Scream still stands tall as a milestone horror film and as a reminder of how clever and rewarding movies can be when written with supreme, genre-loving skill and directed with total finesse. I can remember seeing this film on opening weekend back in 1996 with some high school buddies, and we were probably the only ones in the theater. It’s completely insane to look back at the box office stats for Scream, and you just have to chuckle – this future juggernaut opened to around $7 million, and then did $7-10 million for the next 6 weeks. It became a true word of mouth sensation that somehow caught a wave and tapped into the zeitgeist – it was something you HAD to see, regardless of your age, or your interest in the genre (growing up, slasher movies were never “my thing,” yet I saw this one three times theatrically; I even forced my dad to see it so that way he would be “up to speed”).
Wes Craven was never my favorite filmmaker, as the horror genre has been the one to excite me the least overall, but I’m not blind to his extreme abilities as a craftsman, and it goes without saying, he was an iconic figure in the cinematic landscape. And he certainly made his fair share of great films: The Serpent and The Rainbow, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left — these are all enduring pieces of cinema. It’s also apparent I need to see The Fireworks Woman and revisit Shocker. But it’s Scream that I’ll always remember him for. The film is viciously bloody and nasty, yet remarkably somehow still playful, and it’s incredibly funny, almost non-stop to be honest, with pop-culture jokes and sly references that were totally in-the-moment over 20 years ago yet still work and zing today. Kevin Williamson’s genre-busting work was just beginning and when you look back at his original script you can sense that he was seriously zoned into this milieu.
There’s not a bad performance in the entire cast, with Neve Campbell easily joining the ranks of premiere cinematic scream-queens, David Arquette using charmingly goofy comedy to lighten the load, and Courtney Cox doing a delicious hot-bitch performance that still cuts to this day. Matthew Lillard was insane in this movie; ditto Jamie Kennedy. The plotting is terrific, the twists are novel, the dialogue is as sharp as Ghost Face’s knife, and the killing-off of Drew Barrymore in the opening reel still stands as one of the best surprises in movie history. I’m even a fan of the sequels (though still not seen Scream 4) which got increasingly over the top as they went along but still found time to comment on the self-reflexivity of horror filmmaking and audience expectations.
SPECIAL NOTE: It’s too bad, though, that this entire series is forever tainted by being a Dimension production – seriously – FUCK those guys. It’s getting increasingly harder and harder to separate life from art in ways that I’m not sure anyone was ever prepared to do. I wake up every morning and immediately think: Who is today’s Hollywood sex criminal?
Review by Nick Clement