During the ’90s, the big staples in horror at the time were struggling to release a good product, but then Scream came along and saved the genre. Ironically, the film would poke fun at and make mention of the three icons on multiple occasions. Of course, those three being Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, and Freddy Kruger. When horror was at its lowest, Scream brought it back to life by being self-aware and not taking itself too seriously. A film that not only knew its audience but wanted to subvert every expectation they had at the time.
Directed by the “Master of Horror” Wes Craven, the film was written by Kevin Williamson, who would go on to write future sequels. Scream stars Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, David Arquette, Rose McGowan, Drew Barrymore, Matthew Lillard, Courteney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, and Roger L. Jackson. Set in Woodsboro, California, Scream follows Sidney Prescott (Campbell), a young teen who is still recovering from the year-old rape and murder of her mother. Her troubles are accelerated when a killer begins threatening her and her friends and claims to hold key information regarding the demise of her mother.
Now, if you were to just go off of that general synopsis to judge the movie then you’d be missing out on its magic. The film sounds like every other horror movie that has come out before it but it’s much more than that. Williamson’s script takes horror fans into a world where the characters are aware of slasher films and all of the cliche’s that come with them. These teens are not fully clueless, they understand that “Someone has taken their love of scary movies one step too far” as pointed out in the tagline. Williamson subverts your expectations from the start with one of the most iconic openings to any horror film. That scene alone was enough to understand Scream was set to pull the rug out from under viewers at any given moment.
Adding to that, since Scream has characters who are aware of movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th, it also offers some of the best dialogue amongst a group of teens who are essentially living out the genre they love so much. Sidney’s group of friends consists of her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Ulrich), Tatum Riley (McGowan), Stu Macher (Lillard), and Randy Meeks (Kennedy). Meeks is the audience’s mouthpiece, his informed stance on the inner working of horror films and his awareness that there appears to be “certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror film” are what made him one of the film’s most beloved characters. There’s even an entire scene of him explaining these rules amongst his peers as they watch Halloween at a house party.
All of the characters offer something to like about them and it helps when most of them love horror movies. Sidney is a great protagonist, she isn’t as upbeat as her friends due to the death of her mom, but it’s safe to assume that she was just like them prior to that. Campbell’s portrayal of this innocent teen who is struggling to cope with the loss of her mom makes Sidney a great character to sympathize with and root for as she becomes the center of the killings. She is our final girl, and what the film does so well is it foreshadow’s her eventual outsmarting of the killer in the end. Strong female characters was another aspect that made Scream such a breath of fresh air. Sidney is in the same position as most heroine’s in horror for the majority of the runtime, but she uses her fear to fight back in the end and give the killer a taste of his own medicine.
Overall the cast is amazing, Cox, who was known for her role on Friends, gives a great performance as this seemingly rude, arrogant, entitled news reporter who will stop at nothing to prove that Sidney targeted an innocent man as the culprit responsible for killing her mother. Gale Weathers was a “tabloid twit” as Sidney put it and the two were at each other’s throats due to Gale covering her mother’s death. In the end, Gale is a hero and her thoughts regarding what really happened are found to be true. Kennedy’s performance as Randy gets praised still to this day, not because his acting was so great, but because of the fact that he does enough in the role for audiences to get behind a character that represents them. Randy is just as much a horror freak as half the people watching the film, which makes him easy to like and grow attached to.
Ulrich plays the dark and moody boyfriend of Sidney, he quickly becomes the suspect because of this darkness surrounding the character. They way Ulrich thrives in the role will keep audiences on their toes regarding Billy Loomis because he seems too in your face to be the killer, and the film makes it so obvious that he is being set up as the average red herring. McGowan stars as Tatum, the best friend of Sidney, and what’s great about this character is she is a clear mouthpiece for Sidney. When she has had enough and is too over it to stand up for herself, Tatum is right there to shut down anything threatening her best friend. Of course, Sidney finds her inner Tatum in the end when she is all alone in a final clash with the killer. Arquette plays Tatum’s brother, the incompetent but lovable cop, Dewey Riley. His performance is good for what it is, and he balances between can this guy be killed already and he is pretty cool.
Craven does what he does best and directs the film very well. He was the appropriate choice as he is known for his direction of Nightmare on Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes. He understands and loves the genre, so no one was better to captain a film that deconstructs horror. Craven brings Williamson’s clever screenplay to life with ease as the terror and gore he is known for shines bright here. As with every great horror film, Scream features one of the best scores composed by Marco Beltrami. It’s so effective and memorable that Halloween H20: 20 Years Later borrowed bits of it two years later.
Scream is a clever shakeup of the genre that will even spark a few laughs in between the terror. The film is cherished amongst the horror community for popularizing the meta aspects of the film. Not only a ’90s treat that still holds up over two decades later, but also a near-perfect horror film.