A Retrospective on SCREAM: How it changed the Genre and what to Expect from ‘Scream 4’

You have to think about the landscape of the horror genre in 1996. Several years removed from its last smash hit and fading, Horror fans wanted a reason to go to the theater. The genre was in trouble, and the most successful horror movies of the decade to that point were Silence of the Lambs, Misery, and Flatliners. All released in 1990, and none of which are traditional ‘Horror’ movies. It seemed the old school ‘slasher flick’ had been all but killed the in the late 1980s. Done in by endless sub-par sequels to movies like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th. Audiences had become fed up and the box office reflected it. So when Scream came out, and grossed over $100 million, it was a big deal.

Scream
I felt the Laser line background screamed 1990.

I think it’s easy to forget how big a deal it was now, 15 years removed from its release, because of what came after. Scream fell victim to the same formula that killed its predecessors: Too many mediocre (if not downright terrible) sequels and copycats. In recent years I’ve been involved in discussions where this movie will be brought up and someone will lump it in with the garbage that followed. That however, is simply not fair. Scream was a head above anything that followed through the rest of the decade. From I Know What You Did Last Summer (& it’s own sequel) to Urban Legend (& it’s terrible sequel) to Scream 2 & 3, no movie I can think of has been so copied so quickly.

Scream set a standard for a while. It wasn’t just another teenage slasher flick, it was self-aware. It was a satire of the entire genre that it unintentionally revitalized. They did everything from straight out referencing movies like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street by name, to talking about the director of their own movie in a fictional manner. All the while, more subtly throwing nods back to the classics. Skeet Ulrich’s character, ‘Billy Loomis’ should sound familiar to Hitchcock fans who will remember the boyfriend ‘Sam Loomis’ from Psycho. You might also remember one ‘Dr. Loomis’ in the Halloween movies. We get a cameo from The Exorcist star Linda Blair as a reporter, and Sheriff Burke was played by Joseph Whipp. Mr. Whipp doesn’t have much luck protecting kids apparently, as he was also a cop on Elm Street 12 years earlier.

This also came out at a time when it was rare to get A-List cast in a horror flick. I mean, this is what you did to start a career, not once you were established. And make no mistake, in 1996, Drew Barrymore was a bona fide A-List actress and I don’t think she gets credit enough for the success of this movie either. Scream catapulted almost the entire cast into furthering their careers. Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox were already TV stars, but this made them house hold names. Plus David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, and Rose McGowan all went on to have success after this.

Scream

The story was simple enough, small town high school students are being terrorized by a serial killer. He wears a mask and calls to taunt his victims on the phone. That aspect is what has been most played up in spoofs and re-imaginings. So much so that phone companies reported the orders for ‘Caller ID’ tripled after the release of the movie. As the movie progressed and we learn who the killer is (are) we are regaled by the lack of motives. Sidney (Campbell) survives and we’re actually given a pretty satisfying end to the movie. So much so that a sequel really doesn’t make sense. Of course that didn’t stop them from making one.

In fact the movie became watered down by not 1, but 2 sequels. A watchable, but not good sequel in Scream 2, and then the abortion of a movie that was Scream 3. The second movie followed Sidney (Campbell) and Randy (Kennedy) off to college where the movie was once again packed with a good cast and similar formula. In this fictional universe there is a movie based on a book by Gale Weathers (Cox) about Sidney and the events from the original film. This movie with-in a movie is called Stab. Stab inspires a copycat killer to start stalking Sidney and recreating kills from the original killer.

This one has a cast that including Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Gayheart, Jada Pinkett (Smith), Omar Epps, Heather Graham, and ‘Charlie’ from The Mighty Ducks. It also featured Buffy herself – Sarah Michelle Gellar, and future Arrested Development star Portia de Rossi. But the best parts of the cast were the 2 actors who weren’t yet widely known. First Liev Schreiber, who reprised his role (of about 10 seconds) from the first movie as Cotton Weary, and most importantly, my favorite actor on television – from Justified Raylan Givens Timothy Olyphant.

scream, timothy olyphant in cowboy hat

In the 3rd movie we were heavy on cameos and big names, like on substance. At the time I did enjoy the presence of Jenny McCarthy and the cameos Carrie Fisher and by Jay and Silent Bob, but I don’t remember enjoying much else. Scream 3 was so bad it not only killed the franchise for the next decade, but the whole genre for a couple of years. After the ware-out provided by all the copies, it wasn’t till the Japanese Horror Invasion started in 2002 with The Ring that the genre felt fresh again.

Scream

That quickly faded however, and they went back to the well. This time with a gluttony of remakes. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (& horrible sequel), The Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Nightmare on Elm Street, and an entire franchise reboot of Halloween.

Now, here we are in 2011, just a few days from the release of Scream 4. The first chapter of the franchise in over a decade, and just as before we’re not short on names. From Sookie to the Cheerleader to Annie Edison, this looks to be full of beautiful women in precarious situations. The most important one of course being my Uber-Crush: Kristen Bell.

I can’t really predict any true level of quality here, but I will say I’m expecting it to be better than the 3rd one was. As long as they’ve worked on it for, they must have learned something from the 3rd movie.

Have a look:

Well I can already say that I hate these new ‘movie geek’ kids. Lame ripoff of my favorite character in the series Randy. They just seem to convoluted to be likable, but I guess we’ll find out Friday.

Anyhow, I’m going to see this opening night because of my attachment to the franchise. I’ll be doing so in hopes it’s not terrible, because I’ve already committed to seeing it a 2nd time with my Secret Agent/G-Man buddy Dave. We watched all the other ones together back in High School, so it only seems fitting that we do this one as well.

Scream
“Yes Kristen, obviously I agree. VERONICA MARS was a better show than TRUE BLOOD is.”
Advertisements

One thought on “A Retrospective on SCREAM: How it changed the Genre and what to Expect from ‘Scream 4’”

  1. I recently re-watched all of the Scream movies as part of a larger project of going through all of the main slasher movie franchises (and the more iconic one-offs). My takeaway seems to be different from that of most fans: I found the 2nd film mediocre at best, but thought the third one (while certainly not as good as the original, but so few movies are) really rose above the 2nd and managed to bring back some of what was so good about the first Scream.

    Namely, there was too much in the second that felt like it was aiming too much to be a sort of generic blockbuster version of the first movie–things like the scene of O’Connell singing to Campbell in the lunchroom, which was clearly meant to be seen as a sweet, romantic gesture, but just really fell flat and felt manufactured in the worst kind of way, and the heavy handed Cassandra/theatre metaphor that they don’t really manage to pull off.

    The third one, on the contrary, embraced the more meta and ridiculous elements of the genre and franchise and I felt managed to pull off what it was going for with much more success (and if anything, is made better by the continuation of some of its themes in the 4th movie). Using the movie within a movie device and the running joke of Randy’s ridiculous rules of the trilogy, I think it manages to be good as a horror movie as well as a fun satire.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s