Halloween Hangover: Let's talk Scream 1 & 2

by Tom Graney and Paul Deeter

Spoilers, obviously.

TG: Wes Craven best known for A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), continued his foray into the Slasher genre in 1996 with Scream. This time however he completely ditches the supernatural and dissects traditional Slasher genre tropes.

Scream was released in December of 1996 with a budget of nearly $14,000,000, it whold go on to gross over $175,000,000. The movie follows Sidney (Neve Campbell one year after the loss of her mother which was nearly the most famous event of the last decade in the small town of Woodsboro. The town is being harassed by murders committed by the ever-thrilling Ghost Face. Everyone is a suspect in this town from tiny hints to subtle details to obvious motives that you keep your theories flowing until the end. If you haven’t seen it you should honestly give it a watch.

PD: Part of what works so well is the screenwriting by Kevin Williamson who pairs deftly with Craven to deliver the quick-witted meta dialogue which pairs very well with the young cast and the talent they bring to the production. The movie starts famously with a scene depicting the tense stalking and then murder of Casey Becker which was played briefly by Drew Barrymore who would pull a Janet Leigh circa Psycho, and be offed within the first act. Not just the first act but the very first five minutes even. The move here is a shocker, Drew Barrymore was a household name then and it was a surprise to see her offed so suddenly and violently.

Where Barrymore leaves us, the rest of the cast picks up the slack with a star-studded ensemble cast of young talent through Neve Campbell, Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy to name a few, along with some lovable adult roles starring Courtney Cox and Dave Arquette. We're really going all in, with a slasher film more focused on its performers then some of its kills, which would distinguish itself from the rest of the genre with this uniqueness.

Scream is my personal favorite slasher film. The Woodsboro Killer or Ghost Face, is all about the horror genre from the first scene of the movie, spouting off horror movie trivia during the first on screen kill. And a side character in the film Randy (Jamie Kennedy) who is literally all of us. He works at the local movie rental store, and he knows and continuously makes us aware of the “rules” and tells us the viewer how the movie is going to end, and how everyone is a suspect. His knowledge of film and nerdy nature, should be the misdirect that you need to suspect him as the killer. Randy flips the script on the constantly annoying horror movie rules, like girls running up the stairs to get away from a killer, or saying “I’ll be right back”, and it is the films reliance on moviegoers familiarity with the “rules” that makes the experience even greater.

Flash forward one year to an equally successful sequel with Scream 2. The 1997 sequel kept the same writer/director duo the first one excelled with and introduced a new level of meta that would keep the interest sparked in its return to form. In this film we are told that the whole story involving Sidney was adapted into a Hollywood film titled Stab. The opening scene is almost as memorable as the first film's with an audience full of Stab fans wearing ghost face masks and cheering to the opening night of the film. Craven almost seems to be lightly teasing the fanbase of the first film here and how they would go on to be super-fans and dress up for the sequel or subsequent Halloween events in Ghostface garb. The opening of this movie couldn't be a slasher film without a well, slashing. A young couple, (including Jada Pinkett Smith who would also pull a first scene Janet Leigh) is prepared to watch the film's release before they're offed by one of the many masked costume goers, unrecognizable amid the crowd of the many Ghostface masks. This scene is particularly spectacular because of the anonymity of the killer in the crowd, but its elevated more when the when Smith's character actually bleeds to death in front of cheering fans who think her death is "all part of an act". What a way to start a movie.

One of the tropes of Scream 2 that is tackled is whether or not sequels can live up to their original or even in rare cases be better. This is parallel to the original

film's approach to dissecting what makes a good original horror movie in the idea that Scream 2, just like its predecessor, has to follow a set of rules. The question of the value of a horror sequel, or any genre sequel is hilariously discussed by a group of students (lots of new faces for the series) in a classroom setting. It's here we are introduced to so many big actors who would only go on to greater acclaim. Jerry O'Connell!! Sarah Michelle Gellar!! Timothy freakin' Olyphant!! The casting almost exceeds the original, and in another layer of meta we even see some famous actors starring in the brief clips of the movie-in-movie Stab (Luke Wilson where have you been?) Of course some of these actors are far to old to play high-schoolers, but who cares? The film has more talented attendees than an Oscar red-carpet event.

In the end of Scream 1 the Killer ends up being a duo in Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stuart (Matthew Lillard). They are guilty for the original murder of Sidney’s mother and decide to get away with other murders of their classmates by playing survivors to the crimes committed by the Woodsboro Killer, deviously telling Sidney their grand plan while comically stabbing each other in non-fatal locations. The greatest line in the movie comes from Sidney calling them out for seeing to many movies, Billy responds “Now Sid, don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative!”. Which to me is the scariest part of the movie. That people could be evil and commit the atrocious acts they have seen on the big screen. But the two killer’s motive being so derivative from horror movies feels like a refreshing change of pace from the traditional slashers of the 80’s and 90’s. Gone are the days of Dream killers like Freddy or Michael Meyers who is practically unkillable. These are just two high school guy’s who are sick in the head, and took inspiration too far.

Scream 2 works in a twisty finale, most of which relies on many of the characters established from Sidney's bloody past introduced in the first film, so I won't dissect it too deeply. The ride of the film is most of the fun, the conclusion is more tongue-in-cheek than anything, with twist upon twist piling up last minute, and a few "is he/she really dead?" moments in for fun. Scream 2 would also be a critical and financial success just as the initial film was, gaining $172.4 million in the box office and around 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty high for a film in that genre. The film would also succeed with it's fun and diverse soundtrack (top #50 on Billboard's charts) which included original songs from big 90's acts, and holds up to this day. I can't finish this article without mentioning my favorite transition in the whole film; Sarah Michelle Gellar being slaughtered and then the musical switch to a party scene with the song "The Swing" by Everclear and the opening lyric: "Never said I was innocent". Classic.

In Scream it is the killers’ film inspiration and the movie’s reliance on the traditional tropes and “rules” and Randy’s constant reminders of how the whole thing is like a movie, that makes the movie such an irregular thriller, and such a wonderful piece of entertainment for fans of movies.

The sequel would go onto continue the same sense of humor and thrills of the original, but would go onto a less successful third and fourth film, and a divisive show. Held between these two though, you have a lightning in the bottle two-parter, and my favorite sequel ever made.

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