Wes Craven’s 1996 teen slasher horror film is widely seen as a horror classic. It is not the first or last of this specific genre. What makes Scream unique and stand out amongst it’s many teen horror counterparts is it’s self aware sarcasm of it’s own genre. It follows the familiar formula and rules as seen in ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘Hallloween’ and ‘Nightmare on Elm St’. These predecessors released during the 70s and 80s feature a small suburban American town, a young teenage group of attractive high school students and a serial killer at large murdering them one by one in gruesome fashion. This is all in order to get a good girl next door type of lead female character.
Scream is no different. It begins with a teenage girl spending the evening home alone when she receives a mysterious phone call from a stranger who is watching her. Although this older male claims to have the wrong number, he knows intimate details of the what she is wearing and which room she is in the house. After this character Casey (Drew Barrymore) is murdered, the locals realized there is a psychotic killer who is obsessed with horror films. He or she continues to kill friends, family, classmates and young male admirers who are all in some way are related and connected to Sydney Prescott the main character played by Neve Campbell.
While these films contains extensive amounts of violence and scare tactics in regards to the killer. The lead role is often used as a moral compass. Naturally as viewers we would like to hope that the polite, intelligent and gracious girl in high school could escape the stalking and tragedy thrown in her path. There is some fairness and morality to this. Of how being a good person with extremely unfortunate bad things happen to them should through higher powers survive eventually. This narrative tool is frequently used and can be seen with Jennifer Love Hewitt in ‘I know what you did last summer’ and right back to the 70s Jamie Lee Curtis in the ‘Halloween’ saga. With Scream Neve Campbell takes the role of Sydney Prescott with similar formula trend as audiences root for her survival, peace and happy ending.
Scream also has a comical approach to horror which makes the bloodshed easier to process with some needed light relief in scenes. Casey Becker is the initial English literature classmate of Sydney initially killed in the first five minutes of the film. This opening scene is terrifying and iconic featuring Drew Barrymore as Casey. It’s not only scary but confusing to watch the most famous actress in the film be killed so immediately. This was on purpose by Wes Craven to inform audiences to expect the unexpected. It is also tongue and cheek look at viewers expectations of modern teen horror. This also relates to Courtney Cox playing the mean, sassy, media story journalist for the local news channel. At this point in the 90s she was famed for her role as Monica in friends during the height of it’s pop culture relevance. I don’t think this casting was coincidence but Wes Craven pushing boundaries with viewers version of normality with horror associations.
“There are certain rules you must abide by to successfully survive a horror film!!!”
“Don’t drink, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex and never under any circumstances say aloud ‘I will be right back’ when leaving the circle because you won’t be “
- Randy (Class clown, film enthusiast and Sydney’s childhood friend)
Wes Craven’s writing team show sarcasm and humor again because obviously asking a group of teenagers to not do the above at the most rebellious and naive stage of life is going to easily be the key factor to help the killer continue their spree with new victims and their behavior.
The surprising lasting message Scream leaves behind is the potential reality in visceral horror. Sydney is after all an attractive young smart teenage girl who is being hunted by her ex boyfriend who feels rejected constantly by women and has unstable mental health issues. Indeed the large body count and butchery featured is over the top for entertainment. However it is not completely in the realm of impossible. None of the narrative is supernatural or paranormal, looking closely now much older and wiser personally its a tale of severe stalking and murder just exaggerated. Everyday news outlets around the world document true life stories of lovers spats gone too far or jealous lovers seeking attention and revenge. Stranger than fiction, Art imitating life make a lot of sense as quotes here. I used to find this film extremely frightening, I have now come to view it as a cautionary fairy tale to young women.
Von Von Lamunu