The Best Horror Movies of the 90s: Scream

screamSome observations:

-Perhaps more than any other horror film of the 1990s, Scream acts as a fun history lesson.  In chiding and recycling the slasher film tropes of yesteryear, Wes Craven’s sleeper hit rejuvenated the genre—one that had gone stale; one to which the audience of the day had become inured.  In short, Scream was a good slasher film that inspired many a viewer to (re-)investigate the origins of the form.

-Some people may look at the movie now and see a hollow, dated film.  They may think its central gimmick (i.e., deconstructing slasher films in order to create one that epitomizes the genre for a knowing, jaded audience) a bit, well, gimmicky.  It’s not a perfect film.  Sometimes it strikes me as a bit too ironic for its own good; but I never understood the criticism it engendered, flak that eventually resulted in a global reversion to unrelentingly gory and straight-faced horror flicks like Hostel and Wolf Creek.  The mocking, go-for-broke mimicry is the reason Scream (and, to a lesser extent, its three direct follow-ups) remains fresh.  The movie is about obsessive self-referentialism, the extremity to which fan-boys and –girls can cling to their immoral fixations on a reality that exists only in their fucked-up little heads.

-Scream could not have happened before the 90s.  The premium channel and VHS wave of the 1980s laid the groundwork for it and the audience receptive to it.  Still, I think Scream has cross-generational appeal, if only because it offers a toothy, entertaining critique of slasher films (the worst of the lot glorify their antiheroes), and of broken homes and the way movies help to fill (or stretch) that void for the victims of said homes.

-Like the movie’s heroine, Kevin Williamson’s script hates the way characters in slasher films typically behave.  That said, Williamson, by “hanging a lantern,” knows it is these clichés, these tropes, which fuel the viewer’s interest in the story.  At one point, John Carpenter’s Halloween, the slasher pic nonpareil, scores the events onscreen, its diegetic presence instrumental in more ways than one.  Scream uses this point/counterpoint kind of approach well.  It wouldn’t matter, though, if the film weren’t serious about its subtext: the death of the nuclear family.

-For all its snarkiness, Scream is really about kids watching themselves watch themselves.  Nobody’s minding them; the parents are all but invisible (and the high school principal is a vicious little shit, a kid in a grown-up’s body).  The kids aren’t disaffected so much as unsupervised.  Movies and TV shows are the real role models here.  In checking out—in effectively behaving like kids themselves—the parents have abdicated their roles as protectors and confidants.  Bored, obsessed with horror films (and their sick displays of power and aggression), and having too much time on their hands, the teenagers of Scream (especially the narcissistic, sociopathic shits behind the crimes we see) resort (or fall prey) to violence all too readily.  This could happen.  The home has failed them.  All of this gives Scream real staying power.

-The movie has one of the best opening scenes, ever.  Not only does it set the tone for the rest of the film, it asks the basic question the story must answer:  Who killed Casey Becker, and why?

Rating: A-

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