Saturday, 19 October 2019

Movie Review: Scream (1996)


A slasher horror comedy, Scream is a self-aware gore-fest exploiting its own genre for scares and laughs.

In the small community of Woodsboro, teenager Casey (Drew Barrymore) is harassed by a menacing phone caller with a love of horror movie trivia, and is then brutally killed along with her boyfriend Steve by an assailant wearing a ghostface mask.

Fellow high school student Sidney (Neve Campbell) is still recovering from the rape and murder of her mother a year ago and is now fending off the sexual advances of her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). With the school community still reeling from the murder of Casey and Steve, Sidney starts to receive threatening phone calls. Billy is initially arrested as a suspect before being cleared.

Sidney is supported by her best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), whose brother Dewey (David Arquette) is the Deputy Sheriff. Meanwhile ambitious television reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) has her own theories about the murder of Sidney's mother, and starts hounding Sidney and her schoolmates. When the school is closed due to the proliferation of ghostface costumes, Tatum's boyfriend Stu (Matthew Lillard) throws a huge party, where the killer will again cause bloody chaos.

Mixing genuine slasher scares with sharp humour may seem an impossible task, but director Wes Craven goes back to his roots and conjures up an effective combo package. With the ghostface mask perfectly capturing a spirit of goofy evil, Scream is rarely only scary or just funny; it is often both, Craven creating a pretzel of laughs and gore. The Kevin Williamson script sets out to craft effective shocks while poking away at genre conventions (many invented by Craven), and the film crackles with the energy of twisted murders occurring in a meta milieu where the characters are active participants in celebrating quintessential horror movies.

Scream features dozens of knowing references to other slasher movies. The skillful opening scene sets the stage, the mystery caller emotionally toying with Casey but most tellingly challenging her to a horror movie trivia quiz with the prize of staying alive if she gets the answers right. Later, students supposedly traumatized by the killings converge at the horror movie section of the video store, while potential victims and suspects debate the genre rules and celebrate Jamie Lee Curtis as their scream queen heroine.

Williamson and Craven push ahead with a wild juxtaposition of horror inspired by art creating new prototypes. The teenagers watch Halloween at the climactic house party, as they themselves are being surreptitiously watched by a hidden camera planted by reporter Weathers. The kids who have sex are of course most at risk of dying, but once Sidney decides to take charge of her own narrative she starts to outthink the assailant, providing Scream with a welcome empowerment boost.

The film is packed with the madcap energy of secondary characters and side quests swirling around Sidney and her family. Her mom's death is the subject of Weathers' opportunistic upcoming book, while her dad incongruously becomes a prime suspect in the latest string of killings. Meanwhile Sidney is debating whether to have sex with Billy, a decision that suddenly carries existential consequences given that everyone knows the final girl is always virginal.

The game cast is led by the lively Neve Campbell and Rose McGowan, who both buy into the vibe and cruise through the butchery with bucketfuls of sass. David Arquette nails the insecure man unable to command respect despite his well-pressed uniform, while Skeet Ulrich adds a restless performance gripping the edge of instability. Henry Winkler is uncredited but appears in a significant role as the school principal, while Drew Barrymore finds an unlikely career highlight in her ten minutes of screen time.

The ending is over the top, the material almost running away from Craven. But by both celebrating and skewering well-loved franchises, Scream rises above the commotion.






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