By the mid-1990s, the slasher genre had burned itself out. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees were both dead and burning in Hell. Michael Myers' latest screen appearance was a failure with both critics and audiences. It seemed that slasher movies had gotten the axe. But then, in 1996, Wes Craven returned to the genre with a film that would take movie audiences by storm and breathe new life into it and kick off a new generation of masked killers and even resurrect a few dead or dying franchises as audiences clamored for more.
The movie didn't take itself too seriously, parodying the genre and making clever tongue-in-cheek references that horror fans ate up. This approach worked, and despite the dark comedy, Craven's new film managed to be smart and scary. Let's take a look at the film that sparked the question, "What's your favorite scary movie?" Of course, I'm talking about 1996's Scream.
The movie opens with a teenager named Casey Becker getting ready for an evening of scary movies and popcorn with her boyfriend, Steve. A strange man calls Casey repeatedly, and at first she plays along with his flirtations, but the mystery caller soon turns violent, revealing he has captured Steve and offers to spare his life if Casey can successfully answer a series of horror movie trivia questions. Casey fails the killer's test, and both she and Steve are murdered.
The next day at school, Sidney Prescott learns of the murders, and past trauma comes flooding back as a TV reporter named Gale Weathers brings up the murder of Sidney's mother a year earlier, questioning whether Sidney may have identified the wrong man, leaving the real killer to roam free to kill again. That night, the killer calls and attacks Sidney at her home, but when her boyfriend Billy Loomis shows up at the exact moment that the killer disappears, Sidney suspects him, and he's arrested.
While Billy sits in jail pending an investigation into his cell phone records, the killer calls to taunt Sidney while she's staying with her friend Tatum, clearing Billy. After Sidney is attacked at school, classes are suspended, and a city-wide curfew is put into effect. Tatum's boyfriend Stu decides to celebrate by throwing a party at his farmhouse. Sidney attends the party and tries to forget her worries, but when people start dying at the party, everyone becomes a suspect.
Scream is packed with horror references, particularly slasher flicks. Characters quote the classics, like Psycho, recite the various established rules of surviving a horror movie, are named after classic horror icons, and Wes Craven even appears as his most famous creation "Fred" in a brief cameo. Jamie Kennedy's Randy constantly reminds the characters about the "rules," often making suspicious statements as his obsession with slasher movies makes him a likely suspect, which he even admits at one point. While Kennedy's annoying both onscreen and off, everybody knows a person just like him, so the character keeps the parody grounded. That said, my favorite part will always be when he gets smashed in the face with a phone.
During a period when the media was taking a very close look at film, music, and video games as a source of violence, Scream asks some very serious questions. Are Xennials/Millennials too desensitized to violence? And what is the cause? Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? Personally I believe it's the former, but the commentary offered in Scream continues to be relevant to this day as politicians and the media continue to point the finger at violent art forms for the cause of gun violence.
The movie launched quite a few acting careers. Similar new slashers like I Know What You Did Last Summer popped up but didn't have the same longevity. Scream has gone on to spawn three sequels and a television series on MTV. The franchise's killer, often referred to as "Ghost Face," recently joined the roster of killers in the popular survival video game Dead By Daylight, and I hate that cheap son of a bitch so much! Needless to say, twenty-three years later, Wes Craven's tongue-in-cheek parody is still going strong without overstaying its welcome.
Scream is one of my all-time favorite horror films, ranking up there with the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises. While I utterly despise the third installment, I consider the other three films to be solid. The first three films are on Netflix, along with the television series, so check 'em out... just leave out the "chill" part. If you have sex, you die. Them's the rules. Right, Randy? R-Randy? Uh oh.