What’s Your Favourite Scary Movie? 20 Years of Scream.
It started with a sinister phone call and ended in a bloodbath. The genre-defying horror movie of the 1990’s turned twenty years old this week commemorating it’s USA release on the 18th December 1996. It wasn’t released in the UK until May 1997. Scream was one of the first films that pulled me into horror and without a doubt has left a lasting impression. Back in 1996 following the surge of popcorn slasher flicks throughout the 1980’s, the genre fell into a rut. It’s very common to hear that Scream was the film that had revitalized the slasher film as it challenged and critiqued all the tropes and conventions fans had become all too familiar with. While the early 90’s did produce some great horror films such as Candyman (1992), Misery (1990) and of course Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) which broke new ground and brought the Elm Street franchise into a fresh new light, Scream is always the film that is viewed as the turning point for horror.
What stands out about Scream is it’s slick, post-modern and scary. It brought the slasher film into an updated setting ready for the next generation of gore lovers. Both the tension and comedy aspects are well balanced in equal measure. At the time the most striking element of Scream was it’s ability to re-create a traditional slasher narrative while being self-referential and poking fun at itself. Having characters who knew and loved the genre well and used their knowledge to survive was ground-breaking stuff. Of course, the most iconic moment is the opening sequence which made the statement that “all bets are off” and “absolutely no one is safe”. The killing off of Drew Barrymoore’s Casey Becker was a genius idea proving that Scream wasn’t afraid to take risks.
I can’t recall a time where I wasn’t aware of the existence of Ghostface. The costume was always popular around Halloween season and seemed to draw my attention. I actually did go trick or treating as the character complete with my fake knife and voice changer at a young age, further fuelling the fascination. I had wanted to see the Scream films for the longest time in the hope I would get absolutely terrified. The opportunity finally came when I had not long turned twelve years old. The film was screening on Channel 4 in a late night slot and by then I had my own TV in my room which became the staple of late night horror movie watching. Whether consciously or not I had always gravitated towards darker media and have previously spoken about being freaked out by Nicholas Roeg’s The Witches (1990), re-watching Return to Oz (1985) and getting nightmares from an obscure CITV episode titled Frighteners (1996, TV) during childhood. However now was the time to experience some real, adult horror films, it was time to see if this highly anticipated movie would actually make me Scream!
Instantly, I was impressed. Scream showcases some exceptional set pieces. It’s an exercise in pure tension that builds up really well before going for the jugular! The death scenes were well crafted and suspenseful but most of all the characters were multi-layered and easy to invest in. This was probably down to them being written with self-awareness which made them feel less generic. Neve Campbell plays Sidney as a final girl an audience can root for and gave an emotional performance. However the character who stood out the most was of course fan favourite Randy (played by Jamie Kennedy). Randy was the underdog, he never got the girl but what he did know was his horror movies and used his knowledge as a tool to survive, all these qualities make him endearing and to a degree somewhat relateable to horror obsessives. The “horror movie rules” party scene is cleverly constructed establishing that Randy is the character to take advice from in surviving a maniacal killer.
The killer reveal is an absolutely twisted, jaw-dropping moment. It questioned the idea of does a killer really need a distinct motive to drive him/her to murder while the other side of it being rooted in pure revenge. The whole plot and build up of two years of torment from the killers is harrowing ending in a brutal cat and mouse game that leaves the audience reeling. Instead of being afraid of the on screen events I was deeply fascinated and realized it was possible for me to watch and enjoy horror movies. I’d tasted blood and wanted more!
Scream was pretty much my introduction to the horror genre. It led me literally where I am today. It encouraged me to seek out all the films it referenced, I couldn’t wait to discover the fiendish frights of Jason and Freddy and from then on a whole lot more, there are so many great horror films I’m still discovering. Scream as a film and as a franchise has a very special place for many fans. It’s one of those where I remember exactly where I was and what I experienced when I first saw it. Twenty years on it’s still very much a significant film and a staple of the genre. Thank you Wes Craven, thank you Kevin Williamson for introducing me to horror and ultimately changing my life.
Happy 20th Anniversary Scream.
Hayley Alice Roberts