Like last year, I want to pave the way for this years /slash Filmfestival – starting this Thursday – with a little prelude. However, the sudden and unexpected death of Wes Craven totally thwarted my original plans for which movies to include here. Thus, I decided to couple my /slash-prelude with a little tribute to one of the true Masters of Horror. I ultimately decided to go with the “Scream”-series (instead of the arguably more iconic and/or popular “Nightmare”-films), mainly because he actually directed all of them himself. But enough preamble, here are my thoughts on the first one:
For whatever reason, I so far probably didn’t appreciate “Scream” as much as I arguably should have. This is most likely due to the fact that when I watched “Scream” for the first time, back then in the nineties, I a) wasn’t really into horror and b) had very little prior experience with the genre. And while I still enjoyed learning about the typical rules of slasher movies, there’s obviously a huge difference between learning about them in this movie, or already knowing them going in. Since then, I’ve seen a lot more horror movies, and also some of the slashers (even though there are still quite a couple that I have to catch up on, like the “Friday the 13th”-series) this movie alludes to, thus I’m much more educated about the typical rules – and those movies itself – than I was back then. However, while that might actually be a good excuse for merely liking the movie when it came out, it’s a little bit more tricky when I face the fact that as short as four years ago, when I watched the trilogy to prepare for the fourth one, I still “only” liked it. One of the things that rubbed me the wrong way on both viewings was my perception that Craven propagated a “horror movies are responsible for real world violence”-message – which also felt rather snarky, especially coming from Wes “Nightmare on Elm Street” Craven. Maybe said impression was due to the fact that on both occasions, I saw the german dubbed version. Maybe it’s because said opinion was widespread back then, and thus stronger at the back of my mind. Maybe my mind shut down as soon as Ghostface (FYI, even though “Scream” is now 19 years old, I’m keeping this post spoiler-free) proclaimed this as his motivation, even though he then ventured into his real, far more grounded, believable and reasonable reasons – thus I kinda overheard it. Or maybe I was just plain stupid. But whatever the reason, I now believe that I was wrong back then with said accusation – which is one of the main reasons why I think much more highly of “Scream” now than I did back then.
That said, even when I saw it in the 90s for the first time, there were many things about it that I appreciated – not the least of which being the beginning. Now I don’t know about you, but given the fact that Drew Barrymore was probably the most well-known name from the cast (back then), I rather would have expected her to be the final girl/main protagonist, then to bite the dust 13 minutes in. But even apart from the fact that on my first viewing, her early demise really surprised me, that whole sequence is absolutely great. The mysterious caller, his questions about horror movies, that great moment when he asks her for her name and when she asks why he wants to know he replies “So that I know who I’m looking at”, the incredibly tension that builds until the “final” kill, the gruesomeness of the death scenes… Now, granted, when it comes to Wes Craven’s filmography, I still have quite some catching up to do. So far, however, I’d proclaim that these 13 minutes are the best thing that he’s ever done. Not that the rest wouldn’t be very good, too. One thing that really stood out for me back then – even though I’m not enough of a horror buff to assert that this was totally new in the genre – was the combination of a typical teenie-slasher-flick with a whodunit-thriller-setup. See, here’s the thing: slasher flicks – especially those where we’re supposed to cheer for the killer – are not my favorite horror-subgenre. The brutal killing of one teenager after another… it can work, if it’s done right, but overall, I’m not the biggest slasher-fan. Thus, I really liked the fact that “Scream” had more going on than that, and that it had you questioning throughout the entire movie who the killer might be. Even the characters are discussion different suspects and swap theories. When the identity of the killer is finally revealed, it comes with a nice twist that, despite the movie’s age, I won’t give away here, but which is really clever.
One of the main things that “Scream” is famous for, and rightly so, is its meta-approach. Again, not the biggest horror-buff speaking, but overall, it’s my impression that before “Scream”, the protagonists of such movies usually gave the impression to have never seen a horror movie themselves. Not so here, and at least I felt that this really was an innovation for the genre. Especially since they actually go ahead and dissect them and explain the typical rules that come with slashers, which over the course of the movie, are alternately followed or broken. I really loved that. It also leads to a couple of very funny scenes, and they even occasionally make fun of themselves (like mentioning an obligatory boob shot, and immediately afterwards denying the audience exactly that). Despite scenes like that as well as a couple of straight-out gags, “Scream” first and foremost is a horror flick, and never ventures too far into parody-territory. There are also some cleverly staged shots, like – to just mention one example – the video feed with a 30-second-delay. Also, most of the performances are really strong, especially Neve Campbell and Drew Barrymore. That said, and despite the fact that I appreciated “Scream” more this time around that I did previously, there still are a couple of things that didn’t really convince me. Despite the fact that it is later revealed that Sydney has an understandable reason for her sexual austerity, it feels a little implausible that they would be together for two years, and never got beyond second base. I mean, despite everything that happened, we’re still talking about teenagers with hormones gone wild. That just felt fake to me. I also would have preferred if there wouldn’t have been that close a connection between what happened to Sydneys mum and what’s happening now. Despite the explanation offered at the end (where I found one to be much more convincing than the other), they failed to explain why Ghostface would kill the people that he kills. It seems after what happened a year ago, he simply enjoys it too much to stop now. Finally, I really could have done without the cliché of the killer who rises up one last time. Given the fact that they made such a big deal out of the fact that this isn’t a movie, but the real world, I would have preferred if they’d consciously renounced that twist. Despite those flaws, “Scream” is one of the most essential and influential horror movies of the 90s – and deservedly so.