“Scream,” which turns 25 this year, is a smart horror movie. It’s a self-aware horror movie. It’s a knowing horror movie. It’s — and this is a crucial ingredient — a scary horror movie.
But is it a great horror movie?
I don’t think so.
I’ll pause here while you yell, throw something or otherwise express your disappointment, disagreement and displeasure. (Note: Angry emails are also fine, but let’s keep it civil out there.)
This doesn’t mean “Scream” isn’t a good movie — it is. It’s just too meta for its own good, to the point where it’s not about anything as much as it is about itself.
‘Scream’ is easier to admire than enjoy, especially at 25
But there’s no denying that it is an important movie, and an influential one. If the movie itself isn’t great, its impact surely is.
And remains so. Watching it again at 25 reinforced that. It’s easier to admire than love.
And it is pretty easy to like.
Note: Whatever the statute of limitation is on spoilers, surely a quarter of a century is long enough.
“Scream” starts with a bang, a kindred spirit to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Drew Barrymore, the biggest star in the movie, plays Casey. She is alone in her house when she’s menaced by what seems at first to be a prank phone call.
The calls get increasingly disturbing — Barrymore is great, casually fooling around with some Jiffy Pop popcorn while she at first engages with the caller, who starts talking about horror movies, then she grows increasingly afraid.
Especially when he points out that her boyfriend is being held outside. The caller quizzes Casey on horror films. When she gets an answer wrong, the boyfriend is killed while she watches. Soon the killer breaks into the house. A chase ensues, and Casey winds up brutally murdered, all before the opening credits.
What? At least Hitchcock waited till about halfway through “Psycho” to kill off Janet Leigh. Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson out-Hitchcock Hitchcock.
It’s a brilliant setup. And it’s not a cop-out. Barrymore doesn’t show up later, miraculously revived. Casey is dead, dead, dead. That’s a gutsy move, and such a good one.
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The characters constantly reference horror movies like ‘Halloween’
The next day Casey’s school is abuzz. The whole town is. We meet Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a student whose mother was killed almost one year before. The film will follow Sidney as the killer attempts to murder her — she is the movie’s “final girl,” though “Scream” subverts some of the trappings of that device, too.
We get to know some of her friends, including Billy (Skeet Ulrich), Sidney’s boyfriend, and Stu (Matthew Lillard), Billy’s bursting-at-the-seams best friend.
A quick detour to shout out Lillard’s over-the-top portrayal of Stu. Eyes bulging, body writhing, he doesn’t seem like he’s in another movie. He seems like he’s on another planet. And it is pretty swell, setting the tone for the general mayhem on display here.
There’s a lot more doing on, both with these characters and the film’s depiction of the media, which it largely nails.
Billy and Stu, along with some of the other characters, aren’t just fans of horror movies. They know them inside out. They refer to them constantly. “Halloween” in particular is an influence (and why not go with the best?).
The movie means to upend horror-movie cliches — anyone who has sex must be slaughtered, say — even as it dips into them.
Sidney gets the line most crucial to the film and what it’s doing when she offers a take-down of slasher films:
“They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door? It’s insulting.”
Meanwhile TV reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) doggedly pursues the story. She is either ruthless or ambitious, depending on who you ask (Gale would probably cop to both). The film is a comment on the if-it-bleeds-it-leads stories that TV news, particularly local TV news, thrives on. Gale will do anything for a story, even flirt with the dimwit sheriff’s deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette, who was married to Cox for a time).
Courteney Cox’s performance may be the best in the movie
Cox’s performance may be the best of the bunch. She famously took the role to get away from the sweet Monica persona in “Friends,” and Gale certainly offers her that escape. Cox lets some humanity shine through the cracks in Gale’s icy persona, particularly as she begins to develop genuine feelings for the well-meaning Dewey.
Best of all, that humanity doesn’t detract from the media critique Craven and Williamson have going on here.
The film was immensely popular, spawning three sequels; a fourth, also titled, “Scream,” is scheduled for February 2022. It sounds like it checks off all the boxes of a great horror movie.
But with the constant self-referential bits and often the humor they provide, “Scream” never lets you forget you’re watching a movie. You’re watching a movie about movies. In some of the films this movie references (“Halloween” in particular; “Friday the 13th” is an inferior ripoff), you’re so taken in by what’s going on on screen that you forget you’re watching a movie.
“Scream,” with its constant reminders, never lets you forget. Which is cool, as far as it goes. It just never lets you go quite far enough.
It’s well worth revisiting at 25. (The film actually came out on Dec. 18, which seems like the wrong holiday, but it grossed $173 million.) It holds up well enough. It’s still good. It was just never great to begin with.
“Scream” 25th anniversary screenings
3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 10, and 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at participating theaters. $13.54 and $13.58. Visit fathomevents.com/events/Scream-25th-Anniversary for more information.
Reach Goodykoontz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.
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