Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #4 Scream
Dir: Wes Craven
Cert: 18 • US: 111 min • Dimension Films • 1996
Walter Beck reviews
Still here loyal readers? Excellent, well we’re up to film number four on our five-part series of the Best Slashers of All Time. For this one, we’re mixing a little humor in with our blood and gore. We’re looking at horror master Wes Craven’s 1996 satirical nightmare, Scream.
The film begins with teenager Casey Becker getting a harassing phone call as she’s making popcorn to watch a horror flick. The caller repeatedly taunts her, growling the iconic line, “You like scary movies?” He eviscerates her boyfriend and then hunts Casey down and guts her, leaving her mangled body hanging from a tree.
The next day, it’s a media circus in the quiet suburban California town. The story focuses on Sidney Prescott, a quiet girl dealing with the recent murder of her mother. She is harassed by soulless reporter Gale Weathers and is soon being stalked by the mysterious killer. Her boyfriend Billy Loomis is suspected of the slayings, but is released after lack of evidence.
After the principal shuts down the school in the wake of the murders and stalking, fellow student Stu throws a massive party, where the mayhem continues. Randy, one of the kids, begins explaining that it’s just like a horror movie and tells them to follow the rules: no sex, no drugs, no booze, and never say “I’ll be right back”. If they follow the rules, they’ll stay alive.
The film comes to a bloody end with two of the kids taking Sidney hostage and being revealed as the Ghostface killers …
The foremost reason this film made number four on the countdown is the writing and direction of Wes Craven. Working in a post-1980’s atmosphere, Craven knew that the traditional-style slasher film had been done to death. After strings of sequels and direct-to-video releases, the American public was bored and the slasher genre looked to be a thing of the past.
So Craven took an entirely different approach, making the characters strongly aware of the typical slasher film elements. Scream is peppered with numerous references to classic works of gore such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Craven’s own Nightmare on Elm Street. One of the best nods is the brief appearance of a grizzled looking janitor dressed in striped sweater and brown fedora named Fred.
Craven goes beyond making sly jokes about the old classics and takes a direct stab at the claim that horror films were responsible for teenage violence; as the killers say in the film’s ending, “Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative!” Ironically, Scream would be accused of inspiring several real-life murders.
Like many slasher films on our countdown, Scream’s graphic violence would itself be a subject of controversy. Before the film was released, director Craven was threatened with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA for the excessive blood and gore. Knowing that an NC-17 would be a death knell for the film, since many cinemas refuse to show such rated films, Craven got creative and started claiming that only one take existed of certain scenes, ergo he would be unable to re-shoot and re-cut them.
But it isn’t just gore for the jolly hell of it. In Scream the over-the-top violence becomes another tool of dark humor in Craven’s arsenal. Using the audience’s expectation for blood and guts, Craven pushes the envelope in terms of volume and suddenly, the violence takes on an almost comical tone.
The movie-going public fell in love with Craven’s twisted, funny, gory vision. Scream raked in over $173 million at the box office, earned rave reviews (a rarity since most “serious” movie critics have the same affinity for slashers as they do for cases of syphilis), inspired a string of sequels, and even its own parody, 2000’s Scary Movie.
Scream remains a landmark in the history of American gore, it revitalized a horror genre that the public thought was dead and buried, ushering a rebirth of slashers that would continue into the early 2000’s, until the genre stalled again with an endless stream of remakes, which continues to this day. Many of its cast, including Drew Barrymore, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Matthew Lillard would go on to become major Hollywood stars, thanks mainly to their performance in this all-American bloodbath.