With the 2022 Scream upon us (or, if you prefer, Scream 5), here’s looking back to where it all started in 1996 with that fateful and iconic opening scene in the fictional town of Woodsboro, California. Partially inspired by the real-life Gainesville murders, Scream (originally titled ‘Scary Movie’) is the ultimate modern slasher, and maybe something above that.
First, let’s talk a bit more about that opening scene. Scream chooses not to beat around the bush, instead, getting the audience straight into it headfirst (or, in this case, blood first) as a masked killer donning the now-infamous ‘Ghostface’ mask quickly descends upon high school student Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) at her home. No slow build-up here, and it’s a signal statement: this film is going to stamp its authority, merciless in who it kills, sparing not even big names like Barrymore early on.
The main protagonist though is Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who soon comes to the attention of that same killer. He stalks her and ruthlessly picks off her friends one by one, and that’s all while dealing with the first anniversary of her mother’s rape and murder. Talk about unfortunate timing.
The end twist is almost as sharp as the blade that comes down on the various victims. The killer actually turns out to be in the plural, with the double act of Billy and his accomplice Stu. They’re pleasingly raving and psychotic whilst also not lacking in the wacky humor department.
So far so good. Barring the opening scene, this could just be any other slasher. The thing about Scream though is that it’s self-conscious. No, not because it can’t work up the courage to go and ask out that girl (or, in this case, cut her out). It’s self-conscious because it deliberately satirizes horror greats like Friday the 13th. Heck, just before that iconic pre-credits kill, Ghostface asks Casey what her favorite horror film is, to which she replies A Nightmare on Elm Street (turns out that was the wrong answer). The Scary Movie series takes this all a step further by being an actual horror parody, using Scream as one of its main inspirations.
Yes, Scream does mark itself out by being self-aware, but it more or less ends up being the same kind of film it’s conscious of, the same old slasher. And the idea of an unknown stranger calling their intended victim on their house phone is one that’s not unique to Scream. When a Stranger Calls nailed it by building a whole film around it in 1979; the 2006 remake, a little less so …
Like the masked killers it portrays, Scream is very good at what it does, and maybe it’s best to think of it more as a celebration of all that’s good about horror than anything revolutionary in itself. For sure, it’s no Psycho or Paranormal Activity, but it did help revive the genre in the middle of what was becoming a largely stagnant decade for horror. And, as said before, it helped mark that shift to satire which is taken to its fullest extent in Scary Movie. Funnily enough, that was the original title for Scream.
Not only is Scream the bearer of many sequels, it’s also responsible for giving us the infamous ‘Ghostface’ mask that’s adorned many a Halloween party throughout the world, and it’s simply impossible to write off a movie with that kind of cultural impact. That particular mask happens to look a little like the Snowtrooper helmet from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s actually modeled off the agonized face in Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting ‘The Scream’. Bet Munch is smiling in his grave right now.
Impact or not, the fact is that Scream is well worth watching 26 years later – a safe bet for those wanting a good ole’ horror slasher with some blood thrown in as well for good measure. Here’s hoping the new one will add a bit more into the mix.