SCREAMtober: ‘Scream’ (1996)

Sequential Cinema is a look at film series throughout cinema history from blockbuster franchises to smaller and international fare.

The slasher genre was out to pasture in 1996. Every cliche that established turned into became common horror knowledge. The needless killing had become boring. There are way too many Friday the 13th films at this point. Every killer had a supernatural gimmick. It was the same ol’ song and dance with a different template. It felt like there was a need to turn the horror genre on its head.

Enter genuine master of horror Wes Craven. Craven brought to life Freddy Kruger in the iconic A Nightmare on Elm Street. He also directed cult classics such as The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left. Scream was a return to form of sorts for Craven. Kickstarting a new series of scares, Scream decided to play with horror tropes we expect. New Nightmare did that with Kruger entering the real world to haunt our reality. This in of itself is a great turn into the fantastical. Yet, Scream is the reality of the 1990s. 

This is terror made real with an obsessive taking on the mask of Ghostface. The mask itself came before the film with the company Fantastic Faces creating it. This would be the guise for the mysterious killer present in the series. One license deal later ensured this would be the iconic killer for a new generation.

Casey Becker’s death (one-scene wonder Drew Barrymore) and her boyfriend shocks the students of Woodsboro High. The one affected the most is Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). Sidney is still reeling from the death of her mother the year prior. Her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) reassures her everything will be okay. Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan), and her boyfriend Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) wonder if they could be next as well. The meta-master Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) is also on hand to give us all the horrors tropes to be on the lookout for. 

[Sidenote: Ulrich’s parents had the nerve to name him Skeet. That’s unfortunate.]

Tatum’s brother, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is also on the case as a deputy to find the killer and their motive. Reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) is covering the story for the local news. With all these pieces into place and a killer on the loose, let the murder mystery and serial killing begin.

Scream is the real deal when it comes to one of the best horror films of the ‘90s. Everyone and their mother has written about the film, so I want to focus on what makes Scream great. How it stands out from the pack are three key elements. The first is the iconic opener of the film. 

Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) screams in horror as Ghostface tortures her on the phone. Source: Paramount Pictures

Drew Barrymore’s career regained steam after this moment in the film. Barrymore was well-known and a name. Her films were not memorable at that time, but that didn’t diminish Barrymore as a talented actor. This is all the more incredible because the trailer does not hint at this change at all.

Her death is the 90’s equal to Janet Leigh as Marion Crane’s murder in the shower in Hitchcock’s Psycho. The obvious comparison, but sometimes the most obvious one works. The build-up itself from a simple conversation turned kind to dangerous is perfect. 

The reveal that her boyfriend is up and the killer isn’t holding back is manic. It’s terror in front for all to see. His death is cruel, gutted like a fish, and left to suffer. Casey isn’t so lucky. She gets stabbed in the chest by Ghostface coming in for one fucked-up back hug. It’s unexpected, yet it sets the stage for the rest of the film. Expect the unexpected, but remember everything you’ve come to expect in a slasher movie.

The second is Ghostface. I was a scaredy-cat as a kid (still am). Many things scared me. Weird dumb things that weren’t scary scared me. The intro to Batman: The Animated Series. “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The poster of The Mask. It’s all embarrassing in retrospect. Ghostface was also on that list. It was hard for me to watch Scream and Scream 2 as a kid. I didn’t watch them till I was in my 20s. The look of being close to a banshee or being from elsewhere made me uneasy.

Ghostface (voiced by Roger L Jackson, performed by stuntman Dane Farwell) terroizes Woodsboro and my own childhood memories. Source: Paramount Pictures.

I’m 29 now as of writing. Ghostface still scares me. Ghostface works because it could be anyone. The cloak is a hooded yet shapeless specter. No one knows who is under that mask. It, as Dewey says in the film, is “available at every five and dime in the State.” It adds to the fear with the mask existing before the events of the film.

Roger L. Jackson provides the voice of Ghostface to be the disguise of the wearer. It’s a great voice that has a charismatic and false sense of comfort. This is of course due to the voice changer Ghostface uses. The layer to it though makes it akin to one of those AI voices such as Siri or Alexa these days. 

[Another side note: If 2022’s Scream makes the voice programmed by AI, you read it here first.]

It’s not devoid of personality as Jackson has to match the tone of each of the respective killers from each movie. This works as each wearer of the Ghostface guise will have a different style of killing. This is helped by stuntman Dave Farwell who has portrayed the body of Ghostface in this film, and the sequels 2 and 4. Stuntman Brian Avery portrays Ghostface in 3. I’ll point out each killer’s different approach in each entry. Ghostface in this movie is messy which is likely due to being teenagers obsessed with horror movies. Spoilers for a 25-year-old movie: It’s Billy and Stu.

The third and final point most people remember and know about Scream is how meta it gets, both in horror and humor. This was the bread and butter of the franchise; the ultimate staple. This franchise didn’t start the meta-horror seen as far back in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. It wasn’t even the first to combine it with humor. The first is a triple threat match between Evil Dead II, Fright Night, and Night of the Comet. To say Scream perfected it is sacrilege (that honor belongs to Tucker and Dale vs. Evil). Yet, Scream is the one to know with it does with it to a fault.

There’s no problem with Randy being our guide through the horror tropes. He helps serve the purpose of recognizing the killer’s motive and approach. It also helps that Jamie Kennedy isn’t being annoying about it either. When I first watched it, I thought he was annoying and condensing. Then again, I was also a pretentious try-hard movie critic asshole at the time of watching it. Now, he is the crux of the film and I was being a jerk not seeing his purpose. It also adds to his fate in Scream 2 is devastating for the main characters.

Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) becomes the human How-to-Guide to Horror at a house party with Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) lurking on the couch. Source: Paramount Pictures

Having the genre-savvy person in mind as a side character is terrific to help out the mains. Yet, Sidney isn’t present during most of his explanations. She’s only there for a few and she herself also knows the tropes too. There is an advantage there, yet that does go out the window when Sidney faces Ghostface one-on-one. This is understandable though. I also would lose all knowledge of horror tropes if I was being chased by a person in that goddamn costume. Don’t act like you wouldn’t either.

Scream is a phenomenal trip back to the height of 90s horror. The opener is memorable for making the audience expect the unexpected. Ghostface is an icon for its simplicity in design and creative voice work. The meta-humor may be an old hat these days, yet Scream succeeded by having the most fun with it.

Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
SCREAMtober: 1/4 complete

Next time, Ghostface goes to college in Scream 2 with twists and turns aplenty. Till the next sequence.

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