It's easy for me to forget how much I was rooting for SCREAM to be a success when it was released way back in 1996. I recall WES CRAVEN and DREW BARRYMORE doing the talk show rounds and I was there on opening day. I watched as it climbed the charts in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and its word-of-mouth staying power victory felt like a personal justification of sorts. The slasher film had finally risen from the grave just as I always hoped and prayed that it would.
One day I had to realize that the Audrey 2 plant I was pointlessly watering was towering over me. The publicity machine behind SCREAM was insatiable and ubiquitous. Eventually I awoke to every borderline personality fan boy nightmare, my lil' pet movie was undeniably and irrevocably mainstream! Worse still, it had no interest in me and my nerd-flavored goodwill; it was courting a generation younger than me right in front of my face! It was like when Marcia Brady helped that wallflower out only to have the dickens surpass and usurp her. SCREAM wasn't revitalizing my youth anymore it was pillaging it! What the hell was I getting out of this relationship? SCREAM was happy as a clam. I felt old and betrayed.
Then the wannabe clones arrived, each more vacant and dunderheaded than the last. They marched in wearing Urban Outfitter uniforms, their faces scrubbed and personality free. Smelling a market, Hollywood opened a cage and out they slinked each Friday with posters Photoshopped into oblivion with death scenes fluffier than MATLOCK. I started to hate the floozy named SCREAM, the two faced harlot, the instigator of mediocrity, the murderer of horror! Oh SCREAM, it wasn't your fault. I had no right to claim you as my own. I'm sorry that I was secretly gleeful when your third outing turned out to be lamer than even I could imagine. That was the end of the millennium. Things were different back then and I'm ashamed at how easily I had forgotten just how original and refreshing SCREAM was upon first discovery.
Sometimes you just need a little distance. You need to clean your palate. You need to let other horror cycles take hold, eclipse, turn sour and fade away. It's been a long time since I've gotten together with this past mercurial love. I think we did catch up a couple years ago and it was pleasant enough but nothing passionate. Yet there's something in the air now, is it spring? I actually do feel a kindling spark of sorts still burning for what once was; both SCREAM and I are older now. Maybe it's time for a new type of understanding to develop…
I have to admit this movie still has it going on in all the right places. The mystery of what's under its hood has long been discovered but the opening scene still packs a bittersweet wallop. CRAVEN does more than simply unnerve with DREW's inaugural attack, there is such a lovely tragic element to it as well. Armed with KEVIN WILLIAMS' slightly overrated, yet inarguably innovative script, CRAVEN the director is at the height of his powers. There's hardly a superfluous moment anywhere and the whole ride has a wonderfully smooth yet forceful momentum. Unlike many of its imitators, SCREAM looks crisp and clean without being too slick and losing its gravity supplying sense of the natural and every day. (Sadly director of photography MARK IRWIN and CRAVEN parted ways after SCREAM but funnily enough IRWIN did go on to do SCARY MOVIE 3.) So much of the look of SCREAM has been duplicated and parodied that it is easy to forget just how handsome a film it is. Maybe I'm just a sucker for grassy hills and sunsets.
SCREAM of course is famous for being self-referential and for pointing out at every turn the tropes and "rules" theoretically ingrained in slasher films. Personally many of the assumptions repeated about those films I find to be debatable broad clichÃ©s that limit our understanding of the genre. Having said that I think that I sometimes woefully miss the undeniable truth that SCREAM, in its heart of hearts, is a love letter and a reverent shrine to slasher movies and cinema in general and for that I want to kiss it all over its ghost mask. Really has one movie ever had a boner for another movie the way SCREAM has a boner for JOHN CARPENTER's HALLOWEEN? There's a big difference between tribute and condescension and although SCREAM's playfulness can grate at times, it's not the facetious lark I sometimes falsely remember it as. The truth is that even though it can be way too name-droppy and quipy for its own good, it does under its conventional mall-approved smile hide a genuinely perverse sadomasochistic streak.
