This is not the first time Wes Craven attempted to challenge and rebuke the tropes of his genre- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare also attempted to use a meta-plot to push forth a similar narrative, but ultimately failed to achieve what it set out to do. And the mid-90’s was a place that had a definite lack of horror, most often attributed to the dot-com boom in the economy, the genre suffered from a number of lackluster blockbuster performances and a veritable sea of goofball clichés and direct-to-video failures. Craven was eventually approached to tackle screenwriter Kevin (Dawsons Creek) Williamson ’s script, and the film became a huge commercial and critical success. It has, since, spawned three sequels, several parodies, and a series of knock-off attempts to follow this films “formula” in order to cash in.
I’m not a huge fan of the film and honestly was not very impressed with the 1996 offering, but stuck around long enough to check out the first sequel before tapping out for the other films. And it’s been well over a decade since I last saw any of the films, so I largely checked out on the franchise in general by the time the third film came out and barely registered the blip on my radar when the fourth film was released. But with the recent passing of Wes Craven and a recent discussion on my favorite podcast (www.horrormoviepodcast.com), I thought it might be time to revisit some of the films from the series. Luckily, three of the films first films are available on Netflix…
Also, beware- there may be some spoilers here if you haven’t seen the film.
The film opens with Drew Barrymore receiving a phone call. And I’m not going to lie, this is one of the most chilling openings to a horror movie ever made. Much of the success of the film depends on this scene, where Barrymore is harassed, pursued, and brutally murdered in the opening minutes of the picture. It’s a horrific scene that’s further escalated when the girls’ parents are just outside of earshot to hear her cries for help, but they’re able to hear her brutal murder when they pick up the phone. It’s a nasty scene and could have set the mood for the rest of the film-
Then we are introduced to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a young girl coping with the recent murder of her mother one year prior. It was her eye-witness testimony that put away Cotton Whirry (Leiv Schreiber), and the sensational story brought her to the attention of Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox), a tabloid reporter. Sid is struggling with her loss and an insistent boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich). And she’s the main focal point for the rest of this picture when the killer starts to target her- harassing, taunting, attacking, and ultimately attempting to murder Sid and her friends. She’s a strong character with decent motivation, and her initial dismissal of horror tropes is well-played, even as she falls victim to one trope after another.
The film is very tongue-in-cheek in its approach to the horror genre, providing you with complete details of precisely what is happening at every point in the film and precisely why these tropes tend to work. It challenges several of them- the guilt of “sin” (drug use, sex, nudity) is directly referenced by our film geek “nerd” character, Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Why the trope doesn’t work anymore is obvious, but the film shows us precisely why the trope needed to be challenged in the first place. In a very “Penn&Teller”-esque way, the film tells us precisely what is going to happen every single step of the way, and we are constantly told what is going to scare us and when but the audience is expected to fall for every trick in the book anyway. And then we’re supposed to laugh at ourselves in falling for precisely what we’ve been told is going to happen.
Perhaps the most audacious scene takes place in the video store where a number of “facts” are revealed but quickly obscured in a deluge of “cute talk” designed to distract from everything we’re actually being told. It worked for many- it’s a well shot, well-acted scene with just enough humor to relieve the tension that’s being built in that one moment.
Where the film falls apart, for me, is in the characters themselves. The performances are a direct reflection of the characters presented on film- The “bad” girl, the insensitive “goof-off”, and the general atmosphere of teenagers present in the film is a direct reflection of the writers later work on “Dawson’s Creek” and other top WB-related Teen “Dramadies”. The characters are spoiled, entitled, arrogant little jerks who I have very little compassion for and ultimately couldn’t care less when each one faces their tragic end. The dialogue is filled with “cute-talk” moments designed to make us remember “Oh, yeah, tha exists!” in a series of film references and in-jokes that the audience is expected to laugh along to or to feel as if they are “missing out” on. Wes Craven, himself, makes a cameo appearance as a Christmas sweater-wearing janitor named “Fred”… yeah, that happens. And when I don’t care what happens to the characters, I’m ultimately not caught up in the suspense that the film is attempting to create and therefore only left with the comedy- which is really just a series of reference points that would later become a genre in and of itself with the parody spin-off; “Scary Movie”.
The movie isn’t “awful”, though- it just failed to hit several marks for me, as a viewer. But, ultimately, the film tends to work far more than it fails and is a decent addition to the slasher genre. Considering the amount of money it made, one lone dissension in a sea of praise is probably not worth much in the long range of things- but this is my opinion.
3.5 and probably a must-see for horror purists looking to get a complete vocabulary of knowledge regarding the genre.
Having given up on the series after the first sequel (which I’m not going to review here), I decided to forego the third film in the planned trilogy and instead write letters to my favorite soap dish company in order to explain how much I love and enjoy their product. So, now that it’s 2015 and Wes Craven has passed and it’s being offered on Netflix, I figured- “what the heck, the company never wrote me back anyway” and decided to give Scream 3 a whirl. And so this is a review of the third film that has, so far, gone sight unseen.
Leiv Schreiber reprises his role of Cotton Whirry from the first two films and becomes the first victim in what is likely the least impressive opening scene in the Scream franchise. It’s convoluted, overblown, and ultimately fails to really set the stage for anything that will even closely resemble a moment of suspense. And this is how the film pretty much goes from here on out, because now it’s going to be a trilogy and we have simply got to see how closely tied to horror franchises this film is going to be. This will include celebrity cameos from Jay and Silent Bob amongst others.
Okay- this film pulls a couple of interesting tricks, the most key amongst them being that they change the focus from Sidney Prescott and instead turn it on Deputy Dewey and Gail while they try to figure out who the killer is for this third installment. Sidney is relegated to the background through much of the film, a woman in hiding after the events of the first two films and someone who only really comes into the film when the Killer eventually taunts her out of hiding. The cast is joined by actors playing new roles in the “movie-within-the-movie” and a pair of cops, one of which is played by Patrick Dempsey (star of the Meatballs 3 movie). And this movie doesn’t even pretend to be a horror film at this point- the self referencing is way over the top, the deaths are cliché, and the Red Herrings go so far as to have a literal sign (“I KILLED HER!”) pointing at the most obvious choice so as to render that choice completely moot.
I did, however, have a full expectation that the “killer” would be two people- and in this I was wrong, though only half so much in that I guessed the identity (including the motive) of the killer within three minutes of having seen that character on the screen. Where the first film created moments of tension, horror, and an eventual release this film just wanted to be “clever” and completely fell apart for me within moments of the opening kill.
The film’s not a complete loss, however. Cox and Arquette have great chemistry in their scenes together and it was nice to see Dewey sort of take center stage for as long as he does. He’s a good cop, a good friend, and a good character that I was happy to see more of- it goes to show that David Arquette has a lot of charisma and can occasionally deliver a good performance. Their scenes of investigating the great “mystery” of the film are good to watch, even if the ending is fairly predictable.
2.5 out of 5.