I had finally nailed down the list of thirteen scares for this year’s Shocktober when news broke of the sad passing of Wes Craven. I had covered a lot of Mr Craven’s work three years ago, when I subtitled the October festival Craven Images, but at that point, with Scream 4 still being pretty fresh, I didn’t include the Scream films in the list.
So, in tribute to Wes Craven, the Scream movies are featuring in this year’s Shocktober.
It’s a strange thing, the slasher movie genre. Most people love ‘em or hate ‘em. Personally, I love most of them. In fact, my favourite horror film of all time is John Carpenter’s Halloween. That has always, in my view, had a special mystique about it. But having said that, my most often watched slasher movie franchise is Friday the 13th.
But yet, having said THAT, I’ve always considered the Scream films to be the most incisive if you’ll pardon the pun, and the cleverest.
The magic ingredient here is that not only does it follow the rules of the slasher movie genre to the letter, as laid down by Halloween (or, if you go back further, Psycho in 1960), but it’s self aware.
Okay, the rules – if you’re reading this, I can’t help but assume that you’ve seen a few slasher movies. They tend to be a little repetitive. There’s a formula to follow. For example, the victims tend to be teenagers.
The one virginal “good girl” among them tends to be the one who survives through to the end, and has a final showdown with the masked killer. (Usually, though not exclusively, the killer has some kind of bond with the last would-be victim as seen in Halloween, Valentine, My Bloody Valentine or Happy Birthday to Me among several others – be it by blood or past misdeed)
The slutty “bad” girls who sleep around are the ones who end up skewered and filleted.
Victims have a habit of locking themselves in a house with the killer rather than getting the hell out. Anybody saying “I’ll be right back” – won’t be.
Just as you think the masked killer is dead, he’ll jump up for one final attack.
And so on.
Scream follows these rules implicitly – BUT this time, the high schoolers involved are film savvy and have seen all the aforementioned movies, and can clearly see the formula. It’s self aware without being self reverential, but still manages to revel in and celebrate the genre. (This is a concept that Craven had experimented with in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, where the cast of the original Nightmare on Elm Street find themselves being haunted by a very real Freddy Krueger.)
The film opens with a cameo from Drew Barrymore as Casey, a teenager at home of an evening. Ready to watch a scary movie (Scream’s original title) with her boyfriend. She gets a telephone call that quickly turns menacing and she realises that she’s being watched by a maniac intent on taking her life. He forces her to play a sadistic game of horror movie trivia to save the life of her boyfriend who has already been trapped, caught and duct taped to a chair by the family pool.
Answering wrongly in a panic, the killer, wearing a novelty store grim reaper costume with a hooded screaming skull mask, disposes of the boyfriend and plays a vicious cat and mouse game with the Casey, eventually leaving her to be discovered by her parents hanging from a tree with her intestines spilling out.
Now, this all happens in the small town of Woodsboro, where high school teen Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) had lost her mother a year previously. Maureen Prescott had been murdered, and the evidence, as well as Sydney’s eye witness testimony had placed Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber) at the scene. This had been investigated by intrepid (and vapid) TV news reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) who had written a book about the case, revealing that Maureen Prescott had been a bit loose with her morals.
So, with a murder in this picturesque little town, the media descends – including a crafty little blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Linda Blair from The Exorcist. Speaking of crafty little cameos, watch out for Wes Craven himself as a cleaner in the High School, wearing a familiar looking red and green striped jumper and brown hat, answering to the name of “Fred”.
The killer (who will eventually be known as Ghostface) very nearly gets to Sidney as she waits for her friend to pick her up for a sleepover, thus it becomes obvious that she is the next intended target and she’s placed under the watchful but stumbling and well meaning eye of Deputy Dewey (David Arquette – possibly one of the worst actors on the planet) – the brother of her sleepover friend, Tatum (Rose McGowan).
Now, the killer could be anyone. There are plenty of suspects. There’s lovelorn Randy (Jamie Kennedy, the film nerd who’s seen all the slasher movies that are referenced here. There’s her boyfriend Billy Loomis (named either for the Loomis in Psycho or Halloween, played by Skeet Ulrich) and there’s his buddy Stuart, boyfriend of tatum (the manically twitchy Matthew Lillard). Even Sydney’s father is a suspect. Or, it COULD be Gale Weathers herself….
The boyfriend is arrested but released with a perfect alibi so he’s out of the question – right?
Well, not quite.
We’ve often wondered (or I have, anyway) how these darn slasher maniacs keep popping up, being in two places at one time. Answer? This time around, there are two of them. Each providing the alibi for the other. Billy Loomis is the killer, because Maureen was also having an affair with his father – and this drove Billy’s mother away. Stuart is his accomplice and sometime Ghostface. They intend framing Sidney’s father (whom they’re holding as captive) for the killing spree and injuring each other to feign self defence before murdering both him and Sydney (now that Sydney has consummated her relationship with Billy, she’s a fair target, obviously).
It’s as convoluted a backstory as one would expect, but delivered to an audience who knows what to expect and who don’t walk away disappointed. Despite seeming dead, Billy even pops up one more time as expected before getting a bullet in the head from Sidney who has seemingly gone from helpless victim to full on Ripley in Aliens.
The film closes as dawn breaks, an injured Randy and Dewey are helped into ambulances as Gale starts to report on what transpired.
But Craven wasn’t quite done with his wry look at the genre. There would be more.
Click here to buy your own copy of the awesome Scream trilogy.
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