I came away from watching SCREAM again with two major revelations: the first is that as far as "final girls" go I'm not the biggest Sidney Prescot fan. Her "sexual anorexia" and morbid martyrdom papers are in order but as portrayed by the perpetually strained NEVE CAMPBELL I find her difficult to believe and strangely unsympathetic. "I'm sorry if my traumatized life is an inconvenience to your perfect existence!" she spews and I just kind of want to wring her neck. Whereas most "final girls" have walked anonymously alone with survival their only reward, Sydney has the attention and concern of her entire community and it just kind of irks me. Plus I think partying on the one-year anniversary of your mother's brutal death is tacky. Stranger than my newfound ambivalence toward Sid is my newfound, heart-eyed affection for the refreshingly direct persona of Gale Weathers (COURTNEY COX). I'm not happy about this development either but there it is. For me, Weathers is the most entertaining character in the lot and I appreciate that her disposition atypically softens rather than hardens. I know she is supposed to be a callous careerist but at least she can finish a sentence without a pop culture reference.
Even though Sidney Prescott affection eludes me I don't have a hard time recognizing SCREAM's classic status. It sets out to turn expectations on their head and it succeeds. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the series is its ability to stand without a consistent killer in its spine. The monster in SCREAM is fluid, an empty shell identity that any person or persons can inhabit. While we are here, why not let us take a cursory peak at the sequels that followed…
SCREAM 2 (1997)
The opening kill in SCREAM 2, set at a premiere for a film based on the events in the first movie not only kicks the meta to a new level but perfectly captures the excitement and enthusiasm that surrounded the bourgeoning franchise at the time. I'd love to give the series some props for confronting criticisms that it presented an all white universe by including African Americans in the sequel, but since every black character shown is presented the exact same way I'm not sure I can. Be that as it may this is a sequel that does a fine enough job of transporting the working elements of the previous installment into semi-fresh terrain. There is one scene that I always dread though. I live in fear of JERRY O'CONNELL singing, "I think I love you" on the cafeteria table. It upsets me more than any death in the entire series. I find it too embarrassing to withstand and I have to look away and cover my ears. Other than that, it's mostly gravy. Sidney as "Cassandra" somehow works and I'm all about LAURIE METCALF & BUFFY. No matter its over bloated nature, I can't say this installment isn't fun.
SCREAM 3 (2000)
A huge step down for sure but I remember part three being a lot worse than it actually is. If the revelation of the killer was not so humdrum it might have been almost good. SCREAM 3 transports the action to Hollywood, which adds an alienating, navel-gazing atmosphere that the series could have done without. Cameos from the Weinstein stable in the form of Jay and Silent Bob set the tin ear tone. Dead Randy (JAMIE KENNEDY) showing up via videotape to spout complete gibberish as trilogy dogma and an initially amusing turn from PARKER POSEY that nosedives into screechy, flailing-armed stoogery don't help matters much. Ironically the strongest element may involve Sidney finally digging into the dirt of her dilemma rather than looking down at it from miles above. Again I think that the character of Gale Weathers secretly holds the shindig together and her relationship with Dewey resonates as the closest thing to known human reality in the film. At this point SCREAM seems to have lost track of its horror roots and is happy operating as an ensemble version of MURDER SHE WROTE. Guns and explosions reign supreme and you may find yourself begging for anything that even remotely resembles the inspired garage door kill from the first film.
I'm totally psyched for the fourth installment. I know that may sound disingenuous after what I just said but I can't help it. I don't care that I hate and despise certain elements of the SCREAM series; for the most part it's wicked nifty and I'm now, against my better judgment, grossly invested in the characters once more. Will my tolerance of Sidney continue to grow? What the hell's going on with Gale and Dewey, I have to know! (Man, I wonder what kinda fucked up haircut Gale is going to sport this time…) I just hope that a lesson has been learned from past mistakes and from the litany of films that tried to duplicate SCREAM's initial success and failed. The blurb that seemed to attach itself like a barnacle to the poster art was "Clever, Hip and Scary!" Do me a favor CRAVEN and company, don't worry so much about those first two adjectives and concentrate on that last one. If the best scene in your entire series ends up being forever the first one I'd call that a steady downhill slide.
NOTE: Stab me if you want to but yes, I do think TORI SPELLING played a superior Sidney Prescot! I'm not proud of that admission either!