to the big screen. Working from a cleverly self-referential script from Kevin Williamson, Craven introduced Ghostface to horror fans in December 1996. Inspiring four total films and three seasons of an MTV horror series, SCREAM is one of the most important slasher films in cinema history and also holds up as a fantastic scary movie on its own merits.
As the first anniversary of her mother’s untimely death approaches, depressed high school student Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) braces for an inevitable wave of turbulent emotions to arrive…much to the dismay of her sex-starved boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). Hormones and angst aren’t the only things that Sidney, Billy, and their group of teenage friends (Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, and Jamie Kennedy) need to worry about though, because someone has taken their love for horror movies a bit too far. By “a bit too far,” I mean that someone is running around in a creepy costume and slicing/dicing teens. This masked psycho seems to have his eyes set on Sidney for some strange reason. Bodies pile up, laughs ensue, and this film parodies slasher films while simultaneously being a slasher film.
There are so many items to talk about with SCREAM, so I might as well start with a quality that usually makes or breaks 99% of slasher films: the kills. SCREAM is notably set in a more real-world environment than almost every other slasher movie in existence, because these characters have seen PROM NIGHT, HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, etc. They already know the dumb clichés and rules that they need to follow in order to successfully survive a horror movie. This more realistic meta-feeling bleeds over into the film’s kills. This is especially present during the film’s infamous prologue that packs in plenty of humor and scares, while also distinctly reminding horror fans of the disturbing phone calls in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS or BLACK CHRISTMAS.
KNB Effects utilized 50 gallons of blood for various wounds and designed chest pieces for the many stabs and slices. Though SCREAM’s kills are mainly of the knife variety, there’s a certain grisliness to them that makes them pretty damn effective to watch and some of the gore effects are downright disturbing to look at. This more “realistic”-ish spin on slasher kills positively offsets the film’s light-hearted, comedic atmosphere into darker directions. It reminds the viewer that this slasher, as fun and funny as it may be, still has kids meeting their untimely demises and that’s a horrible thing.
As far as the teenage characters go, Kevin Williamson’s script feels refreshingly grounded in a subgenre that can range from ridiculously over-the-top to unbelievably stupid. Though there are a couple of dumb mistakes made by the teenage victims that lead to a rather high body count, the film remedies these “errors” by pointing them out and winking at the camera in a knowing fashion. Right before Sidney’s first encounter with Ghostface, she references a stupid mistake that she unwittingly commits in the heat of the moment during the very next scene. Little details like those seemingly correct annoying decisions that are all too commonplace in hundreds of slashers.
As far as the cast goes, the young actors and actresses make for convincing teens, while the adult performers seem fairly realistic. Every character is colorful and sticks out, making their absence (due to being butchered by a masked psycho killer) much more noticeable. Special mentions go out to: Neve Campbell as the film’s tragic final girl, Matthew Lillard as an obnoxious smartass, Jamie Kennedy as a diehard horror fanatic, David Arquette as the geekiest cop around, and Courtney Cox as a bitchy news reporter. The film’s two worst performances belong to: Skeet Ulrich as the obviously creepy boyfriend and Rose McGowan as Sidney’s airheaded gal pal.
It’s worth noting that SCREAM keeps its fast-paced storytelling up throughout the entire running time. Even though the film clocks in at slightly under two hours, nearly half of this time is dedicated to an incredibly funny, entertaining, and satisfying finale that takes place in/around a single house. Kevin Williamson was able to pack so much development into the smart first half of the film (including little pieces about Sidney’s past tragedy that don’t feel like forced exposition at all), and then Wes Craven let loose with his suspenseful and violent slasher fun during the film’s second half. My only complaint with Williamson’s script is that it’s fairly easy to identify the killer early on, even though the film throws a couple of half-assed red herrings into the mix. To his credit, a big twist during the final 15 minutes still remains remarkably effective and forces viewers to watch repeated viewings through a different lens.
SCREAM’s self-referential style may not be for everybody, but (at the very least) this film must be respected for what it did to the horror genre in the 90s. At the point when this film was originally released, horror was in a rut. Lots of crap was coming out, tons of films were bombing at the box office, and most folks thought that the horror genre was as good as dead. Then SCREAM came along and injected much-needed new blood into age-old clichés. Though it gave birth to a wave of mediocre 90s slashers (e.g. URBAN LEGEND, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, etc.), SCREAM is also the first installment in one of the most consistently entertaining slasher franchises in existence. If you haven’t seen SCREAM before, now is the perfect time to do so!