Movies Don’t Create Psychos Movies Make Psychos More Creative
So after renting the first one on a whim I’ve decided to revisit the Scream trilogy for the first time since whenever the third one came out on video. My goal in looking at one of the most beloved/reviled horror franchise of all time, was to look at it as just that, a horror franchise. Not the movie series that saved/ruined horror forever.
After all despite the fact that it set the model for about five years, Scream’s effects aren’t really felt anymore. Sure for a little while there was nothing but self referential new school slashers, but The Ring basically wiped it out and all we got was wet kids with black hair and eyes. Then their was Saw and the “torture porn” cycle. Horror’s always been such an imitative self reflexive industry that it hardly seems fair to hold the original strain responsible for it’s mutations. But people still get really pissed off at Scream, for launching “WB” horror, as the great Outlaw Vern noted, the WB doesn’t even exist anymore It’s time to let go and move on.
Which doesn’t mean that Scream would necessarily end up being a classic, I just planned on giving it the chance to surprise me.
And the famous oft parodied opening scene really did. I forgot that it is famous for a reason. Most notably that it’s a really fucking effective scene. Even knowing all the beats in advance it still works. The way it gradually escalates from playful flirting to terror (the ugly way the killer says “Hang Up The Phone Again and I’ll Gut You” still makes me flinch) Drew Barrymore’s innate sweetness curdling to desperation. The great use of atmosphere, the way Craven let’s us gradually realize just how vulnerable she is (so many windows). The shockingly brutal and casual murder of her boyfriend, it’s just a great horror scene. With its omniscient killer, and emotional suffering it almost has more in common with a murder from a giallo then a slasher film. I’ve forgotten how grim the whole sequence was. The way it baits you with the thrill of the scare before showing you something truly terrible. Barrymore’s death is ugly and sad; it’s a horror scene that actually aims to horrify. One thing you can say about Craven is that in his better work, he’s one of the few horror directors who doesn’t take enjoyment out of a “good kill”.
Then unfortunately the movie begins. It’s not that Scream is bad exactly, it just fails to live up to the hype, skill and ambition of the opening scenes. The cast is a perpetual whose who of “What ever happened to’s.” (Oh Matthew Lillard where art thou?) and as character focused as the movie is, they don’t exactly have the dynamic charisma to pull it off.
The story follows Neve Campbell, who earlier in the year witnessed her mother’s brutal murder. Her attempts to move on are thwarted when a string of murders begin, and her and her friends end up targets. The film’s mystery is too convoluted and the film’s at its weakest when it’s following it.
The movie is at it’s best when it’s going the straight up horror route, despite the fact that none of the scenes live up to the first one, staying standard slasher set pieces rather then dredging up such a melting pot of conflicting emotion. It even gets into the fun gimmick kills that the opening scene so skillfully deconstructed (Rose McGowan I'm looking at you. For em different reasons then usual this time). Still it’s impossible to deny that the film has some pretty wicked beats, like a scare revolving around a time delay on a live feed that still gets me to jump, and a simple shot of the killer’s boot stepping off a toilet (long story) that still remains one of my favorite “Oh Shit” moments in a horror film.
Scream is definitely a writers film. Craven’s wearing his “old pro” hat and he mostly steps aside and allows Williamson’s voice to shine through. It’s obviously the work of a fan, and there’s so much pleasure in it that it’s easy to see why at the time Williamson seemed sure to be the next big thing. Even the whole “Talking about horror movies in a horror movie” works better now that I’ve forgotten a few punchlines. It’s funny well written stuff.
In the end though Scream must settle for being a good slasher movie rather then a great Horror film. That’s not really a problem, I (and statistically speaking you) wouldn’t be on this site if you didn’t love a good slasher film. But for that opening scene it’s something more, and it’s just a shame that it didn’t stay that way.