Scream (1996) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 29

by Jovial Jay

Scream like your life depended on it.

Wes Craven’s Scream changes up the genre in this scary and pop-culture infused film. It quickly switches between not-too-serious and intensely serious moments keeping the audience on its toes.

Before Viewing

The trailer for Scream presents the audience with the rules for surviving a scary movie that everyone should know. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t open the door. And never say, “I’ll be right back.” A killer has taken all they’ve learned from horror films and is putting it to good use. It’s time to revisit this classic!

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

Scream (1996)

Scream title card.

After Viewing

In the Northern California town of Woodsboro, high schooler Casey (Drew Barrymore) receives a disturbing call from a stranger who appears to be watching her alone in her house.She finds her boyfriend, Steve, dead on the back patio. When she makes a run for it, a mysterious figure in a black cloak and Ghost Face mask kills her. Elsewhere Billy (Skeet Ulrich) sneaks in through the window of his girlfriend’s house. Sidney (Neve Campbell) is surprised to see him, but rebuffs his sexual advances.

News media encircle the high school the next day, as Sidney and  Billy talk and joke with their friends, including video store clerk Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and Stu and Tatum (Matthew Lillard and Rose McGowan). Later that night the killer comes for Sidney–starting with a phone call.  She is able to avoid him and uses her computer to call 911, which makes the scary sociopath flee. Billy shows up saying he heard screaming. A cell phone falls from his pocket which makes Sidney immediately suspicious. He is taken into custody by the police as a possible suspect.

The police officers, which include Dewey (David Arquette), Tatum’s older brother, investigate the claim that Billy didn’t make the calls all while trying to locate Sidney’s father. Tabloid journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) catches Sidney sneaking out of the station and tries to get a statement. Gale has been writing a book on Sidney’s family due to the vicious killing of Sidney’s mother by Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) the previous year. Sidney slugs Gale in the face.

Scream (1996)

Billy, Sidney, Stu, Tatum, and Randy discuss and joke about the murder of Casey and her boyfriend.

At school, Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) expels two students for dressing as the killer, a common Halloween costume in the area. When he returns to his office he is stabbed by the real killer. The cellular phone records come back indicating the calls to both Casey and Sidney originated from Sidney’s father’s phone, but no one knows where he is. With the death of the principal school is canceled and a number of students plan a party at Stu’s house. Gale follows them to spy on the house, going so far as to put a remote camera in the main room of the house.

Tatum heads into the garage to get some more beer, but when the lights go out the killer comes for her. She tries to escape through a cat door in the garage door, but gets stuck. The killer activates the automatic garage door, which crushes her when it reaches the top. In the party, Randy, a horror aficionado, recounts the main rules of a horror film: no having sex, no drinking or drugs and never say, “I’ll be right back.” Upstairs Sidney gives in to Billy’s advances and has sex with him.

The killer attacks Billy soon afterwards, as well as Kenny (W. Earl Brown), Gales’ cameraman in the van outside. Sidney encounters Ghost Face outside, narrowly avoiding being skewered. With Deputy Dewey having been stabbed, and Gale knocked out, Sidney retreats back into the house, locking Stu and Randy outside, unsure whom to trust. Billy, who survived the attack, takes her gun and reveals that both he and Stu planned the entire thing. They plan to kill Sidney, frame it on her dad, and get away scot free–all due to the fact that Sidney’s mother had an affair with Billy’s dad. They killed the mother last year and framed Cotton for it. In the end Sidney and Gale (who survived) shoot the boys, saving Randy and Dewey as well.

There’s a formula to it. A very simple formula! Everybody’s a suspect!” – Randy

Scream (1996)

The Ghost Face killer. Now an iconic horror villain.

Much has been written about Scream, Wes Craven’s 1996 horror film that reinvigorated the genre in the mid-90s. It was a film that popularized meta-fiction in horror, created a new horror franchise, and gave a number of actors new life. Craven is of course probably best known for his creation of Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but had been working for a decade before that with thrillers like The Last House on The Left and The Hills Have Eyes. His sense for horror is not one note, but multi-faceted. It is something that he adapts with the changing times, and continued to find new ways of startling audiences.

Scream was not Craven’s first attempt at meta-fiction in a horror film. Two years before this he returned to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise for New Nightmare. That film took place in the audience’s reality where Wes Craven was a director of a horror film called A Nightmare on Elm Street and Heather Lagnekamp was an actress from the movie. The film was about them meeting up with the fictional Freddy Krueger, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. And that’s mainly what meta-fiction is. It’s a style, whether in film, literature, or other art, that reminds the viewer that you are watching a piece of fiction. It is also often characterized by character’s making knowing references to events in other fictitious works, or acknowledging the audience. A common trope is the fourth-wall break where a character looks directly at the audience, but can include many other sly nods to the conventions of the film they’re acting in.

This film creates a world where all the characters are well aware of the conventions of horror films. Randy, who has encyclopedic knowledge of horror films, even lists off the rules of the horror film, which are things that the audience understands from watching horror films over the previous 20 years. Characters quote films, acknowledge horror conventions (such as suspecting everyone. Randy even states, “If this were a scary movie, I’d be the prime suspect”), and even blame horror films for their behavior when caught in heinous acts. The most obvious moment is when Randy and others are watching Halloween downstairs and commenting on the events of that film, only to have this film intercut that commentary with the events taking place upstairs of Billy and Sidney having sex.

Scream (1996)

Dewey and “journalist” Gale Weathers develop a strange relationship, which reflects the real relationship by the actors.

Scream acknowledges the tropes, uses those tropes–sometimes honestly and sometimes as a fake-out, and creates new tropes all in service of scaring the audience. In service of some of these tropes, Craven inserts some cameos into the film to provide a meta-commentary on film and horror. Drew Barrymore’s inclusion at the beginning of the film, while not a cameo, is a complete fake-out. Much like Janet Leigh in Psycho, she was the biggest star of the cast and was heavily included in the trailers and on the poster. To kill her off within the first 10 minutes is an obvious nod to Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Craven also included cameo’s from Linda Blair (who played the possessed Regan in The Exorcist) as a reporter, and even himself as Fred The Janitor (who is dressed in a floppy hat and red/green sweater, looking much like Freddy Krueger).

But don’t let that put you off, since the film works on multiple levels. For fans of horror films, there are a lot of references to other works, sly nods, and homages that will allow for repeat viewing to find them all. But for novices in the genre, the film still functions primarily as a slasher/thriller with plenty of blood, killing and tension. Everyone can enjoy the game of figuring out who the killer is and the revelation that (surprise) it’s not just one person, but two!

Scream (1996)

Randy explains, in detail, the “rules” about being in a horror film in one of the most meta-moments of the film.

Assorted Musings

  • Frances Lee McCain, who plays Tatum and Dewey’s mom, is a famous 80s film mom having appeared as a mother character in Gremlins, Back to the Future, Footloose, and Stand By Me.
  • Scream spawned three sequels (unimaginatively called Scream 2, 3 and 4) as well as a group of parody films called Scary Movie.
  • Some of the notable mentions of other horror films that Scream brings up, compares itself to, as well as paying homage to, include: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Candyman, The Howling, Prom Night, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Fog, Terror Train, Silence of the Lambs and Carrie.

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