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In honour of my "coming-out" as a Horror Express debutant, I felt it appropriate that my first review be a testament to my favourite horror film and possibly the most influential post-slasher of modern times. So imagine my delight when I noticed the gargantuan gap left on the website's database by its absence. This is all very convenient but I am well aware that convenience can breed complacency. I would not dream critiquing something held in such high regard by myself and horror fans alike so lackadaisically. Oh yeah....The film I am referring to? You might have heard of it: It is called Scream.
The film is about a group of splatter-savvy teens who find themselves assailed by a masked killer attempting to create his own "real life" horror film. Easy enough premise but very difficult to execute without confusing or boring the young, blood-baying audience. This is where Scream is out on its own. The narrative is ingenious. It is recognised as the first major motion meta-slasher to be devised. Side note: I stress major motion because the idea of art imitating life, life imitating art within this particular genre had been expressed two years prior to Scream's release with Wes Craven's New Nightmare.
Scream was penned by Kevin Williamson, a writer whom following its conception has axiomatically continued to prove that he knows teenagers and the conventions of contemporary horror. If he was not working on a teen kill fest picture (ala I Know What You Did Last Summer or Cursed), he would undeniably be working on a teen angst series (like Dawson's Creek or Hidden Palms). The rest of the time he is inevitably marrying the two successfully, remaining within that comfort zone. This is not a bad thing because, to quote a line from The Faculty (another KW script) you should "write what you know". Consequently the narrative devices within Scream - specifically attention to setup and dialogue - bulge with encyclopaedic intelligence of the topics and their viewers. Thus, this film within a film does not patronise its audience behind the pretence of displaying something new or unknowingly using the stalwart formula. Instead it makes one aware that it knows it is a film, that you know that it knows and that it knows that you know that it knows. What this eloquently-put acceptance allows for is, firstly, the humour of parodying itself and secondly, the coup de main approach of knowing how the genre functions by either shocking you with something new or double bluffing and scaring you with something you should have expected.
Script set; now comes the difficulty of finding a group of people capable of bringing it to actuality. We will not go too deep into the backrooms of Dimension Studios, so fear not. Director? Who is capable of delivering the omniscient text? It seemed logical to employ the man who attempted this before - Wes Craven. It turned out to be a very wise choice as Craven's train of thought appeared to be working in tandem with Williamson's vision. Dust off the DVD collection and watch the original Nightmare on Elm Street one more time to notice the stylised similarities. Once again he demonstrates acumen for popular culture that makes it cool to be scared. The characters look and sound cool (including Ghostface), the settings look cool and even the camera angles seem indicative of an MTV generation. He has fun with the script applying his creative fingerprint all over it. Every time I think about the production of this film, I imagine Craven grinning sadistically; knowing that if the film is received as he imagines then he will get us and get us again much like the onscreen antagonist. He shamelessly portrays this with the inclusion of a final scare after the final scare that rivals the infamous false endings used in Carrie and Friday the 13th. Furthermore, intertextual references add to the sardonic tone of his direction making the film a contextual collage of a number of the genre's predecessors i.e. Halloween and When a Stranger Calls. It is reminiscent of the art form of Appropriation in which artists cultivate an original piece from borrowed components so it is not so much imagination as it is homage-ination.
Director found. The usually thankless task of finding a young and talented cast was made relatively simple as the 90s had young and talented actors and actresses in abundance.
Tactic one: lull your audience into checking out the film by using a known name in a marginal role. Drew Barrymore was that name but she made the role anything but marginal. Though she lasts under ten minutes, in no way did I equate her appearance to, say, her character in the short-running series 2000 Malibu Road. She pulled off ditzy, ballsy and sickening dread in less time than it takes to karaoke Rapper's Delight.
Tactic two: scour the teen TV dramas and films for talent. This does not mean launching an all-out commandeering of every famous teen thespian. Quite the opposite. These were actors who were scarcely recognised yet were clued-up and trendy. They had to be to give the parts...character. Nobody could have predicted the effortless camaraderie that would be established between them from then onwards but, I suppose, if you put the right person within their element, then the role becomes second nature. Think about it: Jamie Kennedy, a comedian by trade, played the comic relief, Randy and the feisty Rose McGowan became the equally spirited, Tatum Riley. The remaining performances worth noting can be awarded to the remainder of the principal cast. David Arquette (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) excelled as inept cop Dewey Riley, Courtney Cox (Friends) embodied Newshound Gale Weathers and Skeet Ulrich (The Craft) continually teetered on the boundary of sweet and suspect as Billy Loomis, boyfriend of heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell (The Craft, Party of Five). Each came in with the opportunity of being involved in a project with reasonable expectations and left as an icon of modern cinematic history. I think no further superlatives are needed.
I must make you aware that if you are searching for a film to give you sleepless nights, then Scream does not tick that box. The box it does tick is the "pull your partner close" selection. I suppose you can label it a shocker or a jumper in that it is all about the immediate injection of adrenaline you receive from a sudden surprise jolt. It is ultimately a televised rollercoaster ride of twists and turns. I guess many people loved it as much as I did as it has mothered a myriad of sequels and less successful copycats.