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April 14, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #67 - Scream

(Keeping with the tradition of the Scream films, I'm gonna pretend I'm Ghostface and start this review with a good 'ol trivia question.

Jamie Lee Curtis, star of Halloween and many other horrors, is referenced often in Scream. She's even seen in the film a couple of times. What film is the first image of JLC we see in Scream from?

Find the answer in the screen grab at the end of the post.....or else!)
With Scream 4 officially released at midnight, and with us horror fans being a sentimental bunch, I'd imagine I'm about the 4,371st person to write about Scream this week.  If you live in the suburbs, I imagine commentaries on the film are issued to you, and they show up in the mail with samples of Tide.  But I can't turn away from the film because, as much as I try, because it really is a landmark for us horror fans who were born around or after 1980.

Through no fault of our own, my generation missed the golden age of Hollywood horror.  Many of try to compensate by telling you that the '80s were in fact a great decade of horror but, to be honest, they're really kind of wrong.  They were a great decade for cheesy horror and popcorn, but the problem was that the cost of these movies was so low that studios quickly realized they didn't need talent or intelligence to turn a profit.  Suddenly, every good horror film produced was drowning in the same pool as the dozens of imitators and sequels that followed it.  And by the 1990s, when the likes of John Carpenter and Wes Craven were struggling to catch up with their early successes, the genre was a sinking ship, weighed down by too many slashers and too few original and interesting titles.  The only way to fix a problem like this is to expose the problem, and that's where Scream comes into the picture. 
Craven - thanks to a "hip" script by Kevin Williamson that was developed under the now infamous title Scary Movie - got his chance to point out the paint-by-numbers state of the slasher subgenre while making horror cool again, and he took advantage of it.  It had been five years since a slasher film - the idiotic Freddy's Dead, from Craven's own Nightmare on Elm Street series - was a box office success. That film made a little over 34 million dollars, less than 1/3rd of the 103 million that Scream would make.  That total is still the top dollar amount earned by a slasher film, and it towers over the domestic earnings of every "torture porn" flick and all but two horror remakes released in the last decade. 

Though it did a lot of things that horror fans dislike - like making the slasher genre shiny and mocking icons gone by - there's no doubt that Scream was the biggest boost to the horror genre in the 1990s.  Suddenly, kids loved "scary movies" again, and teens were clamoring for more.  Many looked to the future, hitting up the sequels we've already discussed and the imitators like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, but others - like The Mike himself looked to the past.  I'm pretty ashamed to admit it, but it was only after Scream that I finally saw Halloween, which is now my favorite horror film.  And that wasn't the only thing the film turned me on to.  A werewolf flick with E.T.'s mom?  Sign me up!  The Town that Dreaded Sundown?  What a title!  There's something called The Fog? I want it!
As much as I hated to admit it while my sister and her friends were wanting posters of Skeet Ulrich and talking about how cool the soundtrack was, Scream was the horror movie that inspired us to love horror movies again. 

The film itself has aged pretty well.  Though I know the plots twists by heart, I still found myself refreshed by the small town dynamic of the film and the cast of youngsters who helped start a movement in horror.  Marco Beltrami's score still gets me pumped up for what's coming next, and the horror flick conversation takes on extra meaning now that I've seen pretty much every film referenced by Randy Meeks.  But the one thing that lifts the film in my eyes is now, and has always been, Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott.
Lesson to all the guys out there: Those eyes aren't really saying yes. Don't bang your emotionally torn survivor girlfriend!  THE MORE YOU KNOW.
Sidney survives the film, obviously, but looking at it with the sequels in mind I still feel like she's a victim of the killers.  Having seen the turns in her life that follow - and knowing that he's the killer (spoiler alert!) - makes the scene in which a broken down Sidney agrees to give up her virginity to Billy a shockingly painful one.  Ms. Campbell was always a favorite part of the film to me due to her innocent nature - and because teenage The Mike had a solid crush on her - but age and experience make her plight even more interesting to me.

Looking at Scream as a horror film is tricky, because it doesn't meet the expectations of the gorehound.  There's a bit of blood, but it's a much neater blood than we're used to.  There are no gratuitous sex scenes filled with nudity, and the number of kills shown is very low compared to most slashers that came before it.  Many horror fans - again, including myself - went through a pretty severe backlash against the films that came out of the late '90s due to their neutered appearance.  I certainly look back at that as silly today, because it's not Wes Craven or Neve Campbell or Marco Beltrami's fault that Valentine was an insultingly bad faux-slasher.
One of our killers famously remarks late in Scream that "movies don't make psychos, movies make psychos more creative".  In the case of the slasher films of the late '90s and early '00s, it appears Scream was a movie that made horror filmmakers less creative.  But that's not a problem that is caused directly by this film, which is an effective thriller dripping with relevant comedy and boasting a lead character who I'd easily place in The (Non-Existent) Horror Hall of Fame for her survival skills.  It's also a landmark for an entire generation, and a film that I can't keep down any longer. 

It goes against some of my past attempts at being a contrarian, but I finally have to say it: Thank you, Scream.  Without you, the thousands of horror blogs and websites out there and the millions of fans who love the genre would be far less interesting.  You awoke something special in us.
And there's your trivia answer. Did anyone actually see Mother's Boys?  I remember seeing that preview on a VHS once and saying "I would do anything for Jamie Lee...but I won't do that."

3 comments:

Syrin said...

It's something to me that I can always remember exactly where I was when I watched Scream. It was my friend Conner's house, and a whole bunch of us sat there around the TV, in the dark, in his living room which had a sliding glass door behind it that led to his backyard. I remember being scared that Ghostface might appear there at any moment.

I wasn't a horror fan yet, but the movie is still strongly tied to my memories of growing up.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I love this movie! Thanks for this post, The Mike!

PS -- Yes, I saw Mother's Boys. Several times, actually. LOL!

mge said...

This movie changed my life.