1996: Looking Back At SCREAM - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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1996: Looking Back At SCREAM

Don't Answer The Phone. Don't Open The Door. Don't Try To Escape. Nathan Browne might be there...

There's more than a few reasons to dislike Scream. Primarily because this is the movie which single-handedly resurrected the teen-slasher genre, a movie category that had long been stabbed to death - if you pardon the pun. Because of the success of Scream, a barrage of limp copycat horror movies made their way into cinemas. Hollywood loves it when something is a success, so much so that they just decide to make more of the same - I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Halloween H20, Cherry Falls, etc etc etc were all greenlit thanks to Scream. Most were terrible, achieving nothing but keeping the teenage casts of various WB television shows in summer acting jobs. Yes, Scream is responsible for a lot of garbage, but the truth of the matter is, Scream is also a phenomenal movie.

The plot is very simple: a masked knife-wielding maniac is busy stalking the students of Woodsboro, killing them off one by one. The killer's inordinately obsessed with one girl, Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell), who of course gets involved in the quest to unmask this psycho. The catch (in case you don't already know it), though, is brilliant. Everyone in the film is familiar with all the slasher film conventions. They know that you shouldn't walk in the woods alone at night. They know that having wild sex is an unwritten invitation to be hacked to pieces. They know not to say things to each other like "I'm going outside for a cigarette; I'll be right back.", because such statements are virtual death warrants.

One of the best examples of this is film obsessed Randy (played by Jamie Kennedy), he actually goes so far as to muse what `real' actors and actresses should play the other characters in the film, going so far as to joke about who gets to be Tori Spelling. All the dumb conventions of slasher films are pulled out of the shadows, exposed for what they really are, and then, some of them get used anyway, because the characters willingly choose to ignore those conventions. Some cliches are thrown away, while others are embraced. In this meta way, Scream really turned the horror/slasher film genre on its ear, becoming the first truly suspenseful and exciting slasher film in many, many years, simply because it suddenly had a million new avenues to explore. The film's self-awareness allowed to move in brand-new directions and suddenly, scenes that had gotten to be predictable in other slasher films become incredibly intense again.

Director Wes Craven was perfect for this film. The man has serious genre pedigree having directed slasher classics like A Nightmare On Elm Street. He easily sets the visual feels and style of the movie to perfectly evoke all the slasher films of yore. And then, much like Scream's script, chooses to either faithfully follow the tried and true, or to go off in completely unexpected directions. Either way, Craven manages to create a lot of absolutely nail-biting, thrilling scenes, and also doesn't hold back with the gore - which is always a plus in great slasher films.

Then there's the iconic mask which has become just as symbolic, perhaps even more so, with the genre of horror as that of Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees. The genius here is that in Scream Wes Craven, along with writer Kevin Williamson, didn't create an individual character but just a costume. A costume which anyone could be underneath. This draws us in with a whodunnit element. We can't help but make our own list of who the killer could be, and Scream offers a lot of potential suspects.

The acting ranges from barely mediocre to pretty good. Neve Campbell's okay as Sidney; Courtney Cox is pretty good as tart-tongued reporter Gail Weathers; Jamie Kennedy rules as Randy the film geek; and David Arquette is utterly bland and forgettable as Deputy Dewey Riley, the sad-sack policeman. But casts in slasher films don't particularly matter anyway. The good ones are all about suspense, terror, and gore, and in Scream we are provided with massive amounts of all three of those criteria.

The irony is that Scream spawned dozens of imitators, and in doing so all the new avenues it opened up quickly got old and boring once more. Still, purely on its own merit it's an excellent film. It owes an awful lot to John Carpenter's Halloween, which still remains the best slasher film of all time, but Scream actually runs a pretty close second.

Nathan is getting too old too quickly and is rapidly approaching his pipe and slippers phase.

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