Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scream (1996)

The 90s were a terrible, boring time and don't ever let anyone tell you differently.  The 90s were marked by fake disaffection, proto-hipsters, and a last-minute resurrection of teen slashers engendered by this so-called Scream.  I was at college in 1996 and vividly remember people who were not horror types going crazy for this thing.  There was even a public screening at the football field, one week after a Soul Asylum concert.  Even my smarter professors liked it, extolling its meta structure and use of irony.  I fucking despised it back then.  But it's probably time to re-evalutate it now that it's decades removed from the gross artifices of its era.

20 years later and the term "scary movie" still makes me cringe.  "What's your favorite scary movie?" purrs our killer to Drew Barrymore in the opening scene.  "Horror" is rarely invoked as a term and it's shameful when a movie is too ashamed to even admit what it is.  "Scary movie" just sounds so generic and childish.  No one calls comedies "funny movies" or westerns "horsey movies".  Anyway, the film proper opens with a cover version of the bedroom scene from Troll 2.

Except that the dialogue in Troll 2 is more believable than this.  Here begins a bunch of inside-baseball film talk, which will haunt the entire movie.  Sidney's boyfriend Billy wants to penetrate her, but she is too upset about her raped/murdered mom to contemplate such filthiness.  This is all expressed in a very strained-sounding exchange about NC-17 and PG-13 ratings.  Metaphors!  The Kevin Williamson script here aspires to be witty and self-referential, but it's a lot more Diablo Cody than Joss Whedon.  Especially given that this is a very simple film at heart: a ghost-masked murderer stalks the teens of whatever town this is.  Ultimately, he appears to be aiming for Sidney.  Who is it and why?

Courteney Cox has been hypnotized by this intricate premise!  She plays tabloid reporter Gale Weathers (lol get it get it??), who is trying to get the scoop on this killing.  Cox probably gives the film's best performance.  Anywayz, one of Sidney's friends is a scary-movie enthusiast and you can tell because he never wears a black shirt.  He provides the rules for survival in scary movies, but generally these don't even enter into play in Scream.  So it's curious why these scenes are included.  They feel dismissive, like Scream is throwing shade on horror movies even as it is trying to be one and reap the financial benefits.

I am getting steamed even as I type this.  It's pretty hilarious that the film ostensibly mocks horror for having rules.  You know, given that this is shot and staged in the most slick and predictable fashion.  The Wes Craven who directed this had long abandoned the anything-goes anarchy of Last House.  Scream utilizes all the well-worn tricks, like fakeout scares, and has immaculate Hollywood photography, but it also has a structure that seems specifically designed to have commercials jammed between scenes.  Everything wraps up neatly and quickly, like this is just a super-long episode of Melrose Place.  

This movie does includes scads of nods to other, better things.  Halloween gets a ton of screen time here: in the lengthy scenes of the gang watching it on TV, in the reversed-roles fall from the balcony, and in the music liberally sprinkled throughout Scream.  Steal from the best, I guess.  There are oodles of other references, from Friday the 13th to Prom Night and so on.  Strangely, the horror discussion comes from preppies wearing button-up shirts and this aspect of Scream could be read as sad wish fulfillment on the part of Craven and Williamson.  Like, if only our fanbase were frat boys and their dull girlfriends talking about horror in a loud, endearing, loud way!  This part of the movie came true, btw, at least for a little while.

Man, I can't believe I still hate this movie so much.  It does have some merits, of course.  I liked how heated the kill scenes were, with the victims really fighting back and the killer having to struggle to kill.  The ghostface design is pretty decent.  

Overall, though, yuck.  The script is so smug that it just feels pompous.  Scream is a stupid-as-fuck movie that thinks it is very smart.  None of the characters have any depth and it's never more apparent than when they're reciting pseudo-intellectual arch dialogue, like muppets being piloted by a community college philosophy major.  The attempts at comedy aren't welcome, either, my reactions ranging from Sigh to "Ugh."  What would ordinarily just be a generic slasher flick has been dressed up in ironic skins, lamentably.  Plus I am still angry about Scream pushing out supernatural/real horror films for a few years so that it could pump out clones of itself, like some kind of goddamn HIV of horror.  Thank the gods that Blair Witch saved the day and this genre that we all love.


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