I first saw Scream at the old and weary Northway Mall in Albany, where movies cost a mere $3 and the seats reclined. This wasn't a fancy cinema, but rather a cheap theater where the seats creaked and contorted from age, like your favorite battered arm chair. I don't remember who was with me, which leads me to believe that I must have gone to Scream alone, lured in by my love of The Doom Generation's Rose McGowan. Though I don't remember if I had company, I will never forget watching the film -- especially the first fifteen minutes -- the feel of the chairs, the darkness, and the fleeting looks at the exit as I mulled over a possible early escape.
I remember being torn. It was not that I hated the film and contemplated whether I could make it until the end. Rather, I couldn't take the horror stress, as Casey was stalked by Ghostface in her window-ridden home, trying to make an escape and coming oh-so-close, only to die one gruesome and ghoulish death mere steps from her parents. I remember thinking just seconds before her mother's scream that if it went on much longer, I'd have to leave. But just at that peak, when the chills seemed like too much, Casey Becker was dead and it was time to watch Billy Loomis try to get into Sidney Prescott's nightie. And by the time we met Tatum, Randy, and heard the low voice of Nick Cave, I was in love.
I was impressed with how easily Wes Craven tormented my growing tension, and was gleeful at how the film overflows with campy moments and super-catchy dialogue. I wanted to be in a Woodsboro without Ghostface, admiring Randy's too-green and way-cool suede shoes while he rants about inconsequential things, I wanted Tatum cheering me on ("Bam! Bitch went down!"), and I wished I went to a school where The Fonz was principal. It spoke to me completely and absolutely as a 19-year-old.
What strikes me now is how much Scream holds up. With most horror films, the big pay-off is in that initial viewing, when you don't know which corner the killer will come from, how or when he or she will attack, or how gruesome it will be. You're at the whim of your worst nightmares and how well the filmmaker can exploit them. At first, that's Scream's charm. The film teases at tension, with Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven knowing exactly how far they can take you, and when to add in a moment to catch your breath, and then, a moment to laugh.
But once that thrill is set aside, multiple viewings reveal the film's other gems, both in the realm of chills and comedy. After you've survived Casey's murder, the game is spotting all the ways the horror film tugs at the viewer's strings of tension. It all starts with the simple premise -- a girl is home alone, waiting for her boyfriend, when she finds herself in danger. It's not some other-worldly creature that makes you shrug off the moment as unreal and impossible. We've all experienced crank calls and the spine tingles of wondering who is out there. It's not a jump to imagine the fear that would come with hearing a caller express a desire to see what your insides look like.
Marco Beltrami's score is like a creeping villain ready to attack, and it is matched with dynamic, eerie shots. When Casey stands at the door, we see her head peeking from the door window, enough of the background peeking out from her shoulder that it's easy to expect the killer to pop out. When Casey resigns herself to answer the killer's questions, she crouches, as if in the fetal position whilst on her feet, ripping the cord from the lamp for darkness, but hiding behind the insidious blue of the television screen. When she falls to Ghostface, we see her parents from her vantage point -- awkward and tilted upwards. We're no longer looking over her shoulder. Now we're suffering along with her.
Before we know it, Scream nestles into an area that intermingles chills with humor and self-aware chatter. It's not a horror movie filled with regular folks, but a horror movie of horror folks, those who know the rules, who rant and argue about them. The movie world that we know is the one that they live, there is no fake construct. It pulls the horror fan in through camaraderie or disagreement, while also constructing an understandable world for the newbie. It toes that middle-ground, teasing viewers into the horror fold scene by scene.
At that point in my life, I was a bit of a newbie. I was in love with ridiculous horror, having watched NoES 4: The Dream Master every single time it popped up on TV, and I was quickly becoming a cult movie fan, fiendish for catchy and over-the-top dialogue. It was pretty easy for the film to please me. Watching it now, I expected the usual recoiling that happens when you revisit a favorite from youth -- wondering why I liked it so much. Or, at the very least, picking up faults my young eyes couldn't see. Yet there I sat, gushing over how Craven placed the camera, how the big crane shot was only one of many scenes where the characters were mere dots in a large expanse, every moment screaming out: "You're being watched!" -- without saying a word.
I do still note the flaws -- no tension is as great as the initial moments, though I also realize that's partly because of what has transpired beforehand. It's a lot easier to be wrapped in fear before the humor -- not as much after. It's also very hard to ever buy that Sid would like Billy, even after suffering through the loss of her mother. He looks like a menace to children, animals, and all things sweet and safe. One can only hope that this creepiness didn't come until this new horror started.
Nevertheless, for this member of the "havoc-inducing, thieving, whoring generation," I'm a fan.
- What do you think of the violence in this film? Wes Craven originally turned the job down because he thought it was too violent, and Roger Ebert said Scream had an "incredible level of gore." Personally, I've always found it as one of the more palatable horror movies out there.
- Do you agree with who the killer was, how it played out in the film, and then ultimately in 2 & 3? Our Erik Davis, for example, thinks Randy should have been the ultimate mastermind.
- If you could go back in time and play casting agent, are there any roles you would recast? Along the same lines, what do you think of the idea of Reese Witherspoon as Sid? (She turned it down.)
- Now we're getting Scream 4. Do you think there's any chance it could rival the first since Williamson and Craven are together again? Or, will it rank with the much more disappointing 2 & 3?
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