Scream

*Originally written in 2004

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Wes Craven proves he’s a master of horror and innovation with Scream, over 10 years since his last smash which pulled a similar trick – A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven had been a legend for 3 decades, but with this he made possibly his best known film, reinventing a dead genre for better and worse, making horror films profitable again. More importantly it gave horror fans something to cheer about – a smart, funny, sexy, but above all scary film.

Scream’s intro has already gone down in movie history as the benchmark of a shocking and effective way to start a film. Take an established actress, and eventually butcher her to set the tone. The phone, the knife, shocks, inevitability of death, blood, helplessness, and a love of scary movies. Craven turns what we expect on its head, and we know we are in for something special.

We are introduced to Sydney Prescott, a teenager whose mother was murdered a year ago, trying to get on with her life – coping with school, a boyfriend, the court case involving the man (Cotton) who has been charged with her mother’s murder, and intrusion from journalists. She has become strong through this ordeal, but is still vulnerable. Her boyfriend Billy wants sex, but isn’t pushy. The news of a new murder comes as a shock to the whole town though because of the town’s recent history, journalists flock in including Gail Weathers, who had previously accused Sydney of lies. In school the news spreads, and the cops question the students. Sydney’s tight group of friends try to work out who the killer was, believing everyone’s a suspect. Her friends are Tatum, feisty, strong whose boyfriend is similar yet comically manic, and Randy – movie nerd who secretly loves Sydney. When Sydney is attacked, it seems the killer is not done and may have a larger plan. The teens of the town gather together for a curfew-baiting house party all the while debating who the killer is, and who could be the next on their hit-list.

This is clearly one of the best horror movies of the decade, not just an excuse for gore, but clever on many levels, and self-referential. It is more than that, being one of the best looks at teenage life in the last few years. The characters are extremely well drawn, taking stereotypes, but changing them against our expectations, enhanced by some brilliant performances. Every cast member performs well, with special mention to Kennedy, Arquette, and Lillard for bringing the laughs. Cox is good, but Campbell is excellent, going through a myriad of emotions and proving that her character does not have to be stupid like most final girls are typically shown to be.

Craven is in control, feeding us clues as to the identity of the killer, but ensuring that by the end we are surprised. Gore is used effectively, the scares and jokes come thick and fast, but it is the story of Sydney which makes it a classic. She is strong willed, smart, and we go through every emotion with her, aided by Neve’s performance. We feel for her, and are frustrated we cannot help. The film is shot beautifully, with Woodsboro shown as an idyllic place to live, but with dark secrets. I love near-Leone style facial close-ups, and the care given to each character so that we are hurt when one is killed, but suspicious of each. The script is sharp, with many references to horror movies which fan will try to recognise.

Thematically we return to Elm Street territory; We must fight for ourselves in the world, and while our friends are the most important people in our lives, they may not be around forever and we must be able to cope with their loss. Parents are either not around, don’t care, don’t understand, or are to blame. Sydney’s mum seems to be the catalyst for the deaths, the only authority figure to gain respect is Dewey, who isn’t much older than the teens. The opening scene as Casey crawls towards her nearby parents, with the killer behind her highlights this, that the older generation will not always be able to keep us safe. The Headmaster, played by Henry Winkler hates kids, but he cannot organise or gain respect from them either.We are never certain of Gail’s intentions, another point to do with the media’s involvement in society today. Death has become trivialised, the victims just a ploy for ratings or power for those who tell the stories. Our thoughts on violence, on violent movies are challenged – Craven a veteran of criticism over use of violence. In the end it’s up to us as individuals. The film shows that places we believed to be safe -our homes, our schools, have become dangerous places today too, that we are not safe anywhere. In a group, or by yourself, we are still vulnerable. The scene in the school toilets emphasizes this point, and is another beautiful scene. However, the film teaches us that rather than being overcome by fear, by the fact that we are not always safe, we should fight.

I wanted to mention a few of my favourite scenes – Sydney on her porch, staring over the hills; Sydney and Billy in her bedroom while Gus’s cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper plays in the background. It gives a perfect glimpse of what it is like to be in love at that age, and together with Campbell’s beauty makes an odd atmosphere, especially when viewed again, having watched the other 2 films. We become intimate with Sydney, wishing we could save her from her pain.

With the combination of genres subverted, a brilliant script and score, some excellent acting, good scares and jokes, Scream paved the way for a new breed of horror films, none of which, like Halloween and Elm Street, have matched it. We should be thankful for Craven, as he has provided the world with another film which should be watched and talked about as much as those felt to be the best movies of all time. This is certainly one of the best of our time.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Scream!

My Soul To Take

The late, great, Wes Craven ended his career with the final part of his Scream series, and this badly received film which I had avoided for some time. Having now seen it, it is difficult to not agree with the critics who savaged it for being muddled and formulaic – but is it really that bad?

Honestly, no. It’s not good, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is well enough acted and like many of Craven’s middling or lesser films it suffers from wasted opportunities. With any Craven film you go in with certain hopes and expectations, so when those are not met the frustration and disappointment is heightened. A director making this as their first film would still be criticized, but may be encouraged to improve, but Craven as an experienced and successful horror maestro should have known and done better.

The story begins around sixteen years in the past as a deranged conflicted man murders his wife in front of their daughter before being shot by the police. As he is being taken to hospital, he somehow wakes, causes the ambulance to crash, and escapes. We flash forward sixteen years and learn that the killer has become something of a local boogeyman – the local kids meeting on the eve of his disappearance each year to perform a ritual to prevent his return. The main players were all born on this date and are known as the Riverton Seven. I’m not sure how likely it is for seven kids to be born on the same day in a small town, and I’m not sure why the killer, now known as The Ripper decides to hunt them down instead of anyone else, but that’s the gist of the plot. We meet Bug, the quiet outsider of the group who is continuously picked on, his smart ass friend Alex, jock Brandon, ring-leader Fang, as well as a pretty one, a blind one, a religious one, and a creative one. As you would expect, they begin to get picked off.

This raises further questions – Bug is our protagonist and throughout the movie he is accused of and mocked for being in and out of institutions – none of this is explored. Each time someone is killed, he begins to exhibit their traits and mimics their voices and behaviour, making it look as if he is the killer. Again, none of this is really dealt with or explained, or leads anywhere beyond trying to make the audience suspect him. The film throws curve-balls later to point us in the direction of the other survivors until the final muddled minutes. Nothing is ever surprising and the twists mostly miss the mark. You’re likely wondering why you should watch this. As mentioned, most of the cast are good and a few of the faces will be familiar in earlier roles. The kills are gore-lite but effective enough for someone just getting into horror. There are funny moment, both intentional and otherwise, and every so often you’re reminded of Craven’s better works. The idea of a killer possibly leaping from body to body is one that is not often explored in cinema, with Fallen remaining the best example – there is potential here for something better but whether it was a case of too many ideas or a bad script, or nobody knowing what they wanted, the end product doesn’t work. It’s difficult to recommend this now to anyone beyond Craven fans and horror fans in general. There are much better films out there in the genre, films which do better with similar ideas, and much better films by Craven, but as one of the final works by one of the legends of the genre it should nevertheless be required viewing.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of My Soul To Take!