By the mid-90s the horror genre found itself confused, lost in a perplexed state, the slasher genre was floundering badly, and the one-offs never truly connecting the core audience, and while the horror fans stayed dedicated most covered the video stores of long ago seeking their next fix. Then enter into the fray screenwriter Kevin Williamson and the maestro of low budget horror seeking to reclaim his standing, none other than Wes Craven, a man needing a win badly, after his success of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) he had more misses than hits. He had his first initial and controversial movie The Last House on the Left (1972) and later the more interesting cult favorite The Hills Have Eyes (1977), but for the most part his career contain difficulties, and this film came full circle for him. Hence, a movie, which harkened back to the heyday of slashers, and provided the legendary and now well-known twist, truly connected to the audiences on multiple levels. Now to discuss the movie properly one, needs to assume, that the readers know about this film, and hence aware of the spoilers which this article contains. Williamson understood the horror fans, as he identified with them, they as he knew, know the rules of, the cookie-cutter mentality in the flicks, rarely changes, making it possible to visit the concession stands without missing beat in the film, therefore a necessary and required change needed, ASAP.
Scream marked that with the opening sequence, and using the cooking of the popcorn on the stove to set the tone, and using When a Stranger Calls as a setup against darling Drew Barrymore. The standard question, “Who was the killer in Friday the 13th?” everyone knows the answer or do they, only the experienced horror fanatics knew the right answer but so many shouted the wrong one in the theaters. A wonderful experience and memory, many can recall that moment. The audience had wised up, thicker skins, tired or the same old setups, the eighties teen growing smarter, needing a new slicker and sicker fix for the horror itch. Craven and Williamson together nailed the success, from a budget of $14 million and a sleeper hit, released during the Christmas season, which earned gathering revenue from all age groups, open to $6.5 million and going on to collect a total over $170 million at the box office alone. From there the franchise spawned creating three sequels, a television series, and even spun a parody series of five movies and adult film to boot.
Craven borrowed a page from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho by killing a prominent actress, Barrymore, untimely demise knowing the core of the audience had no clue or concept of a film the predated the film 36 years ago, hence by deploying the usage it set the audience off edge the rest of the film. He used teen Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) torture life for sympathy, horny boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), selfish reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and deputy sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) likely based on Don Knotts legendary Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, which definitely bypassed the viewers of modern day. Then he layered the mixture with characters Stu (Matthew Lillard) and his girlfriend, who also is Sid’s best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan) and horror guru Randy (Jamie Kennedy) affording Craven the opportunity to continue messing with our heads as he did very effectively well. Scream did balance on a tightrope carefully worrying to become too clever and too much on the horror references and trivia. Craven also got in on the fun with line noting and donning the outfit of janitor in the infamous red and green dirty sweater. The entire film has become a staple in many horror fans’ lives, and the references carrying over in other films and stories, with people noting characters to represent themselves. Meanwhile, Williamson, used the character name references such as Billy’s last name Loomis, connecting back to Halloween (1978) which referenced Carpenter’s and Jamie Lee Curtis’ names, however it goes deeper into the horror history Loomis dates back to Psycho (1960), Hitchcock’s influence continues onward always. In addition, Craven used another page from Hitchcock by using psychology of Drew’s love affair with animals telling her abuse stories, where Hitch, used a tarantula a fear of Cary Grant to get the shot he need in North by Northwest (1959). Craven’s directorial skills went deeper as he was a student of psychology of people and used that in many of his film, generating a social dynamic to exploit later in the production.
Although the killer’s costume is often referred to as “Ghostface” the costume is actually called “Father Death”, which Dewey brings a costume in the package into the police station this becomes significant with the fans of the series. As executive producer, Bob Weinstein thought the selection of the mask as silly, marking the reoccurring notion to the fans producers no nothing of horror genre. Joseph Whipple, the sheriff gets a promotion from a previous role in a film of Wes’ known as A Nightmare on Elm Street where he merely was a police officer. It is these little items that not only the film enjoyable to the horror fans, that sought something deeper with the Easter eggs in have more connections, than the general audience viewer. This positioning carried over to the rest of the films in the series, where it marked for the first time movie history, that only one director headed each production.
The question remains now 20 years later, how does the film Scream holdup to the testament of both time and the horror genre, it was the fitting film of the mid-90s when horror needed repair, and the golden moments sparkled like rare diamonds. This December 2016 marks this films anniversary but also brings about the fondness of Craven, who passed on in August 2015. This genre film had a self awareness, knowing just how far to push the limit, and tested by the MPAA, yet strode forward and gave the horror fans a quality film, complete with rules and clichés that many of us true horror gurus knew but enjoyed sharing with others. When those credits role, and audience knows the film gave a good time complete with Marco Beltrami’s score a virtual unknown at that time, while the film might have more jokes directed at it now, it still shows the connections to the horror throughout the decades. The influence of it now lacks much, the trivia not presenting as much though, some television series borrow from it such Suits, using line reference of more mainstream films. However, let’s face it everyone uses lines from many films, into the daily lexicon, and this though dated at one time became the fall-guy to some for the dreaded and horror fiick incident at Columbine Massacre in 1999. Therefore, to conclude the movie did its best to relive the industry and carry the horror banner forward for another generation of fans and filmmakers, and for them thanks, and we all miss Wes Craven.