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Scream (1996) Review

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Scream (1996)

Dir: Wes Craven   –   111 mins.

Dimension Films

Starring – Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore, David Arquette.

Long before everyone shit their pants over a group of kids camping in the woods, there was a smarter, funnier and a hell of a lot scarier addition to the horror pantheon, which came to us courtesy of veteran genre filmmaker, and creator of Freddy Krueger himself, Wes Craven. Unlike ‘Blair Witch’, it has aged a lot better, too – seriously, don’t watch that film again, because nothing happens.

When it was first released, shockingly almost twenty years ago, ‘Scream’ was an absolute phenomenon. It was the film that every teenager the world over had to see, the kind of movie that becomes an event in itself, and inspires a multitude of Chinese whispers, about scenes that are so horrifying, they’re sure to scar even the toughest horror fan for life.

Though I was only eight when it was released, and wouldn’t get to see it until many years later, I was obsessed with the idea of ‘Scream’ and, in particular, its opening sequence, involving the infamous money shot of a gutted teenager hanging from a tree. I discussed it endlessly with older kids, wanting to know every single detail, and once I finally experienced it, it didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was better than I could’ve ever imagined, if that’s even possible.
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Strangely, for the most part, ‘Scream’ is a fairly tame affair. There is a significant amount of blood, and the killer, the rather silly-looking Ghostface, brandishes a big ol’ knife throughout. However, aside from the awesome first kill, which turned everything we thought we knew about slashers on its head by butchering the main star, and the film’s selling point, Drew Barrymore, it is relatively light on gore. The reason it’s survived so long, and is still relevant today, is because it’s incredibly tense, hilariously self-referential and, crucially, very scary, even in spite of itself.

The Final Girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, who hasn’t aged a day in 2011’s ‘Scream 4’) is the perfect mix of naïveté and strength, kicking ass one minute and dissolving into tears the next, ensuring she’s a perfectly imperfect heroine. ‘Scream’ also boasts Courtney Cox at the height of her ‘Friends’ fame, with (former WCW World Heavyweight Champion) David Arquette as a loveable, bumbling cop, alongside a who’s-who of nineties heartthrobs, including Rose Mc Gowan, Skeet Ulrich and Jamie Kennedy, who is brilliant as a know-it-all horror nerd, and, of course, gets all the best lines. His untimely death in the sequel still haunts me to this day (why, Wes Craven, why!?)

A slasher movie that seeks to tear the subgenre itself apart, while simultaneously utilising its familiar conventions to scare us, runs the risk of being smug and self-satisfied. ‘Scream’ is so goofy, its humour so irresistibly knowing, that it immediately feels like an old friend, who maybe knows a little bit too much, but is charming in its desire to teach us things, and still manages to scare us, even pulling the rug out from under us in its final minutes.

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‘Scream’ is hilariously funny in its depiction of genre conventions, having Ghostface trip over his costume as he chases after one of his victims, or as one of the killers weeps that his parents are going to kill him after he learns the police have been called, but it’s all in good fun, which makes it much more likeable.

There are so many horror nods that it’s impossible to spot them all, even after a million repeat viewings, but from the usage of corn syrup as fake blood, because that’s what the SFX team used on ‘Carrie’, to ‘Freddy Krueger’ as the curmudgeonly janitor (which is also a cameo from director Wes Craven), it’s clear that everything is done with love, and respect, making it incredibly charming.

‘Scream’ truly is a film that begs to be watched over and over, dissected endlessly with friends and constantly referenced as a mark of what would-be satires like ‘Scary Movie’ (which apes it to varying good effect) could only hope to be. It is one of a kind, that increasingly rare, but highly effective, blend of horror and comedy that really shouldn’t work as well as it does.

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It has even managed to capture the imagination of another generation, with its great fourth installment, ‘Scream 4’, which further proves that this is one franchise that will never die. If it’s been a while since you’ve spent some time in the company of the original Westboro kids, then dig ‘Scream’ out and revisit it for the millionth time. It is as good as you remember, and I guarantee it’ll captivate you all over again.

Biased verdict: 10/10 (it still feels completely relevant, in spite of the 90s clothing)

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