FILM TRILOGY REVIEW: SCREAM (1996 – 2000)

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Ghostface: What’s your favourite scary movie?

Director: Wes Craven

Writer: Kevin Williamson, Ehren Kruger

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy and Liev Schreiber

Synopsis: The Scream trilogy deals with Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) who is stalked by a serial killer dressed up in a Ghostface costume. Each film deals with the mystery of who the killer could be.

Scream was released in 1996 when the horror genre was in its last days. Franchises such as A Nightmare on Elm St, Friday the 13th and Halloween had exhausted their sequels and no one was showing up any more to see generic teen victims get slashed up by Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Until Scream came out and reinvigorated the horror genre by taking a look back at the genre through the eyes of all too aware film loving screenwriter and an iconic horror director. Scream was a huge success and opened the way for many more horror films to follow in the late 90s until the torture porn era began in the early 2000s.

The original Scream is the best of the series with a great concept and characters. It is a dissection of the horror genre by the master horror director Wes Craven. Craven was an academic and often lent into the meta side of horror with his previous film New Nightmare which was a meta-commentary on his own classic A Nightmare on Elm St. In Scream he used the conventions of horror and put them into the reality of film geeks of the 90s. It was a new and interesting way of approaching horror and it paid off ostensibly.

The opening scene with Drew Barrymore is perfect horror. Craven’s best directed scene in the series (or perhaps ever…). He ratchets up the tension with each piece of dialogue and movement. With Drew Barrymore playfully flirting on the phone talking about horror movies playing with her kitchen knives and making popcorn. It quickly turns dark and all these elements become horror set pieces and her death is gruesome. Craven sets the tone for the film and the series in this opening. It’s mix of humour and horror. Kevin Williamson’s script is also perfect as he references horror classics as well as mixing teen curiosity. The film then moves into a more conventional story of a teen getting stalked by a serial killer. Williamson plays with the genres conventions as well as mixing in film references and the 90’s fascination with violence in the media with shades of the OJ trial with the TV journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) chasing the story.

Neve Campbell as the lead Sidney Prescott is charming but a bit too broody at times which is common for a Wes Craven lead female. The real highlight is Jamie Kennedy as Randy who introduced the film geek to the mainstream. His film references and attitude brought audiences to the video stores to discover horror classics themselves. The plot deals with Sidney trying to fight off the serial killer while dealing with her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and her two friends Tatum (Rose McGowan) and Stu (Matthew Lillard). We are also introduced to the ambitious journalist Gale Weathers. Courtney Cox as Gale who brings a lot of attitude and energy to this film and its sequels. There is also David Arquette as Deputy Dewey he’s a fun oddball character who you grow to love through the series. His innocence as a young wannabe detective is fun and goofy which is needed in the overly tense scenes.

Craven mixes horror and comedy well. He uses blood and gore extensively as he has in his past horror films and he lets his actors make fun of the ironic situation they are in as they dissect the genre conventions of horror films and the film itself. Craven has always used violence as a metaphor for something else here he uses it to make fun of horror films in general with their over the top violence especially his own series A Nightmare on Elm Street. I like the murder mystery element to the film as well. I remember the first time seeing all of these films was the thrill of working out “who” is the killer. The ending drags on a bit and borders on ridiculous as the killers are revealed and Sidney survives another day.

Scream 2 is similar to the original with sharp witty dialogue as in the first film and filled with horror references from the 80s however this time they concentrate more on horror sequels. This is a rare horror sequel that succeeds in character and plot. It takes the best of the original and improves on it by leaning more on Jamie Kennedy’s Randy for film references and Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott is stronger and more aware than the original. Courtney Cox and David Arquette return and deliver more of the same they weren’t the most interesting characters in the original but their presence is welcome and ties the films together. The opening with Jada Pinkett Smith isn’t as good as the originals opening but still interesting by setting it in a cinema. Sidney is again surrounded by disposable friends who are acted by late 90s TV stars such as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Timothy Olyphant, Jerry O’Connell and Laurie Metcalf. Wes Craven is still at the top of his game here by upping the murders and gore which make it overall more fun, but not as original as the first.

