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Scream (1996)

It’s 2021, so the “slasher, but meta” does not feel nearly as fresh and as clever as I’m sure it might have 25 years ago, before TV Tropes existed and YouTube analysis videos proliferated and every horror movie in history was streaming on demand. In fact, the humor and meta-commentary in Scream ends up feeling just a bit gimmicky rather than subversive, minus a few really clever and tense moments, like when one character watches a character sneak up on a TV screen as the same is happening to him.

That said, the violent thriller that all that fun stuff is in support of is quite good, and I can see why this rejuvenated the slasher genre and inspired a wave of copycats.

The film’s opening scene is legitimately one of the most suspenseful and chilling segments of any movie I’ve seen. It hops right in with the opening shot and doesn’t relent for 12 minutes. It was like I was 10 again, watching everything through the cracks between my fingers.

Once it gets to the story proper, it’s still quite good, too, with an abundance of masterful jump scares. Horror veteran Wes Craven’s blocking and shot construction brilliantly set up the maximum impact of each Ghostface reveal.

The story in wunderkind Kevin Williamson’s script is pretty straightforward, sturdy slasher material, but feels a bit fresher thanks to all of the flourishes on top. A killer is taking out high schoolers one-by-one and has his or her sights set on Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) whose mother was brutally raped and killed a year earlier.

The wrinkle is that the murderer could be anyone. Unlike, say, Halloween, the killer’s mask also hides a secret identity. Could it be one of Sidney’s friends? Her boyfriend? The man imprisoned for the murder of Sidney’s mother? The local policeman who has connections to the high school class? The nosey reporter? To the movie’s credit, it lets us consider various culprits at various moments.

The casting of the movie is quite good overall: Campbell is solid as final girl, though it would take the sequels for her to really come out of her shell. Courteney Cox is great as Gale Weathers, the reporter. And among the fellow high school students, Matthew Lillard is especially memorable as a wildcard weirdo. Shoutout, too, to Drew Barrymore who appears only in the perfect opening scene.

There’s a bit of a lull in the pace before the one big murder spree at hte climx, but it’s only a little lull, and the last 40 minutes are one gut-wrenching death or surprise Ghostface pop-up after another. I still think the movie would be improved with a few minutes shaved from its 111-minute runtime.

As with most whodunits, the suspense along the way is better than the actual solution ends up being, but the big revelations are still pretty solid and satisfying, with a bunch of quippy, quotable lines. There’s an unhinged quality to the performances near the end of the film, bringing out some surprising dimensions to the revealed killers, including some queer undertones that are part of the reason Scream has resonated in the queer community.

Scream is more than just a fun film time; it influentially articulates a vision of horror that’s postmodern and hip and quick-witted and teen-focused. I find this to be a pleasing mode for horror, the blend of Williamson’s zippy screenplay and Craven’s suspense chops making for a memorable spooky season touchstone.

Is It Good?

Very Good (6/8)

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