Scream (1996) Review

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A Crash Course in Horror is a monthly column by our self-proclaimed horror movie noob, Noémi Pomerleau. She reviews a classic (or even “new classic”) horror movie from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen it (because, well, she hasn’t).

The first anniversary of my Crash Course in Horror project is coming up fast, and I am officially a horror convert. Turns out I’ve started seeking out new horror to watch, even outside of the project.

My latest find is MTV’s Scream, which wrapped up its second season on August 16th. It’s fun, well-paced, and has all that horror trope goodness I’ve come to love. Unfortunately for me, it seems that it didn’t attract the audience it was looking for — rumors suggest that it will be cancelled after its Halloween special later this year. I knew there was only one way to ease my broken heart when I heard the news; I had to watch the movie that inspired the show.

Wes Craven’s Scream was released in 1996, right in the middle of my childhood. Much like The Blair Witch Project, it had a cultural impact that was hard to miss. It seemed that everyone and their mother owned a ghost face mask. However, unlike Blair WitchScream has an all-star cast, a clever script, and is scary from start to finish.

One of the most iconic costumes of all time — happy 20th anniversary, ghost face!
One of the most iconic costumes of all time — happy 20th anniversary, ghost face!

Scream follows a similar formula to Halloween and Friday the 13th. First, it introduces us to the killer by showing his attack on a pair of innocent victims; then it introduces us to our fresh-faced heroine who will spend the film narrowly avoiding death while everyone around her gets murdered. The heroine in this case is Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a high school senior who recently lost her mother under tragic (and violent) circumstances.

Sidney is joined by a cast of characters that includes her terrible boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), her best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), incompetent police deputy Dewey (David Arquette), and hugely inappropriate reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox). Add in the brief appearance by Drew Barrymore, and this is easily the most star-studded movie I’ve watched so far.

The acting in this film is fantastic overall, although David Arquette’s portrayal of Dewey is a little silly. Indeed, this is a screenplay that demands versatility in its actors, as it punctuates even the most horrifying moments with dark humor and winks at the audience. Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox are particular standouts. They fully commit to their roles and deliver even the cheesiest lines with sincerity.

It's so refreshing to see a horror movie that lets its characters do a good job of fighting back.
It’s so refreshing to see a horror movie that lets its characters do a good job of fighting back.

The tongue-in-cheek screenplay is Scream‘s claim to fame. The characters constantly break the fourth wall, deliver ironic lines, and openly discuss the ‘rules’ of horror movies. The jokes land, but the horror is very successful too. It’s just wonderfully self-aware, which might be why its characters are some of the first I’ve seen that actually do a good job of fighting off their attacker.

Actually, this may be the smartest group of characters I’ve seen, just in general. When the villain makes their presence clear, the characters realize they’re in danger immediately. They find makeshift (or actual) weapons, throw things, slam doors in the villain’s face, and fight the villain to the best of their ability.

Honestly, I can’t help wondering why so many horror films have such useless characters. It’s much, much scarier to see a person who does all the right things get murdered in the end. Also, why does nobody ever mention Sidney Prescott alongside Ellen Ripley when they talk about the coolest horror movie heroines of all time? Sidney is AWESOME.

I am a shameless Sidney Prescott Fangirl, I admit it.
I am a shameless Sidney Prescott Fangirl, I admit it.

Scream isn’t without its flaws. Its soundtrack and score are — no mincing words here — a pile of hot garbage. The music itself isn’t bad. In fact, the film prominently features Nick Cave, who is one of my all time favorites. Yet the music cuts in at the wrong moments occasionally drowns out dialogue, and is often overly aggressive, when it should be helping to build tension.

The cinematography also leaves something to be desired. When characters talk to each other they always seem to be shot in an awkward close-up which feels almost soap opera worthy. There’s nothing artful about the shots. They’re set up anywhere that shows the action, rather than at the angle which would best suit the action. It’s not clear whether this is done to hide the blood and gore or just an oversight, which strikes me as a failure on Craven’s part.

You can wink at me all you want, but I still think this camera work is weird, dude.
You can wink at me all you want, but I still think this camera work is weird, dude.

The classic “call is coming from inside the house” home invasion story is always disturbing, especially in a film where the characters do everything right. In fact, even though it could be considered funny in parts, Scream is a bona fide horror movie, not to be confused with horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead. With compelling characters, a great cast, and a smart script, it’s easy to overlook the small flaws this film has. While it might not be the scariest I’ve seen so far, it’s definitely a must-see.

P.S. You should watch MTV‘s Scream, it’s cheesy and wonderful. This goes double if you’re a fan of their version of Teen Wolf. It’s all on Netflix, so you have no excuse not to. Although I will warn you that the kids on MTV are not nearly as smart as their movie counterparts. Still — please help save this precious show about tremendously stupid teens getting murdered.

A Crash Course in Horror updates on every third Saturday of the month. The next update is due on September 17th! If you want to help pick the horror classic I review, just leave a comment below with your suggestion or find me on Twitter (@NoemiPOM)!

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