Scream (1996)

Kevin Williamson’s horror satire about a group of high school students who fall prey to a serial killer hits all its targets. Fully aware that they are tumbling through a series of slasher clichés, the characters make constant allusions to Freddy, Michael and Jason as they head for the inevitable bloodbath at the hands of a masked killer.

Scream (1996), 1990s horror movies

Inevitably, those who grew up with the slasher series of the 70s and 80s would one day want to parody them. Step forward Kevin Williamson. Supposedly inspired by a news story about “the Gainesville Ripper”, Danny Rolling, Scream‘s references are obvious (quips about Sharon Stone’s knickerlessness now seem extremely dated) and laboured (the final scene of Halloween is playing on a TV in the background for the entirety of Act Three, just in case you didn’t remember what happens to Jamie Lee).

Wes Craven loved the script, and signed on to direct, despite some of the disparaging jabs within dialogue at “Wes Carpenter flicks”. Where New Nightmare attempts to make audiences think about the process of consuming a horror text, and consider the effect that it may be having on their psyche, Scream encourages them to gorge like it was fresh pizza, and screw the calories. The Media Effects debate is trivialised (“Movies don’t create psychos, they make psychos more creative”) and all the characters
desensitised to violent death.

Randy: Listen up. They found Principal Himbry dead. He was gutted
and hung from the goal post on the football field.
Drunk teen: Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go over there before
they pry him down!

Scream is a crowd-pleaser from the get-go, its wit is accessible, and none of the references too arcane. It makes its audience feel like they know more about the horror genre than perhaps they actually do – the allusions are restricted to a narrow band of mainstream American movies from the 70s and 80s. The nerve-twanging opening sequence aside (Drew Barrymore is excellent as the doomed Casey), true horror moments are few and far between. Nonetheless, the movie scored major box office success ($161M worldwide) and spawned, not just sequels, but a whole sub-genre of lame horror comedies. It seemed that the core teen audience preferred easy laughs to scares, just like in 1948. Despite its billing as a comedy, it unfortunately inspired its very own copycat murders — a sign of how much the times had changed since the days of Abbott and Costello.


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Author: Karina

Writer. Historian. Teacher. Story Consultant. Twitter @medkno