This year marks the 20th anniversary of Wes Craven’s Scream, so each Saturday in October, myself and a cadre of like-minded individuals will be re-watching the franchise one movie at a time. Is the series influential — and if so, positively or negatively? How does each installment reflect the time in which it appeared? What does the series’ reboot as an MTV television program indicate about the state of horror today? We’ll answer all of these questions and explore whether or not the franchise holds up as we go along.
Dimension Films, 1996
Nick Spacek is a writer and podcaster based in Lawrence, Kansas. He runs this website (obvs), as well as the From & Inspired By soundtrack podcast, in addition to writing for Cinepunx, Modern Vinyl, the Pitch, and the UK’s Starburst Magazine. He can be found spewing nonsense on Twitter @nuthousepunks.
The first ten minutes of Scream are near-perfect, right? It’s perfectly balanced: funny, then nervous, then eerie, then absolutely taut before getting gory and gross. Casey’s basically the most likable character in the whole movie, and they ax her before the credits even roll. For real: the rest of the characters in this movie are fucking terrible. I’d never noticed it when I first saw it — probably because I was a contemporary of the characters when it was first released — but, man, every single dude in this movie needs a swift kicking.
“You know what you do to me?” Billy asks Sidney, when we first meet him. I’m glad she pushes him off after he’s such a pushy dick, but then she flashes him and he calls her “such a tease.” Goddammit. Like, I understand that they’re in high school and you do dumb shit when you’re in high school, but Billy’s whole speech about wanting to take thing to an NC-17 relationship is fucking gross.
Also gross: the slowed-down, acoustic version of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Gus is, I think, the first use of the trope before Gary Jules’ “Mad World” six years later in Donnie Darko. So, let’s blame Scream for starting this whole irritating thing — although, I guess the real question I’m finally getting around to asking is if Scream is to blame for making horror movies winking and self-aware or, like AMC posited in 2009, is it to blame for the slew of PG-13 horror which followed in its wake?
It baffles me as much now as it did then. I can’t help but wonder the motives behind casting Drew Barrymore in the most significant scene, and ultimately one of the most iconic scenes of the 1990s. Scream was primarily promoted around the name and reputation of shockmaster Wes Craven. The cast composed of Hollywood unknowns and family-friendly television actors, known more for their respected shows than their individual contributions (Friends, Party of Five). For years, Drew Barrymore had been an afterthought in film. A former child star, born into the Barrymore dynasty, stole the hearts of America as the adorable younger sister in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. She would become a notorious party animal and drug addict before reaching maturity.
While looking for some of the promotional appearances of the cast for the film’s release in 1996, I found a gem of Drew Barrymore and Courtney Love on the red carpet for Primal Fear, released eight months prior to Scream1. Barrymore, not yet cast back into legitimate celebrity status is nonchalant and trying her hardest to act in a manner befitting the company of her infamous celebrity “punk” date for the evening. Barrymore quips at the host when asked about her problems with drugs and alcohol, “Who gives a shit? Get over it!”
Scream was released only a year after Barrymore’s attempted re-emergence as “Hollywood’s Wild Child,” with a stint as cover model in Playboy magazine and a year removed from a scripted “impromptu” topless birthday celebration prancing atop David Letterman’s desk. The entertainment gossip media went bonkers but few were jumping to make Barrymore a star. Barrymore seemed more interested in eking out small paydays in insignificant parts (Wayne’s World, Batman Forever) where her legacy namesake would allow it and beefing up her “wild child” image than becoming Hollywood’s next break-out star.
Barrymore’s attitude and reputation quickly changed after the mega-success of this film. For all of the effort put into making Neve Campbell a star, she accomplished very little and is known primarily for four Scream movies, while Barrymore, in under ten minutes, became one of the biggest box office draws of the following ten years.
Liam O’Donnell is co-host and co-creator of the Cinepunx podcast as well as Editor in Chief of Cinepunx.com. He also co-hosts Horror Business and Eric Roberts is The Fucking Man. When not hosting, editing, or promoting so many damn podcasts, Liam works in higher education in diversity and equity programming and education, and lends his promotion and event planning skills to This Is Hardcore Fest and the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Fest. Find him talking all kinds of crazy shit on twitter at @liamrulz.
You two have really covered a LOT of my initial thoughts on this, but I can’t help but wonder if my … frustration let’s say, with Scream now may be that the entire meta effort now seems played out? Yes, part of my issue is the dialogue. When I was a kid, watching something I thought may never exist, that is a NEW Wes Craven film in a THEATER, I was entranced by all this snappy witticism. They talk so fast and they have so many snappy, and snarky, things to say. Shit, did I try to talk like this after seeing this film. Guys, I think I tried to talk like this after seeing Scream. Fuck me. Regardless, now this dialogue hurts me. It seems forced, and hard to even keep up with. I can’t care about these people, but I am not sure I need to empathize to enjoy this film. I would rather not hate everyone though, if I can choose. Yet, most of the time when people are talking in this film, I want them to die. Who are these snarky inhuman creatures, and how do I erase them from this world?
That is neither here nor there, though. I don’t need Shakespeare from Craven, despite the grand heights of writing he managed in Shocker (omg burn!). The very idea itself, though — so smart and interesting at the time — has lost all charm for me. Scream has some effective scares, and some really taut directing. Yet, most of the film operates on this meta criticism level, winking and poking the audience in the ribs. The film keeps loudly whispering to you, “DO YOU GET IT?” and I can’t decide if I am amazed at how fucking charming I found that at the time, or if I am amazed at how frustrating I find it now. Is it simply that Scream, which is actually rather intelligent in how it does this work, inspired any number of rip-offs which simply lacked its insight? Do I hate Scream because it birthed I Know What You Did Last Summer? No, I don’t hate it. I still love it in so many ways. Yet, it no longer charms, and I am not sure which of us has changed and moved on. It hurts though, it hurts not being in love with Scream anymore.
The beginning really is brilliant, though.
1. “Dennis Pennis Interviews Courtney Love and Drew Barrymore (1996)” https://youtu.be/DVrGgmIpD4g