Scream 3 leans more into the representation of the media depicting real life crimes and shadows today’s obsession with true crime films and television shows like American Crime Story and Making a Murderer. In the 90s and early 2000s true crime was very mainstream in pop culture with the OJ trial and Versace murders on 24 hour news cycles. Scream always looked at the media’s relationship with violence especially in horror movies and as Scream 2 looked at horror film sequels and their conventions, Scream 3 looks more at the audiences obsession with true crime and making a horror film. It still has an ironic and playful tone by looking at itself as a vision of Hollywood’s obsession with violence and the people who wish to be famous by becoming monsters themselves. It also has a stab (pun intended) at itself by having the actors in the film Stab 3 begin to get murdered and Lance Henriksen makes a spot on Wes Craven.

The dialogue isn’t as good as the previous entries and the film overall is structured more as a thriller instead of a film commentary on horror. Perhaps because it wasn’t written by Kevin Williamson who had a sharp way of writing film references and horror conventions. The death scenes aren’t as clever as the previous films either. Especially the opening which was very underwhelming after the excellent openings of the previous two films. There are some good concepts with the killer going after the actors from the film being made and the characters dealing with their doppelgangers especially Gail with Parker Posey. Also the concept of going back to the beginning to discover Sidney’s mothers acting past was interesting. There is some comedy with Parker Posey and Patrick Warbuton (Puddy from Seinfeld) as her celebrity bodyguard however the comedy isn’t as clever as the first two.

Courtney Cox is pretty good in this entry. Her energy from the previous films are a welcome as opposed to Neve Campbell’s PTSD stricken Sidney who is pretty terrible in this film and the scenes of her interacting with her ghost mother are laughable. Craven could have given it a Hitchcock/Psycho vibe and should have done better with the material. However the videotape of Randy discussing the rules of film trilogies is again spot on as are all of his rules from each film. Let’s go through them…

Scream
Rules to successfully survive a horror movie:
1. You may not survive the movie if you have sex.
2. You may not survive the movie if you drink or do drugs.
3. You may not survive the movie if you say “I’ll be right back”, “Hello?” or “Who’s there?”

Scream 2
Rules to successfully survive a horror movie sequel:
1. The body count is always bigger.
2. The death scenes are always much more elaborate, with more blood and gore.
3. Randy starts to describe the third rule: “If you want your films to become a successful franchise, never, ever…’ before being interrupted by Dewey. However, the film’s original teaser trailer featured an extended version of the rules scene which reveals that originally the third rule was supposed to be “Never, ever, under any circumstances assume the killer is dead.” This referenced Randy’s last line in the first Scream which stated that a killer always comes back to life for one last scare.
The lack of a third rule in the film’s final cut was a deliberate in-joke by the crew, referencing the fact that it is impossible to ensure that a horror franchise will be successful.

Scream 3
Rules to successfully survive the last chapter of a horror movie trilogy:
1. “You’ve got a killer who’s gonna be superhuman. Stabbing him won’t work, shooting him won’t work. Basically in the third one, you gotta cryogenically freeze his head, decapitate him, or blow him up.”
2. “Anyone, including the main character, can die. This means you, Sid.”
3. “The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it. The past is not at rest! Any sins you think were committed in the past are about to break out and destroy you.”
Although, in the first few drafts, there was a fourth rule: “Never be alone” but was taken out because Gale immediately goes off alone afterwards.

Scream 3 is unfortunately the lowest in the trilogy but it is still an enjoyable ride if you have come to empathise with these characters. The Scream trilogy is a highlight in modern horror franchises and is a great analysis of the horror genre overall.

SCREAM (1996) A
SCREAM 2 (1997) A-
SCREAM 3 (2000) B-

Notes;
– Jay and Silent Bob cameo in this film. It also has a Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back feeling with the film centered on the production of a film based on the characters in the film “It’s very meta” as one character suggests. Check out my Kevin Smith Retrospective for more

https://hqmoviereviews.wordpress.com/category/kevin-smith-retrospective/