'Scream' is one of the most unusual horror movies ever made -- and that's not an exaggeration. If you happen not to like Wes Craven's seminal film about a slasher in Woodsboro who has a bone to pick with the friends and family of a young lass named Sidney Prescott, you may frown at such a claim, but that doesn't make it any less true.
In fact, a dislike of 'Scream' could easily be interpreted as just another reason it's one of the most unusual entries the horror genre knows. So what, exactly, makes the Kevin Williamson–penned slasher so different? It's simple: 'Scream' caused a schism in the horror genre, its legacy being the creation of a distinct period of post-'Scream' horror movies.
Unlike most smash hits, however, 'Scream' didn't just inspire a fleeting rash of imitations; it created a ripple effect in both filmmakers and the film industry as a whole. With 'Scream 4' opening soon (April 15), now seems a perfect time to take a look at the 'Scream' legacy -- the filmmakers who tip their hats to Craven and Williamson's invigorating self-awareness and the films that wouldn't exist without 'Scream.'
Before addressing the film's legacy, we must first identify why it was ever worth talking about in the first place. Fortunately, looking for the source of 'Scream''s voice is an easy task. It all stems from Kevin Williamson's screenplay, a brilliant bit of writing that holds a funhouse mirror up to the slasher genre, reflecting back the simultaneous deconstruction and reconstruction of an idea well that most believed was been tapped years prior. And what's more surprising than Williamson's script is Wes Craven's earnest handling of it. Despite being so self-aware, 'Scream' doesn't greet the audience with winks and nods; it plays every one of its cards with a disarmingly intelligent poker face.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Craven filled the cast with young actors who perfectly embodied the mid-'90s MTV generation, or that horror in general was on a steep downturn at the time, both in terms of quantity and quality. It's not that hard to be the big fish in a small pond if the pond keeps shrinking and your fish has a more attractive cast than the competition, so there's certainly something to be said about how a chunk of 'Scream''s success is due to being in the right place at the right time. But, again, that providence is just another feather in Craven's cap.
If the 'Scream' legacy were a Venn diagram, the "Movies Influenced by Scream" bubble would exist entirely within the "Movies That Exist Because of 'Scream'" bubble, so let's address those first. Note: These are by no means the only four films to have been influenced by 'Scream,' but they do represent how its presence was felt not just across time, but across genres.
Movies That Exist Because of 'Scream'
'Urban Legend' (1998)
Jamie Blanks' 'Urban Legend' is one of the most admirable post-'Scream' slashers because it's one of the few that strives to match Williamson's complex backstory and character motivations. Sure, the movie isn't exactly rocket science, but it does shroud its killer in enough mystery to keep you guessing while also making regular visits to familiar genre conventions. The film's so-clever-it's-almost-cute opening alone makes it worth checking out.
'Club Dread' (2004)
Yes, Broken Lizard's 'Club Dread' was not the genius follow-up to 'Super Troopers' that everyone was hoping for, but despite its disappointing reputation, it is still a wry deconstruction of slashers -- except, of course, that the Broken Lizard troupe does greet the audience with winks and nods whenever possible. But that's also the fun of it. Unlike a lot of "spoof" movies, 'Club Dread' actually understands what makes the genre so attractive to fans.
'Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon' (2006)
While 'Scream' took a knife to the slasher genre in such a way that even casual horror fans could pick up on the dissection, Scott Glosserman's 'Behind the Mask' does the exact opposite. This is the inside joke version of 'Scream,' a mockumentary about a prototypical horror movie slasher. Like 'Club Dread,' 'BTM' is all winks and nods, but at least its narrative approach is more challenging than the former.
'My Bloody Valentine' (2009)
Sure, Patrick Lussier's 'My Bloody Valentine' is a remake of the '80s slasher of the same name, but that hardly precludes it from being heavily influenced by 'Scream.' After all, Lussier was the editor on all three 'Scream' movies, so it's only natural that he'd bring that vibe over to his film. 'MBV3D' takes its gore seriously and its characters seriously, but still has a lot of fun trying to make a preposterous shell game out of who the killer is.
Those are just a few of the movies that clearly took a cue from 'Scream' and realized that you could openly flirt with genre conventions and people wouldn't boo you out of the box office. But then there's a whole other side to the post-'Scream' schism: movies whose existences have a direct correlation to Wes Craven and company, proving that horror can still be a hot commodity at the box office. They may not have taken notes from Williamson's writing, but they certainly took notes from Dimension Films' balance sheets.
Movies That Piggybacked on 'Scream's' Success
'I Know What You Did Last Summer' (1997)
One would think that 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' would be in the "influenced by" category since it was written by Kevin Williamson, but it really does try to pretend like 'Scream' doesn't exist. It has the kind of solemn tone found in '80s slashers, treating its subject matter and victims as though they're not nearly as silly as they actually are.
'Halloween: H20' (1998)
'Halloween: H20' no doubt owes more of its existence to the six previous Michael Myers appearances than to a single appearance by Ghostface, but this is one of those projects that ended up getting off the ground because it was graced by Kevin Williamson's presence. Unfortunately he gave the film just his story idea and not any of the magic he gave 'Scream,' but it does still have characters who practically drip with signs that they're pop culture savvy.
'Bride of Chucky' (1998)
'Bride of Chucky' is a weird movie. That's not because of its content, but because of its intent. Its high degree of self-awareness is clearly influenced by 'Scream,' only it never knew how to interpret that influence. So instead of making a movie that playfully explores the themes and ideas of its predecessors, 'Bride of Chucky' became a crude parody of the entire genre. Even its poster is a riff on the poster for 'Scream 2.'
'Valentine' is perhaps one of the saddest byproducts of the surprise success of 'Scream.' It took years to arrive, it's directed by the director of 'Urban Legend,' and doesn't have a single original thought in its head. Its cast is dry, its personality is vacant and its killer is insipid. This is one of those films where it's not a stretch to imagine that a producer heard a lot of people talking about the 'Scream' franchise, told an up-and-coming director, "Go make us one of those," and then foolishly didn't check back in on the project until it was done.
Again, those are just a handful of the films that rose to the siren's call that was 'Scream.' Some of them are legitimately good films, some of them are cheese, but all of them wouldn't be the films they are had Kevin Williamson not planted a burning question into the minds of studio executives and horror fans alike.
And while 'Scream' also left its stamp on pop culture by revitalizing an unpopular Halloween costume and causing teenagers everywhere to prank call people and ask them what their favorite scary movie is, the truth of the matter is that 'Scream''s most important gift to movie history is being directly responsible for re-energizing an ailing business sector. That's not a claim that many movies, let alone horror movies, can make. But, again, that's why 'Scream' is one of the most unusual horror movies ever made.